Like many people in the Puget Sound region, Covid has changed my commute patterns and my use of transit. As a result – and perhaps not surprisingly – my posting here has gone down dramatically as well. But one thing I have been thinking quite a bit about is how the ST3 package could pivot for the post-Covid era. While the world has changed permanently, Sound Transit still seems to be planning for an era that is unlikely to ever arrive. 

Outside the US, transit ridership is rebounding. Maybe not all the way back to pre-Covid levels, but in many places where transit has always been integrated into daily life, ridership is approaching a sustainable “new normal.” Domestically, transit ridership has rebounded to varying degrees, with commuter-focused services seeing the smallest return of riders. So how does this relate to ST3?

Cast your mind back to the Summer of 2021.  Vaccines were finally available en masse (for adults, at least).  There was optimism that some kind of normal might be around the corner. This is the time when companies were still putting out “return to office” dates.  Against this backdrop, Sound Transit engaged in realignment planning.  While Covid may have been the initial impetus for hitting pause on the projects, the main problem was surging construction costs that put many ST3 projects over budget.

Nonetheless, the realignment proceeded, and, thanks to surging tax revenues and federal relief dollars, the board was able to create a plan that pushed around the delivery schedule on many projects but didn’t fundamentally rethink any of the projects on the table.

Then, that winter, Omicron happened. That was the end of the line for a return to “normal.”  As a regional agency, Sound Transit has always had a long-distance commuter bias, which leaves it uniquely exposed to the changes noted above.  Yet, the agency hasn’t really had an intentional, open, and honest conversation about how the transformational ST3 package of projects approved in 2016 should pivot to make sense in this new reality.  If we continue to press ahead without adjustments, the agency risks building wrong-sized projects that meet the travel patterns and needs of 2016, not 2023 and beyond. This is a case where the sooner Sound Transit has this conversation – the better positioned it will be to proactively pivot and deliver better projects at lower cost.

So how should Sound Transit respond? I have some specific ideas which I’d like to save for another post. In the meantime, I’d like to start by outlining some principles that I think should guide this work:

  • Respond to the new transit ridership market – Shift investments to increase or better serve the transit ridership markets that have shown to have resilient “in-person” presence. This means less of an emphasis on major office employment centers and an increased emphasis on in-person job markets, lower-income communities, dense urban areas, medical centers, schools and universities, cultural and event centers, tourist and convention areas, and other secondary urban centers that continue to grow with in-person uses.
  • Focus on frequent service, not commuter service – Refocus and adapt services and investments to focus into frequent all-day services that can be used for all-types of trips. Consolidate or end commuter only services and investments. Long-distance commuting into Seattle and Bellevue are the least likely to fully recover.
  • Less intense peak periods are an opportunity – Rightsize projects for lower peak period ridership and pivot to reflect the need for more frequent, all-day service by leveraging automation trends in light rail like Vancouver’s Skytrain. The downtown rush hour that we knew is over. Skytrain is a winning model that is perfect for providing frequent all-day service and provides opportunities because of smaller stations. How might we incorporate more of it? 
  • Re-invest in existing assets that no longer match their need – From huge park-and-rides that are now half-full to HOV lanes that are more reliable, how can these resources be best used?

Agree? Disagree? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

252 Replies to “Rethinking ST3 in the Covid Era”

  1. I agree completely. So completely, in fact, that I would stop Link expansion cold at Federal Way and Lynnwood, with Federal Way only because so much has already been constructed south of The Incredible Moving Freeway Berm. And of course cancel the billion in “Sounder improvements”.

    I would also include “WSBLE” in the stoppage, because the feckless attempts at “value engineering” that ST comes up with increasingly eliminate stations or place them in ever-more excruciatingly poor locations.

    Without these universally bad projects, there would be no reason to continue levying the ST3 taxes beyond some fairly short period that funds completion of Federal Way, Lynnwood, Redmond and the STRide lines.

    Yes, North King will need to “pay off” Pierce and East King, so it will be faced with the unpalatable necessity of passing a bond levy just to discharge its debts to two other sub-areas.

    At that point Sound Transit would just become a funding source for operations and maintenance of “regional” bus and Link service. Instead of serving as a succubus on which the heavy-construction industry gorges, it would become a boring but, we can hope, professionally-run funder of frequent services and targeted bus priority projects.

    Seattle can fund some sort of bus-tunnel under Lower Queen Anne between Elliott and Republican and Third and Cedar to give Ballard reliable and speedy access to Downtown Seattle on a par with that provided by SR99 for West Seattle.

    1. So we want to give Pierce County folks or people there for business a lousy experience to get to/from the airport? With 3 seat ride just to get there from anywhere in Pierce County. On top of it being already a headache to ride the current infrequent 574 coach buses if you’re disabled or have luggage. We should be making transit better in this region for people to move around, not worse.

      1. So improve the buses. Seriously, if SeaTac is really the prime destination for Pierce County, why would they be attracted to Link, which will only serve a handful of stops? Is everyone moving to Fife? Hell, it won’t even connect to downtown Tacoma! You are merely replacing one two-seat ride with another. Either they transfer by the Tacoma Dome, Fife, etc. or they transfer in Federal Way. Not much difference really. Run the buses more frequently and at least the people who do take transit will have a good trip.

        Besides, we aren’t talking about that many riders. SeaTac is an employment center that does attract riders from the south, but not that many. Existing transit ridership from the north is not that big (the vast majority drive). The 574 doesn’t carry that many riders. Of course it should run more often, but you are delusional if you think we need a train for the number of people going to SeaTac from the south. The trains will be largely empty, which in turn mean that the trains will run no more often than the buses. I could easily see the 574 running every 15 minutes just as I could very easily see Link turning back half the trains in Federal Way, and running every 20 minutes to the airport. This is common with lines like this.

      2. Have you or have you not ridden the 574, because you keep doing this anytime someone brings up TDLE. Because I’m telling you and have said this multiple times at this point that it’s a very mediocre experience for anyone trying to use it.
        Again, not great for people with luggage or people with disabilities. It’s not high quality transit, it’s mediocre transit. It’s a very slow as hell bus that meanders and gets stuck in traffic, which I might add is going to get worse with the new highway connections for Semis onto I-5 in the comibg decades. It’s also had reliability issues that again don’t make for a great experience if your bus is late 15-30 minutes which is a common issue with the 574.

        People in Pierce County deserve better transit to SeaTac and you’re not going to attract more people with mediocre coach buses.

      3. The couple of billion it will take to get from Federal Way to Tacoma Dome could buy a LOT of subsidized Uber and Lyft rides to the airport. That’s of course assuming that there are no “soil surprises” along the way.

      4. “The couple of billion it will take to get from Federal Way to Tacoma Dome could buy a LOT of subsidized Uber and Lyft rides to the airport.”

        And that would cost several times more per passenger than spending the same amount of money on bus routes. And it would mean people can’t travel without having a smartphone and app and credit card, and would have to wait an arbitrary amount of time for a ride, rather than just going to the bus stop at the scheduled time.

      5. Mike, people don’t just choose to go to the airport on a whim. Except for those who go there to work — and therefore don’t have luggage and for the most part aren’t disabled and therefore CAN ride the still to be provided bus service — they go to catch a plane at a certain time. They have had to purchase that airline flight using a credit or debit card, which they came use to pay the rider portion of the subsidized Uber or Lyft fare. They almost universally have made the purchase on a phone, tablet or personal computer.

        I was responding specifically to the complaint that Pierce riders couldn’t take Link to SeaTac and were therefore being deprived of their Constitutional — and God-given — Right to ride to the airport alone in a railcar.

        And it wouldn’t cost more per passenger, because you’re comparing the fare subsidy — which ignores the capital cost — to the likely Uber or Lyft subsidy.

      6. “Mike, people don’t just choose to go to the airport on a whim”

        I didn’t pay close enough attention to your “to the airport” limitation. I was thinking of all trips on the TLDE segment. The airport isn’t the only destination or even the majority destination. Most people take a flight once a year if even that — only a few air commuters fly even twice a month — while people go to many other destinations every day or every week.

        Tacoma/Pierce focused on the airport connection due to larger issues: the belief that having an airport connection would attract employers and workers and shoppers to Tacoma. Because employers like the idea of having airport rail, especially if they’re flying in to evaluate the jobsite, even if they and their staff might only fly once a year or once a month after the jobsite opens. And jobs in Tacoma would bring workers to Tacoma, and shoppers to Tacoma, some of whom could take Link from South King County and Seattle.

        Still, there are much larger reasons for trips to/from Tacoma, which could be met by a Link extension from Federal Way or buses. Either of those would be more efficient than Uber.

      7. TT: we have already had interim operation of regional express bus routes for decades. ST could have branded some of as BRT. ST has funded streetcar in First Hill and Tacoma; no mode is more local than a costly streetcar stuck in traffic.

        If Route 574 provides poor service: fix it. It need not serve the intermediate P&Rs, Star Lake and Kent Des Moines; those stops are just ways to get stuck in traffic and not use the center HOV lanes well. Shorter headway and waits are necessary. In PC, should both routes 574 and 594 serve Lakewood; is the network design too transfer adverse? Serving the airport roadway without priority is also difficult; both routes 560 and 574 do it and have 30-minute headways.

      8. Al, I think state legislators not in the ST taxing district were worried ST would repeat the errors of the 1990’s and wildly underestimate projects costs, cost contingencies, over estimate subarea revenue and farebox recovery, have shoddy project oversight with long delays in opening, and select gold plated projects based on stakeholder demands as though money is limitless that their districts would end up paying for.

        If the state were paying for ST 3 WSBLE would be above grade. If above grade for the four other subareas is fine it is fine for medium residential neighborhoods like WS and Ballard.

        My guess is those legislators are looking at ST right now and thanking God they are not backstopping it. My guess is ST will result in the state being more hesitant to backstop transit agencies than ever.

      9. ” I think state legislators not in the ST taxing district were worried ST would repeat the errors of the 1990’s and wildly underestimate projects costs, cost contingencies, over estimate subarea revenue and farebox recovery, have shoddy project oversight with long delays in opening, and select gold plated projects based on stakeholder demands as though money is limitless that their districts would end up paying for.”
        Nah, the state has always been notoriously anti Seattle in regards to funding transit projects here and that’s the reason why a lot of problems exist with ST. Any other developed country would look at what the state has done in bewilderment. Because other countries value cooperation between all layers of government in funding and building transit. Which is just more icing on the cake with Jay Inslee’s climate change crusade he was running on in the 2020 Democrat primary, despite the fact that the state of WA has been actively hostile to funding or assisting transit. But will gladly give all the help in funding for WashDOT highway projects like the Colombia Crossing despite the fact that ODOT isn’t on board with it. Which speaks to where the actual priorities lie in Washington, car dependency and nothing else.

      10. If Route 574 provides poor service: fix it. It need not serve the intermediate P&Rs, Star Lake and Kent Des Moines; those stops are just ways to get stuck in traffic and not use the center HOV lanes well. Shorter headway and waits are necessary.

        Exactly. And once Link gets to Federal Way, that would be the only freeway stop for the 574. I would continue to run it from Lakewood, but have the bus run through downtown Tacoma, like the 594. Run that bus every 15 minutes, and riders from downtown Tacoma have a fast one-seat connection to SeaTac — something the Tacoma Dome Link will never provide. If I were to skip any stops, it would be the ones along 188th, as they don’t get many riders (about 50 boardings). I would keep the ones along International Boulevard though.

    2. Even under the “Pierce county can eat sand” approach, I’d recommend at least getting to South Federal Way and building OMF-S. Even without WSBLE, a 3rd OMF and the opportunity to boost frequency with a larger fleet seems useful, particularly if Link is automated.

      1. The Pierce County funds can be much more effectively spent than today and under ST3. Have they already been getting sand? Did they vote no on ST3? Yes, a Route 574 should be improved. It need not be Link. It could have short headways and waits. It could serve the Federal Way TC on the way to/from the airport.

        Funds not spent on Link could be used to provide South King and Pierce a better BRT network. South Sounder need no longer be monumental. But midday service would be great for Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, and Tukwila. Could the midday mode shift to DMU? Could BNSFRR freight shift some trips to the UPRR ROW to allow Sounder capacity?

        In the mid term, the Legislature could impose variable tolling on the limited access highways and make bus routes and freight flow better.

      2. To add to eddiew’s point, either a DMU or an express bus in HOV lanes would move riders faster than Link will in Pierce, except maybe for some going to a casino or a TD event.

      3. Um, building Link from FW to South FW will come out of SKC’s subarea budget. In this “Pierce county drop dead” approach, the cost to build the OMF-S would be split amongst the subareas that actually have Link. Pierce’s money would then be entirely freed up whether Link goes to FW or SFW.

        “South Sounder need no longer be monumental. But midday service would be great for Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, and Tukwila.” I suppose this is the eyeroll Dan was referring to. Midday service on Sounder will be just as expensive, if not more expensive, than the proposed investment in improving Sounder from 20 minute to 15 minute headways. The cost for Sounder to be ‘monumental,’ which I suppose you mean 10-car trains, is a tiny fraction of the ST3 Sounder investments and is already at the back end of the plan (late 2030s)

      4. Even under the “Pierce county can eat sand” approach…

        You may not have meant it this way, but this is a gross misrepresentation of the issues. It is quite likely that Pierce County would be much better off if Link ended at Federal Way. There is only so much money to spend. If you spend your precious public dollars on wasteful projects, there is less to spend on things that really are a good value (like better headways for Pierce County buses, off-board payment, bus lanes, etc.). There is also no guarantee that the ends of these lines will have the frequency that we generally take for granted (10 minutes all day). Similar lines throughout the country are much worse. That’s because not enough people use it, you’re spending a bunch paying off the construction, and it costs more to run a train than a bus. Trains only make sense if they carry more than buses, and in many cases outside King County, they won’t.

      5. After living here a few years, I am getting on board with the idea that the best transit to spend dollars on in Tacoma and maybe Lakewood would be a grid system of lane-dedicated (true) BRTs. Stream will be a pale shadow of that, slowly being corrupted into basically a bus with a pretty wrap. And it’s funded by Pierce Transit. How would cancelling all Sound Transit work in Pierce County hope to achieve that grid? It’s not Sound Transit’s mission to do local BRT, is it?

        So if those dollars are stuck in ST, and they presumably won’t just hand that to PT, we should spent it on the next worst thing, right? I think that next worst thing is all-day, all-week South Sounder.

      6. For sure, if you Link through Pierce is trash, the Pierce’s money is better spent elsewhere. My point was simply that extending Link to S FW and building OMF-S is a good use of King’s (and SnoCo, so a small extend), as the 3rd OMF greatly improves ST’s ability to deliver high frequency & operational flexibility, and the extension itself to SFW is low cost (very similar to Angle Lake) with an adequately good station area.

        I’m trying to differentiate between the King segment of TDLE and the Pierce segment.

      7. After living here a few years, I am getting on board with the idea that the best transit to spend dollars on in Tacoma and maybe Lakewood would be a grid system of lane-dedicated (true) BRTs. Stream will be a pale shadow of that, slowly being corrupted into basically a bus with a pretty wrap. And it’s funded by Pierce Transit. How would cancelling all Sound Transit work in Pierce County hope to achieve that grid? It’s not Sound Transit’s mission to do local BRT, is it?

        I believe Sound Transit is funding most of Stream, with Pierce County only chipping in a tiny amount. See Page 2 of this: The Feds are chipping in around $65 million, the state another $20 million, Sound Transit $60 million and Pierce County $2 million. It is basically a Sound Transit project, which explains the detour to the Tacoma Dome (to serve other Sound Transit destinations).

        There are flaws, but in the long run, those flaws can be fixed. It is much easier to have a starter BRT line and keep making improvements than it is to build a subway line and fix mistakes. Adding a First Hill Station, for example, would be extremely expensive. In contrast, bus stops can be moved. If only a handful of people ever use the Tacoma Dome stop of the Stream bus, it can be skipped. (I think it would make the most sense to complement Stream with a peak-only overlay to the Tacoma Dome that was timed for Sounder). Likewise, if there are major congestion problems that arrive in the future, they can spend money to extend the bus lanes.

        So there is precedent for Sound Transit doing local BRT, just as their is precedent for Sound Transit to build local-only train service (Tacoma Link, not to be confused with the Tacoma Dome Link extension). I would expect Sound Transit to focus more on what it does best (regional bus service) but there is no reason not to fund capital projects in Pierce County that are a much better value than the Link extension, like all of the BRT projects you (and Pierce County transit officials) want. That doesn’t mean they will be built really well the first time, but it is quite likely that they will be a much better value nonetheless.

      8. ST is pitching in for Stream? I did not know that. Saw it was a PT project and thought they were funding it.

      9. “Even under the “Pierce county can eat sand” approach,”

        Some Pierce residents — and even ST boardmember Kent Keel from University Place — have mused about Pierce seceding from Sound Transit. Keel said he might pursue that if Tacoma Dome Link is delayed. If Pierce wants to go through with this, canceling TLDE would be an opportune time.

        No county or subarea has ever seceded, so there are many unanswered questions. Can subareas secede? What is the process, or who would authorize it? What happens to Pierce’s existing debt. Would Sounder South be truncated at Auburn? Could South King afford Sounder’s operation alone? What alternative regional transit plan would Pierce County have? I mean between Pierce County cities and to Federal Way/Auburn. Is it responsible to have Lakewood’s growth and Spanaway and Bonney Lake’s sprawl with no regional transit plan in Pierce County? Could Pierce Transit take up the mantle? Can Pierce get its act together enough to fund Pierce Transit for that? Sumner and Bonney Lake are outside the Pierce Transit district after its contraction.

      10. “I think that next worst thing is all-day, all-week South Sounder.”

        That would probably cost more than Federal Way Link and Tacoma Dome Link, especially if you’re thinking hourly or half-hourly. BNSF has a monopoly on timeslots and would charge as much as it can. It also doesn’t want to cut into freight traffic if there’s not enough timeslots for both.

      11. “It is basically a Sound Transit project, which explains the detour to the Tacoma Dome (to serve other Sound Transit destinations).”

        And everyone who wants to go from south-central Pierce to King County. Not just to Seattle, but to South King County, the Eastside, the airport, and everything else. That’s a sizeable number of people, and the gateway between Pierce and the center of the region.

      12. Clearly Pierce needs more BRT routes between more Pierce cities than has ever been drawn up. Pierce chose its ST investments: Link to just the very corner of the county (like U-Link to UW in North Seattle’s context), Sounder between a few cities in Seattle, and practically nothing else for eastern Tacoma and southeast Pierce until Stream 1 came along. Those are all transit gaps that should be addressed somehow.

      13. They haven’t been getting sand, but “Yes, they voted ‘No’ on every iteration of Sound Transit project votes.” They’ve been dragged kicking and screaming to the ST table, and ST shrank the service district by roughly half as a result of its damaged shins. Much like Daniel’s claims that East Siders don’t give a rodent’s hindquarters about East Link, Piercers don’t even know about Tacoma Dome Link.

        Except to the three loyal transit riders in Pierce County, all of whom seem to comment here, it will not be missed.

      14. I have to say TT your recent posts have me laughing out loud., a rare (but welcome) occurrence on this blog.

      15. AJ, just for the record, for me “Federal Way” includes South Federal Way and OMF-S. Had Link ended at Midway, the landfill would have been the obvious place for the OMF, but it didn’t and ST doesn’t want the headaches of subsidence and toxics, so it won’t be the site of the MF.

      16. And, eddiew, your proposals are all very concrete and rational. However, Sound Transit’s legislative mandate — nay, it’s restricted legislative mandate — is to build “high capacity transit” (read “light rail”) between regional centers where ridership can be expected to support it and, secondarily, to connect smaller regional centers using express bus on freeway and/or Bus Rapid Transit. It can also provide interim bus service in corridors which are considered “Light Rail Candidates” before and during its construction.

        That’s it; so in fact, ST would have a hard time funding truly local bus service in Pierce County. Unfoetunately, its taxing authority is not “fungible”. That is, Pierce can’t secede from ST and then impose it’s part of the allowable ST taxes itself. Such a levy would count against its “lid”.

        The legislature needs to emulate California and see regional transit as a State responsibility. We were in Julian CA yesterday, population about 700. There were bus stops on the highway all the way back to Ramona. Not often, of course, but they were there; that would not happen in Washington State at this time, but it needs to.

      17. TT raises an important point: The structural relationship between ST and the State could not be more disadvantageous for transit. The legislature defined the rules restricting ST3 content and timing — but do not put up the subsidies or bonding at the state level to make transit more viable.

        It’s worth noting that the Ontario Line is a provincial project and not a TTC project.

      18. Al,

        It is also worth noting that the Ontario Line being built by Metrolinx and not TTC stirred up some controversy, so don’t take it as a given that having the state involved is (or will be viewed) as a good thing, even by the actual transit authorities. You can read a reasonably unbiased summary of the history here:

      19. Stream 1 is regional. RapidRide G is regional. ‘
        ST’s long-range plan has a BRT corridor on Aurora. They serve not only trips within the city but trips from other cities and subareas. Other bus routes can be regional. RapidRide, Stream, and Swift lines are designed precisely to connect the largest villages and transfer points and highest-ridership corridors, that are the most likely to qualify as regional. We don’t know what the boundary is, so let ST either tell us or study it before we simply dismiss investing in these arterial bus routes. ST has already invested in RapidRide G and the First Hill Streetcar, and ST3 includes investments in RapidRide C and D (which haven’t been spent yet). Stream 1 is very much like a RapidRide corridor, and ST is funding it.

      20. Mike, a mile and a half BRT line is hardly “regional”. It doesn’t even connect with Link in a plausible way. RR G is entirely a Seattle project and should not have received funding from Sound Transit. I’m surprised that some successful attorney from the East Side hasn’t sued to block it. Jes’ sayin’.

      21. Tom, I am assuming RR G was paid for by the N. King Co. subarea without contribution from the other subarea. Am I wrong?

        East King Co. does pay 100% of the east-west-east ST buses which cost the subarea around $64 million last year although much of the ridership is west to east travel and was estimated to cost the subarea around $1 billion by the time East Link opened (in 2022).

        In the past I wondered who will pay for the “East Link” trains when they leave their Eastside subarea on their way to Lynnwood, both capital costs for the trains and O&M. Although no one has linked to a specific agreement on this issue several on this post have stated at least the O&M costs will be allocated based on miles or boardings in each subarea, but I would like to see a specific agreement on this.

        Unfortunately East KC is represented by Balducci who is more interested in succeeding Constantine than representing East King Co. I fully expect ST to look at future ST revenue reserves in East King Co. that this year should exceed $600 million/year (maybe more than N . King) while other subareas struggle to complete their basic projects (excluding WSBLE which is hardly basic) ) when the once planned for ST 4 looks unlikely now and a SB5528 levy just to complete ST 2 and 3 would be enormous for WSBLE and would likely fail in Pierce and ScoCo.

        I think there will be a battle when four subareas argue DSTT2 should be cancelled because the basis for it — capacity — was not honestly estimated by ST in 2016 and clearly is not needed (or affordable) post pandemic which would really help three subareas struggling to afford their core Link spine projects although N. KC would lose at least $1.1 billion in subarea contribution ( but save closer to $3 billion on its 1/2 contribution based on the current cost estimates for the tunnel).

        Since Balducci won’t do it I would like one of the major Eastside cities to demand a third party audit of the East King subarea to determine if any funds are going to other subareas sub Rosa and publish that data. According to the 2021 subarea report East King owes $600 million to other subareas, or one year of revenue, with much of East Link and Redmond Link completed despite the bridge delays.

        I am certain the Board — with no effective representation of East KC from Balducci — will want to allocate sub Rosa the excess ST reserves from East King Co. to other subareas and a third party audit could put a stop to that now.

        ST might be a “regional” transportation system but it’s funding is subarea specific and is not suppose to be regional, because otherwise the legislature would not have authorized ST and the subareas would not have consented or voted for ST 2 and 3. The Board’s decision to extend ST taxes five years without a vote was a violation of subarea equity because not all subareas needed additional subarea equity (and some subarea projects like Issaquah Link got extended five years when the increased costs from inflation may exceed the additional tax revenue during the five year extension) and I expect the Board to attempt other actions like the extension as long as the Eastside has no effective reorientation on the KC and ST Boards.

        The best remedy is to replace Balducci with someone committed to fulfilling their mandate to represent East KC, not pander to become Executive.

      22. Yes, RR-G is a North King project.

        A project is regional if it serves a regional destination. For example, Redmond Link Extension is entirely contained within the city of Redmond, but as it connects Overlake and Downtown, it is of regional usefulness.

    3. I’m hopeful West Seattle’s next city representative will be more helpful to getting a good West Seattle Link path and station locations. I would not give up hope there quite yet.

      As for Tacoma, yes, Pierce County voted no to ST3, but their portion of the district is overly large when compared to the compact portion of Snohomish County. Partially it is so Puyallup and Sumner (which isn’t even part of the Pierce Transit district) could get their low-use Sounder stations and carpark palaces. But Tacoma voted yes. And that is where Link is headed, for a lot less per mile than West Seattle or Ballard, and is more of a destination than West Seattle, at least.

      I like to think all-day semi-frequent service on South Sounder to the Capitol would be quite popular, during legislating season. It’s that last couple miles that would be inordinately expensive. It is the ROW on North Sounder for which BNSF would charge many arms and legs to be able to add more service, if there were any reason to do so.

      The battle cry out of Everett has been that Ballard Link not open one day before Everett Link. I suggest we let Everett win.

      1. I’m hopeful West Seattle’s next city representative will be more helpful to getting a good West Seattle Link path and station locations. I would not give up hope there quite yet.

        I doubt it. Besides, even if they improve the path, it still won’t fix the fundamental problem with West Seattle Link: It isn’t as good as the buses. Only a handful of people will walk to the stations. It is like a line with nothing but feeder stations. I’m all for feeder stations, but building *only* that is silly. The only way you will get anywhere near enough riders to justify halfway decent frequency on the train is if you force everyone to transfer. By doing so, you are forcing almost everyone to spend more time getting to their destination. This isn’t like truncating the 41, where riders got much faster trips to the UW, Roosevelt and Capitol Hill (rides that are largely fueling the big uptick in ridership). There is only SoDo and Stadium Stations as the new addition for riders. This isn’t a worthy trade-off for the additional time it will take people to get downtown. The ridership experience for the vast majority of riders from West Seattle will be worse.

        Or Metro does the peninsula a favor, and keeps running the buses to downtown. In which case, only a handful of riders will take the train, because it only has a handful of stops (one of which is designed as a feeder). If the whole thing was free there is a very weak case for it. The fact that it will cost a fortune makes it even weaker.

      2. I like to think all-day semi-frequent service on South Sounder to the Capitol would be quite popular, during legislating season.

        It would make way more sense to just run buses. Sounder service is very expensive, and gets more expensive the more you run it. Meanwhile, the more you run it, the fewer riders you get (per train). It would be different if we owned the lines, but we don’t. Even then, running trains is generally more expensive than running buses, and in the case of Olympia, doesn’t get you much. On the other hand, I do think there is a lot to be said for a Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia all day express bus. Run every 15 minutes in the morning (both directions) and every hour in the middle of the day. It would be relatively heavily subsidized, but you could charge more if that’s an issue. it would get a reasonable number of riders to justify the cost, in my opinion. it would basically just be tacked onto existing express bus service that runs between Tacoma and Seattle.

      3. I would love to see an all-day frequent express between Federal Way City Center Station and the Capitol, once the station opens. I’m not holding my breath for that.

        There always seems to a conspiracy to make getting to the Capitol at least a three-seat ride, with a really long layover in the middle of nowhere south of Tacoma.

      4. An Olympia extension would have to be funded by the state or Intercity Transit (i.e., Thurston County taxpayers). The state did fund a short-term pilot of a 592 extension (northbound AM peak, southbound PM peak). It expired with no further action, and by the way it had lower ridership than most ST Express routes. It also doesn’t address Pugetopolis residents going to Olympia for the day, which is what we would want. It’s out of scope for the Pierce subarea or ST as a whole to fund it, when Pierce has so many other higher-priority transit needs within the subarea and to King County. It’s not worth spending time on until the state or Thurston County is ready to fund it, whenever that might be.

      5. ST Express 595 provides one-way service to Seattle for residents of Gig Harbor, which is well outside the ST District. Pierce County pays for the portion from Gig Harbor to Tacoma Community College.

        The 592 Olympia service was hobbled by a time-consuming diversion to Hawks Prairie P&R, plus Du Pont, SR 512 P&R, and Lakewood Station. Trains could serve stops in those areas without loop-de-loops. Indeed, building a loop-de-loop on a train line is cost-prohibitive, thankfully, as someone suggested such a thing for getting under the ship canal to UW.

    4. The South Sounder to Dupont, and increasing capacity in stupid. Trash that.

      But the sounder itself is sound. It just needs to move away from its commuter orientation and towards all day, all week, all evening service.

      I’m hopping on it in a few hours on one of its few runs usable by non-commuters, and lament that the last run home is 6:30pm, so unusable. I can still get the 594 home, but when that goes away, so will my semi-spontaneous trips into the big city.

      At least by transit.

      1. Sounder can’t because it is running on freight tracks. Unless if one builds a new alignment, but honestly I think it’d be cheaper and more useful at that point to fund freeway express busses with carpool/express lanes as you’d have higher frequency and could probably go to more places.

        The entire rationale behind the Sounder high capacity trains is geared towards commuting where you just have a few train drivers carrying hundreds of people in and then out. And unfortunately it can’t be switched to all-day service.

      2. The entire rationale has to change. That’s the point of this post.

        There are two sets of tracks between Tacoma and Seattle. There is plenty of capacity for both freight and passenger service. Where there is a will (and a massive bucket of money saved from not lengthening stations or distance from sounder, and truncating the spine at FW), there is a way.

        It’s a political problem, not a technical one.

      3. I guess in a large sense, it is a political problem. But as long as those tracks are owned by a private company, the problem persists. It would cost a fortune to either lease or build capacity to allow for all-day train service. Meanwhile — and this is what WL is getting at — you wouldn’t get that many riders. Sounder expansion was based on huge numbers of commuters all riding the train over a short period of time. This is going away. But in its place there aren’t huge numbers of people riding the train all day. It means that buses can easily handle the load.

        I’m not sure if people realize that Sounder had both peak and reverse peak service before the pandemic. You would expect peak ridership to have more riders, but ideally the curve is fairly gradual. That wasn’t the case. Reverse peak had hardly anyone. Again, this was before the pandemic (when overall transit ridership was higher). The trains leaving Seattle had fewer riders than a crowded bus. This makes it a bad value even if you own the lines. The fact that each additional run costs more money makes the idea of all-day service a really bad idea.

        The only way that this would ever make sense is if the state (or federal government) bought those lines. Even then you would have to juggle freight issues, as we really don’t want to screw that up, and have more trucks on the highway.

      4. “I suppose if you consider property rights a political problem.”

        I suppose you consider the ability to get around conveniently without a car unimportant.

        The state would either come to a deal with BNSF to buy the track, or eminent-domain it and pay BNSF fair-market value. I doubt it would do the latter. So BNSF would get money for it either way.

      5. Right – BNSF is getting paid either way, so there is no ‘bucket of money’ to be saved, but rather even more money than currently allocated in ST3 to unlock all-day Sounder. All-day Sounder may be a good, high priority investment, but it won’t be cheap even with political consensus.

      6. Sounder was originally going to have half-hour, all-day headways before negotiations turned to peak-hour service. Thirty minute Sounder headways are better for freight operations (track capacity), and are certainly better for the development of regional passenger services. We can have that.

        There is even an American model for the development of a Sounder corridor still shared with BNSF! It just so happens to also be owned and operated by BNSF: Chicago’s Metra “BNSF Line”, featuring nearly 100 daily scheduled passenger trains on a busy freight corridor with ridership that dwarves our little S Line.

        The key in Chicago is the triple-tracked main. We started to triple-track here in the Seattle area before stopping (and I even surveyed the new sections of main into existence). We have some gaps to fill, and likely extensions through Sumner and Puyallup, too, but that’s probably more of a fight with those cities than it is BNSF. It’s certainly easier than building entirely new, parallel passenger rail lines.

        BNSF can play ball with the government, and they do all over the country. This one is more on us: we don’t have a coherent vision for what we need, nor for what we want to accomplish via rail. You can’t blame BNSF for that.

      7. “Sounder was originally going to have half-hour, all-day headways before negotiations turned to peak-hour service.” I don’t think that was ever true. The ST3 scope was the improve “access, capacity, and services” and was intentionally noncommittal to improving span of service vis-à-vis improving capacity. I think some activist assumed that all-day headways were the next step, but staff certainly did not pre-judge.

        After completing the South Sounder Strategic Plan, the project has focused on capacity expansion and has been re-branded accordingly.

        If you look at table 2-4, yes 15 minute frequency generates more freight delays than 20 minute frequency. However, figures ES-1 and ES-2 show that 10-car trains on existing time slots will be unable to handle crowding based on pre-COVID growth trends, which is why ST concluded that the full ST3 monies need to be invested in the peak time period, with little capital left over to serve a longer span-of-service. Post COVID it is certainly worth revisiting those assumptions, but 1. I’d strongly argue that it is premature to make new conclusions at this time, and 2. The most likely outcome is the same ridership growth trend, simply delayed out 5~10 years. The exogenous delay in South Sounder ridership growth allows for ST to redirect its 2020s cashflow other parts of the ST3 program, but doesn’t change the long term conclusion of the South Sounder Strategic Plan on how Sounder capital investments should proceed between now and 2040.

      8. AJ, just to clarify, my comment on proposed thirty-minute headways refers to planning efforts in the 1990s for Sounder, not ST3.

        It is indeed true.

      9. Ah, thank you for the clarification.

        I’m guessing they came to the same conclusion in the 1990s? Given the same of ridership demand, it was better to go 20 minutes frequency over peak rather than 30 minute frequency over a longer span of service?

      10. AJ, absolutely, and that is why I don’t have any real criticism of the decision (although it certainly complicated, if not soured, our negotiations with BNSF due to the very frequent headways). Through to the recent collapse in ridership, Sounder effectively served a high peak-hour demand within the South Sound. That has been its charge, so well done.

        My comment was targeted to those people who assert that BNSF refuses to cooperate on heavy rail improvements. They do cooperate, and they have already been partners in upgrades here and elsewhere.

        We just need to have an idea of what we want to accomplish with heavy rail, and we don’t. Sound Transit has not prioritized beneficial Sounder infrastructure and headway investments in a very long time. We are all in on Link.

    5. I don’t expect TLDE or Everett to be cancelled anytime soon because the subareas governments are against it. Likewise, it would be hard to make major changes to WSBLE. (I’m working on an article recommending some, so I’ll leave it for then). But if we did cancel TLDE or Everett and cancel or downgrade WSBLE, there would be billions of dollars available for alternative service and a tax cut. With a caveat: ST can’t build non-voter-approved services with ST3 money until all the voter-approved services are fully funded, unless voters modify ST3. It would probably be possible to downgrade Everett and TLDE to frequent ST Express without a revote, or maybe even Stride, but not routes in other corridors. So the replacements to Link would have to go to TLDE, Everett Station, and Paine Field, not additional routes to Puyallup or Mukilteo or Edmonds, etc.

      If we did have a revote and reassigned a fraction of ST3’s taxes to more comprehensive services, there are many things we could do. Frequent ST Express or Stride feeders or routes. Finish CT’s four remaining Swift lines, Metro’s dozen remaining RapidRide lines, and PT’s three remaining Stream lines. More RapidRide-like lines beyond that. Something bus-like or tram-like for Ballard. (Faster than the SLU streetcar!) Aurora BRT. Etc.

      A bus tunnel to Interbay leaves me ambivalent. Bus tunnels are wider than train-only tunnels, so more expensive to build. On the other hand, I do somewhat support RossB’s vision of a Y-shaped bus tunnel from south of downtown to Elliott and Aurora Avenues for the C, D, E and other routes going those directions.

      1. Mike, the difference in diameter between a bus tunnel with a bit of “wander” and an LRT tunnel is nil. The pans on the Link vehicles in DSTT1 are squished down almost flat and the cars fill the tube because they’re wider than a bus. A railcar hangs over the wheels about six inches on either side, whereas on a bus the outside of the wheels are just about flush with the sides of the vehicle.

      2. DSTT1 has a third breakdown lane for buses. That’s where the extra width would come in. And extra width means extra height if it’s round.

      3. Mike, the “breakdown lanes” are only in the station boxes which are NOT bored. There is no “third lane” in the bored sections between Westlake and just North of IDS. except in the station boxes.

        The Pine Street cut-and-cover tunnel doesn’t even have a genuine passing lane in it. The tunnel narrows by at least six feet directly east of the Westlake station box. HAD Metro dug a true three lane tunnel to Ninth, there could be a “pocket” track to store and forward SLU/Ballard trains using a level crossing at the curve into the TBM vault constructed, solving the northbound diversion problem. But Metro did not do so, so a level crossing there would be a real degradation to schedule keeping.

        A bored tunnel for buses does not have to be any larger diameter than one for pantograph-powered LR trains. This is a fact. Yes, a third-rail-powered subway tunnel can be smaller in diameter and still use “standard gauge”, because the sides of the cars can lean in a bit to fit a smaller diameter bore. But the overhead and width of pantographs mean that an LR tunnel has to be just as big a diameter as a bus tunnel.

      4. Stand on the north mezzanine at University-Seneca Street and look south. You will see teo round holes under the south mezzanine that kind of splay out, I expect so that the weight on the BNSF tunnel only thirteen or so feet below is spread out.

        If you stand on the south mezzanine looking north, the tube do NOT widen. The bores are straight to the Pine Street curve.

        My speculation about the splay is nothing more than that, but whatever the reason, between the station boxes there are only two bored tunes in which the Link trains fit nearly perfectly. The roadway was lowered in the conversion precisely to allow the low-floor cars to be level with the platforms and to fit the squished down pans through the bored sections.

      5. @TT,

        I’m not exactly sure what you are talking about with the two splayed holes under the south mezzanine at USS. Guess I’ll need to check it out next time I am there.

        But, in any case, the Great Northern Tunnel doesn’t cross under the south mezzanine. It crosses closer to 3rd and University. So, if you are standing at the north mezzanine you are actually standing nearly on top of the crossing and looking away from it.

        The DSLRT actually crosses the GNT twice. Once near 4th and Washington where the DSLRT goes under the GNT, and once at 3rd and University where the DSLRT goes over the GNT. The crossing at 4th and Washington is the close one with only about 4 ft separating the two tunnels.

        Additionally, the floor of the DSLRT was only lowered in the station boxes. This was done to facilitate level-loading from Link. The floor in the tunnel tubes themselves did not need to be lowered to accommodate LR, but the LRV’s operate with their pantographs partly retracted in the bored sections. This is fairly common practice worldwide for trains operating in tunnels using OCS.

        However, the rails that Metro had installed in the tunnel did have to be replaced throughout the entire DSLRT. This is because Metro decided that they could save $1.5m by deleting the electrical insulation around them.

        Ha. That decision sure ended up costing the taxpayers a pile of money!

      6. “This is because Metro decided that they could save $1.5m by deleting the electrical insulation around them.”

        The rails were just for show. The contractor who worked on the Bus Tunnel had previously worked on Wash DC’s Metro. He knew what was needed. The original idea was to create trenches where the tracks were to go, and have concrete ‘paver’ blocks inserted, which could easily be removed when the rails were going to be installed.

        When the decision was made to meet the deadline, he made a ‘Taxpayer Money Saving’ decision to delete the insulation. He probably was coached by those experienced in the ‘Seattle Process’, and figured that it would be just this side of …. forever, before a real rail system was going to be built.

      7. @Jim C,

        I once read about a canal that was built in the old Soviet Union under one of Stalin’s (IIRC) 5 year plans. It was completed on time, but when finished it was only 1 ft deep!

        So ya, the old Metro Bus tunnel. Rails but no insulation. No flange-way either. And probably not to correct geometry either.

        Purely for show!

      8. OK, Lazarus, if you know for certain that the BNSF tunnel underruns DSTT1 beneath the north mezzanine, then I have no reason to explain the widening of the distance between the tubes [e.g. “splaying out”] south of University-Seneca Street Station. But widen/splay out/get farther apart they do.

        Since neither you nor Mike has probably gone to USSS since the topic arose, here is a publicly available photo taken from the north mezzanine looking south of the entire station box:

        Once you open it, click the “plus” twice or three times to enlarge it and you’ll see that the tunnels are connected to the station box at a non-right angle. They tracks curve away from the center line of the station a few feet north of the south wall and enter the tubes at perhaps 85 and 95 degrees. Why they do this is a mystery, but they clearly do.

        And to the original reason for the comment your discourse about the way the trains fit in the tunnel snugly simply ratifies my point to Mike that a short bus tunnel between Elliott and Republican and Third and Cedar, in order to get the RR’s and expresses from Ballard and Magnolia past the mess at Denny, would not be any larger diameter than a light rail tunnel.

        It would be a couple of feet larger than a SkyTrain tunnel, because those trains use third-rail pickup, at least in the current incarnation.

      9. TT, yes, it appears that the bored tunnel portions are wider apart than the tracks in the USS. I wonder whether that would make it possible to add another bored tunnel in the middle for Northbound trains to dive towards Ballard and go under the existing two tunnels when they turn East.
        That way Ballard trains would miss Westlake, but people could transfer at USS instead.

      10. @TT,

        Yes, I am sure the GN tunnel goes roughly under the north mezzanine and not the south.

        The GN tunnel runs mainly under 4th Ave. When it leaves 4th and heads to its north portal on the waterfront it ends up passing almost exactly diagonally under the block containing Benaroya Hall. It was one of the design considerations for symphony hall. They needed to make sure the vibrations from the freight trains wouldn’t interfere with the acoustics of the symphony.

        As to why the two tubes appear to move further apart on the south end compared to the north, it could be a variety of things. In general, when boring tunnels, they want the tubes as far apart as possible. This has to do with soil stability during construction. If the tubes are further apart then the boring of one tunnel has less effect on the other, and they can run the boring machines faster with fewer issues. This is also why they don’t run boring machines too near the surface.

        If they need the tubes closer together at a station, or if there is a tight under crossing of some other structure, then they slow down and go carefully. It’s pretty standard.

        The tubes north of the station probably aren’t that much different than the tubes south of it. There might be some other reason to keep them closer for a short stretch, but you’d have to ask someone involved in the original construction.

        I do know that somewhere north of USS they hit sand. This was highly problematic for the old bus tunnel construction because they weren’t using Earth Pressure balance TBM’s, they were using shield excavators. They had already had some issues with subsistence messing up underground infrastructure (power outages!), so whenever they hit sand they started doing injection grouting from the surface. Not good!

        As to why Skytrain has that short, squatty looking rolling stock, it is not directly related to OCS vs third rail power pickup. Instead it is the result of Skytrain going cheap when they built their first line.

        Instead of digging their own tunnels under downtown Vancouver they simply repurposed an old Canadian Pacific railroad tunnel. But, since the CP had also gone cheap and only dug a single track tunnel, they had to squeeze the two Skytrain tracks in by stacking them one on top of the other. To do this they used squatty cabins and lower diameter wheels on their undercarriage. And they went with third rail power pickup. It caused a lot of trouble early on, but they eventually got it figured out.

        It’s also the same reason why some of those early, underground Skytrain stations are stacked platforms instead of either center or side platform stations. Not good!

      11. Martin, the widening is only south of USSS, not to the north. If you look north from the south mezzanine (or just from a platform), the tubes enter the wall perpendicular to the face unlike at the south wall. Since the breakdown lane in the station is pretty wide, there would be enough room for a third track within the station, but the tube walls take about a foot each of the space. It looks to me like it’s just a little too narrow for another bored tube between them.

        Now if the city were willing to have Third be dug up through the block to the north, a vault enclosing the northbound tube and the middle space could possibly be built to accommodate a turnout and dive. Buses on the surface would continue to pass on decking.

        That could be the northbound diversion needed to match a southbound merge at Third and Pine. “New Westlake” would then necessarily be a stacked station in the blocks north of Pine under Third.

        That’s a bit of a hike from the current station, but the elevation change would be much less than ST is proposing.

        You can’t do it just using a TBM, though. It has to be vaulted.

      12. Thanks, TT, I see it’s a bit too tight. I would support a northern vault and the southern diversion at Westlake. If any of this isn’t possible, even deadending at Westlake wouldn’t be the end of the world.

      13. I agree. Interlining in the existing tunnel is ideal, so if the City can stomach the vault (and the steep grade down doesn’t scare ST) it should happen.

        Otherwise, stub at Westlake with a two-way single track between Third and Pine and Stewart and Westlake for non-revenue moves. There would be a facing point cross-over within the USS station box for moves to the stub. I

        And if THAT’S even too expensive, the bus tunnel connecting Elliott and Republican and Third and Cedar will greatly improve the rider experience to and from Magnolia and Ballard.

  2. The details will hopefully emerge in the one year ACS data, but I suspect that the people who work remotely will increase the longer the commute distance is. The Census also doesn’t record how a decent number of workers increasingly commute one or two days a week rather than five. If someone lives a mile from work, I think they will likely go to work more days per week than someone who lives 50 miles away.

    Regardless, the first step is to change the forecasting models to reflect a reality that is post Covid. ST and PSRC rely on assumptions about peak travel that come from 2010 or possibly even further back. Until the data is analyzed and incorporated, ST will carry the bias of heavy commute loads in all its planning.

    Of course, I doubt the Board and senior staff care. To them many projects are a life-size version of building a toy train set. When is the last time you heard “what is the projected ridership” when making decisions on spending billions? It’s like they care only about nearby construction impacts and keeping “consistent” to their costly crayon-drawn system.

    1. The details will hopefully emerge in the one year ACS data, but I suspect that the people who work remotely will increase the longer the commute distance is.

      Exactly. The number of people commuting from Everett to Seattle was always pretty small — now it has gotten smaller. Lynnwood to Seattle has been hit as well, but not as hard. Meanwhile, people in say, Roosevelt, are still getting around, taking the train to work or for some other reason. This explains why transit systems that are designed more around urban travel have recovered much better than those designed around long distance commuting (or even commuting in general).

    2. ST needs to at least show us it’s thinking about how the post-covid situation changes the assumptions, and some new directions it’s thinking about. It’s not credible to act like nothing has changed. I don’t agree with the most extreme predictions like nobody will go downtown anymore, everybody will move out of Seattle, or Snohomish and Pierce don’t need some kind of transit that doesn’t take an hour to cross the county or 2-3 hours to get to Seattle or Bellevue. But some things have changed, and ST needs to at least acknowledge that and show it’s thinking about revising its vision somehow.

  3. The biggest bleed is Sounder. There is no need to build more garages and lengthen platforms until the demand is there. I highly doubt Sounder will see loads like 2019 again. Ridership is still down by 65-70% compared to 2019 and the region is approaching our new “normal”.

    1. There is little normal about 2022. Seattle is still in a tech bubble in which companies occupy vast amounts of CBD space but don’t require workers to come into the office. The new normal will be when the CBD space is repurposed for workers who are actually required to commute – whether those are the same workers who start coming into the office after their friends are all laid off, or new works as office leases are reshuffled to the best use, is TBD. Unless there is rent control, people will sort themselves near transit stops (including Sounder) such that people who need to commute will pay a premium for an easy commute, and people who remote work will sort themselves into cheaper exurbs or into desirable neighborhoods will poor access to CBDs.

  4. SkyTrain through SLU and LQA with option in future to extend to Ballard and call it a day.

    West Seattle doesn’t need both the tunnel and Link. That’s incredible overinvestment for a residential neighborhood.

    1. SkyTrain in a tunnel or as an elevated? It matters because the Link platforms are roughly 45 feet down and the monorail (or an elevated SkyTrain replacement) is 35 feet up. Eighty feet of vertical displacement for a transfer is exactly what we have all been complaining about with DSTT2.

      Yes, it’s certainly cheaper in the air, but a stub center-platform station just North of Westlake’s platform level would be a spectacularly good connection one way of a round-trip and very good the other direction.

      That said, SLU has to prove that it will need it in the New reality.

  5. I agree that automation is the future of transit, particularly rail transit. However, there is a significant drag on pursuing this.. Design engineers don’t want to revisit technology specs. Drivers unions are afraid of losing clout. Elected leaders don’t want to ruffle feathers.

    Of course, automated technology was emerging before Covid. Covid just gave the technology time to continue to improve and mature.

    When I was a kid, I remember how some elevators still had a manual operator. Today we would find that wasteful and expect elevators to be automated. Why we lock in technology choices is a mystery.

    Regardless, the continued advancement of automated technology is something that a modern transit agency should be tracking with an eye to adjusting their capital program.

    Many new rail projects under construction around the world are to be automated. Paris just retrofitted Line 1 to be automated. Toronto changed to automated technology to make the Ontario Line viable. Automation enables shorter and more frequent trains. ST needs to wake up and smell the coffee!

    1. The elevator is an excellent example. I think of elevator operators every time I hear a talking head say, “but people will never get into a vehicle that is controlled by a computer.” A elevator is a vehicle that moves in a reserved ROW and is controlled by a computer.

      1. Exactly! The same is true for people riding automated trains inside Seatac! The technology has been in use here for many years!

    2. ST currently has 8 elevators and 7 escalators out of service. Aren’t automated trains more complicated than an escalator?

      1. ST has LRVs out of service for maintenance, too. They don’t have to wait for a visit from the state elevator inspector to be released back into service.

        That inspection mode also needs a post-COVID rethink.

  6. At the risk of getting a little off-topic, it’s interesting to think through the political dynamics of how agencies might realign.

    The obvious mechanism is money. There’s no near-term ST4. No 2024 ballot measure for Metro expansion. Taxpayers won’t stand for it while agencies are running over 90% of pre-COVID service for not much more than half the ridership.

    It hurts the political consensus that there are broad markets that are largely lost to transit. Sounder is the obvious example, but long Link lines running empty into the burbs won’t look any better. The suburban buses already look sadly empty. There were enough riders in many of these places that one could make a straight-face argument that most people benefited from transit (via better mobility and less congestion) even if they didn’t use it themselves. That’s not plausible now.

    Evergreen, but transit advocates need to think harder about prioritization. The reaction to Sounder losing 75% of its demand – that we should run MORE trains at lower demand hours – is eyerollingly unrealistic. The only discussion about Sounder that is grounded in reality is whether to keep what we have.

    SnoCo and PierceCo pols will still demand their trains and their parking garages, cost and ridership be damned. They’ll get them eventually because there is no mechanism to pry their hands off a pot of money once approved.

    1. “no mechanism to pry [SnoCo and PierCo] hands off a pot of money once approved.” Isn’t it the same mechanism as re-thinking ST3 within King? Defer existing projects. Create a political consensus on a new direction. Create new enabling legislation. Have a new regional vote. Democracy is hard, but it still exists.

      “The only discussion about Sounder that is grounded in reality is whether to keep what we have.” That’s a recipe for a frequency-ridership spiral. I think it’s reasonable to look at how to improve Sounder to regain ridership, not just provide the same service and wonder why ridership doesn’t improve. I think it is better to improve Sounder South from 20 minute to 15 minute frequency rather than extend the span of service, but I wouldn’t eyeroll at the alternative.

      Sounder will be fine; it needs the Seattle CBD market to sort itself out first. Otherwise this is like fretting about the ridership on a bus that serves a plant while half the plant is closed during a downturn. I’m good deferring investments in Sounder until ridership returns, but I reserve my eyerolls for people who point to poor commuter route metrics while major employers are still declining to ask their employers to come into the office.

  7. The core question that needs to be explored is the DSTT capacity. It’s the most expensive part of ST3 on a per mile basis and its entire justification is based on peak overcrowding that ST forecasted (the one time ST did consider forecasts that are now seemingly off). Can automated technology put the trains closer together and increase possible frequencies?

    Note too that peaking was observationally heavier in 1979 than in 1999, and between 1999 and 2019. It’s at least a 40 year trend of less peaking compared to daily ridership.

    1. The 2nd DSTT is not urgent. Even on the sunny 2015 ridership estimates, it wasn’t urgent, and wouldn’t have been in the ST3 plan if it hadn’t exploded to 25+ years and 2x the available tax revenues. It’s so much less urgent now.

      On some long timeframe, it may be needed. And there must be some added cost to adding Ballard to the existing tunnel first and switching it to another tunnel later. There’s no information in the public domain that allows us to figure how much that is.

      1. I agree. Eventually it may be needed, but I think it is highly likely that we will build it better if we build it later. A second tunnel should add more than extra capacity, it should coverage (to First Hill at a minimum).

      2. You can’t add Ballard to the existing tunnel, except by “The Dogbone” where a track from SLU/Ballard junctions westbound at the curve bt the Convention Center Ballard trains stop at Westlake and then take a track which diverges straight ahead to Second and northward at the Pine-To-Third curve.

        Well, unless you allow for a level crossing and provide a full junction at the Convention Center curve. It is extremely unlikely that ST will put a scheduled-service junction at that critical point.

    2. Honestly I never quite understood why we need DSTT. Well to be exact why is the route needed to interline with the existing route.

      I mean if a Ballard to West Seattle route is truly desired then just build it elevated from Ballard to West Seattle with 2/3 elevated train car stations instead. It is not as if it is not technically feasible — it is the old original plan a long time ago.

      The other reason cited for DSTT to interline is so that Sound Transit can turn back trains heading north coming from the south. Why not just had some turn back tracks around northgate or shoreline then. Digging another tunnel for this seems excessive.

      The current plan just involves the stations at Ballard and West Seattle as well as their tunnels being excessively large and expensive.

    3. DSTT1 can be retrofitted to double the maximum reliable frequency from 3 minutes to 1.5 minutes. There was a candidate ST3 project to do that, but ST rejected it when it selected the second tunnel. It could resurrect it.

      That would allow three full 6-minute lines in the tunnel. That would take care of Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, and West Seattle, in any 3-line configuration. Ballard would still be problematic because there’s no exit from DSTT1 to the north, and Convention Place Station is filled in. Some have suggested a separate Ballard line terminating at Westlake, where everyone would transfer. That could be any of a wider range of technologies, from Link to a surface tram (faster than the SLU streetcar it must be!) to an automated Skytrain to a goldola to BRT to something else.

      1. Under ideal management I don’t think we need to worry about having to take the line out of service for splicing in a Ballard extension. The line has to be shut down to splice in the West Seattle line.

        There are other subway lines that have had to do this. Yes, it’s expensive. When compared to a second tunnel? It would be a bargain.

        Hell, it’s already been done once in the existing tunnel. Originally the existing tunnel ended at Convention Place. The Link tunnel to Capitol Hill was dug out 20 years after the original tunnel opened.

      2. The issue is not interrupting service, it’s the cost of punching a branch into an underground tunnel.

      3. “The Link tunnel to Capitol Hill was dug out 20 years after the original tunnel opened.”

        That was the primary north-south corridor to the U-District, Northgate, and eventually Lynnwood and Everett. It had to be done to get a primary north-south axis. Ballard is a secondary corridor.

      4. Hell, it’s already been done once in the existing tunnel.

        Glenn, Pine Street is a cut-and-covered box tunnel, not bored twin tubes. There was already a wide box at Ninth Avenue for the buses to turn into the Convention Center station. All ST had to do was add first a one-block extension to the box tunnel for train reversal and eventually a TBM removal vault directly adjacent to the extended box tunnel (between The Paramount and the freeway) and link up the tracks for U-Link.

        The Dogbone Loop plan discussed about a year ago would work because the exit west under Pine is also in a box tunnel [the Westlake Station box]. The west wall could be pierced for a straight track.

        But nowhere between Main Street and the TBM vault by I-5 is there sufficient room on the east side of Third or the south side of Pine to diverge a northbound track.

        Period. End of story.

        Ross’s guru can point to any number of tube incisions and dance up a storm, but his examples are in residential neighborhoods without five-story sub-basements directly adjacent to the tube to be severed. You have to build a box around the target tube, disassemble the compression rings and have enough free dirt to divert the connection far enough apart to sic a TBM on the new tunnel.

  8. I’m confused. Everybody on here complains about Forward Thrust not passing, but now you are trying to mothball Sound Transit 3.

      1. The Forward Thrust (FT) alignments served pedestrian centers and not freeway envelopes; FT was completely grade separated; FT was King County only; FT would have had a much higher federal share.

      2. Yes, a project vision that never made it passed 5% design, never dealt with community opposition to construction impacts, never dealt with granular engineering issues, never dealt with unexpected cost overruns, and was never tested in the real world will generally look better on paper than a project that survived the gauntlet of reality.

        It’s the same foolishness of people who point out that the Aurora alignment cost estimates are lower than the actual cost incurred to build along I5, except at a much larger time scale.

      3. Come on AJ. Link has largely been built exactly as they planned — with the obvious exception of a First Hill station that was skipped for dubious reasons. Look at the original plans for Link and the original plans for Forward Thrust. Forward Thrust is just much, much better.

      4. I think skipping First Hill is Exhibit A of how the Forward Trust alignment never had to deal with real engineering & financial constraints.

      5. Construction costs would have been several times lower in the 1970s. The DSTT in the 1980s was much less expensive than it would have been if we’d built it in 2000 or now. We’re lucky DSTT1 was built when it was. Otherwise the additional cost of ST1 might have been enough to prevent it from passing.

    1. lolol … I can see that. But it’s more about rellocating $$$ from projects that are commuter-oriented to provide all-day, frequent service. Personally, I much rather see the Sounder be axed altogether and funds reinvested into Link and BRT.

      1. Sounder North should be axed. Edmonds and Mukulteo stations are at the western edge of their own cities’ population center and the core 99-to-I-5 population center, the shoreline cuts the walksheds in half, and the track is right up against a hillside and can’t be expanded and is prone to mudslides.

        Sounder South serves Kent and Auburn, which Link doesn’t. Those are two of the largest cities in South King County and Pierce County. The Sounder stations are right in the middle of South King’s population. Most of Kent’s and Renton’s population live in the eastern half of those cities. Auburn might be similar. Sumner and Puyallup are also not on Link, and have full-circle walksheds and cachement areas even if there’s not much right around the station. Sounder is much faster than Link from Tukwila, Kent, or Auburn to Seattle. It’s possible that it will eventually be ready for higher ridership with more frequency. That happened with Caltrain. So Sounder South has more of a reason to exist.

      2. “Sounder is much faster than Link from Tukwila, Kent, or Auburn to Seattle.”

        I mean, than Link is from comparable TIB, KDM, and Federal Way. Sounder is 13 minutes to Tukwila, 20 to Kent, and 28 to Auburn.

        Link has a one-seat advantage between CID and Westlake, but Link from Westlake (the average trip) is 14 minutes to Beacon Hill, 24 minutes to Rainier Beach, 34 to TIB, 39 to Angle Lake, maybe 45 to KDM, and 55 to Federal Way. So while Sounder is arriving in Kent, Link is arriving in Columbia City. While Sounder is arriving in Auburn, Link is still between Rainier Beach and TIB. And then once you get to KDM or Federal Way, you then have to get to Kent or Auburn.

    2. Sound Transit 3 is heading to excessive cost increases and going the way of the Honolulu Rapid Transit with massive cuts/delays or San Jose Bart’s excessive tunneling. The added money is being used to tunnel every deeper to avoid any car/construction impacts or stations consolidated to prevent any car lane removals.

      The route from Ballard to West Seattle is still good but they definitely need to rethink the current approach of tunneling so much and why exactly 4-car trains are needed along this segment. I’d opt for them to build it elevated and just use a drawbridge for much cheaper bridge (it’ll be fine Chicago’s heavy rail has draw bridges) Plus the tunnel alignment basically makes further extensions in both Ballard and West Seattle impractical

      1. It’s not Ballard to West Seattle. It’s Mariner to West Seattle through the highest-demand segment Link has (U-District to Westlake). And Ballard to Tacoma. The existing Westlake to Tacoma segment has 4-car trains that are standing room only peak hours, and would need only a few more people to reach capacity.

      2. > It’s not Ballard to West Seattle. It’s Mariner to West Seattle through the highest-demand segment Link has (U-District to Westlake). And Ballard to Tacoma

        I know how the alignment works with Seatac going to Ballard and both West Seattle and East side going to north to Everett. But if you really calculate it, it really doesn’t offer as much of a capacity increase as one would think versus just having the separate West Seattle to Ballard line especially for the cost.

        > The existing Westlake to Tacoma segment has 4-car trains that are standing room only peak hours, and would need only a few more people to reach capacity.

        The current limitation is due to the section in Rainier avenue not due to the tunnel itself. With or without the second tunnel that wouldn’t be fixed. It also means that adding the frequency from the Eastside also doesn’t quite ‘take away’ capacity from the existing line.
        The signaling can handle around 90 second headways. But let’s make that 2 minutes* for some buffer that’s around 30 TPH. However the rainier section of 6 minutes mean’s it’s only around 10TPH. You can easily add another 10TPH from the eastside section to 20TPH and still have addition to grow. But either way adding another tunnel doesn’t help actually capacity for the Seatac to Everett section. The only case where it is forced is when West Seattle line wants to also go north to Everett and then you’ll have too many trains on one line.

        *The article says it’s 3 minutes, sure we can go with that too, and that’s still 20TPH.

      3. “The signaling can handle around 90 second headways.”

        The issue is reliability. ST thinks train bunching is likely if it pushes frequency beyond 3 minutes without train improvements.

        ST is actually running trains every 90 seconds now after ballgames, and the uneven headways suggest some of the predicted train bunching may be happening then. It doesn’t matter for the urgency of transporting a ballgame crowd once a month or so, but it would be a bigger issue if it’s afflicting Link every day.

      4. “The article says it’s 3 minutes, sure we can go with that too, and that’s still 20TPH.”

        It will be three or four minutes when both lines 1 and 2 are running, even without line 3.

      5. > “The article says it’s 3 minutes, sure we can go with that too, and that’s still 20TPH.” It will be three or four minutes when both lines 1 and 2 are running, even without line 3.

        I understand that and that’s why I said that having the configuration with both line 1 (seatac) and 2 (eastside) going north to Everett will be fine.

        And then just build a separate line for Ballard to West Seattle say elevated along 1st avenue (aka similar to the older elevated alignment routes) or even if you wanted tunneled now smaller station sizes can be used with a transfer station near Westlake or Pioneer square.

      6. OK, I didn’t get the part about Ballard not being in the tunnel.

        The monorail project was originally on 2nd Avenue. Part of it got pushed east to 5th Avenue, because 2nd Avenue businesses didn’t want trains in front of their third-floor windows or the stanchions displacing street parking on 2nd. That was the project that was confirmed in four votes and then killed in the fifth vote.

        The second proposal after that, which I call Monorail 2, would have run along Alaskan Way, a steep hill down from downtown that would not be in easy walking distance from most of the people it was intended to serve. That failed with a 70% No vote.

        Any future elevated train should be somewhere between 2nd and 5th, where the bulk of pedestrians are.

    3. Forward Thrust only went as far as Renton, Redmond, and Lake City. (It went in a fan shape to the east and did not serve Northgate or SeaTac, which weren’t major areas then.) We can take ST2 (Lynnwood, Redmond, Federal Way) as a 21st-century version of Forward Thrust. Forward Thrust also had lines to Ballard and West Seattle. ST3 is five very different things in one:

      – Short extensions to downtown Redmond and downtown Federal Way to finish what ST2 couldn’t afford.
      – Three Stride lines, which are a promising next step in regional transit.
      – WSBLE, which was badly designed and is getting worse.
      – The Everett and Tacoma Dome extensions, which are questionable. They’re also far beyond what Forward Thrust contemplated, and 55 mph light rail is not the right technology for that long a distance.
      – The Issaquah line, which is outright ridiculous.

      If Forward Thrust had opened in the early 1980s, I could have used it my entire adult life. And there would have been expansions, like BART and MAX have been expanding over the same time period. It’s irrelevant to guess what those expansions might be, because it never got to that point. But the existence of Forward Thrust might have influenced living patterns, workplace patterns, and density. More growth might have been in and near the Forward Thrust fan instead of in Lynnwood and Federal Way and Tacoma and Everett. Or we could have built later phases to Lynnwood and Federal Way.

      Forward Thrust also had narrower stop spacing, and went to the middle of more pedestrian neighborhoods, so people would have more choices and more housing opportunities in walkable station areas. Link isn’t like that and won’t be like that, so we have to build bus corridors around it to get to the neighborhods Forward s would have reached but Link doesn’t, or that future expansions of Forward Thrust might have served but Link doesn’t.

      1. I don’t know if Ross was here. I moved here two years after Forward Thrust failed the second time. I was six years old then, my parents probably never heard of it, they drove everywhere, so I never thought about transit until junior high, and never heard about Forward Thrust until I was an adult.

  9. Great article and I largely agree. Mainly you address reallocating existing transit resources, which needs to be done ASAP.

    In terms of transit growth and future/ongoing projects, it’s hard to predict the future. So we should be designing transit for the 2040s-2050s based on the future we want combined with the things that we are fairly certain that we will need.

    I think we can be fairly sure that we will need robust transit in the 2040s-50s. We can be fairly certain about the general growth trajectory of the region. Climate change is only going to be a bigger issue then. Traffic congestion is a never-ending issue. So the arguments for continuing to build transit are strong.

    Light rail also has the unique power to induce demand. We rarely put out light rail stations where demand currently, mostly out of necessity because it is difficult to displace established neighborhoods, acquire expensive property, and compensate existing residents and business owners. I think we need to be fine with that.

    Where I get irritated with Sound Transit is the massive number of stations with terrible walksheds that have poor potential for growth. Do we have to put every single one of our stations next to a highway/stroad, golf course, or both?

    1. “Where I get irritated with Sound Transit is the massive number of stations with terrible walksheds that have poor potential for growth. Do we have to put every single one of our stations next to a highway/stroad, golf course, or both?”
      You’d need the executives at ST to grow a spine and tell some stakeholders to kindly pound sand on station placement that benefits everyone. Had that happened with FWE, we’d probably have a better extension overall. Instead, they cared to a McDonald’s, car dealerships, and strip malls.

    2. It’s not every station, just 70-80 percent of them! Lol

      My count …
      All of Everett Link (7)
      1 of 2 on Downtown Redmond Link
      2 of 3 on WS Link
      3 of 9 on Ballard/ DSTT2 Link
      All of TD Link (4)
      All of 4 Line (5)
      2 of 3 infill stations

      24/ 33 or 73%

      And if you remove the stations that are supposed to get new platforms it goes to 24/ 30 or 80%.

      A few could be debated but regardless it’s undeniably a majority of planned stations.

    3. When a significant portion of the walkshed is taken up getting in or out of the station, then the quickest way to increase walkshed might be to find ways to keep the platform closer to ground level.

      In that regard, Angle Lake is the gold standard and UW is the type of station to be avoided.

      1. Step 2: Don’t wall off two directions out of the station, and then fill the third direction with a carpark lot/garage.

    4. “So we should be designing transit for the 2040s-2050s based on the future we want combined with the things that we are fairly certain that we will need.”

      We can’t be fairly certain what the 2040s or 2050s will be like. We don’t know whether the US will still be a democracy, whether Pugetopolis will have a catostrophic earthquake and become uninhabitable, whether climate change will cause devastating heat waves, whether there will still be enough civilization to have electricity and cars and transit, what the job situations will be like, whether the population will continue steadily increasing or have a significant downtick or uptick, or whether people will still be as blind to the downsides to car-dependent living and P&R-oriented transit.

      The most we can do is assume the future will be somewhat like the past, with population growth continuing, and suburbs and car-dependent living still being popular. There will doubtless be less resistance to walkable neighborhoods and transit investments between them, but we can’t say how much.

      My ideal would be to truncate Link at Lynnwood and Federal Way, have frequent bus feeders beyond that, and rethink Ballard and Federal Way access. I’d also like half-hourly Sounder South please.

  10. Agree with the need for a strategic pivot. One of the more thought-provoking things to pop out of the Sound Transit undertaking is the creation of the phrase, affordability gap. The affordability gap is the subtle way of saying costs exceed revenue which means the ST3 schedule for delivering projects is delayed. That is we can’t get what we want when we want it. Paradoxically, the chosen solution to this problem is to delay construction, endure the cost escalation that follows and hope to collect more money in the future to build the things we cannot afford.

    To paraphrase, Mick Jager, you can’t always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you might find, you get what you need. Maybe we can get what we need in a timely manner with a different approach?

    What if we close the affordability gap by building an affordable high-capacity regional transit system? For example, how much cost could be eliminated if the Everett, Tacoma, West Seattle, and Ballard extensions used rubber-wheel electric vehicles rather than steel wheel electric vehicles? What if we used (mostly) the same alignment and guideway but substituted state of the art buses for train cars?

    We know the savings would be substantial starting with obvious items – no rail, no overhead power system, simpler maintenance yards, cheaper vehicles, and quicker construction. Then, with a bit of creativity, there is the savings from eliminating all or part of a new downtown tunnel (use Western Avenue?), some elevated stations, and such things as the Everett Link out-of-direction, low ridership, elevated Boeing Loop (which could be served just fine by BRT at-grade). Am I hearing the affordability gap snapping shut and seeing fast, flexible, reliable regional transit system opening in ten years not 20? The eliminated cost would measure in the billions and perhaps the system might be delivered on a schedule and budget that voters approved?

    1. I recall previous discussion of raising ST’s debt limit as another way to provide additional funds now and help mitigate schedule impacts. Is that something that is being discussed at all? IIRC, that would need legislative approval, but I’d imagine that would be feasible.

      1. > I recall previous discussion of raising ST’s debt limit as another way to provide additional funds now and help mitigate schedule impacts. Is that something that is being discussed at all? IIRC, that would need legislative approval, but I’d imagine that would be feasible.

        I don’t think it would help but hurt actually at this stage. For example San Jose went from a twin bore tunnel to a single bore large tunnel with station box to avoid car impacts from closing the Santa Clara street temporarily (4.7 billion). Then they went to an even more expensive massive tunnel to avoid even less street closures adding yet another 4 billion. It was only the lack of money that forced them to realize it was impractical.

        There’s a choice between inconvenience (taking away car lanes, digging station boxes, elevated alignments) and expensive but politically easy (tunnels, deep deep tunnels, mined stations etc…) and currently it has swung too far in the latter direction

      2. ST is expected to hit the debt ceiling from the mid 2020s to early 2030s. That’s part of what makes ST3 take so long, because it has to limit expenditures while it’s at the ceiling. These are estimates from before covid, so I don’t know how the current situation might be different. But the mid 2020s is now a couple years away.

        There’s a soft debt limit and a hard debt limit. ST is following the soft debt limit it imposed on itself and could change with a board vote. The hard debt limit is higher than that and would require legislative action to raise.

        There’s also the issue of how delays harm passengers and impact the economy’s potential. That’s another factor that should be considered when considering whether to raise the debt ceiling.

    2. What if we close the affordability gap by building an affordable high-capacity regional transit system? For example, how much cost could be eliminated if the Everett, Tacoma, West Seattle, and Ballard extensions used rubber-wheel electric vehicles rather than steel wheel electric vehicles? What if we used (mostly) the same alignment and guideway but substituted state of the art buses for train cars?

      The great thing about that approach is that you wouldn’t need to build a new guideway — it is largely already built. There is a freeway that connects West Seattle to downtown Seattle — we just fixed it. There are freeways that connect Everett to Lynnwood and Tacoma to Federal Way. The stations themselves even have two-way HOV lanes connected to the station. Even Ballard — the one place where the train will be significantly faster than the buses — could see a huge time savings with relatively moderate investments. Even spending more — on say, a new Ballard Bridge, which as it turns out we actually need — wouldn’t be as expensive as basically duplicating the expressway that is 15th/Elliot. The only challenging part is Uptown. But at it turns out, the plans for Uptown to downtown travel are so screwed up that we would probably be better off with a combination of express buses that go downtown (via Elliot) and buses that serve Uptown on the way. If we can build surface BRT on Madison, I see no reason why we can’t build it from Uptown to Downtown.

      1. As a Ballard resident, I’m warming to the idea of scrapping WSBLE for a bus offramp from the Spokane Street viaduct to the SODO busway and maybe a couple hundred thousand gallons of red paint for the D and 40 routes. I’m actually more excited at this point for the improvements to the 40 than light rail coming to Ballard.

    1. Does anyone else think that the Marymoor Village garage will be underused long after Link to downtown Redmond is opens? Wasn’t the intended user supposed to be mostly tech-employed Sammamish residents?

      1. The garage is for Sammamish in lieu of extending Link to it. It will also be used by northern and eastern Redmond residents if the Redmond Downtown lot is full. I don’t know how large the Marymoor P&R will be, or if Redmond Downtown will keep the surface P&R or have a garage or neither. Tech-heavy doesn’t really matter because they are Sammamish residents in any case, and some of them will be going west/southwest to the rest of the region regardless of what their job is, whether Microsoft remains big, or whether Sammamish remains a popular living place for Microsoft workers and retirees.

        However, in general, it would be good to replace P&Rs with housing, either when their full capacity is unused, or before that on principle. It would be even better to not build P&Rs in the first place, and to have frequent bus routes to the stations from more neighborhoods, so that more people can fairly easily take a bus from their home to a Link station. P&Rs are only a small fraction of the ridership even when they’re full, simply because a thousand parking spaces takes up a lot of space and is not that many people, and only one car can use the space at a time, and the same car is usually in the space from 7am to 6pm, blocking other cars from using it.

        Still, P&Rs are a compromise between urbanists and suburbanists to get Link approved, and leaf P&Rs ostensibly serve the large cachement area beyond them, so Sammamish may be more justified than some others.

      2. Mike, Sammamish won’t need park and rides because an army of Via vehicles will be buzzing down every cul-de-sac because these incredibly demanding suburbanites were promised walkable transit if their neighborhood was upzoned and don’t really care about the poor, Elderly Black resident in South Seattle waiting for a 30 minute bus to get to Harborview because it is their Metro tax money, they now realize.

        Probably not as witty as TT, but yes the park and ride can be developed although who in that area wants to live next to a freeway with zero retail, because East Link will be empty (which maybe the mandatory three car garage in Sammamish might have suggested to ST).

      3. The nearby Bear Creek P&R has been empty on weekdays for the last three years. North Sammamish and Education Hill residents used to fill that P&R before Covid. Where are they?

  11. It was less than a year ago that local transit agency heads decided to allow masking to be optional on all transit services, without public input, and based solely on a successful lawsuit to end airline mask mandates, not the advice of the CDCP or other organizations of health professionals.

    I believe there will be more ridership recovery as former riders who won’t ride right now because half the riders are maskless eventually decide COVID is under control enough (i.e. much, much less deadly than at the outset or during the Delta or original Omicron surges). With daily deaths from COVID in the US&A rising from 300 to 500 over the past couple months, we are nowhere near that point.

    If Sound Transit wants to get an idea what post-COVID ridership could actually be like, add mask-wearing around other riders to your personnel policies and Passenger Code of Conduct. Sure, it won’t be universally complied with, or enforced much (kind of like eating on the bus and being seen doing so by the operator), but most people will do it, because it is an expectation.

    Yeah, some very small number of people may at least promise not to ride if masks are required. Please keep your promise in that case. I will be grateful to you for doing so.

    1. Covid is endemic. Get boosted. Wear an N95 yourself if you want to. Your mask mandate will just decrease ridership even more. It’s completely tone deaf. Jesus.

      1. What evidence do you have that mask mandates decrease ridership?

        The county’s data, btw, suggests getting boosted increases your chances of worse outcomes. I’m not saying don’t do it, but that if it has any real positive impact, it is small compared the first two doses, to wearing masks, and improved air filtration.

        I’m sorry if I hurt your feelings when I point out that the decision to not wear a mask on a short transit ride is selfish and lacking concern about other riders, especially those who are immunocompromised. Not their feelings, but their actual safety.

        The Board hiding behind a Zoom wall while not having policies in place to intercept exhalation-to-inhalation spread, when it is “endemic” (meaning a lot of people have it)… Now that’s tonedeaf.

    2. I don’t think Covid has much of an impact on transit ridership. I’m very careful, for reasons I won’t go into, but I ride transit more than ever. Transit systems are relatively safe. There is good ventilation on the buses and trains. In contrast, your average store or restaurant does not have good ventilation. Yet people have largely returned to restaurants, grocery shopping and the like.

      In contrast, there has been a move towards working home that is unlikely to be fully reversed. That is because it is part of a long term trend. Imagine if Covid hit ten years ago. People would be talking about how Amazon took advantage of it, and now people will go back to the shopping malls. But that trend (towards online shopping) has been happening for a long time. It doesn’t mean that everyone shops online, it just means that way more do it now than twenty years ago.

      The same thing is true with telecommuting. It was a trend *before* the pandemic. The pandemic just accelerated it. People are going back to the office, but not at the numbers like before. Lots of people will permanently work from home, while others will split time from working at home and working at the office. People will self select, as well. The farther you are from work, the more likely you are to work from home. A commute from Ash Way will simply never be as good as a commute from Roosevelt. Furthermore, the person who commutes from Roosevelt to downtown is far less likely to own a car. This means that on their off hours they will take the train to other places (like Capitol Hill) while the person in Ash Way will simply drive to wherever they are headed. The pandemic (and its aftermath) have just accelerated trends that have been going on for years, and transit patterns that have existed for well over a century. People generally take short trips via transit. By large numbers inside the city, and much smaller numbers outside it. The number of people taking advantage of Everett, Tacoma Dome and Issaquah Link was always going to be small, and not worth the cost. But now it will be even more so.

      1. Good post.
        I remember when the Alaska Way Viaduct got torn down and some folks thought it cause some huge never-ending traffic mess. But somehow the traffic just got shifted around and Seattle got her waterfront back.

        The problem with mass transit is it’s often built on the same spoke-and-feeder ideas our freeways are… Even with traffic messed up on 1-5, Express busses straight to the airport will always beat a goofy light rail train that serves Tacoma, Federal way and SeaTac in the most round about way with planned TOD stops in middle of no place. It’s a slow ass milk run. Let’s get on an electric bus in Tacoma and just go straight to the airport and be done with it.
        I think people want transit that goes to where they want to go without that much fuss or expense. I’d guess better bus service and BRT and a $1 fare would get more people on transit than any fancy train.

      2. “It’s a slow ass milk run.”

        You weren’t around when the 174 went from downtown to Federal Way and there was no 194. Half hourly.

        Do you remember when the 226/235 went from downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue, going down to the Rainier I-90 entrance, making three stops on Mercer Island, and meandering through Beaux Arts and Enatai on their way to downtown Bellevue? Each hourly, and then splitting to Kirkland and Overlake.

        When the 42 went down Dearborn and MLK to Rainier View south of Rainier Beach every half hour?

        When the 210 went from downtown Seattle to North Bend, making one stop on Mercer Island, and then meandering on Newport Way to Issaquah. Every 90-120 minutes to Issaquah, and every 3-4 hours to North Bend.

        When the 150 continued from Kent to Auburn? Half hourly weekdays, hourly otherwise.

        When the 6 went to Aurora Village, serving Seattle Center East like the 3/4 do, then getting on Aurora to just north of the Bridge, then meandering to Stone Way and southwest Greenlake, going under Aurora to Linden and coming back to Aurora at 73rd. with closer stop spacing than the E has? Half hourly. With a limited-stop overlay 359 like the E weekday daytime, and a peak express 360.

        When the 307 took I-5 to Northgate and then veered over to Lake City, Kenmore, Bothell, and Woodinville? Hourly.

        When the 305 overlapped the 307 to Northgate but ran on Eastlake/Roosevelt more slowly, then continued north to Shoreline and Richmond Beach? Hourly.

        When the 131/132 went on 4th Avenue South to Burien and then continued to Highline College, taking an hour end to end, and no off-peak alternative but the 174? Half hourly if I remember.

        When the 340 went from Shoreline P&R to Aurora Village, Ballenger Way, Kenmore, Bothell, then got on 405 and stopped at 132nd and 70th, then Bellevue TC and 112th, then 405 with stops at Coal Creek Parkway and Kennydale, then going through Renton, then on 405/518 to SeaTac and Burien? Half hourly weekdays, hourly otherwise.

        When the 240 was a local shadow of the 340 from Bellevue TC to Renton, McMicken Heights, SeaTac, and Burien? Hourly. It had a beautiful I-90 segment from South Bellevue, sweeping over the highest ramp to the first 405 exit at Richards Road. That was some view.

        There’s milk runs for you. I could go on with Seattle routes. All this was when I started riding Metro in 1979 until around 1990. Metro had a bad director then, who thought non-coverage transit was unimportant, and the most important thing King County needed for transit was vanpools for peak work commutes.

    3. The majority of the public has been for optional masks for over a year now, even in liberal Seattle. It wasn’t realistic for ST and Metro to remain 100% mask required then, and that’s not going to change. They could require their staff to wear masks, but I don’t feel good requiring other people to keep a mask on all day because that’s miserable. I put my mask on for an hour or two at a time when I’m in a thick crowd with strangers, it’s indoors and ventilation is bad. Usually on the routes I ride, there’s at least a one- or two-person or more gap between me and the next person, the transit ventilation system supposedly replaces the air every three minutes, and I’m only on the vehicle for five minutes or fifteen minutes at a time. If I share a seat with somebody I usually put on a mask, especially if they have one on.

      1. I haven’t seen any polls, but there is a difference between a majority of the public shrugging at whether transit riders should wear masks, and a majority of transit riders being okay with masklessness. About half the riders I see on the 1 Line are wearing masks. I have no idea how many more would be riding if a mask requirement were in place, but are avoiding it.

        I’m quite sure it far outnumbers the riders who condition their riding on getting to ride without a mask. How do I know? They were riding before the requirement was lifted.

        There is a potential compromise available only on trains: Have some cars mask-expected and some mask-if-you-care-to. That would be kind of like trains that have quiet cars. It isn’t strictly enforced, but if someone hears someone talking on that car, they gesture for them to shut up. Similarly, we could point to signs saying “Please wear a mask on this car.”

        Seeing how popular each car would be would be useful data. Even if it is a minority of the public that is not okay with mask optionality, we still exist, and ST is making the train quite undesirable for us to ride. I don’t think most of the mask-non-wearers are doing it to annoy the rest of us or chase us off the train, so I think most would be okay letting us have a choice of a mask-expected car.

  12. Many thought 2022 would be the year to determine transit ridership patterns and the “new normal” when it comes to in office work and commuting. The new normal shows current patterns are future patterns. Still, until Federal Way, Lynnwood and East Link the feeder system and its cost won’t be known. ST sucked all the money out of the system for a transit system that covers a tiny portion of a huge undense area without helping with the costs of first/last mile access.

    2023 will be all about budgets and budget deficits. At least in this region transit has operated on the principle funding is limitless. The exhaustion of Covid stimulus, reallocation of tax revenue to suburbs due to WFH, likely large cuts in federal spending, slowing economy (especially tech is this area), Seattle’s neglect of roads and bridges despite huge increases in tax revenue inflation which increases all public costs by around 8%, and reduction in the stock market mean cities and agencies are actually going to have to cut services, including transit.

    But until we see how deep the deficits are we won’t be able to determine the costs just for operations and maintenance and budget shortfalls.

    I think this will highlight how key Metro, Pierce and Community Transit are, and how stressed their budgets. I think this will reduce feeder buses to Link. I also think visions of TOD along freeways post pandemic is myth. Meanwhile the legislature is planning for a huge zoning change by moving folks from urban areas and TOD to suburbs but without any transit service, which means more cars.

    Link is fairly new and will cover deficits in farebox recovery and operations by deferring maintenance. The DEIS for WSBLE will place the gap on the stakeholders but the amounts will be astronomical,

    The key IMO right now is to begin to rank and prioritize bus service so systems, Link, TOD, agencies, and riders are aware of the cuts in future service. This is why I disagree with those who want to reallocate transit service to remote SFH zones in order to upzone them when core transit service in equity zones will likely have to be cut and our zoning already will accommodate the DOC’s inflated future population estimates in easy to serve TOD.

    WSBLE will be the template for Everett Link: sorry about the cost estimates, here is the bill. Not sure about TDLE, but spending that money to not access downtown Tacoma is stupid to me even if Pierce has the money. Obviously Sounder improvements, and Sounder service need to be cut.

    When money is tight identify those folks who truly need transit and those who don’t and do the best you can. 2023 is no time for a three county wide grid, or inviting wealthy upzoned Eastside SFH zones to the transit pie because they will hog it, or at least demand what they pay in taxes gets spent in their “subarea”.

    1. “ST sucked all the money out of the system for a transit system that covers a tiny portion of a huge undense area without helping with the costs of first/last mile access.”

      We needed a trunk transit system approximately like ST2, whether you believe it or not. That’s what’s been hindering non-drivers from getting to all their errands, and what has made people at the edge of riding/not riding decline to use transit. In other words, we need something immune to traffic bottlenecks, that runs every 3-10 minutes all day and evening every day, and has stations in several pedestrian neighborhoods even if not all of them. Full exclusive-lane BRT and signal priority could do it, but that’s even harder to get approved than Link is. And buses have to turn and wait for stoplights to detour into stations, while Link just glides right to them. A city of 720K in an ST2 area of 2.5 million is large enough and dense enough to justify a high-capacity transit trunk, and needs it. It could be a third the size and still justify it, as dozens of smaller German cities have. So a large investment in a transit trunk was necessary. But not as large as Everett and Tacoma. Those are just nice if they exist.

      “until Federal Way, Lynnwood and East Link the feeder system and its cost won’t be known.”

      That’s not the way to look at it. The feeder restructures will be revenue-neutral unless new taxes are approved. The feeder need is 10-15 minute service full-time in all the Frequent corridors in Metro’s, CT’s, and PT’s long-range plans at minimum. There’s also non-Link crosstown routes that are just as important for corridors Link doesn’t serve, to complete the grid and connect all villages to each other. The available service hours and drivers at present are far less than that, so it will be a halfway job, with some full-time frequent feeders and corridors and others that are underserved. C’est la vie. None of this is ST’s responsibility, because its responsibility is to provide the regional transit routes and P&Rs that’s it. it’s up to the county-based transit agencies, counties, and cities to provide the rest. They’re the ones who are primarily responsible for their cities and counties.

    2. “This is why I disagree with those who want to reallocate transit service to remote SFH zones in order to upzone them”

      I can barely understand what you mean with all this remote highrise talk, misrepresenting suburban areas as rural, and saying none of Pugetopolis is dense. The Ash Way P&R has existing TOD that has been there for over a decade. Bellevue is not going to reverse its Spring District plans, nor Kirkland Totem Lake. Seattle has been building more housing than the suburbs throughout most of the 2010s (even if it may have reversed this year for short-term or long-term). People will fill the housing units wherever they are, whatever size they are, because they have no place else to go: all the other units are full, with a less than 5% vacancy rate in most areas, and a house inventory that’s just starting to move from a 3-week turnaround toward its 6-month norm (the equivalent of vacancy rate for owned homes) but still has a long way to go. Surrey Downs, my favorite poster child for too-low zoning next to a village, is not “remote”. Tacoma, PLU, and Spanaway are not “rural”.

      Most of what we advocate is a compromise between our ideals and the reality of a suburban-minded majority. If you have a problem with Link to Everett and Tacoma, take it up with the cities of Everett and Tacoma and the counties of Snohomish and Pierce, because they’re the ones who pushed for it and had the clout to get it through. If you have a problem with East Link, take it up with the Eastside cities and King County. if you have a problem with Issaquah Link, take it up with Issaquah and King County.

      1. Mike, in one post you praise the PSRC vision of locating population and density in town centers with walkable retail and transit (TOD) and in the next post you support upzoning SFH zones that have no transit service today.

        Remote? I live 3 miles from downtown Seattle. My city has no intra-Island transit, and we are talking North Mercer Island, not the south end.

        Remote means there is no walkable transit and no walkable retail. You gotta drive. Basically 90% of everything east of MI. Upzoning won’t change that. It would take a King’s ransom to provide transit coverage to east King Co. if the topography allowed it.

        I LIKE urbanism. I have lived in and visited many of the great urban cities in the world. I wish we had one here but we don’t. To me, Bellevue Way is not real urbanism. Ash Way as urbanism is like the claim a piroshki shop on 3rd is urbanism.

        Real urbanism is exciting. It is packed with people. It makes you go there, and it makes folks take transit because so many other people want to go there, not commuter transit slaves.

        For a progressive city I have never seen worse urbanism than I see in downtown. Seattle. No one wants to go there. The fact you used some apartment complex on Ash Way as your example of urbanism rather than DOWNTOWN SEATTLE says it all. I would rather go to Factoria than Seattle. Ouch.

        You act like this region has millions of residents with more to come. No, so it is an either/or. THAT IS THE ENTIRE POINT OF TGE GMA AND PSRC. Do you want new development to be TOD or in SFH zones without transit (although they will demand it) or on the south end of MI.

        I do like Nathan’s idea that transit service and coverage must precede upzoning SFH zones. Otherwise it is just SFH envy because it is a fantasy that upzoning expensive land will create affordable housing. It is sad that people in this area who want to experience real vibrant urbanism have to move to a multi-family plex in remote suburbia.

        To list an apartment complex on Ash Way as “urbanism” is just so sad. Is that what this region has become. At least list Bellevue Way.

        Look I don’t care if you run rail from Everett to Tacoma Dome. I am just telling you four subareas don’t have the funding for their ST 3 projects. I agree pre-pandemic Link from Northgate to maybe Sodo made sense, even though that is borderline “urbanism” and ST 2 was based on fantastical
        Ridership estimates and future population growth.

        I admire you enthusiasm for transit, but the reality it is running out of money so priorities need to be identified.

      2. in one post you praise the PSRC vision of locating population and density in town centers with walkable retail and transit (TOD) and in the next post you support upzoning SFH zones that have no transit service today…. The fact you used some apartment complex on Ash Way as your example of urbanism rather than DOWNTOWN SEATTLE says it all.”

        Again that’s inaccurate, and I have a hard time understanding how you see all this as consistent and coherent. It’s probably futile to re-explain it because you’ll ignore what I say again and accuse urbanists of wanting things they don’t.

        I want a metro like Vancouver, Cologne, or Duesseldorf. Highrises in downtown Seattle and Bellevue and potentially other large cities. Many villages with 7-story/middle housing, more and larger than the current ones, or continuous multi-village conglomorations like the one I suggested for Ballard-Fremont-Wallingford-UDistrict. Middle or highrise clusters around non-village Link stations like Vancouver’s Skytrain has. Density and villages tapering down more or less from downtown Seattle to the rest of Seattle, the Bellevue-Redmond-Kirkland area, something similar in Renton and Kent (even if without highrises), and sure Lynnwood can participate.

        No, I don’t want growth centers outside that like Totem Lake, Issaquah, Federal Way, Marysville, etc. But I’m not given that choice. The powers that be have declared there will be growth centers there.

        Ash Way is not a substitute for downtown Seattle or Northgate, don’t be ridiculous. You know I don’t believe that. I’m simply pointing out the P&R has a cluster of apartments, as many remote areas do, both with and without transit, even if I don’t think it’s ideal. But it’s better than if all those were just more tract houses and big-box stores. Ash Way is not “urbanism”, it’s just a minimum step, the best those cities are willing to do. Obviously it would be better for that housing to be in downtown Lynnwood where people could walk to more things or take buses to more things.

        Mercer Island is the most unusual city in the region; you can’t assume that what’s appropriate for it is appropriate to most cities. It’s an ISLAND, with only two ways off it at the north end. It could be a middle-housing city that could supercede density further out (e.g., Bellevue or Issaquah), but the fact that it’s a small island gives some counter-arguments. Luckily downtown Mercer Island is right at the station,. So the compromise is to push for a smaller increase in downtown Mercer Island than in Kirkland or Redmond, and leave the rest of the island as-is as the nimbys want. The whole island should ideally have 15-minute coverage buses as all similarly-dense cities should, but we’re a long way from that. Excluding the rest of the island from upzoning goes hand-in-hand with not making significant transit investments in it before areas with more villages, like Magnolia and Madison Park. They were told that no upzones go hand-in-hand with no additional transit investment beyond the citywide investments all coverage neighborhoods may get someday but not soon.

        “I do like Nathan’s idea that transit service and coverage must precede upzoning SFH zones.”

        That’s what I’ve been trying to do, get frequent transit to coverage areas now so that non-drivers can get around and transit is a viable and more attractive alternative than it is now. Fremont and Greenlake were built up by extending streetcar lines simultaneously with the development. MAX to Gresham and Hillsboro went out to open fields preceding the development to some extent, so it would already be there when the housing was built. That’s the opposite of what happened in the Eastside, where roads and houses were built decades before frequent transit, and created an expectation of no transit. Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood, and South King County grew the same way. The existing interurbans and streetcars (to White Center) were ripped out and no comparable transit replaced them. Some frequent transit is finally coming decades later, but much less than non-US neighborhoods and suburbs would have.

        “For a progressive city I have never seen worse urbanism than I see in downtown. Seattle. No one wants to go there.”

        I don’t know what you think is worse about it, other than that it has a problem of decay around 3rd Avenue. That’s temporary situation, and is a complication of the pandemic and US policies. Tens of thousands of people live in downtown apartments and condos, and many still want to be there, and many others go to downtown willingly, even if they all wish the problems would be solved soon. “Nobody wants to go there” is false, and really means you and people like you don’t want to go there. We didn’t expect you to, because you prefer places like Bellevue Square and U-Village and single-family neighborhoods.

        Since you sometimes say you like real urbanism, what would Seattle have to do to become one of those places?

        When you say I want apartments and villages deep in remote single-family areas, I imagine something in eastern Renton or south Mercer Island or Somerset Hill or Orting. That’s ridiculous too. We’ve got plenty of downtowns and commercial districts on arterial crossroads closer in where more villages could be built or increased. The problem is getting the approved, because low-density advocates argue against them and the city councils’ tendencies is against them.

        Even if we upzone all single-family areas to 2-or-4-plexes across the board, it’s not likely the middle of nowhere would be densified ahead of closer-in arterial areas. People don’t want to live in the only duplex or apartment in a 1-mile radius, or with no nearby stores or bus routes to go to. They only do that under duress if they can’t find anything better. The reason to upzone everywhere is for fairness, to not arbitrarily limit some SF lots from densifying when others are OK.

        “the reality it is running out of money so priorities need to be identified.”

        We’re identifying priorities. You’re running around saying the sky is falling.

  13. We are 2, maybe 3 years into a departure from normal commuting and transportation patterns in a region of human civilization that will have people living in it for another 500 years. There is absolutely no way to know what the “commuting patterns” will be like 5, 10, 25, 50 years from now, but what we DO know is that this region is:
    1) Geographically constrained on housing development.
    2) Growing in population.
    3) People will need to move around this area for a variety of reasons.
    Those factors *alone* are reason enough to build out the Link system. What we don’t build now *can not* be served by the failed personal automobile-centered social planning we’re so addicted to.

    People in these threads should think *really hard* about how eager and willing they are to offer up what they think are noble sacrifices to appease bad-faith short-term strategies. I know we hide behind phrases like “political realities” but saying things like, “cancel West Seattle because it’s not dense right now” is just so, so short-sighted and stupid and provides cover for bad-faith actors (NIMBYs, spineless politicians, etc.) to swoop in and claim they’re “doing the right thing” by deferring on these things forever.

    The three factors above are the future of this city, period, inarguable, end of story. What people are proposing with all these conversations seems to be focused on pretending that we can defer an inevitability. There is a need — a *requirement* — that we build a transportation system now to serve the future we want. The NIMBYs in West Seattle who pretend to support the “gondola” will literally be dead and gone as Seattle, itself, adapts to the kind of world that’s possible when you have frequent high capacity rail serving your area.

    I’m sorry that I’m cranky about this but this conversation is just infuriating to see coming up over and over again, all this talk about what to cancel. Always what to cancel. What can we cancel. THINK BIGGER.

    1. “I’m sorry that I’m cranky about this but this conversation is just infuriating to see coming up over and over again, all this talk about what to cancel. Always what to cancel. What can we cancel. THINK BIGGER.”

      Gotta stay grounded in reality. No business would respond to losing half their customers, probably permanently, by opening a lot of new stores. We’re clearly on a lower growth trajectory for transit than we believed a few years ago. You can quibble about how much. But it’s silly to just say (a) we don’t know anything about future demand and (b) therefore we should invest umpty billions more. Nothing works like that.

      1. I agree with almost everything that you said, but from my perspective, it is far too early to state ‘probably permanently’. As Jort pointed out, we are only 2-3 years removed from a massive change in how humanity has always worked. That change could be permanent, but I also won’t be surprised if we don’t slowly see companies moving back toward in-person working. In addition, the companies that prioritize remote work are going to shrink their real estate footprint making space for companies with a larger in-person presence.

        At some point, Sound Transit is going to have to rethink ST3 given new realities, but I’m not sure that the ‘new reality’ is fully formed yet.

      2. “No business would respond to losing half their customers, probably permanently, by opening a lot of new stores.”

        Transit is not a store that people shop at or don’t. It’s the means by which people get to everything they do. People will not stop having in-person jobs or shopping or medical appointments or recreation or visiting relatives or helping others, and all those things won’t move to within walking distance of everyone. So transit is still a long-term need. That doesn’t mean every planned Link station or existing Metro route is equally valuable. Some are essential, some are nice to have, some are questionable, and some should be replaced with something else.

        ST3 should be modified, both for reasons that have been clear since 2016 and for reasons that have emerged since 2020. That doesn’t mean throwing away ST3 or other transit improvements altogether.

        Covid-era ridership has shifted from massive peaks to more even all-day service. That’s what urbanists always wanted. Metro and ST Express have already been adjusting to it by gradually shifting resources from extra peak service to midday and weekends, where the ridership has most kept up and grown. They could get more aggressive about it, but a half step forward is better than none, and it prepares them to do more later.

        Link is harder to adjust because it’s mostly a fixed capital expense. You have to approve a line ten years before the existing transit reaches capacity because it takes that long to build. So you have to guess what the future will be like. Err one way, and you have overcrowding. Err the other way, and you have empty trains. We had severe overcrowding on several Metro routes between 2012 and 2016 when U-Link opened. People had to wait for the second or third bus a few days a week, and never knew which one they could get on, or how late it would be due to bus bunching, or whether they’d make their transfer to another route (sometimes a half-hourly route).

        Population trends and ridership can accelerate, decline, or reverse for two years at a time. Seattle had declining school enrollment in the 1970s and 80s and closed and sold several schools. Ten years later the number of children started increasing again and it found itself short of schools. Transit ridership was medium in the 2000s, high in the 2010s, and low since 2020. It could change again in two or three years, and even more in the 10-year window while a Link line is constructed.

    2. Jort, you make three assumptions that are not correct or likely not correct in the future.

      1. This area is not geographically constrained for housing. The three counties have 6500 sq miles and every regional city has ALREADY met their future housing targets through 2044 based on future population estimates that are no longer valid because they are inflated. In 2022 the region lost population.

      2. “Regional population will continue to grow”. Maybe, but slowly if at all. Tech is downsizing, and half of any population growth is estimated to locate in remote areas of the region with little transit service. If Link made one error it was not accepting the region’s relatively low population and huge geographic area.

      3. “People need to move around”. True, except Link serves a tiny, tiny portion of its taxing district. Link will have very little walk up ridership. With WFH the number of people who have to move around — especially during peak congestion to urban areas with expensive parking — has DECLINED by 60%. So those folks are driving because the two factors that forced them to take transit to work — congestion and expensive parking — are no longer factors in their lives.

      The three big future issues for Link are:

      1. ST tax revenue for four subareas was over estimated and project costs underestimated. So even if your assumptions were correct ST (subareas) does not have the funding to complete ST 3. How do you solve that issue?

      2. Farebox recovery will not come close to the assumed 40%. So ST has a long term structural deficit for O&M. How do you solve that issue?

      3. Link depends on feeder buses, which add a transfer. But local transit budgets are stressed and will need to make cuts including feeder bus frequency starting in 2023. How do you solve that issue.

      The “solution” often offered on this blog is “more money”. But there is no more money.

      In this situation, whether Metro, ST, Amazon or Microsoft (which have lost 50% and 30% of their market value) you begin to plan and prioritize because simply saying you don’t want to make cuts is fantasy in a real world.

      1. “every regional city has ALREADY met their future housing targets through 2044 based on future population estimates”

        Those targets were not high enough to stop market-rate rents/home prices from rising faster than inflation or wages. The current trajectory is not sustainable. Cost-of-housing strains, people living five or more miles away from where they want to in more car-dependent areas than they want to, and people being thrown into homelessness, is spreading ever higher into the middle class and affecting an ever-increasing percent of the population. It can’t go on like this forever.

      2. “Link serves a tiny, tiny portion of its taxing district.”

        And we’re building three Stride lines in other corridors. And WSBLE if it’s ever finished will serve the other half of Seattle. And we could build more Link lines within the ST2 extent if we wanted to, as other cities do.

        “Link will have very little walk up ridership.”

        It already has tens of thousands of walk-up riders. It will have more in the Eastside and KDM, and in Lynnwood and Federal Way when their downtowns are built up. Even if not every station has walk-up potential, some do.

      3. “Link depends on feeder buses, which add a transfer.”

        This is overstated. Some trips will require more transfers. Other trips will require the same or fewer transfers.

      4. “But local transit budgets are stressed and will need to make cuts including feeder bus frequency starting in 2023.”

        The squeeze on feeder routes and non-Link trips is two sides of the same coin. Overall transit availability suffers, and must be reversed.

      5. Oh, Link is and will be more frequent than almost all bus routes, especially off-peak. That’s an improvement in transit, even if bus frequency simultaneously degrades. Many trips will still be viable with Link, even if it’s a half-mile or mile walk to it because bus frequency and coverage have decreased.

    3. I don’t think you understand the basic argument here, or you are purposely misrepresenting it. For example, I don’t think anyone is arguing that we should “cancel West Seattle because it’s not dense right now”. They are arguing that we should replace West Seattle Link with better bus service because you can’t possibly build enough ridership on those three stations alone. Either they force people out of their buses (at great detriment to the vast majority of riders) or it gets abysmal ridership.

      As for Everett and Tacoma Dome Link, the dynamics are different. Those projects never made sense. Not because they couldn’t build density close to the station, but because they are simply too far away from the city. No one who has built anything similar has had the kind of ridership that justifies brand new rail (and much bigger cities have tried, with much faster trains). The idea that growth will occur along a “string of pearls” next to the freeway stations, and not where it has been happening in the last decade (all over Seattle and to lesser extent the East Side) is absurd, and nothing more than wishful thinking (if you can call it that).

      Meanwhile, telecommuting is up from before the pandemic. While it may settle somewhere between the extremes of before and mid-pandemic, there was a long term trend towards telecommuting from *before* the pandemic. The farther out you live, the more likely you are to telecommute. Not only are there fewer people commuting, but those that are communing are doing so less often, and less during rush hour. Take away the peak demand and replace it with people taking fewer trips (with those trips spread out through the day) and the buses can easily handle the load, at much less cost than what we are planning on building. Meanwhile, the various places outside the city can invest in what they really need, which is better service to get around closer to home. It is sad to think that huge sums of money will be spent on light rail service to the outskirts of Tacoma (that relatively few will use) while buses that make up the bulk of transit ridership in the city sit underfunded. What is true of Tacoma is true of Everett and Issaquah.

      Most of the projects that made up ST3 were a bad idea before the pandemic. Now that is even more the case.

      1. Actually, Ross, SkyTrain is an exemplar of “a string of pearls”. The original line was the old BC Hydro interurban lined with low-intensity “industrial” sidings and farm fields. Now every station from Vancouver to New Westminster looks like a block of Wilshire. It worked, because the regional government was committed to the plan and they didn’t follow an effyouseeking freeway.

        Neither is true of Link.

    4. “saying things like, “cancel West Seattle because it’s not dense right now” is just so, so short-sighted and stupid”

      We’re not just saying West Seattle is too undense, we’re saying that the West Seattle line is ineffective in what it’s intended to do. The Rainier Valley segment is north-south oriented like the valley is, and its stations are in or within walking distance of the pedestrian concentrations (Mt Baker station, Rainier & Edmunds, Rainier & Henderson, future MLK & Graham). The downtown-Lynnwood axis reflects the dominant north-south travel patterns and has stations in several pedestrian centers (Capitol Hill, U-District, Roosevelt, theoretically Northgate, Mountlake Terrace upzone, and emerging downtown Lynnwood). It allows many north-south express buses to be truncated, because Link is better than sitting through 5-15 miles of traffic. (And if you think there’s no traffic because of the I-5 express lanes, that fails in the reverse direction.) The Ballard alignment has problems, but Ballard is Seattle’s fourth-largest urban village, and the stations are near the centers of SLU, Uptown, and Ballard — even if many of us argue the Ballard 14th alternative is excessively far.

      In West Seattle, the only village Link serves directly is the Junction. That is the largest village in West Seattle, but it’s smaller than the U-District, Northgate, Ballard, or Lake City. The residents are fiercely opposed to upzoning even one block or two west of California Avenue south of the Triangle or in the Admiral District. Avalon and Delridge stations have no village: most of their population is a mile or more further south. The Admiral District is a mile away from the Junction, as is everything south of the Junction. Westwood Village, White Center, and Alki are not served at all. A proposed extension to Westwood Village and Burien would cost some $5 billion more because of the need to tunnel under hills.

      So West Seattle Link serves only one village, the Junction. Most of West Seattle’s population is not within walking distance of that, nor the other east-west stations. Travel patterns are not between the intra-district stations as they are in Rainier Valley or North Seattle. Every part of West Seattle is like an island oriented toward downtown (California, 35th, Delridge, 16th) because of the hill barriers between them. Transit corridors within the district are along these avenues, not between them. Only Junction residents and the tiny clusters at Avalon and Delridge will be able to walk to Link stations. 90% of West Seattlites will have to take a bus feeder.

      Link’s distance from West Seattle to downtown is short enough that a transfer seems arguably unreasonable, and the highways are fast enough that buses are speedy in a way other districts can only dream of. Metro’s last published long-range plan (Metro Connects in 2020) anticipates continuing the 120 (RaidRide H) to downtown in parallel with Link. The 21 would be a forced transfer at Avalon; the 125 at Delridge. The C would be restructured into a north-south line (Alki-Junction-Burien). An all-day express would run from the Fauntleroy ferry to the Junction, the 99 tunnel, and SLU. (NOT downtown because the tunnel is nonstop.) The transit recession, fare-revenue loss, and driver shortage may lead to the express not being implemented. Converting the C to an Alki-California-Burien line is not fully funded yet either.

      Wait, there’s more. ST intends to build a West Seattle-SODO starter line by 2032 as an early ST3 deliverable. People would transfer to the 1 Line until DSTT2 (the second downtown tunnel) and Ballard are built. The C will continue to downtown and SLU until the full WSBLE opens. Do you think that, given West Seattle’s short distance from downtown, the relatively fast highway to it, and the C and H both continuing to downtown, that many people will take the stub to SODO and transfer? It’s reasonable for people to take Link from downtown to the U-District and transfer to another route, given the corridor’s length and density, but I’m not so convinced it’s as reasonable to force a transfer at SODO or at the West Seattle stations.

      So those are the reasons West Seattle Link won’t be as effective in its ostensible purpose are other inner Link segments will be.

      RossB has outlined an alternative: multi-line BRT, fanning out from the bridge to all of the West Seattle corridors: California north and south, 35th south, Delridge south, 16th south. That would be better for 80% of West Seattle’s residents than a single West Seattle Link line going east-west around Avalon/Genessee.

      He has further suggested a downtown bus tunnel instead of DSTT2. It would be Y-shaped, with exits to the south, to Elliott, and to Aurora. That would serve the C, D, E, and H, the other West Seattle BRT routes, and other routes at the northern exits like the 28. It would presumably cost significantly less than WSBLE as a whole. We need ST to study it so we can get an official cost-and-benefits comparison, and so ST can give it the consideration it deserves.

      By the way, WSBLE connotes a West Seattle to Ballard line, but it won’t be that. ST just consolidated the Environmental Impact Statement into one. The Spine will be split when DSTT2/Ballard opens. Line 1 will be Everett to West Seattle in DSTT1. Line 2 will be Mariner to Redmond in DSTT1. Line 3 will be Ballard to Tacoma in DSTT2. ST wants to avoid an Everett-Tacoma line, which would be over two hours and too long for drivers to do without a break.

    5. Boston has high capacity rail. It’s a shitshow of delays, deferred maintenance and falling apart infrastructure. Everything needs maintenance to be useful. If we barely have the money right now to maintain what we currently have, it’s foolish to keep expanding for some future that may never come. Furthermore, better technology could become available in the next decades.

      1. Elevators and escalators are a particular challenge for ST. That doesn’t mean the trains or track will fare so badly. They haven’t so far.

  14. We can propose sky-pie changes to Sound Transit and ST3 all day, but what’s the actual mechanism for implementation? I’m not a grassroots organizer, but it seems like we’d need to pull out Tim Eyman’s playbook to put up an initiative – call it “Rethink ST3”.

    The ST board must know the product of ST3 will have nowhere near the rider-mile-per-dollar value of previous projects, but as RossB has pointed out elsewhere, that’s clearly not ST’s driving metric. I think the primary motivation of most of ST’s Board is to be able to say that they’re Doing Something About Transportation Impacts On Climate Change – that is, they get to say “look at us! We’re building one hundred and sixty-two miles of bonafide, electrified, four-car light rail! Don’t worry about the 1 ton of CO2 that’s emitted per 2 tons of concrete poured – it’s definitely going to be cancelled out by all the carbon not emitted by the car trips that would have happened otherwise!” Meanwhile, they let their representatives in Olympia authorize WSDOT to outspent ST and renew mid-century mistakes for another 100 years (WSDOT Capital Projects = 60% of $8.1B 2021-2023 = ~$2.4B/year; ST System Expansion = $2.2B per year. Yes, I know WSDOT is statewide – someone else can do the breakdown to see what WSDOT is spending within the ST service area, but I’d bet $10 that the ST subarea is putting more money into the WSDOT budget than it’s getting in WSDOT projects) Anyone else driven by JBLM recently? Does you feel like that was a good use of half a billion dollars?

    In regards to ST and ST3, RossB is good about reminding us that the point of ST, as decreed by cities and counties in the 90’s, was to build a “spine” onto which the various bus operators could dump riders trying to move along the I-5 corridor without a car. In this 30th year of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority’s existence, and 3rd year of social reorganization following a mega-death pandemic (> 1 million lives lost prematurely in the USA; don’t forget it was preventable), Frank is right – we need to rethink ST’s priorities – but not just what was authorized in 2016, but what our priorities are for the future.

    Unfortunately, I see no way to overcome the systemic inertia. The prime example being that the Board, with no public vote, added 5 years onto ST3’s tax timeline – reminding us that ST already has legal authority to maintain whatever level of taxation required (up to the ST3-authorized maximum) to support ongoing projects as well as O&M. It seems to me that if ST3’s projects need another 5 years of max-rate taxation, we’re going to get it.

    With all that, I see no real political pressure for ST to divert from ST3’s capital program, and it will likely continue into the 2040’s. If there is a silver lining, this long timeline allows the future-served municipalities plenty of time to hem and haw about how to direct growth to the areas around these permanent stations. Thankfully, these investments will enjoy broad-base support (including certain transit cost hawks), since these new stations will be the exact sort of permanent, high-density transit that’s worth upzoning around.

    1. The point about climate impacts is an important part of this discussion. I am not aware of ST deciding that all future bus purchases will be electric.

      1. Joint Base Lewis-McChord. That sentence is in reference to WSDOT’s package of improvement projects, here:

        In reviewing that website, I amend my statement about “half a billion dollars” to acknowledge there are four “stages” of the project and only Stages 1 and 2 are complete. I remain highly doubtful that once complete in 2025, the $495M allocated to the package of projects will produce any meaningful improvements to congestion – it will merely induce more combustion of gas and diesel.

      2. Yes, and add the Puget Sound Gateway Project ( to that list. WSDOT is spending a bundle on unneeded freeway infrastructure (especially in the South Sound, as it turns out). Fortunately, we keep stalling on a new bridge over the Columbia, thanks to mix of strange political bedfellows (conservatives on one side of the river, and urbanists on the other). If only the same coalition had worked together for a maintenance-only freeway package in Olympia, things would be much better. (I tried to get this going, and was basically told it wouldn’t happen. Mostly it was about placating Democrats in suburban swing districts in those areas.)

    2. I think it starts with a political movement. Let’s face it, this is news. OK, maybe that is going too far, but I think there has been a gradual change of opinion on ST3. While there were people (like me) who had grave misgivings on most of the projects — so much so that we urged people to vote no in hopes that we could come up with something better — we were the minority on this blog. These are people that care enough to take time out of their day to regularly comment on issues involving transit. By and large, these are people who care deeply about transit. We understand that “perfect is the enemy of the good” and that many projects are worth building, warts and all (e. g. UW to downtown). Now, it appears, more and more people — people who understand these issues as well as anyone — are questioning the wisdom of these projects. This represents a sea change.

      There are many reasons for this, and the aftermath of the pandemic is just one of them. But it happens to be a pretty good one to focus on (rather than just cost overruns, poorly placed and overly deep stations, etc.). It could easily make for a good news article, especially as it brings up as many questions as answers. I could easily see something in the Seattle Times with precisely this headline.

      Once you get a movement going, it is then time to communicate with our elected representatives. It won’t be easy. ST3 is a mix, and there are a mix of opinions on most of it. Perhaps the biggest problem from a political standpoint is the idea that rail travel is always an upgrade from buses. If everything remains the same, this is definitely the case. West Seattle Link is great for West Seattle if they keep the buses running as is. But they won’t. Not only that, but the money could be used to make the buses faster and more frequent. Move Seattle projects like turned out to be much more expensive than what was originally planned, but they are still much cheaper than any Link segment. Replace West Seattle Link with bus improvements and you would have frequent and fast service for the entire peninsula.

      Areas outside the city probably just want their money back. Splitting the difference could be ideal (greatly improved bus-based transit *and* a tax break). Ballard remains challenging. With all of its flaws, it is still the only piece for which there is a strong case. It just doesn’t need a new downtown tunnel (and man, is it flawed). It is easy to imagine that it be replaced by a better set of bus service, but then it is easy to imagine that it gets shortchanged. Folks like me want to replace it with a train to the UW, for which the case is stronger than ever (the difference between ridership to the UW and ridership to downtown has shrunken dramatically, and will likely shrink even more in the future). But then again, maybe if we throw enough money at the buses, we can make them almost as fast as a train. Imagine RapidRide G level bus service (center running along the most congested areas and six minute all-day headways) and a train seems like a luxury that we can’t afford (especially since Sound Transit’s record of building such things is not especially great).

      But replacements don’t have to be decided now. The next step is to get the public behind the idea that ST3 is really not a good idea. Good luck convincing the progressive establishment (i. e. The Stranger) let alone Seattle Subway. But the more we push, the greater the chances. What exactly to build instead of this boondoggle is more complicated.

      1. It has been interesting to observe how few advocates are willing to defend much of ST3 outside of Seattle recently. The deep stations, the Ballard station that is hardly in Ballard anymore, the ludicrously bad transfer experience we seem to be designing in Chinatown: all have sapped a lot of the enthusiasm that was once there.

        The deal advocates told themselves they were making – endorse a lot of stupid stuff in the far suburbs so we can build what we need in Seattle – doesn’t look so hot anymore.

      2. “It has been interesting to observe how few advocates are willing to defend much of ST3 outside of Seattle recently.”

        And inside Seattle. Who’d have ever thought that some of Link’s and transit’s most ardent supporters would be split on a line to Ballard after it was voter approved? That some would be ready to give up on WSBLE? An alien would think Sound Transit must have really screwed up to make that happen.

      3. A core discussion is what is meant by a “representative alignment”. ST later interpreted ST3 as freezing technology and station location options. That’s due to risking upsetting the 2016 political consensus, avoiding delays (now a moot point now that ST has to wait for bonding capacity or future referenda because the cost estimating was so irresponsible) and staff not wanting to “open the box” and do more work to study other technologies objectively.

      4. “few advocates are willing to defend much of ST3 outside of Seattle recently” … I dunno, has much really changed? The STB commentariat never really supported the non-Seattle projects and viewed them as a Faustian bargain at best. But while the WSBLE project is looking like a poor bargain, I think ST3 supporters outside of Seattle are still generally happy with ST3 so far; those non-Seattle transit supporters are simply rare visitors to the Seattle bubble.

        Stride – perhaps the only project in ST3 that has clearly improved as it moved through design into construction. Delayed, but result should be a better better outcome, in particular 405N. Renton leadership may be realizing they got a bad station, but they are getting what prior leadership requested.
        Redmond Link – accelerated with ST3 funding
        FW Link – accelerated with ST3 funding. The long-span bridge is setback, but KDM station may open on time, and the long-span setback was encountered earlier than if ST3 never passed.
        OMF-S – moving along as intended. High-cost option of placing in the landfill appears to have been avoided.
        Tacoma Dome – project is moving along as intended. Support by tribe, county, and city stakeholders seems unchanged.
        Sounder – ST3 investment deferred due to COVID and questions around commuter oriented service, but the funding remains and the work can either restart or be repurposed by Pierce/SKC.
        Everett Link – consensus on the Paine Field alignment challenged but seems to hold for now. More relevant is Everett Link will likely be split in two, with Lynnwood to Mariner to be constructed in a timely manner and the Mariner-Everett routing decision likely punted to the next generation of decision makers.
        Tacoma Street & Kirkland/Issaquah Link – N/A, nothing has been done per ST3 timeline.

      5. AJ, I think if money was not an issue most would support most capital projects, including tunnels and highways.

        When it comes to ST 3 I think the extent of public support will be known when the subareas are asked to increase taxes to finish projects because the subarea does not have the full funding.

        I noticed the Board didn’t ask the voters to extend taxes five years.

        IIRC Pierce and SnoCo (and maybe S. King) voted no on ST 3, and today I think East KC would vote no because Redmond Link could have been completed with ST 2 revenue. And the vote for ST 3 was based on estimates and representations by ST that were clearly false even pre-pandemic.

        Voters in N. King will be asked how much in additional taxes they want to pay for WSBLE (and probably will learn the Board extended taxes five years without their approval). . Same in SnoCo and maybe Pierce to complete TDLE. My guess is the
        subareas that voted no for ST 3 will vote no for ST 3.5/HB5528 while East KC won’t need a vote but has some of the worst ST 3 projects that will hopefully be rethought just because they are terrible — and worse unnecessary — transit.

        You can’t really gauge voter support until you know how much they are willing to pay for it. I don’t remember voters approving $142.5 billion for ST.

      6. I think many if not the majority of the public increasingly opine about ST based on their most recent experiences rather than the expansion visions that they have. At its core, ST is responsible for providing transit service from one day to the next.

        Part of the success of ST3 was that U-Link (opened earlier in 2016) vertical station problems were not yet systemically apparent. Had the vote been after two or four years of problems I’m not so sure that it would pass. Plus, the Central Link, Express and Sounder services were all working pretty well with rider experience in 2016.

        Which leads me to today. If ST was to have another vote, I think that the discussion would quickly point out that they have systemic problems in the agency operating transit service and stations. Any future vote for ST is no longer going to be successful merely by drawing a pretty expansion map and listing new stations. The recent delay to East Link in particular looks bad. So do continued escalator failures in Northgate Link stations. Even the DSTT escalator problems look bad for ST since only Link has been in it for several years (and things are perceived as worsening). ST is looking worse with each passing year.

        I think there is a huge disconnect between the public and many elected officials. Elected officials still seem to view the agency as a “future driven” agency, while I think the public sees it more like a “today” agency. In 2026, when a much larger system is in operation, the quality of the daily rider experience will be even more important than an expansion map.

        In other words, ST keeps wanting to add onto the house rather than face the huge routine problems occurring in the relatively new house they already have built.

    3. “We can propose sky-pie changes to Sound Transit and ST3 all day, but what’s the actual mechanism for implementation? I’m not a grassroots organizer, but it seems like we’d need to pull out Tim Eyman’s playbook to put up an initiative – call it “Rethink ST3”.”

      We’re organizing that right now. I’ve suggested to Frank and RossB a burst of advocacy articles, building on what all three of us have been publishing in the past week. It just takes time to get them out. Several near-term decisions are pending: the Lynnwood Link restructure, the East Link starter line, and the WSBLE preferred alignment for the EIS. We also need to light a fire under the ST boardmembers’ butts and insist on some acknowledgement of the post-covid situation, and at least some tentative new ideas from them that show they’re reevaluating 2019 assumptions. That doesn’t mean canceling ST3 or other transit expansions wholesale, but at least ST3 should be somewhat modified, or at least ST should show it’s thinking about modifying it and which directions it’s considering.

      As some have said, delaying Sounder P&Rs and platform-length expansions until ridership returns to 2019 levels seems reasonable, since those can be restarted and finished in a couple years, compared to ten years for an underground Link line.

    4. “we’d need to pull out Tim Eyman’s playbook to put up an initiative – call it “Rethink ST3”.”

      An initiative is not the right way. We have to convince the ST Board, or convince city and county politicians to influence the Board. That has the best chance of success.

      Initiatives have limited powers. it’s not clear that they can modify ST or ST projects. There’s no initiative process for a regional district like ST, only city and state initiatives. A city initiative is too small to have power over ST. A state initiative may not be able to override voters in a regional district. And you DON’T want transit/tax haters in Eastern Washington and Clark County voting on Sound Transit issues. Tim Eyman would be rubbing his hands with glee at the chance to kill Sound Transit and any transit by promoting someone else’s initiative.

      1. I’m skeptical of these BRT claims. This region has yet to prove that it can build high quality BRT. The track record with light rail is quite good. The public perception of light rail is overwhelmingly positive, at least within Seattle.

        It currently takes 20-30 minutes to ride a “rapid ride” bus from the West Seattle Junction to Westlake during peak times, even longer to get to SLU. The improvements needed to get that to the speed and reliability that ST3 will deliver would be significant. Large highway ramps would be needed. Another bus tunnel would be needed. Another 10 years would be added to the project timeline to design and scope the new project. The exact same problems would be found as the current DSTT2 and a deep tunnel with poor transfers will emerge as the only viable option. The end result will probably look like what is being built on I-405, as most of the funds would get diverted to improving traffic for cars that use the same corridors as the express buses. The problems with building transit in America are far, far bigger than Sound Transit.

        WSBLE is great for West Seattle in the long run. I’m sick of riding slow Metro buses. I want to hop on a station at Avalon or in the Junction and ride a train to the airport or Bellevue or Northgate. Even a spur to SODO will make it far easier to go south than it is to take route 50 and transfer. I can deal with 5 or even 10 years of an extra transfer at SODO. Having a proper network of buses that runs within West Seattle will be worth the wait. I want a bus that gets me from Avalon or Delridge to Admiral or Alki without having to go slowly meander through the Junction. That will only happen when light rail is built.

        The majority of the problems with ST3 can be mitigated with more elevators and more trains. If the Husky Stadium station had 6 or 8 elevators instead of 2, it would be fine for the 99.9% of the time that a football game isn’t ending.

        I agree with the board — get the West Seattle spur built NOW. It’s fully funded, there’s a preferred alternative, and shovels can be in the ground in 3 years. There’s still time to make improvements on the rest of WSBLE and they don’t have to be significant.

      2. It currently takes 20-30 minutes to ride a “rapid ride” bus from the West Seattle Junction to Westlake during peak times, even longer to get to SLU.

        Which is another way of saying that most of the day (when most of the riders use the bus) it takes 20 minutes to get to Westlake. Even less if you are going to Columbia or Madison (where the biggest buildings are). This is surface transit, mind you (no deep tunnel or big elevated platforms to deal with). It is quite likely that if you are in the Junction area, the bus would be about as fast as the train most of the time.

        Of course not that many people live — or will ever live — that close to the Junction station. It isn’t bad, and may get more dense, but it will never be Capitol Hill, let alone First Hill. The vast majority of potential riders will arrive by bus, just as the vast majority of riders on the RapidRide C catch the bus before it gets to the Junction. These riders will have to transfer to the train, which means they will definitely arrive later than they would if they just kept things the same as they are.

        The only potential significant time savings comes during peak (and for those that could walk to the station). This is where an investment could help. There are a number of ways to speed up the buses that don’t require a brand new bridge and a new tunnel. The cheapest would be to limit the number of drivers allowed on the bridge by adding ramp meters. A more expensive option would be to fix the “weave” between the West Seattle freeway and SR 99. They could widen the turn, or build a HOV bypass lane to the Spokane Street Viaduct (along with HOV ramps connecting that to the SoDo Busway). This would cost in the order of a 100 to 200 million (based on previous projects) not billions.

        Meanwhile, the main thing West Seattle needs is just more bus service. Holy cow, you can’t take a direct bus from Alki to downtown most of the day! That’s nuts. The same goes for the Admiral District. The bus to South Seattle College only runs every half hour. The train won’t serve these areas, nor will it serve High Point, the neighborhood that is still the most densely populated in West Seattle. It basically serves only one of the top five significant destinations in West Seattle.

        The train won’t help most West Seattle riders. Instead of people along Delridge and 35th spending most of their time getting to the freeway (followed by very fast express to downtown) they will spend most of their time getting to the train station and then waiting. Most of all, West Seattle just needs better bus service (although spending some money making the trips faster is also a good idea).

      3. Joe, most people who would need to take WS Link would not live at Junction or Avalon but arrive on a bus and would have to transfer from the bus which would involve walking, multiple escalators, and a wait of up to 10 minutes. With a WSLE stub it would also mean they need to transfer at SODO for at least 5 years, that means again multiple escalators and a wait. I don’t see how a stub would ever be more attractive to anybody while a Alki/Admiral BRT line would be compelling immediately. (even a gondola line would be more attractive as it runs more frequently and automated which means cheaper to build and operate.)

  15. Interesting questions to pose, and appropriate. This statement however, is wholly shortsighted: “…Sound Transit still seems to be planning for an era that is unlikely to ever arrive.”

    There are two MAIN ingredients that make a robust transit system successful: population growth and employment growth. (Before the wonks howl, yes there are many other important ingredients, chiefly land use, frequency, etc. however, without a market to serve, they are largely moot).

    The strategic advantages our region enjoys mean both population and employment are likely to continue growing robustly: location, economic diversity, higher education, rich culture, etc. Over time, this growth will affirm the efficacy of the ST investments and drive demand for yet more transit system capacity.

    In the meantime, Seattle and other cities will continue adding residential density to accommodate a growing population, and those people will still need to move around, whether it’s to work or somewhere else. Over time, the WFH pendulum will likely swing back toward greater emphasis on in-person work. Humans are social creatures, after all, and tend to gather in many different ways. That won’t change.

    As to the Pierce County questions, the value of ST3 for the south end is NOT having a light rail connection to Seattle; it’s having that connection to SeaTac Airport. When Tacoma Dome Link is done, people in that city will be closer to the airport by transit than almost everyone in Seattle and points east & north, providing a structural advantage to Pierce County for catalyzing growth and economic development, and hence providing more opportunities to achieve housing affordability.

    For Everett, unless there is a station at Paine Field airport and that becomes the second regional airport, there is not a good case for deviating light rail from I-5 (or 99/Evergreen Way). Snohomish County could get a higher quality rail connection sooner and cheaper but for that diversion. That certainly fair game to reconsider in the Everett link studies currently being done.

    The pandemic has taught us a lot about transit, and surely many lessons have yet to reveal themselves. But it should not be seen as a reason to shift our mindset back toward underinvesting in mass transit being OK.

    If anything, the reaction should be thinking about how an ST4 vote could address some of the issues we see emerging now. Specifically, how much more funding capacity could be available just be extending current revenues out further. Now that the core system us taking shape, there are so many opportunities for high-value add-ons: AirPort Express, Renton, Greenwood, White Center, Kirkland (properly), and so on. Agree it’s a time to think bigger about the while system.

    1. “As to the Pierce County questions, the value of ST3 for the south end is NOT having a light rail connection to Seattle; it’s having that connection to SeaTac Airport. When Tacoma Dome Link is done, people in that city will be closer to the airport by transit than almost everyone in Seattle and points east & north, providing a structural advantage to Pierce County for catalyzing growth and economic development, and hence providing more opportunities to achieve housing affordability.”

      Is there any actual evidence that this is true? I think you are vastly over-valuing a pretty crappy connection to the airport. The Tacoma Dome is not where people are. So it’s either a transfer or a park and ride. Both kinda suck. And even if Link ended up at 10th and commerce, is there any global examples where adding a train to an airport led to explosive growth? I can’t think of any.

      1. Exactly. This whole idea is absurd. A small to midsize city builds a light rail line from the outskirts of downtown to the airport, which then catapults it above the competition, just like …. like … uh …

        That’s not how it works. Generally speaking, the cities that have done well have done so through education. The UW campus at Tacoma will have a much bigger impact than the rail line.

    2. “For Everett, unless there is a station at Paine Field airport and that becomes the second regional airport, there is not a good case for deviating light rail from I-5 (or 99/Evergreen Way). Snohomish County could get a higher quality rail connection sooner and cheaper but for that diversion. That certainly fair game to reconsider in the Everett link studies currently being done.”

      I’ve watched a couple of the planning meetings with the Everett/Snohomish county representatives, and it seems like the political leadership of this area does not want an I-5 or Evergreen Way alignment, and were pretty upset that the Evergreen Way alignment was even pitched at all. They really want the diversion away from the highways.

      1. Paine Field is already the second regional commercial airport. Alaska Airlines is flying commercial flights to eight destinations out of there.

      2. Everett/Snohomish have been Paine Field or die, but in the last couple months Snohomish boardmembers have been more willing to consider I-5 to get Everett open sooner amidst the realignment delay and rising costs. They haven’t decisively swung toward it, but they’ve expressed more openness than they ever have before.

      3. I give credit to Everett officials and the board for pushing the line away from the freeway. It is really the only chance of success. But it still has a few basic problems:

        1) Everett is tiny. If you take Seattle out of the equation, it would be silly for Everett to invest in (relatively) inexpensive surface rail, let alone very expensive elevated rail.

        2) There aren’t enough stops along the way. So even if Everett suddenly catches up to Seattle and becomes huge, having only a handful of stations (serving only in one direction) will not lead to a lot of ridership.

        3) It is a long ways from anywhere in Everett to Seattle. There simply aren’t that many people taking trips from one city to the other. Lynnwood is really pushing it (in terms of distance). Going further just doesn’t make sense.

        I just don’t see any way that Everett Link can be successful — it doesn’t matter which way they run the trains.

    3. Are we for or against highway alignments?

      Why is everyone arguing we should move the Paine field diversion to I5 or Evergreen way (stroad)?

      1. > Are we for or against highway alignments?
        We are against highway alignments for the potential or existing residential growth there. Aka typically the pasts choices both south and north were between 99 (elevated, more density possible, but politically harder) versus i-5 (mainly at-grade, cheaper and politically easier).

        > Why is everyone arguing we should move the Paine field diversion to I5 or Evergreen way (stroad)?
        Paine Field is an expensive diversion for Everertt/Paine Field’s dream for an airport connection. It really isn’t about station walksheds here but between the airport connection that will then take longer for Everett/Seattle and is more expensive or a faster route that is also cheaper.

        Between evergreen way and i-5, evergreen way has more development potential so many are choosing that one.

      2. Excellent point. The two times where ST3 goes away from the highway (South Kirkland, Paine Field), the STB commentariat says, “that’s dumb, there’s nothing there why bother.”

      3. There is a difference between highway and freeway alignments. Some were disappointed not to see Central Link go up Highway 99.

        Being next to a freeway cuts the walkshed in half, unless there is a really good, direct pedestrian/bike path to the other side. Most other highways, pedestrians can cross, with decent crosswalk placement. But don’t waste money on a bridge that pedestrians have to climb and then descend. They’ll just jaywalk at-grade right under the bridge. Kent/Des-Moines Station almost made this freshman mistake.

      4. A station’s context matters in these decisions. Having stations right in the center of the pedestrian concentration, and closer together, is highly important in places like downtown, Rainier Valley, Ballard, etc, where there’s a lot of walk-up housing and businesses and people are more inclined to take transit and expect it to be steps away. So I-5 would be a very bad option between Rainier Beach and Northgate; you’d be throwing away much of Link’s potential.

        Having Link on Aurora between 130th and 205th, and on Pacific Highway between Angle Lake and Federal Way is a medium issue. Both of these have significant potential for walk-up usage if the land use is right. Both have room for a massive increase in housing if it’s not just villages around Link stations but the entire area between them two, with a frequent bus along the street for the in-between areas. Those buses already exist (the A and E). It could have massively more housing if the upzone were extended one or two blocks on both sides of the arterial. That’s so much housing potential it’s more than one or two midsize urban villages have. ST is throwing it away by routing Link on I-5. Seattle, Shoreline, Des Moines, and Federal Way are throwing it away by not enlarging the villages or expanding them into a continuous middle-housing corridor.

        The Paine Field and Evergreen Way alternatives are a third level below that. for several reasons.

        One, they’re thirty miles out. You get diminishing returns there because it’s so far to the other walkable activity centers and job centers.

        Two, I don’t fully believe Everett would upzone Evergreen Way to the level Aurora is now or could be with rezoning. Everett says it’s ready to zone densely there, but the last time I rode Swift down it, it was almost all car dealerships one after the other. And Everett’s Broadway area west of Everett Station was still stubbornly one-story houses, and Everett’s downtown had only a couple blocks of multistory buildings. It would inspire more confidence if more of it was built up now.

        Three, the Paine Field jobsites are incredibly spread out. An airplane factory intrinsically needs a huge one-story building to fit airplanes in. The other job sites and the Future of Flight museums that don’t have such large parts, nevertheless have excessive space between them, excessively large setbacks, and an excessively large Mukilteo Speeway including all its right of way. Paine Field can have only one Link station, or two or three at the very most in some of the alternatives the expansion panel is considering. The two stations would be on opposite sides of the district. Each station can be within walking distance of only one of the Boeing factory entrance, the airline terminal, the Future of Flight museum, the Seaway Transit Center, or one other employer. All the other worksites would require shuttle vans. Would all companies rise to the occasion and provide shuttle vans, or sponsor a joint shuttle service to all of them? The distances between the jobsites and the excessive open space around them doesn’t inspire confidence. It’s exuban density out there, like all of Mukilteo. Less dense than Lynnwood, 164th (Ash Way), or Everett. New York City has multistory industrial buildings in Brooklyn with multiple factories stacked on top of each other, steps away from subway stations and pedestrian-scale grid streets, but Paine Field has nothing even remotely like that, and it has shown no willingness to consider such.

      5. My comment up above applies to this question. For the record, I’m not arguing that we should follow the freeway. I’m arguing that either way it will fail. The freeway alignment will definitely fail (as other, similar projects all have). The Paine Field alignment would have a remote chance of success (a “Hail Mary” if you will) but only if they added a lot more stations. They won’t, so they are better off just ending at Everett and improving bus service. Time to punt, basically.

    4. There are two MAIN ingredients that make a robust transit system successful: population growth and employment growth.

      Wrong. It is density, walkability, linearity and proximity. A city can be completely static, and be just fine. Employment density matters, but it isn’t the only type of density that does. Residential density as well as educational density are often just as important. Capitol Hill Station is the only station with more riders than before the pandemic — it isn’t a major employment hub. The greater U-District (UW and U-District Station) now has a lot more riders than before the pandemic, while downtown stations are way down. The ridership difference between the four (well placed) downtown stations and the two U-District stations is relatively small. The idea that people only ride transit to go to work is absurd. They ride it for a number of reasons. In Seattle, like every city, the driving forces are density, walkability, linearity and proximity. Northgate Link followed that simple formula. Most of ST3 does not.

      Everett and Tacoma Dome Link fail on proximity. Most of the stations fail on walkability. They will likely fail on density, simply because it is hard to build within the envelope of the freeway, unless you build towers (which isn’t likely to happen). That leaves linearity, which simply isn’t enough. Yes, ST3 will be great for taking trips from Mountlake Terrace to Ash Way. Does anyone care?

      The strategic advantages our region enjoys mean both population and employment are likely to continue growing robustly: location, economic diversity, higher education, rich culture, etc. Over time, this growth will affirm the efficacy of the ST investments and drive demand for yet more transit system capacity.

      That might be the case, if they were actually building transit where people are moving. They aren’t. Seattle grew much faster than the suburbs in the last decade. Why would that change? If anything this will simply accelerate as the (national) zoning reform movement leads to more development all over the city. There is no reason to assume that people will want to live in Ash Way (next to the freeway) instead of living in the Central Area, Greenwood, Fremont, or any of the places that already have more density, let alone the places where it is artificially constrained (some 2/3 of the city). The Sound Transit vision is based on a development pattern that doesn’t exist, and won’t exist in the future. The trend is the other direction — towards places in the city, not outside it.

      There will still be plenty of people outside it, but there is no reason to assume that they need the capacity of rail, or will even benefit greatly from it. The country is littered with similar projects in similar (or bigger) cities and the more distant stations simply don’t have the ridership to justify frequent service, let along the cost to build it in the first place. Trains running every 20 minutes is common — how is that better than buses running every 15?

      It is not like we are calling for the trains to never leave the city. Lynnwood to Federal Way is an accepted reality, and it is a very, very long line. If you doubt this, look at a map of the greatest subway system in North America, and one of the greatest in the world. From the farthest northern tip of the New York City Subway to the farthest eastern tip (the longest possible trip you could take) is about 30 miles. From Federal Way to Lynnwood is about 38. Why, on earth, does our system have to go out so far, when bigger systems, serving much bigger cities don’t? Why is it important that it goes out further?

      It just represents a fundamental misunderstanding of how the most successful transit systems work. Proximity is very important. There is no city anywhere that has more commuter rail riders than inner city riders. Even cities with fantastic regional rail that would put even the most ambitious Sounder plans to shame have more inner city riders. There just aren’t that many people making trips that far. Those that do have seen their numbers drop considerably. Sounder numbers are merely a reflection of a national trend. The farther out people are, the less likely they are to ride transit. This isn’t going to suddenly reverse itself. Get used to it.

    5. “The strategic advantages our region enjoys mean both population and employment are likely to continue growing robustly: location, economic diversity, higher education, rich culture, etc. Over time, this growth will affirm the efficacy of the ST investments”

      There’s nothing wrong with extending Link out thirty miles where big-boy heavy rail would be more effective? Link is limited to 55 mph and lower capacity, while a heavy-rail alternative could go 85 mph and have higher capacity, and some say it would have cost less. And ST ignored the possibility of a two-tier system: heavy rail to the suburbs, and European-like trams or light rail on more Seattle lines with closer stop spacing.

      Still, we can’t change it now, we have to make the best with what we have, and consider sensible expansions beyond ST2. It’s still worthwhile questioning West Seattle (compared to multi-line BRT), Everett and Tacoma (compared to frequent feeders), and the Issquah line (compared to a bus replacement), and lamenting missing stations that could have been among the highest-ridership (Bellevue Ave, 15th Ave, 23rd Ave).

      Your general point remains: the population will continue to grow, the economy will hopefully be robust, people will continue to travel, there’s latent transit demand the current network doesn’t serve or underserves, and people’s resistance to using transit and living in middle housing will probably decrease over the next few decades, and some ST3 projects are great. ST2 Link will significantly benefit the region, even if it’s mediocre compared to alternatives. ST3’s Link additions will benefit the region somewhat less, but still something.

  16. I think about the changes in my own commuting habits: I went from drive in once a week and bike four times a week to 50% bike/50% drive into work on the one day of week I have to be in the office. So how does that change my need for transit?

    Previously, having a bus as an alternative if I didn’t want to bike home for some reason was a big need that was unfulfilled by the door-to-door connection times (and that inability of transit to reliably serve my suburb-to-suburb commute in less than 90 minutes was a major factor in me becoming a bike commuter in the first place). So efficient transfers between bus and Link or some combination of buses was an important wish for future transit service.

    Now, I’m unlikely to need transit as a commute backup most of the time.

    What I still need is better transit for non-commute time. If there’s an event in Seattle on the weekend, I need quick alternatives to get there (or else I’m going to drive). If I’m at home and need something during my workday that isn’t available locally, I’m only going to use transit if it’s convenient for mid-day trips without a lot of waiting or long walks. So I’m entirely on board with Frank’s priorities to lessen out the peak and provide more frequent service the rest of the time. I also see a greater need to serve population centers rather than employment centers. If there’s mixed-use development within walking distance, that needs more buses to connect to similar areas and to the light-rail spine, both so that residents can get out at any time of the day or on weekends, and so that other people can use retail and commercial space in those same neighborhoods. Long-distance commuting routes don’t make sense. It’s still probably OK to have the long Link routes as long as the shorter segments along the way are useful for non-peak transit. But that also means that peak service needs to give way to more consistent connectivity for any station pairs along the line.

    I also see a need to transition away from regional commuter transit projects after those in ST3. Perhaps the capital projects need to be funded and implemented more locally (within the current sub-areas, or in some cases at the city level) but within a regional vision. And the money that was spent on big ST projects could instead be directed at the state and larger regional level for things like high-speed rail.

    I see the bigger need for change in housing development, though. We need more retail and commercial services and denser residential developments pretty much everywhere, especially for workforce housing so that the people with the fewest resources are not forced to use commuter transit services that aren’t as good because large chunks of the professional and technical classes are no longer working in the office. Those people who need to work in person need to be able to live close to where they work.

    Our need for already oversupplied parking is also going to remain down. There’s some need for “third-place” parking but less need for commuting parking and at-work parking. So those facilities need to either be changed to non-parking uses, or reoriented toward non-commuting parking (so that visitors who are not on a convenient transit line to a particular place can drive and park at the periphery of retail and commercial areas (as with most current park and rides), and then walk within the neighborhood rather than driving from place to place and using a different immediately adjacent parking lot at each place). You could use incentives to encourage this kind of parking relative to parking within commercial/retail neighborhoods to cut down on parking-related traffic in the densest areas and to encourage using transit that is available from those stations. I think this could potentially be a better model for big events like sports and concerts as well. Rather than providing parking across from the baseball stadium (which creates major traffic before every game) use parking outside the urban core and take Link in. People can already do that to an extent, but it should be intentional policy to avoid having huge parking garages and lots in the urban area or dense parts of smaller towns and suburbs.

    1. “What I still need is better transit for non-commute time.”

      75% of people’s trips are non-work trips. Governments focus on 9-5 work commutes because that’s the largest single migration, when traffic congestion is worse, and because jobs are critical for people’s income and for generating tax revenue. But walkable cities with full-time frequent transit everywhere know that there are a lot of non-work trips all day. It’s just that people in more car-oriented cities are more blind to it.

      “I also see a need to transition away from regional commuter transit projects after those in ST3.”

      The large projects and long rail lines will be done in ST3. Everett, Tacoma, and Redmond will be connected, along with the U-District, Northgate, Ballard, Rainier Valley, and West Seattle. It will be harder to generate interest for parallel lines to other areas (Aurora, Renton, Kent, etc) or crosstown lines (45th, Denny Way). Snohomish and Pierce have only asked for short extensions to Everett College and Tacoma Mall. South/East King was interested in a Burien-Renton line (probably an extension of the West Seattle line), but is it still? ST said Renton-Bellevue would take decades to generate enough ridership for a line. East King hasn’t said what else if anything it might want. There’s a vague desire to get Link to downtown Kirkland, but it’s unclear if there will be enough interest to move on it, especially with Save Our Trail protesting using the Eastrail corridor. North King has a bunch of desires of course, such as a 45th line or Denny Way line or a Ballard-Northgate-Lake City extension, or a Rainier Valley branch to Renton, or those half-dozen RapidRide lines that aren’t funded.

      So far the subareas’ interests have converged, with North King wanting various Seattle lines and stations and the other subareas wanting an expensive Spine. But after ST3 their interests might diverge, with North King wanting a lot of things and the other subareas wanting little. It’s a single tax district, so a single vote and a uniform tax rate across all subareas. Having some subareas choosing disproportionately more or less than other subareas relative to their population size, or wanting votes at different times than other subareas, would require splitting the tax district. That may require splitting the board and Sound Transit, or only subarea boardmembers voting on subarea projects. None of that has been contemplated by Sound Transit, the cities, or the legislature. It would be at least as big an issue as Pierce seceding.

      If we can’t split the tax district, then it may be harder to get a large enough coalition to get a Yes vote. Then the counties would have to fall back to their county-based agencies for capital projects. They have much more limited tax authority. CT is at its limit, Metro is near it, and Pierce is not far behind. It’s all sales tax, which swings severely boom and bust with the economy. Raising that requires legislative approval for each project, which the legislature is less willing to give and a lesser amount, because it’s local transit rather than three-county regional. Seattle is near its constitutional limit for property-tax increases, and are saving it for the most important things or emergencies. Levies are limited and have to be renewed every five years. So the county-based agencies and cities would be able to raise much less money than Sound Transit can, and that means less service increases.

  17. Every time I’ve taken Amtrak from Portland to Seattle or Mt Vernon it’s been very busy. Sounder, on the other hand, is apparently short of passengers.

    Amtrak is short of crews for additional Cascades trips, but the BNSF crews operating Sounder trains have to be qualified to operate the very same lines.

    So once again I urge Sounder and Amtrak Cascades to be considered for consolidation. Maybe provide a “commuter” class ticket on Cascades trains using Sounder equipment coupled in? Run Lakewood trains straight through to Bellingham?

    I’m not sure what the ultimate plan should be, but it’s ridiculous to have expensive trains and stations only used 2 hours per day.

    1. My friend in north Lynnwood takes Cascades to Longview every month or two to see her sister. She says it’s full even on weekdays.

      When I’ve ridden Cascades it it’s been fairly empty weekdays, to the point that Amtrak had sales during the low-travel times (February, May, November). But the last time I rode it was in 2017. Apparently ridership has changed since then.

      1. With the 2nd train to Vancouver BC coming in March, somebody’s trains are going to get even shorter!

  18. The great irony is that ST3 stations could be kept intact and mostly affordable — if ST would just simply open its mind to other technologies!

    Much has already been said about a Ballard to Downtown automated line. The station boxes can be shrunk by 50%.

    Everett, Tacoma Dome and Issaquah have such low projected ridership that a faster 70 mph self-propelled automated train could operate with large sections of single track if they only ran every 15 minutes at peak with automation providing better on time performance , saving hundreds of millions as well as moving riders faster so that any transfer penalty is mitigated. ST could build cross platforms at South FW and Ash Way or Mariner Way, with a level change to get to a separate automated Issaquah line. (The East Main layout is side platforms, which is horrible for reverse direction rail transfers anyway). 1 Line could probably go between South FW and Ash or Mariner without dealing with driver slides.

    Finally, an incline Downtown with three stops would honor not only Midtown but also First Hill.

    That leaves only South Kirkland, which is expected to have 1000 boardings a day; if that was needed an automated cable-pulled shuttle to Wilburton could tie that station into the network.

    Why must we spend billions more because suburban city leaders get unhinged about changing trains (walking 20 feet to a waiting train is oddly inconceivable to accept)? Why won’t the ST army of staff assess simply changing technologies?

    This should have been done in 2018. ST has already wasted 5 more years.

    1. During the “realignment” process, one of the comments I made was they really should convert Everett, Tacoma (and perhaps West Seattle into single track lines, at least for stuff like the really expensive West Seattle bridge). The ridership just isn’t going to be there.

      1. Eh, aside from a few high-cost pinch points (WS’s Duwamish crossing may be one) may be penny smart pound foolish. Especially if Link gets automated, I’d rather have fully 2-track lines to allow for the network to run really good frequency all day. The great value of Link outside Seattle, especially in SnoCo, is less that it is fast and more that it is frequent and reliable. For all the angst of Link being able to go only 55 mph, there is comparable time savings if the typical suburban rider waits ~3 minutes rather than ~8 minutes for the next train.

      2. • I don’t see Everett or Tacoma Dome ever getting exceptionally frequent trains. West Seattle doesn’t seem especially likely to need them either.

        The first MAX line operated a section of single track at 7.5 minute headways for some years before it was double tracked. It might still be so if it weren’t for schedule unreliability due to drawbridge openings that made the single track very difficult to work with.

        • Automated trains can handle single track sections just fine. At least one Japanese monorail does so, and that’s a more difficult task due to the amount of time a monorail switch requires to change.

      3. Sure, as long as the single track sections is short enough to not impede <6 minute frequency. I just don't like the idea of saying, "hey, operating plan says lower frequency north of [insert station name] so let's mostly single track beyond that station."

      4. ST3 has several places where single tracking with automation could save hundreds of millions. The Duwamish River, the Ship Canal, Mercer Slough and the Puyallup River are examples. Automation allows just-in-time train arrivals so that even high frequencies can be served with single tracks.

        However, the remarkably low forecasted demand for Everett, Tacoma Dome and Issaquah — and even West Seattle — will force a future ST to reduce frequencies as long as the trains have drivers. They may promise 6 minutes but they can’t afford it. Automation would let ST design the operation without that concern about raising and lowering frequencies due to annual budget constraints.

      5. Single-tracking limits frequency. I’m against anything that risks less than 10-minute all-day frequency. That’s what’s wrong with recent American rapid transit systems, including MAX and BART and San Diego: they’re not frequent enough to be as transformative as they could be. I don’t trust that ST can sufficiently estimate where single-tracking is OK without causing potential frequency limitations or crowding we’ll regret later.

      6. @Mike Orr,

        Don’t worry about it. ST is not about to spend billions to build a single track mass transit system. Nor are they going to cut their station size in half.

        It just won’t happen. It’s a dumb idea.

    2. “Everett, Tacoma Dome and Issaquah have such low projected ridership that a faster 70 mph self-propelled automated train could operate with large sections of single track if they only ran every 15 minutes at peak with automation providing better on time performance”
      Defeats the purpose of spending on automation if it only runs 15 minutes peak and single track. The cost savings for automation come from labor and operations being able to move many trains am hour than if it was human running the train. Canada Line runs for instance at 6 minutes peak on it’s individual lines, with 12 and 20 for early morning, evening, and late night respectively. There’s some smart value engineering to be had with say the Issaquah, Tacoma, and Everett lines but not like that.
      I’ll add that I live in Denver currently, and single tracking is something I don’t recommend. There’s a reason why you build double tracks to build redundancy in case of operations failure on top being the international standard. The A, N, and W Lines here all have single-track sections and end up being major critical points of failure if something goes wrong. Or makes passanger experience worse if they need to do month long maintenance. Which is what happened to the A line (Airport train) where it had 30 minute frequency in October to do some well needed upkeep. Down from it’s usual 15 minute frequency.

      1. The solution for Issaquah Link is to scrap it. The 554 tovBellevue Way is all the transit Issaquah will ever need. For Seattle Issaquah citizens will drive to a park and ride that serves East Link.

        The demographic does not ride transit for discretionary trips, very few are going to Seattle anymore, first/last mile access is a park and ride anyway, the route does not access downtown Bellevue or Kirkland, it is a long way east, the town center is huge and unwalkable (but great retail), and I-90 is a fabulous freeway that goes everywhere (like the West Seattle bridge) that just needs better exits onto 405 that are planned.

        The issue for Tacoma and Everett is different: lack of money to complete standard Link to either (one the Dome). We wouldn’t be having these alternative technology discussions for WSBLE, Everett and Tacoma Link if the subareas had adequate funding.

      2. I never said it was AI, just saying the problems of doing single tracking are why it’s a terrible idea based on my experience living in Denver. Just because Switzerland does it doesn’t mean we should do it as well.

      3. A section of double track Link was closed completely for station tile replacement. When single tracking was required for a broken rail, the entire line went to 30 minute headways. The entire Rainier Beach to Tukwila International Blvd section is covered in 9 minutes.

        So I’m not convinced having a second line is so much of an assistance with maintenance. Federal Way to Tacoma Dome seems like you’d be better off with an express bus and local connector bus than try to deal with a double track line that’s been converted to single track for the short term.

        Anyway, if the options are 1) build something that goes where people need it, but limit it to the 6 minute or so headways of the current Rainier Valley or 2) build something that has the ability to run frequently but doesn’t because it was built cheaply to the wrong place,

        I would choose 1.

        Ideally I would want to figure out why in hell ST projects are so expensive and try to get something double track that actually goes someplace.

        Originally the first MAX line was only supposed to go as far as E Burnside and 185th or so. Single track got them the budget to run all the way to Gresham, producing much better ridership and making double track justified. Ending in the middle of nowhere was a philosophy rooted in a line that would primarily be for commuters. Gresham demonstrated a different vision of rail transit could work.

        Lynnwood to Everett is 14 miles – almost the entire length of the first MAX line. With every one of those miles costing some $200 million or so to build, chopping $1.5 billion or so from the peak year of expenditure could yield enough cash to build a better Ballard or any number of other priorities. Then, in order to equalize the subarea equity, the Lynnwood to Everett section could have its second track added.

        This was just what I suggested to ST during the “realignment” process. At that time, they wanted to know what should be the lowest priority.

        At that time, building gobs of track through the middle of very low ridership areas was what was going to chew up a lot of money, with no real need for a complete two track line to be high priority. You still plan and build the single track line for addition of the second track, but just deprioritize the second track until late in the ST3 timeline to help smooth the finances.

        Anyway, that’s the more complete view of what I suggested to ST. It’s not about building single track and single track only, with no eye towards conversion to double track. It’s also about pushing unnecessary expenses to the end of the timeline to avoid things like not building 130th street station (one of the proposals was to delay that for some years). It just seemed the obvious thing to cut, if something must be cut: miles of double track where ridership estimates show no need for it.

  19. “Get your employees back to in-person work — or else vacate your lifeless downtown office buildings so we can fill the city with people again.”

    This is what will happen in Seattle & Bellevue. It may take a few years, but office towers will fill up with firms that require their employees to do in-person work regularly. There may still be abundant remote tech employment in the region*, but those firms will not occupy the premium, transit-orient office space. ST3 in the Covid era is very much marked by anemic commute ridership, but the Covid era will end well before ST3 is completed.

    *Ironically, a public facility like the convention center is very handy for a firm that wants their employees to gather in person only occasionally, for example a few days a quarter, in a location that is transit accessible from across the region.

    1. AJ, recently I posted a Seattle Times article discussing a Moody’s study that determined only a very small percentage of office towers could be converted to housing, and the cost would be $400 to $500 per sf.

      Currently around 40% of downtown Seattle office space is “occupied” which means the space is leased but 60% isn’t being used. Current vacancy rates, which means the space is not leased, are around 11% to 13%. As leases roll off and tenants either leave or require much less space — which is why Amazon is redesigning its offices in Bellevue — the vacancy rate will rise to meet the non-occupancy rate. At that point we should begin to see defaults.

      It isn’t as if there is a large number of employers who want in office work that can’t find space. There will be a small increase in in-office work but a big increase in vacancies as leases roll off. For NY the estimate of the final figure is 39% occupancy.

      The impacts to a city like Seattle are:

      1. Less tax revenue from sales, B&O, head tax, parking tax. and so on. Pre-pandemic 2/3 of Seattle tax revenue came from downtown. So cities like Seattle will have to cut budgets or raise taxes ( plus 8%/year for inflation).

      2. Much less retail and restaurant spending from commuters — who have low social costs for a host city like a Seattle — which means fewer retail shops and restaurants which impacts vibrancy and a desire to live downtown.

      3. Fewer “eyes on the street” which leads to less safe streets.

      4. Lower transit revenue and farebox recovery.

      Workers did not like commuting to work, It was uncompensated time. The idea of a central urban work hub that most workers don’t want to live in so must commute long distances is probably a thing of the past, or that businesses must pay a premium for office space to be in that urban hub when costs are becoming important issues, even for Microsoft (that plans to exit all of its non-campus office space) and Amazon, which between the two of them have lost $800 BILLION in market cap.

      I don’t know what the future will be for urban cores, and Seattle has other issues that are driving businesses away along with shoppers and diners including expensive parking and parking taxes, but I think that in 2023 it is a mistake to plan for the future as though the future will return to the past.

      2023 will be the first time in nearly a decade cities and agencies will have to make actual cuts, and will probably have to make additional cuts for several years. That I think will drive home the new normal that many are still hoping goes away although workers like it.

      1. No, not converting to housing. Just replace the existing tenants with new tenants who will actively occupy the space.

        Does that then mean some office space, especially Class B/C, will get redeveloped? Sure, but that will occur mostly outside the CBDs (e.g. see old Boeing office buildings getting re-purposed in Renton & Mukilteo). And there may be very little development of generic Class A for the rest of the business cycle (e.g. see LQA/SLU activity shifting to lab space instead).

        But for the Class A office towers in Seattle urban core, the buildings are fine they just need new tenants.

      2. Maybe pay workers for time spent commuting. Or have cities incentivize employers to subsidize parking or eliminate parking taxes or private shuttles like Microsoft or one seat transit rides or better first/last mile access. A huge problem with getting workers back to work is the commute itself, especially on public transit. If the goal is to revitalize downtown Seattle rather than increase transit ridership focus on the commute itself.

        The solution in the future, if transit commuters don’t return, is to eliminate or reduce commuter transit.

        At the same time commuters don’t want to return to offices in areas that are retail dead or they perceive as unsafe, especially if they have to take public transit to commute.

        Seattle’s big concern is Amazon. YOY earnings are estimated to drop 87.2% in 2023. Layoffs at Microsoft, Amazon and tech across the board is going to hurt office leasing and discourage young workers moving to this region. 12 months ago a degree in computer science are coding was gold. Now it is a job with oversupply that does not transfer well to other jobs that do not pay nearly as well.

        2023 will be consumed with budget cuts. That is the present. 2024 might be a time for long range planning based on new budgets and more data on the new normal. 2022 was financed by Covid stimulus and very low interest rates until the end. 2023 budgets will force a less optimistic new normal on cities and agencies, especially Seattle and ST that have way overextended thinking 2023 would never happen. Lean businesses, agencies and cities will have much less pain. But in the long run I think 2023 will be healthy. ST 3 was the zenith of the mantra money is limitless which usually breeds bad policy. Same with the existing Seattle council members.

      3. The Empire State Building added so much square footage when it opened in 1931 that is was mostly empty until WWII. NYC did not have new huge buildings like that for over 20 years.

        The point being that it’s likely that office space markets can change wildly and take years to adjust. Who would have thought that Amazon would get so big in 1993? Economic conditions and corporate demand change.

        It’s also that as companies get larger they gravitate to Downtown spaces generally as opposed to suburban office parks. Just look at Microsoft and Weyerhaeuser. The gravitational pull is more flexibility in leasing space in a Downtown because a company can right-size the needed space for whatever department they are leasing for, and be able to walk to it from other offices. Higher vacancy means great deal on long-term leases are to be had. It’s usually cheaper to lease space in a nearby tower than to build a new building in an office park in that economic situation.

        I don’t think Seattle will have a renewed crazy office space boom for the next several years, but the spaces will eventually become leased for something.

      4. Daniel, “coding” is the ULTIMATE “transferable skill”, because although learning the syntax of a computer language takes a couple of weeks, learning how actually to “code” — that is, SOLVE A PROBLEM EFFICIENTLY — is learning how to think.

        Every job needs thinking.

        It’s why the best coders aren’t two or three times more productive than average coders; they are ten to one hundred times more so, because they don’t embed subtle errors in their solutions that later require enormous effort to find and excise.

        But even the mediocre cohort has learned how to atomize problems into their discrete bits at least to some degree.

      5. Something that I have not heard discussed is that when leases expire, we now have additional capacity for office occupancy. For years now sf costs have ballooned and have increased the cost of doing business. A drop in costs per SF for office buildings means lower cost of entry for prospective tenants and can allow room for growth for new businesses. Short term downtown is suffering. Long term I see additional capacity becoming available for growth and increasing the potential regional employment base. We just need in the mid term for interest rates to drop to allow money to slosh around in the economy. Work from home and hybrid work are real but if we eventually have 50% return to office rates, it leaves a big percentage for growth on dimes to the dollar.

        Can’t convert office to housing? There’s been a large increase in research and development and biotech since the recession since those jobs need physical space. The market will adjust, it just takes time.

      6. I agree Alonso. I think things will settle to a “new normal” that is somewhere between what it was before and what it is now. From a transit standpoint, I think there are a few things that will happen though:

        1) Fewer commuting trips to downtown.
        2) Commuting trips will be less peak-oriented.
        3) Commuting trips will generally be shorter (on average).

        Obviously all of these points are debatable, but this was the long-term trend before the pandemic. More and more people were working from home. The longer the commute, the more likely they would work from home. Many of those were asked to come into the office for meetings that often took place later in the day.

        With less peak-oriented commuting, and way fewer people commuting from distant locations, the case for much of ST3 is very weak. A second downtown tunnel, for example, seems like it is unnecessary. Lines north of Lynnwood seem excessive. There simply won’t be enough people going from north of Lynnwood to Seattle to justify the expense of rail. It is easy to say “that wasn’t what Everett Link was about” but without travel to Seattle, you have a very expensive line with only a handful of stops connecting to a pretty small downtown Everett. You can’t possibly justify the cost. The same can be said with Tacoma Dome Link, especially since it won’t actually serve downtown Tacoma. Issaquah Link just sounds silly, especially since all of the stops will be close to the freeway (where bus service could provide similar speeds). The argument for West Seattle Link always seemed to be based on traffic that occurs for only a short time during the day (effecting a minority of riders) and that argument is weaker than ever. It is bad enough to be forced to transfer at 8:00 AM, but if you are asked to transfer at 10:00 AM, it would really be annoying.

        That pretty much leaves Ballard Link, either terminating at Westlake, or interlining with the main line (if they can do that). With inflated prices and poorly placed stations, I’m not sure it is worth it, but it remains the only potentially worthwhile rail project in ST3. The changes in commuting really don’t change that project. Other things do.

      7. I agree Alonso that the market will sort this out. If the lease rates or lease occupancy rate drops 50% the building owners will default, although the banks don’t want the buildings if they can’t be resold.

        The really big money (pension funds, hedge funds, Blackrock) are withdrawing money from office development, ownership and management as fast as they can. Bellevue developers have told me downtown office development is dead in the permit phase. I think the first effects of WFH will be the loss of financing for a lot of Bellevue’s plans to upzone, especially B and C office zones like The Spring Dist and Wilburton.

        At the same time many businesses — large and small — are saving a bundle in lease costs. On one end Amazon just announced it is selling its Bay Area complex, and Google saved millions by abandoning its planned office complex at 85th. Investors today with share prices down 30-50-70% want to see real cost savings. On the other when our firm left our Seattle offices for Mercer Island our rent was cut in half, and we now save $275/mo. for each parking stall because parking is free. This has made it much easier to get staff to work in office as opposed to waiting for a bus on 2nd Ave. in Seattle in the dark. We are very happy with our move and so are staff.

        So WFH has huge benefits for workers and employers. What will become of the office buildings I don’t know. I am glad I don’t own any or have any investments in REIT’s that invest in office towers that have huge lines to redeem investor funds because the REIT’s restrict how much can be taken out each quarter as trapped investors watch the REIT share price plunge.

      8. when our firm left our Seattle offices for Mercer Island our rent was cut in half

        This is why I think that the satellite offices will shrink faster than downtown space. Downtown is still premium office space. If you have to go into the office three days a week, going there is still better for the majority of the region than schlepping to say, Eastgate. If prices on both drop in half, downtown rent becomes a better value. This is basically what Alonso is getting at — companies and institutions that can only afford low (or at least moderate) rent will locate downtown. This will cause those other places (outside of downtown) to become really cheap — so cheap that some can’t survive. I think it will be similar to malls. There will be fewer offices spread out over the region — they will instead concentrate in a handful of places like downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue, and existing headquarters for large companies like Microsoft (in Redmond).

      9. Mostly agree with y’all. A major drop in rental rates is bad for landlords and will hurt the economy insofar as there will be a drop in new office space construction, but otherwise should make for a better economy. Start-ups often succeed coming out of a business cycle down tum because they have access to cheaper talent, cheaper rents, etc.

        And Ross makes an important point on satellite offices. If the goal is to convert office space to housing, there are two places to focus. One is on very old buildings, particularly pre-war. But the bigger opportunity is post-war suburban office parks. A dead office park is like a dead mall – a great opportunity for mid-rise development. So it’s not the 40 story 1980s tower, but the 4 story 1980s building surrounded by a big parking lot.

      10. They’re just reverting to where they were a few years ago. I don’t know as much about office rents, but housing rents have been rising at ahistoric rates out of proportion with expenses and quality.

      11. Talton has an article today in The Seattle Times arguing the downtown core is at risk of entering an “urban doom loop that will be devastating for years to come”. But I don’t know what elected officials can do to return commuters, or how the downtown core revitalizes retail and restaurants without work commuters and their cash.

        For the same reasons. I think it is unreasonable to think that tall office towers will rise in Wilburton and The Spring Dist. that will manufacture ridership for East Link. Bellevue had hoped to steal businesses and workers from Seattle to fill these class B and C office towers with some inflated future population growth estimates when borrowing rates were 1% and the stock market had $10 trillion more in market cap than today, but the workers aren’t going to downtown Seattle or Bellevue, and the tenants who could afford those expensive offices are feeling real economic pain and shareholder pressure to increase stock prices by cutting costs.

        It comes down to the difference between zoning and actual construction. Zoning is free and just lines on a land use map; construction requires huge amounts of money and must make a profit, in fact more than financial investments like bonds with no risk, and commercial construction is a huge jobs generator and sales/property tax source since new construction is exempt from the annual 1% cap on the property tax levy so of course city councils live commercial construction.

        This is why I think hopes that unused office space will be converted to housing are misplaced. The issue for housing is not zoning capacity. This entire region has zoning in place that would allow millions of new housing units if fully realized. As the Moody’s study noted, in most cases it is more profitable for a developer to build a brand new apartment or condo complex than try and convert an office tower. Sure, there are thousand and thousands of unrealized housing unit capacity in office towers, but it isn’t economical to convert them.

        Builders build for profit, not to realize zoning capacity. This region could upzone many areas — downtown Bellevue raised building heights to 660’ — but it won’t increase actual housing but simply reallocate to other areas or de-densify it.

        We will see very little housing or commercial construction for several years due to market conditions. Construction of new office towers will face additional concerns about existing empty office buildings willing to offer low lease rates (although lease rates are not the issue; the desire to not commute is the issue because employees don’t pay rent).

        Housing construction (in existing zoning) will face concerns that builders don’t believe the future population growth targets, and will wait to see all these new residents before building because they know even now there is more than sufficient zoned housing capacity to meet the GMPC’s housing allocations through 2044 even at market rates.

        We all agree the market sorts these things out, and no one can predict the future. No one believes this more than builders and their investors. They will build new office towers in Wilburton and The Spring Dist. when existing office buildings in Seattle and Google’s office towers in Bellevue are full. They will build new housing on spec when existing housing is at capacity and those 1 additional residents the DOC promises are coming actually arrive when large tech companies are laying off employees for the very first time and construction workers are leaving for Florida.

        Transit advocates believe in induced demand: build it and they will come. But they are playing with other people’s money. Builders believe in build it when they are already here and have the $$$ to buy.

        Which will only compound budget deficits for cities in 2023 that like Bellevue have been drunk on tax revenue from commercial development it didn’t do a very good job of saving, like Seattle. Ironically it will be the smaller cities that have not seen huge tax receipts from development that will weather the next few years better, in part due to tax revenue that now originates in their cities due to WFH.

      12. There is another potential use for excess downtown office space: education. I could easily see higher education opportunities downtown. A good example of this is the Pacific Tower (which started as a Marine Hospital). It then became an office (eventually the main headquarters for Amazon) and then a healthcare training facility, along with a lot of offices used by nonprofits. Now they have added low income housing (as an addition). It is an interesting mix ( and I could definitely see a lot of downtown office space go through the same transition. Rather than expand in their main campus (or their satellite campuses) the UW could take over some of the office space downtown. For that matter, the plans to build a high school downtown fell apart because they couldn’t get the property — that might be easier now.

        I really don’t think that downtown will collapse, simply because of how the population has shifted. I would be more worried forty years ago. Cities that collapse tend to follow the same pattern. The population shifts out of the city, but initially keep the jobs inside. Then, over time, those jobs shift outside, and the downtown implodes. The cities operate as a shadow of themselves, while they try and revitalize their downtown. That just isn’t happening in Seattle. Population increased, dramatically, inside the city in the last decade or so. Much of that population increase happened inside downtown Seattle.

        For all the angst over office occupancy, the city (and nation) is in much better shape than we were in 2008. Despite a devastating recession (15% unemployment) the tourist industry (hit hardest) has rebounded with a vengeance from the pandemic. Walk around Pike Place Market and it is busier than ever. There are always ebbs and flows, but things are nowhere near as bad as they have been at various times in the last century. The Pioneer Square/Stadium area is bustling compared to what it used to be. A lot of it is just that there are way more people who live downtown. The downtown area may be reinventing itself, but that is nothing new. It has happened many times before, and it is what healthy cities do.

    2. “Fewer “eyes on the street” which leads to less safe streets.”

      In general, yes, but it’s not clear that the number of downtown Seattle office workers affects the number of 3rd Avenue miscreants. There were miscreants when the offices were full. The 3rd & Pine hotspot is where the most eyes on the street are compared to the office-only ghetto south of Union. SDOT closed the McDonald’s bus stop and the one across the street temporarily before covid to widen the sidewalk and install “safety features” because the police said the wall of commuters and narrow sidewalks were allowing the miscreants to hide from police scrutiny.

      The pandemic caused homelessness and crime to rise throughout the country for reasons that are still not fully understood, and crime is falling again now as the pandemic recedes. We’ve been through that before: crime peaked earlier in the early 90s, which is still not fully explained. (Some say phasing out leaded gas decreased brain damage, others say legal abortions decreased the number of unwanted children, etc.) What we do know this time is that the pandemic caused people to lose their housing because they were no longer getting a paycheck, and either the eviction moritoriums and rental assistance weren’t in place yet, tenants didn’t know about them, or landlords illegally evicted them. Doubtless some people found the only way they could make money was to steal goods and sell them on the street, and that added to the number of serial sellers. Fentalyl problems were already increasing in society when the pandemic hit. The services homeless people relied on suddenly closed,. Some couldn’t get drug treatment even when they wanted to; I met one on the C going to West Seattle, he was following up on some lead that might shorten the weeks-long wait. The rise in homelessness and crime was a national problem that’s particularly visible in Seattle because of Seattle’s characteristics, but it’s still a national problem.

  20. AJ – I am curious if you think we’ll see downtown landlords giving any sort of priority to tenants who can somehow promise some level of average occupancy. My office is consolidating our suburban office with our downtown office, for a net reduction in square feet, but an slight increase in square feet as we are moving up a few floors in our building. I’ve volunteered to be on a sort of “steering committee” for designing our office, and a big question is how to allocate close-door offices versus open-floor cubicles. We’re probably going to end up with a significant portion of our desks as “hotel” desks, but at the end of the day, we’re almost never going to have >80% chairs filled on a daily basis, unlike the Before Times. I don’t see white collar offices ever again being able to enforce much more than 60% of chairs filled with butts on an average weekday, but maybe that will change with time. There’s some sort of irony of offices now having to make the same sort of “peak capacity” vs “constant service” affordability trade-offs that transit providers have been making for decades.

    1. Nathan, landlords make money off rent, not occupancy. In many ways less occupancy means less maintenance.

      You may want to reach out to Amazon to see their plans for their buildings in Bellevue. My understanding is the layout is more collaborative with fewer dedicated cubicles or offices, although either way it will have way too much office space if in office work averages two days/week which is the hope now, plus upcoming layoffs.

    2. Good question. Some landlords may not care – as Daniel said, also long as the rent check clears they don’t care. But unlike a suburban office park, CBD landlords capture value when there is foot traffic that keeps the nearby coffee shops, lunch spots, etc. open and in business … especially when those businesses are also tenants. So yes, I do think landlords will work with their tenants to create environments that actually get people to use their buildings regularly. We are already seeing this in the premium part of the market

      Ross makes the argument that there will be “less” commuting, but I think Nathan’s specific example can help us unpack what ‘less’ actually means. What I predict will happen is that while there may be less total number of commute trips into downtown on a weekly basis, the peak days may be *higher* that pre-COVID as office space is repurposed into denser workspaces that may be used less frequently, but when teams gather there are more workers per square foot. So ridership actually may be *more* peak-y, and we may get to a situation where we need to focus on good all-day transit but still have some service (like S Sounder or some express bus routes) that have excellent peak ridership requiring dedicated resources, but serving a 2~3 day peak rather than 5 days a week. Maybe after coordinating with major employers & business groups, ST & KCM run peak weekday service only Tues-Thurs. Published bus schedules may have a “peak weekday” schedule in addtion to a “weekday” and a “weekend/holiday” schedule,

      Put another way, Seattle CBD employment density may grow and still have less people commuting into downtown on a given day. Some clever landlords will figure out how to provide “peak capacity” in addition to “constant service” … for example, maybe your office needs a few dedicated floors, but then also has occasional access to another floor of only conference rooms & hotel desks. I also see big hotels & the convention center leverage Seattle CBD’s central location as a preferred location for Puget Sound businesses to gather their teams on a regular basis (monthly? quarterly?), especially firms that try to go primarily remote.

      1. What I predict will happen is that while there may be less total number of commute trips into downtown on a weekly basis, the peak days may be *higher* that pre-COVID as office space is repurposed into denser workspaces that may be used less frequently, but when teams gather there are more workers per square foot. So ridership actually may be *more* peak-y

        On a company basic, sure. But not a regional basis. Let’s say Weyerhaeuser has a big company meeting (an “all hands on deck” meeting) and wants everyone there. I doubt they would start the meeting at 9:00 AM — more like 10:00, or even later. Either way, there is no reason to think that other companies would have all-company meetings at exactly the same time. Furthermore, these types of meetings are rare. Generally speaking, different groups have different meetings at different times. Companies are flexible, especially in this day and age. There is great value in starting the meetings after the kids are off to school (and before they get back). Things were moving this direction before the pandemic (not only with telecommuting, but with “flex time” schedules). Companies sometimes struggle with meeting space as well. Unless you are in management, you only attend one or two meetings a day. The first (a “check in”) could easily be online, while the other one (aimed at discussing a particular issue) fights with space with other meetings. For most people, this spreads things out. Meanwhile, any shift away from traditional 9-5 office work towards the mix found at Pacific Place would simply accelerate this process. Of course there will be a peak, but it will be much flatter than in the past.

        The one company that could create a big surge, of course, is Amazon. Like a football game, they could overwhelm the transportation system. But not every day. Those kinds of events just don’t happen very often, and Amazon isn’t stupid enough to schedule them when the Seahawks are playing. But yes, for those sorts of events I could definitely see them having a few charter buses.

      2. It’s pure speculation, but I’m betting there will be regional alignment because most companies will arrive at the same conclusions.
        1. mid-week is better than Mondays and Fridays
        2. 9ish-5ish is still most people’s preferred working times, in particular when school is in session
        3. bringing everyone into the office is most useful when it is literally everyone. Small teams can communicate asynchronously, but for large teams there is real value in regular colocation
        4. If the regional network surges to handle Amazon’s in-person dates, then smaller firms will choose the same days to take advantage of the better transit. Here is where transit is more valuable than cars. If you are in an office park, then maybe you pick a less common date, when traffic is like. But if you work downtown, you pick a date when all the buses & trains run frequently.

      3. Bringing everyone into the office for a meeting would require the office space to accommodate everyone. That space would then sit empty the rest of the time and be a waste of money.

        In person meetings for an entire company are very rare, even pre-pandemic. Maybe different groups or departments but not an entire company. Those kinds of all company communications are usually done by email.

        If a company does need a large in person meeting they will need a very large meeting room or auditorium with seating and renting space at the convention center for that specific time makes more sense. For example, large Bar meetings used to be held at the convention center but now are online because they are much cheaper, although I preferred the in person meetings although I lost time getting to and from the convention center.

        Companies are also starting to realize what a waste of productivity these meetings are. Facebook for example severely limited group and dept. meetings that were getting out of hand and unproductive.

        I remember when I worked at the largest law firm in Seattle we — and every other law firm — had these massive conference rooms with 30 chairs around a huge table with glass walls. They were always placed where they could be seen from the entrance with a view out the window over the water. It was all show. Usually the conference room would have 4 or 5 people using it, but we wanted clients to think we had super important meetings that required 30 chairs.

        Today those firms are more conscious of the cost of that kind of wasted space, and so are clients. If I have a billable hour quota I don’t want to waste an entire day (and parking costs) commuting to the office for a general rah rah meeting. No one at that meeting is earning money for the firm or company so that meeting will cost the firm or company hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would be like holding the meeting on Saturday to drive home the point the meeting is at the expense and cost of the employees who then have to make up that lost time.

        I think Amazon’s Bellevue office buildings are the future. More like a Weworks space although WFH is killing Weworks that signed expensive leases for massive amounts of office space pre-pandemic. Workers just don’t want to get dolled up to leave their house to work unless they are going to the office.

        Amazon (whose share price was down 50% until a modest rally) wants communal work space that can be used by different groups who come in one or two days/week, which means Amazon has leased around 50% more space than it needs and will have to try and sublease that space. The good news for Amazon is their space is the Class A space in Bellevue and a lot of businesses are leaving Seattle for Bellevue, but I doubt Amazon will get the same cost per sf it is paying because the sublease market is awash with space and increasing without takers. and instead will want to make sure any tenants are blue blood companies to reflect well in Amazon’s brand.

      4. I think landlords care about offices keeping butts in chairs because occupied offices mean lease renewals. I was told recently that our office was “lucky” that we signed our new lease before our company clamped down on office sizes – if we had waited even another couple months, we would likely be looking at few-to-no “assigned seats”. Apparently, some of our larger offices have moved into 100% hotel-desk arrangements.

        Another anecdote: our office does do “All-Staff” meetings every month (where we go over business updates and such) and it’s highly encouraged to attend in person. We have had a couple instances now where our Downtown office (with ~20 desks) had to figure out how to seat ~30 people. I’m also in charge of setting up a “social events calendar” to help encourage folks to return to office – our work is generally collaborative enough that having in-person project meetings are much more productive than calls through Teams.

        Fundamentally, we have not yet reached a “new normal” – there is still a lot of variability in commuting as office attendance requirements evolve. I’ve noticed a significant increase in ridership on my commute in the new year, and I’m sure the transit operators have noticed as well. If things ever stabilize for transit operators (which won’t be until a year or so after the various restructures following completion of ST2), then we’ll have a “new normal” to work with.

        In the meantime, I’d like to see less distinction between weekends and weekdays, and less focus on former “peak” periods. For example, my preferred peak service bus is the 15x (see lots of cancellation recently, though). I’d much rather have the 15x be “all-day” and hourly, than just the current ~8 runs southbound in the morning and northbound in the evening. The D takes 30-40 minutes to get me to work; the 15x takes 20-25 minutes. If the bus lanes on 15th/Elliott were all-day, and all I had to do was wait an extra hour to save 10-15 mins on my commute, I’d happily do that.

      5. PS: the large firms (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Amazon) all run their own transit services. If they see everyone responding “yes” to an in-person meeting, they’re more likely to just boost their own service than have everyone complain about crush-loading public transit. Since the major companies all provide transit passes to their employees, anyways, it’s not like the “diverted” ridership is hurting Metro’s farebox.

      6. Workers returning to offices for meeting does not mean that they will spend full days there. It simply means that workers will be at their work site for a few hours.

        IMO, the time of day issue is likely why Sounder ridership as well as some ST Express routes have such low ridership compared to Link. If I live in Auburn and have to spend all day in a Downtown office, Sounder is appealing. However if I only need to be there for 3 hours (say 11-2), it’s either use Link or Metro — or just drive and pay for only a few hours of parking. Spending a full day in the office for a few staff meetings isn’t enough for many to spend whole days there.

  21. Over 1000 bills have been introduced in this legislative session. (In Idaho 13 have been introduced).

    One of the most contentious is HB 1389 that would cap rent increases at between 3% and 7% for buildings ten years and older depending on inflation, plus another bill to cap move in and other fees.

    HB 1389 recognizes most affordable housing is rental housing in older multi-family housing, and the costs of this housing increase due to gentrification in a neighborhood. Naturally landlords are opposed and believe the market should dictate rents.

    Some worry this bill would accelerate the demolition of buildings ten years and older with new much more expensive housing. However, new construction will likely be limited over the next few years due to market conditions, and builds and developers look for older and more affordable house to convert to new and expensive housing anyway. For this bill to have any effect inflation will have to decline. Plus rents have stabilized or declined although they may be temporary.

    What isn’t clear to me is if Seattle (the sponsors are from Seattle and Bellingham) is going to adopt rent control why limit it to older buildings rather than all rental housing? Maybe to not discourage construction of new multi-family housing that occurs whenever rent control is adopted.

  22. Is there a way ST could fund expanded frequent service for local bus routes that feed into Link stations? I’m thinking of things like returning the 44 and finally boosting the 8 to 10-minute headways all week. Obviously this has to wait for the driver shortage to subside but ST3 is decades-long so presumably will happen eventually.

    1. If you can get it past the legislature, of course it can happen. Right now? No, at least not an comply with the enabling legislation. Of course, maybe nobody would object; you can always “move fast and break things”.


    This is a good article on population shifts in the U.S. I think much of this region’s planning is based on pre-pandemic inflated future population growth estimates the Dept. of Commerce and PSRC have been very slow to revisit despite the 2020 census data.

    The article also notes something Al pointed out: although housing in FL might be lower utilities and house maintenance are higher.

    If the region’s current population is its future population would that change your opinion on planning policies including transit and housing, and do you think ST’s O&M maintenance costs can be met with current population and ridership?

    1. Of course it can. Trains last forty years, with two or three re-motorings during that time. Most “maintenance” is cleaning the upholstery and floors; every ten years the upholstery needs to be replaced. Whoop-te-doo!

      If drivers get too expensive, ST can bite the bullet and go to automated trainsets. If they have to buy better gates for Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard, well, gates are pretty cheap.

  24. Great article, Frank! Yes, priorities after the pandemic have changed, may be we should just cut ST3 off with the projects we already started (Lynnwood/Federal Way), look at what ridership after the pandemic turned out to be before investing in the next round of transit expansions. I was surprise that ST just approved funding for the Kent/Auburn/Sumner parking garages even though the current ones haven’t been fully occupied after the pandemic.
    Rather than serving office buildings downtown, Sound Transit and Metro should really focus on how to get resilient rider groups to use Link:
    – Education: High schoolers are expected to use Metro, what about middle schools? Could SPS save school bus $$$? Can college students use Link? What about Bellevue, South Seattle, Edmonds, Shoreline College? Do they have frequent bus service or would a gondola to Link help? I know SSeattle has 20min headways at best which encourages students to go buy a car, how about if a West Seattle gondola could serve the college?
    – Hospitals: Although Seattle is trying to become a set of 15min neighborhoods, hospitals are far and few but important employment centers and destinations for patients and visitors. Do we need high frequency and accessible connections from Link to Harborview, Swedish, and KP on CapHill?
    – Housing: Can we make sure large new public housing developments get priority connections like Greenbridge/Seola? What about new developments like Major developments already happen in Northgate and Lynnwood, how about Southgate and Everett Mall?

  25. Anecdotal example of that “Less intense peak periods are an opportunity” thing:

    My closest bus route is TriMet #10. It’s not exactly a priority route for TriMet, and if I need to I can get where I need to go with a 10 minute walk to 17, 14, MAX green line, or the 73 if I’m headed north, or a 15 or so minute walk to the 72.

    After the 2008 financial mess, Saturday service ended on the 10.

    The December 2022 schedule revision got us not just Saturday service, bus Sunday service too (which I don’t think has been a thing in this part of Portland since the Arab oil embargo ended). It runs a little later at night, which is nice too.

    The peak period routes just eat huge amounts of hours, because there are a lot of non-useful one way trips. So many, in fact, that even our nothing of a route got a bunch of new service.

    Considering the number of one-way routes in the Puget Sound region, there should be some really good service redistribution opportunities.

  26. Well put. I’ve said for many years that the weaknesses of transit service planners, some of whom I worked with, has been that they only think of transit as being viable if connecting “job centers” primarily utilizing “corridors.” This appeals to those who go to and from work who are able-bodied, but not for those who are taking transit to and from a destination.

    One example was when Metro’s E Line was being planned. I suggested that, southbound, a station be placed at 50th so that riders could take transit to the zoo, albeit down a slope to get to the south entrance. The response from Metro planners: these riders can use the station at 45th. So, I tried it. A narrow, uneven sidewalk that got dreadfully close to heavy traffic (I’d imagine which is worse now) two blocks get to a stop on Fremont. In my trial runs – and I worked at the zoo at the time – the northbound #5 had just passed by every time I tried to make this connection. As I was/am able-bodied, I walked up the hill to the zoo. Returning, I could walk down the hill or take the #5 north.

    A second example is Sound Transit’s #513, which I’ve regularly commented on. Boeing/Everett is the primary reason why the region is spending a billion or so more and five more years to “dogleg” the slow Link train (peaked at about 35-40 on a recent trek to Sea-Tac, with two prolonged extended stops on the way back, what an embarassment this to those who have ridden Bart, Marta, Metrorail, Skytrain, etc.), yet ST won’t bother to run the #513 bi-directional, letting them drive. Further, they don’t connect this route to the busy South Everett Park & Ride, where connections from north, east, and south abound, being stuck on being the only transit provider at the nearly-abandoned Eastmont Park & Ride. When I asked them why they didn’t swing down to South Everett and get onto I-5 there, the planners said that they didn’t want to inconvenience the (handful of, in my experience riding it) riders by taking what they claimed was “extra time.” Yet, they had no problem adding Ash Way-which involves an off-I-5 trek due to ST’s shortsighted and continued decision to not finish the northbound direct access ramp there, costing millions of dollars in fuel, salaries & benefits, time, and inconvenience, particularly in inclement weather, along with Lynnwood Transit Center, also adding time.

    Third example. Swift Green line runs past the soon-to-be official secondary commercial airport for the region, but unless you’re able-bodied, travel light, and don’t mind the elements, their station at Airport Road – a “corridor” – and 100th is quite a hike. Sound Transit doesn’t plan to have a Link station at the terminal, which leaves Everett Transit’s irregular and short spanned #8 to meander to the terminal, with thousands of low-income folks having no transit connection from West Casino Road, just 1.5 miles away. And, PAE isn’t even within the City of Everett!

    In summary, transit is best when it serves destinations, too, not just jobs. A transit agency that’s inflexible, which is most of them, won’t be a service to most potential riders. In addition, ST for one needs to finally jettison the financial boondoggle called Sounder North and channel those savings into accelerating Link’s march northward. Sounder North has never served anyplace that express buses haven’t for the past ~24 years, and the savings can be best used elsewhere. It would be a prudent use of taxpayer’s funds.

Comments are closed.