The deadline for comments on studies for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions is today. Please ask the board to study sending the trains into the existing tunnel, rather than building a new one.
Benefit to Riders
From a rider standpoint, reusing the existing tunnel would be fairly simple. All the trains would mix, just as East Link will mix with the main line. Transfers would be much better. Same-direction transfers would be trivial (e. g. Rainier Valley to the UW). Simply step off the train and wait for a different one (on the same platform). Even reverse direction transfers would be fairly easy (e. g. Seattle Center to the UW). Just go up and over, using the existing stairs, escalators and elevators.
In contrast, the proposed transfers vary from bad to terrible. Simply going the same direction could take anywhere from three to five minutes, maybe worse. For many this will mean a new, onerous transfer (e. g. Rainier Valley to the UW). For others, an unnecessary hindrance to the new addition. Someone going from downtown Bellevue to Denny might very well ignore the new tunnel and new line, given the poor transfer experience.
Travel to and from downtown would be worse for most riders as well. The stations in the new tunnel are not as good as the old ones. They are deeper, and there are fewer of them. The vast majority of riders, given the choice, would prefer using the stations inside the old tunnel.
Sound Transit has expressed fear that the trains downtown would simply be overloaded. I seriously doubt it. As a city and a nation, we are rapidly becoming less peak-oriented. There is still a rush hour, but from a transit standpoint, a smaller percentage of trips occur during this time. With some work, it is quite possible the trains could run every 90 seconds, according to Sound Transit. Even running them every 2 minutes would provide the same potential throughput (30 trains an hour through downtown) as a second tunnel could provide. Running the trains more often would require elevating or burying the tracks in Rainier Valley — something Sound Transit has never even considered. But it is also quite possible that we never see 6 minute trains in Rainier Valley anyway, which means the downtown tunnel could handle the extra load with ease.
In the highly unlikely event that we do have capacity issues during rush-hour, there is a very simple, much less costly solution: run express buses. There are plenty of riders who would love to have their express buses back. You wouldn’t need to bring all of them back, just the ones that have proven very popular. For both train and bus riders, reusing the existing tunnel is better.
Sound Transit has suggested that getting rid of the tunnel would be “Not consistent with ST3 plan”. If find this hard to fathom, given they are studying the elimination of stations like Avalon and Interbay (Dravus). Unlike those changes, this would actually be better for riders, not worse. To the extent that people even care about a new tunnel, I’m quite confident they prefer better transfers with better downtown stations.
There are other technical issues that may make it difficult to reuse the tunnel. That is why a study is needed. It is possible that mixing the tracks (otherwise known as interlining) is more disruptive and expensive than adding three new stations (and a tunnel). I doubt it, but stranger things have happened. That is why it makes sense to study the technical issues, to get an idea of the various trade-offs.
Deadlines for comments are today. Please let the board know you want them to study reusing the existing downtown tunnel for West Seattle to Ballard Link.
196 Replies to “Ask Sound Transit to Study Sending Ballard and West Seattle Trains Through the Existing Tunnel”
The survey form doesn’t seem to provide a good place to put this. Where did you manage to squeeze it in?
I put it in the CID alternatives.
Yeah, that’s another good place to put it.
I choose “Downtown” and then basically skipped most questions until the end, where they have an open ended question. The question is “Do you have anything more that you’d like to share with us about the Downtown further studies refinements?”
Weeks ago, I put it in a CID comment box.
The ST board should know very significant changes were made to Sound Move; the board could make such changes by a super majority. The fiscal and technical and ridership challenges of ST3 seem parallel.
There’s a Downtown box at the bottom of one of the middle pages. Otherwise put in any of the CID boxes such as the first.
Tell ST to add an alternative that interlines Lines 1/2/3 in the existing downtown tunnel, and to upgrade the tunnel to 1.5-2 minute maximum frequency.
The ST3 Candidate Project to upgrade the tunnel is C-07 “Transit Tunnel (International District to Northgate) improvements enabling increases in system frequency”.
“This project would study, identify, and evaluate capital and operating options in the Transit Tunnel (International District/Chinatown Station to Northgate Station) to potentially improve the frequency of trains to less than three minutes. This could include funding projects such as improved train operations, upgraded train control signal technology, ventilation, and access/egress improvements.”
This is from the ST3 candidate project menu WL posted yesterday. I was at the December 2015 board meeting when this list was handed out and the project was mentioned.
Also relevant is project “C-06 Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel Existing Station Passenger
Capacity Improvements”. That seems to be about pedestrian circulation in the stations rather than about the trains. It doesn’t have a detail PDF but the description is: “This project would improve passenger circulation and provide additional passenger capacity in existing Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel stations as the regional transit system expands. It will examine the access-egress needs and identify, design, and construct improvements. This project has been included within other ST3 Candidate Projects and the definition will be determined based on which ST3 Candidate Projects are selected to advance.”
l also wrote that the most important factor in the downtown alignment is short transfer walks between Lines 1/2/3 at CID and Westlake, and that all these other alternatives are worse than the representative alignment in the ballot measure.
I put it in every comment box.
The second tunnel is a disaster. It makes everybody’s experience worse, including getting to the airport. We should renovate use the same tunnel.
Thanks for making an issue of this.
I think it’s also valid to demand two separate EIS processes for West Seattle and Ballard. The funding (and lock of it) and phasing processes are so different that they should not be packaged together in one EIS. The two projects are technically different extensions of two different rail lines. If they are separated, then using the existing DSTT becomes more of a forced new alternative.
When I look at ridership demand it’s clear to me that using the existing DSTT can be operated to prevent overcrowding if they can get trains down to every 2.5 minutes. The demand for West Seattle or above Mariner Way (either end of 3 Line) is not high enough to warrant 6 minute frequencies anyway.
Finally some questions: can East Link run at 6 minutes? The only place I’ve seen it presented is in the ST3 literature. The East Link EIS studied only every 7.5 or 8 minutes. Also, is the No Build assuming trains every six minutes or 8 (7.5) minutes for Line 1 and Line 2? If it’s less frequent, then merely going to six minutes would give the DSTT 25 percent more capacity. I’ll see what I can decipher tonight.
We were told by ST that East Link cannot run any faster than every 8 minutes across the bridge, but that was several years ago and never fully explained. I think the ridership estimates on East Link are way too high post pandemic, especially cross lake, so East Link trains arriving at the CID should have plenty of capacity.
If DSTT2 at least had a rational route, and stations, I could understand the argument about future capacity. But if one tunnel is so materially worse than the other of course there are going to be subarea disputes over who gets which, and as I noted to Cam if one tunnel is useless (DSTT2) everyone is going to have to switch to DSTT1 either at Sodo and/or CID if you want to go anywhere other than Ballard, so all three lines and riders will effectively interline in DSTT1 while spending billions on DSTT2.
I believe the physical limitation is 4 minutes, but they don’t ever expect to run them more than every 7 minutes. I always thought it was six minutes, but that’s not the case:
The transportation analysis along I‐90 is provided in Section 3.5 of the Final EIS, and Section 18.104.22.168 provides additional information on the East Link project capacity, which is equivalent to seven to ten freeway lanes. The East Link capacity calculation assumes that East Link trains can operate with headways of up to 4 minutes, which is beyond the current planning horizon (2030) and is not used as part of the ridership forecast. Four minute headways would occur when the system is at maximum operational capacity. Because East Link will not be operating at capacity with 4 minute headways within the planning horizon of 2030, page 3‐25 of the FEIS presents a ridership forecast of 50,000 riders per day based on operating with 7 minute headways for 2030
But as with the entire system, if in the unlikely event we actually needed to run trains that often from the East Side, we could simply resurrect the various express buses along I-90 that folks would definitely prefer. This is way cheaper (and better for riders) than building a second tunnel. A second tunnel really only makes sense if you add downtown coverage (with a station at First Hill, minimum).
The only reason I can think of to run trains that often over I90 is if Kirkland and/or Issaquah Link are built as a branch of the main Line 2; I’d speculate Kirkland is a branch given the easy existing junction to OMF-E, and Issaquah Link evolves into an I90 Stride project.
But that is far enough out that I think it can be ignored, and as Ross says it should be built as a part of a downtown line totally different that currently proposed. For a maximum example, turn L2 into a 3 branch line (Kirkland/Redmond/Issaquah), add a junction at Judkins station, and send two of the branches on a new alignment down Rainier/Boren to serve First Hill, therefore maxing out I90 capacity while also having zero impact on the DSTT’s capacity.
What happens at the north end? Does it loop up to CHS? The two subordinate lines HAVE to connect to The Spine somewhere.
Or would it turn down Olive Way to a New New Westlake platform?
It’s not a bad idea for 2040.
I’ve just reviewed the technical report and appendices. Appendix N.1.C is the details. Here is what I found.
1. There is no background info of 2-Line. It’s not in the tables disclosing frequencies.
2. The No Build just mentions “Link” at six minutes. As presented, that appears to be the 1 Line only.
3. There is no project listed to go from 8 minutes to 6 minutes on the 2 Line — and note that the 2 Line is missing from the assumption tables too.
This suggests to me that the answer isn’t in the DEIS and the overcrowding analysis may be seriously flawed! THIS FLAW IS MAJOR! The entire justification of DSTT2 is stated in the Purpose and Need that DSTT is overcrowded — yet the technical work doesn’t document the No Build condition fully or accurately .
It remains to be seen what the DSTT capacity truly is. It remains to be seen what the 2 Line operating assumptions are in the DEIS.
This omission can be used to stop the DSTT2 dead in its tracks. An attorney could easily get the DEIS tossed unless ST clarifies what they assumed.
Perhaps the two line headway limit is about six minutes due to the surface operation in Bel-Red parallel to the MLK operation.
While we don’t fully know what real world two or three line capacity would be, we doesn’t Sound Transit already run more frequent trains through the tunnel after games and stadium events? Might be worth using one of these events to test the maximum frequency of trains through the current tunnel with no upgrades, and with upgrades it would presumably be much better.
It does. I was at Roosevelt on game day last year, going southbound to Capitol Hill. Four northbound trains came 90 seconds apart, with the “next train” announcement before the current train had finished unloading. The fourth train parked on the track and took a siesta for a few minutes. Then an announcement said it would be going southbound so I got on. It stopped at U-District and UW on the wrong side of the platform, then switched to the right side using the crossover there. When I got off at Capitol Hill, northbound trains were again coming 90 seconds apart.
So ST does do it now after at least some ballgames, but it’s unreliable and can cause train bunching. The capital upgrades are to make it reliable.
I know this is a moot point but the more I look at it the more it seem like a station in SLU just doesn’t make sense for this line. It would have made more sense to follow or replace the monorail with elevated rail or cut and cover. Or just go straight down second after university station into Belltown then to Seattle center.
It feels like they’re trying to make everyone happy by hitting all the major spots and in the process creating something that really isn’t all that useful.
I think Belltown makes more sense than SLU. To serve SLU means making a turn. If it is a sharp turn (which is what they did) it means you essentially overlap coverage. A more broad turn (with the “Denny” station well to the east) makes more sense. But then you are piling on costs, and still not adding that much value. In contrast, a Belltown line would likely have been considerably simpler and cheaper, while providing much the benefit. The basics aren’t that complicated. Whenever possible, make as straight a line as possible, and put stations about 1/4 to half mile apart. Once again, ST ignores the basics.
But yeah, kind of a moot point. Argue for it if you want (put in a comment) but I think that ship has sailed.
It’s probably futile, but thanks for fighting for this.
There is no need for a second tunnel. I’m a HUGE advocate for public transit but this is insanity, a waste of billions that will only make the system *much* more difficult to use.
If we are building a system intended to be around 100yrs from now then the second tunnel is a long term good investment to allow for future branching and expansion. When I lived in San Franciso, the MUNI tunnel was congested and led to frequent delays.
Two tunnels with future signaling improvements to the existing tunnel (post ST3) will have serious throughput. Right now I believe with 3 minute headways where line 2 and 3 interline the system is capable of 32,000 riders per hour. 2 tunnels gets us to double the capacity and reduced headways gets us even more.
While there are funding issues, the funding available still gets us 90% of the way there. Why throw in the towel now? I’d hate to be in a situation where 30 years from now we are pining for a second tunnel that was never built.
I felt this way too initially, but the train-to-train transfers are much worse than anyone expected. The station alternatives are deeper than the existing stations, some of them 150-200 feet, deeper than UW or Beacon Hill. That would take several minutes to transfer from the Eastside to the airport or from Rainier Valley to the U-District. That will would hinder Link from even achieving its purpose.
This assumes that
1) the tunnels are equal. The second tunnel will in fact have severe access issues.
2) the second tunnel will be built with the ability to add branches. I’ve seen no evidence this is intended.
With a significant part of downtown Seattle not getting any transit improvements with the second tunnel, it’s more important to spend the limited resources on expanding service where little currently exists.
Eg, Belltown is one of the densest areas on the west coast, and the entire thing has one pair of bus stops.
+100, especially the “no evidence this is intended”.
Good point on Belltown. I believe a gondola line connecting Belltown, SLU, CHS, and Kaiser Hospital along Bell St and John St would actually provide more relief to the existing tunnel than a 2nd DSTT as it would reduce traffic on the current bottleneck between CHS and Westlake.
I agree with the other comments. If, in the unlikely event that we really need a second downtown tunnel then it should add value. It should cover First Hill at a minimum. This tunnel actually subtracts value. Those that are destined for it are worse off, and yet no one wants to transfer to it. It adds nothing, but subtracts plenty.
It is also telling that cities like San Fransisco and Boston — both of which famously have light rail congestion within their core — have not dealt with it in this manner. Boston basically ignores it. In fact they are extending the Blue Line further, while doing nothing about one of the worst train bunching in the world. San Fransisco is rearranging the system, but they aren’t building a parallel line. Both cities have added other things, and are focused mainly on other things, because frankly, other things are more important. The same is true here. It isn’t like it will be cheaper to do in the , but in the future we can do it better, by actually covering more of downtown with a second downtown line.
I should add that there is precedent of this sort of thing, all over the world. One recent example is Toronto*. For years now, they’ve talked about a “relief line”, as a way to deal with crowding. Now they are building the Ontario Line, and there are some significant differences. It does more than just provide relief. It adds a significant number of new stations, with a lot more coverage. It will be automated, with a lot more stations per hour. It is basically better in every respect than if they had built it way back when, despite not costing much more. They expect almost double the ridership as a result.
The problem with the second downtown tunnel is that it a very poorly designed tunnel. It *only* provide additional capacity, and it is unlikely we will ever need it. In contrast, the plans for the “Relief Line” were always about adding more than just relief. By waiting they actually made it much better than initially planned. The same thing would happen here. We really don’t know how Seattle (or the region) will grow in the future. If the suburbs grow, than the obvious answer is to run (very popular) express buses, saving those riders time. If the city grows, it is unlikely they are all going to the existing destinations, and crowding on the train may only be the result of few other options (e. g. to get to First Hill or Belltown, you often take Link). Thus it is quite likely that a future expansion — if it really is needed — is just a lot better.
* Check out the table on Wikipedia labeled “Comparison of Relief Line and Ontario Line features in July 2019”. It is quite striking how much better it is than the previous proposal.
The best I’ve been able to trace back to 2019 schedules, TriMet was running 28 trains per hour on the Multnomah Blvd section. This became 32 trains per hour over the steel bridge, but that doesn’t really count because there were no common stations by all 4 lines.
Even then, the Better Red project was being planned, which would add more red line trains to the existing Multnomah Blvd track segment.
I then look at Link:
• Absolute maximum in the Rainier Valley is 6 minute headways.
• Apparently the Eastside line is planned for 8 minute headways at most. They probably can’t turn fast enough in Redmond to do anything more than 6 minute headways.
At absolute most with 6 minute headways on both (beyond what the lines are likely to run) that’s still 20 trains an hour.
Does anyone really think West Seattle to Everett will get anything like enough trains per hour to make the tunnel congested? Actual density along those segments to me suggest 6 trains per hour at best. My own opinion is that ridership will likely be so lackluster on that particular line it gets cut to 4 trains per hour. ST’s own ridership estimates for north of Lynnwood are pretty awful.
Anyway, even with absolute wild successes on the two good lines, there just doesn’t seem to be enough through capacity on them to cause the existing tunnel to get too crowded. I just can’t get the math to work.
I’m not sure that pointing to SF & Boston’s light rail tunnels as “hey they suck and muddle through, so ours can suck and muddle through as well” is a compelling argument…
The evolution of the relief line to the Ontario line in Toronto is a much better example.
I’m not sure that pointing to SF & Boston’s light rail tunnels as “hey they suck and muddle through, so ours can suck and muddle through as well”
That’s not the argument. The argument is that it isn’t that important. You miss the key element. Both Boston and San Fransisco have invested in other things. They have spent enormous sums on other projects. Clearly, then, it isn’t their first priority. Why should it be ours?
It is really crazy that we have fixated on this one, minor issue (that in all likelihood will never effect us) that no one else in the world really cares about. This alone is bad enough, but the worse part is, it will make things worse! It would be like spending billions of dollars on new paint for the stations, but in the process, wrecking all the escalators. Sure, the shiny new paint looks nice, but people would much prefer good working escalators.
It really boils down to this:
1) We don’t need it now.
2) It is highly likely we will never need it.
3) The new tunnel is terrible. It somehow manages to be worse for riders, while providing nothing good in return.
That third item is key. If the new tunnel actually served a different location (e. g. First Hill) then I never would have written this. This would be like similar lines throughout the world. Sure, they provide a little less crowding, but more importantly, they actually add value. It really is weird — if not unprecedented — for a line to basically do nothing but relieve crowding. (Let alone crowding that doesn’t actually exist, and probably never will.)
Having lived in both Boston and San Francisco and used the light rail, I can tell you that the situations are very different.
1. Both Muni Metro and MBTA Green line operate 4 branches from one tunnel. What the post suggests is studying only three. It’s that fourth line that jams up these systems — combined with the branches running as streetcars often in mixed flow traffic for long distances making coordinating their synchronicity next to impossible. Note too that three lines are easily operated in several Manhattan subways with no problem. BART also has four lines and still has excellent reliability. I’m sure there are many three bed chairs systems across the world not having any problem.
2. Many train bottleneck events in Boston and SF are created from train reversals in the trunk while in the central core. This is pretty well understood by the locals. The new MBTA extension north of Lechmere splits two lines but the other two are turning around in Downtown Boston underground at Government Center. Had the MBTA designed and built a better reversal, the operation would be much smoother. This is caused a bit too by those mixed traffic segments making it hard to efficiently reverse lines at evenly spaced time intervals.
3. The trains themselves are never more than 2 cars so a branch can fill to passenger capacity at half the ridership of a Link train. The train cars feel smaller too.
Both systems have been much worse! The spreading of the peak times, the better train control systems now operating (the Muni Metro meltdown in the 1990’s was a function of having 5 lines combined with a train control system that was often crashing) and other operational investments have really lowered the systems’ reliability problems.
*”bed chairs” should be “bad train”
RossB: interesting point, subtracting value at great cost.
AJ, I think most people would agree with you if the “evolution” of DSTT2’s design were positive. However, I think we all agree that the conflict around CID has produced nothing but worse solutions, and the truth is, we still don’t know what will happen in West Seattle. Will there be two stations on the plateau or one? Will the Delridge Station be near the bus lines or hidden two blocks back by the steel mill?
Will another station disappear on the Ballard line? Where will the Ballard line end and how deep will the solitary station be?
Well-meaning suggestion after blustering criticism seem to bounce off the “consultants” like BB’s off a tank. The Board really isn’t in control; the staff and consultants are, and the Board isn’t savvy enough to say “STOP IT!”
Tom, sorry if I was unclear – in the Toronto example, we are still in the “relief line” part of the story. The ST3 plan needs to be shelved and then an “ST4” approach would be the ‘Ontario line.’ The evolution from ‘relief’ to ‘Ontario’ line took a generation and multiple re-thinks by regional leaders. It wasn’t done through a single EIS cycle (or the Canadian equivalent). It may still be useful to complete the EIS (with the alternatives pushed here) before going back to the voters.
You meant the MBTA’s Green Line, no?
AJ, OK. That I can get behind. There certainly does need to be more urban transit in Seattle, but it needs to serve the other near downtown neighborhoods as you and Glenn advocate.
Sorry if this article doesn’t fully articulate why we feel a single tunnel alternative is so important. Ross saw the feedback deadline at noon so we rushed together an article we’d been talking about, in hopes that the board will consider this alternative at its meeting February 22nd.
The representative alignment in the ballot measure had a tunnel on 5th with stations at CID, Midtown (Madison), and Westlake. We assumed the platforms would be level with the existing ones or immediately underneath (like BART and MUNI at Powell). But the stations ST has been proposing for the past year are much deeper and further away, so it might take five minutes to get from one platform to another. This is on top of the cost increases throughout the WSBLE (West Seattle and Ballard Link Extension) project that make some worry about hitting an affordability ceiling, and the awful proposal of a Ballard station at 14th far from the urban village center.
So we’ve been looking at ways to improve the transfers and lower the cost. The three most promising ways are to put all three lines in the existing tunnel, make Ballard-West Seattle an automated line with smaller stations, or just make a Ballard-Westlake line that doesn’t try to do anything more. We didn’t have time to elaborate on all these so we went with the “fallback” option, which is interlining, and which The Urbanist article and others were also supporting. That would ensure that station exits and transfers are no worse than the existing situation. And we assume it would save a lot of money that would help with affordability, getting it open on time, and/or other improvements in the Ballard and West Seattle corridors.
If I’ve left anything out, maybe somebody else can explain it better.
That’s a pretty good sound bite on the situation, Mike!
I’ve talked to many people that have all individually commented to study using the existing tunnel. Surely, ST has gotten hundreds of similar comments.
I think the bigger concern I have is how those comments get addressed. ST went off on the preposterous super deep station alternatives before the DEIS but this is the first time they looked at a “shallow” one (and I’ll not that the diagram still has it deeper than the existing CID platforms so it can get under the original DSTT). No one pushed to study the deep ones. It was ST staff that wanted to study that. The new one only came about because of lots os screaming in the CID, Pioneer Square and Lumen Field interests.
All in all, there is universally poor consideration for transferring riders at ST. It’s pervaded the whole process.
Imagine how awful a bicycle trail would be without making bicyclist comments central to the design. Imagine building a Stadium without listening heavily to the the teams using it. Imagine building a school campus without listening primarily to teachers and students about their needs.
That’s the surreal nature of ST!
With enough (bad) luck, ST could probably win a design award!
There is one more solution: To mix-match the 1 Line and 3 Line trains in SODO. That would put two lines on each branch (a 5 Line for RV to Northgate and a 6 Line for WS to Ballard?). Waiting an extra 6 minutes to get directly to your end station may sound like a huge negative, but keep in mind the current planned operation will require 5-6 minutes of time to walk a block and take multiple escalators up and stairs down for every transferring rider as now planned. A six minute platform stand and wait beats six minutes of walking and stairs any day.
“Imagine how awful a bicycle trail would be without making bicyclist comments central to the design.”
To be fair, that has happened a lot.
Yes, Al, the other benefit of interlining is the fact that you don’t need to double track the SODO section, you can start interlining the 1 and 3 line through SODO though. I would still build the Lander and Holgate overpasses.
In fact you could do so as soon as the WS portion gets built and start running the 3 line through downtown immediately without any transfer or waiting for the tunnel to get built.
I would still hope Sound Transit would build a center platform to allow cross platform transfers towards RV/Seatac.
I agree strongly with Martin. If ST goes ahead with the roller-coaster to West Seattle, at least use the existing tracks for the trickle of trains from it. Lander and Holgate would need to be overpassed; that’s what, $100 mill each at the price of the overpass across the BNSF tracks at Lander? There is then enough room between the rising trackway and the Franz Bakery building to replace one dead end block of the SoDo bikeway with the northbound track from West Seattle. It would merge with the existing northbound track as they cross the vacated Lander Street grade crossing. The southbound junction would happen up on the structure; just put a turnout in the curve and send the WS trains straight.
Lower Royal Brougham would also have to be closed, but almost nobody uses it. Maybe Greyhound would be somewhat inconvenienced by having to use Sixth South to get down to Spokane instead of the busway, so maybe close the street to all everything but buses and have rail crossing gates at the crossing.
That means that both south lines would have service to Stadium, which is a real improvement over ST3 for post-game crowds.
If West Seattle is not built (YAY!) just turn the Line 3 trains at Forest Street. There’s already a lovely little grade-separated turning loop. How nice!
So far as creating two “mix-match” lines, there won’t be enough ridership out of West Seattle for ONE line”. Forget two.
Agreed. 100% percent.
Seattle threw in the towel on Forward thrust. This is the same amateurish thinking.
If you kill it there will not be another chance for a 30 years. There is no redo. That’s not how public transit works
It’s just money.
I think Confused is confused.
The ST taxing legislation is law. In fact, the Board believes it can extend those taxes at will without a vote. Changing a project doesn’t negate the tax. The old “bad transit is better than no transit” mantra is not good policy if the current project cost estimate for WSBLE is approaching $16 billion
The only question, now that we move into ST 3 that was barely formed in 2016 and was based on “optimistic” assumptions about ridership and project costs, is whether WSBLE and DSTT2 is the best use of the tax revenue. I think when Federal Way, Lynnwood and East Link we are going to see spending tens of billions to run light rail to the suburbs — which is what WS and Ballard are — doesn’t get a lot of riders, or come close to meeting the 40% farebox recovery goal.
At the risk of repeating myself, WSBLE as designed is not affordable, and in the opinion of many DST2’svestimated project cost in 2016 of $2.2 billion is around half the actual cost, not including the $700 million for a shallow 4th Ave. bridge.
Putting affordability aside, the two questions transit advocates on this blog are legitimately asking are:
1. The current design for DSTT2 is materially different than represented in ST 3, and makes no transit sense. Even I can see that.
2. The new design is bad transit even if affordable. Usually you don’t have subareas fighting over who doesn’t have to use the new tunnel.
The problem IMO begins with the fact so few riders want to go to Ballard or WS who don’t live there. So why force folks into a tunnel going there? Ridership on WSBLE —even if the project cost was free — will be very low. The WS bridge is one of the best highways in the region and connects a residential neighborhood directly to I-5, I-90 and 99. These folks insisted on driving when the bridge was CLOSED.
So that means DSTT2 and WSBLE have to have some stops people want to go that DSTT1 does not — or the same popular stops DSTT1 goes to because DSTT1 was designed to be the one tunnel so they came up with this crazy idea to run it where people want to go even with fewer stations than needed — with the same convenience.
I suppose SLU and Belltown could be good stops, CID and Westlake for the transfers, but not for riders coming from the south. If Ballard and WS want a one seat ride to those areas they should use DSTT2. It’s ridiculous that East King and riders coming from the south through the non-grade separated RV are suppose to fight over who has to transfer to DSTT1, because we know it won’t be East King Co., and North Seattle always has some reason why they have to have the best transit.
I don’t know why ST still estimates DSTT2 will cost $2.2 billion when the cost for WSBLE has gone from $6 billion to $14–$16 billion in two years. My God, ST 3 only passed 6 years ago.
The best thing that could happen is if ST had to accurately estimate the cost of DSTT2 with cost contingency, because then it would become obvious three subareas don’t have their contribution, because I think one of the factors driving DSTT2 is N. King doesn’t want to lose the $1.1 billion contribution toward DSTT2 from the four other subareas, which is why ST continues the ruse the cost for DSTT2 is still $2.2 billion.
Confused is correct about one thing: if DSTT2 is scrapped N. King Co. will lose forever that $1.1 billion contribution from the four other subareas, because they know now ST’s capacity claims for their 1/2 contribution are rubbish, But N. King HAS to know three of those subareas don’t even have $275 million each, although Seattleites often believe in magic.
Otherwise ST and N. King wouldn’t insist DSTT2 will cost the same —$2.2 billion — as estimated in 2016 when the current cost estimate for WSBLE has risen 300% in 6 years.
If N. King really accepted it would need to pay closer to 80% of DSTT2 I think N. King would be more honest about what DSTT2 will really cost, it is unaffordable, and even worse bad transit the other subareas are going to insist Seattleites use.
The rest of us are not going to pay 1/2 for a second — bad — tunnel in Seattle and then have to use it. I live in King Co. We paid for DSTT1. That is the tunnel at least eastsiders will use because our trains follow us, and North Seattle wants our trains for all those tunnels. Maybe Pierce, S. King and S. Seattle need to grow a spine about who will use DSTT2, although ironically they don’t have any money to contribute, and two of them never paid for DSTT1.
If DSTT2 is dropped, I think there could be some very legitimate ways to spend some of the savings in the DSTT. The stations don’t have big enough elevators and don’t have enough escalators to guarantee that one is always working. A rider has no down escalators at several stations! ST is already proposing a new tunnel for riders to get to Fourth Ave in the Pioneer Square transfer option anyway so they could simply entend it further and put in exit elevators.
Then the saved money could also go into platform screen doors, new pedestrian tunnels and other ways to improve the current stations in the DSTT that are already over 30 years old. It could even go to automation of trains and solving some of the obstacles preventing driverless trains for the system like revisiting the parts of East Link that have potential pedestrian and driver conflicts.
Yes, Al, some funds would need to be spent to upgrade DSTT. Sound Transit had proposed some of the work: https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/C-07_DTSeattleLRTTunnelConnection_FTemp.pdf as Mike pointed out. Sound Transit mentioned that ventilation (fire safety) only allows for slightly shorter than 3min headways, that would need to be improved as well as signaling, but I agree there are other opportunities.
One such would be a pedestrian tunnel between the Pioneer Sq mezzanine and a pedestrian tunnel to 1st Ave which would not require ANY escalators but shorten access to the ferry terminal. Another option would be a gondola connecting Pioneer Sq to Harborview Medical Center over I-5.
1. Install center platforms to make crowd movement and make transfers easier.
2. Remove that ridiculous 3rd track at CID and install a platform there. Instead of reverse moves for trains between SoDo and Bellevue, install a full wye, or at least a partial wye so trains don’t have to reverse direction in the middle of one of the region’s busiest transit junctions. Not only does this eliminate a potential bottleneck but if something does happen in the tunnel there’s the flexibility of running Rainier Valley or West Seattle to Bellevue trains
(The full wye TriMet installed at Rose Quarter Transit Center has been extremely useful, not just for a few daily blue line to yellow line through routed trains, but also the occasional construction project)
3. More vertical conveyances. Faster, more reliable vertical conveyances. To more locations.
I’m pretty sure these would all result in vastly more bang for buck performance than duplicating the existing tunnel.
The business of Ballard being a bedroom community that nobody wants to go to who doesn’t live there is simply not true. Ballard has lots of stuff going on there, and it’s only going to get bigger.
This site has some interesting statistical information on Ballard by block and street. It is number 15 and 17 for Seattle neighborhoods in total population and population density. Personally I don’t see the basis for the cost of light rail to Ballard, especially underground, and especially since much of it is along industrial or lightly populated areas, most of which is at the bottom of a steep hill to Queen Ann. Transit yes, light rail no, especially when so many neighborhoods with better density in South Seattle need their light rail upgraded. Other than bars and restaurants I am not sure why someone would take transit to Ballard if they don’t live there, and would be interested to see trip originations on transit to Ballard by riders who don’t live in Ballard.
I lived in San Francisco for years, where all the MUNI lines converged into one tunnel through downtown, and certainly, it caused problems, but *most* of SF MUNI’s one-tunnel problems come from an ancient control system that literally runs on floppy discs.
I would trade a “MUNI meltdown” tunnel jam-up once in a while for the enormous money savings here, funds that could actually improve the system every day, instead of making it clunkier every day.
Oh, and a special shout-out to Cole Gleason: https://www.theurbanist.org/2023/02/07/build-ballard-link-faster-by-skipping-second-downtown-tunnel/. We talked about this a lot in the comments, but Cole actually wrote the editorial (and well before I did). If not for the other issues raised in that essay (elevating the trains in MLK) I would have just referenced that essay, and be done with it. Many of the same arguments for sharing the existing tunnel exist on both editorials.
Thanks for the shout out. I wanted to both present a positive vision of what to do with the savings and I also think there might be a need to improve capacity in existing tunnel, which is why the elevation of MLK was wrapped up into the same article. Thanks for making the case here as well (and over the years in the comment threads!)
I do think things like an automated metro stub line for Ballard make sense, but I didn’t want to make an argument for something that was too far afield from current plans.
Thanks, Cole, you’re right: Our region has so many transit infrastructure needs that we need to be prudent about how we spend the resources we have.
Politicians love to brag about miles of track and number of stations constructed, but that does not necessarily translate to the transit experience and therefore ridership. If the rider experience suffers, usage will drop and it will get more difficult to pass future transit measures.
Let’s keep the board accountable to expand the rider experience rather than ribbon-cutting events for the politicians.
Thank you for your article Cole. Just a couple of notes:
Re: DSTT2, N. King is to pay 1/2 and the four other subareas 1/2 (12.5% each), not strictly proportional. Since ST still claims DSTT2 will cost $2.2 billion scrapping it will save N. King $1.1 billion on paper to spend someplace else (with around half of that needed for 130th and Graham St. stations). I agree some of that subarea contribution should go towards upgrading DSTT1 but have concerns about how much SnoCo, Pierce and S. King will have left over after their projects are completed, if they are completed.
I also strongly agree any cost savings should go toward light rail in the RV, which is a choke point in the entire system, and an equity neighborhood. Reducing train speeds to 25 mph or making it impossible for cars to cross is not the right solution. Elevating the line is probably the best idea. However I don’t know how much cost savings there will be even if DSTT2 is scrapped, depending on the costs to rehabilitate DSTT1.
N. King was receiving about $600 million/year in ST tax revenue in 2021, before the downturn in office occupancy (or at least leases). But even if the revenue stayed at $600 million/year, when you deduct Graham St. and 130th, plus contributions to DSTT1, and the cost for WS and Ballard Link, I don’t know how much is “left over” in N. King for the RV.
ST is now estimating WSBLE to cost $14 billion without the shallow fourth ave. station. Deducting the $2.2 billion for DSTT2, less the $1.1 contribution, the savings to N. King brings the price tag — without DSTT2 — to around $13 billion, when just a few years ago the price estimate was less than 1/2. I just would be very surprised if after a WS and Ballard Link, and no DSTT2 but upgrades to DSTT1, and Graham St. and 130th, there will be anything left over the RV.
If you asked me, I would begin with elevating Link in the RV because that will always be a choke point so address it now. I think that stretch is more important than Link to WS or Ballard, if one has to be cut. One is a critical part of the spine serving an international airport, the other two are residential neighborhoods.
“the other two are residential neighborhoods.”
– hospital branch
– small businesses people work at and patronize (I worked at one)
– the most bars per mile in Seattle
– live bands at the bars, playing only in Ballard
– tourist attractions: the Locks, Nordic Museum, Old Ballard, Scandinavian ambiance
– farmers’ market, one of three year-round
– industrial businesses
– Seattle’s fourth-largest urban village
Non-residential West Seattle Junction:
– Arts West
– Husky Deli, Bakery Nouveau, Sonic Boom Records
– California Avenue urban village
– On the way to Alki and Lincoln Park
I didn’t try to mess with the finances too much other than understand what the price tag for DSTT2 was supposed to be. The reason the cost is split regionally is that it supposedly allows for the needed capacity through downtown for all the subareas. Similarly, I assumed a project to elevate RV and provide the needed capacity in DSTT1 could still mean its a regional shared project. I figure any more complicated financial math I try to do will be pretty inaccurate as an outside observer (although I’m not sure ST can really forecast costs/revenues on a multi-decade year horizon either).
A center-lane 1st Ave streetcar that runs from Climate Pledge Arena through Belltown and Pike Place to the ferry terminal would have more value add than this DSTT2 tunnel. It’s actually insane how bad this plan is.
Frankly, the city should use its excess STBD dollars to paint a pair of red lanes from Denny to the Duwamish. The lanes could pivot to being combo bus+truck only lanes south of Holgate.
Once it demonstrates that frequent, unimpeded transit up and down 1st Ave from Uptown to the Stadiums would have good ridership (and it very likely would), then we can upgrade to a streetcar.
All it takes is a bit of chutzpah, and ignoring the fools who think a bus lane is less useful than a parking lane in the busiest parts of the city.
No chutzpah, bus improvements are already funded through ST3. The ST Board, under the direction of the mayor & city council, has deprioritized this and instead put all money towards WSBLE.
Technically, the realignment kicked the RapidRide improvements to 2024-2025. There’s been a conspicuous lack of planning for it, though. I have to assume that they’re waiting on SDOT to finish the Transportation Plan (sometime this year) before deciding how to spend that bucket of money.
In 2016 through 2019, crush-load capacity during peak travel was a limiting factor on Rapidride C/D/E ridership. Now, there are very few crush-loaded buses. Some will say that crush-load buses will never return to being a daily occurence. Others are thinking that ridership will return as large offices reduce WFH allowance. I think it’s really difficult to say how fast ridership will return to the volumes we had before 2020. Could be never, could be next year.
In the meantime, I’m hoping we’ll see corridor improvements for RR D/C including 24/7 red paint bus lanes and repairs to very rough street conditions in key sections. I don’t know if there’s much more to do than that.
Correct, this project was deferred during alignment. Improvements would still be merited without capacity issues – riders would get a faster ride, and KCM could either improve frequencies or shift platform hours elsewhere if the C/D ran faster and/or more reliable.
That was actually one of the original candidate project ideas. ( C01-a) https://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/ST3_Ballard_DtwnSeattle_11252015_11x17.pdf
Honestly at this point I think building both C01-a (Ballard via 15th ave and Elliot) and C01-d (Ballard via Fremont and Westlake) at-grade makes more sense than DSTT2
Would C01-d basically be build the CCC and then run one of the streetcar lines up Westlake?
It would be amusing if the constant delays on the CCC ended up being useful if that ROW is used by ST rather than SDOT.
Similar to the conversations about Link running through downtown Tacoma using the T-Link ROW, can Link run down 1st Avenue using the same ROW & stations as the streetcar (assuming any needed electrical rework by the streetcar)? Does MAX and the Streetcar ever share track in Portland?
If the track structure is built to match the weight of the larger LR vehicles and curves are less abrupt than “streetcars” can navigate then yes, higher voltage streetcars are available yo run under the LR overhead, or they can carry voltage reducers (i.e. “big resistors”), though that wastes electricity.
There is still the problem of the stations if one wants level boarding; LRV’s are a foot wider than “streetcars” so they can’t share platforms gracefully. The streetcars typically have bridge ramps that extend over the gap.
Of course, one can also just buy wider “tram” vehicles to replace and upgrade the current streetcar fleet, but there might be clearance problems on narrow streets.
MAX delivers the streetcars at Ninth and Morrison, IIRC. There’s a track connection there.
Commented. Thanks STB team for making me aware of this deadline.
Is there a way to pursue some other avenue of action? Can we ask for a “Sound Transit 4” that designates new projects to pursue instead? What about a state ballot initiative?
I don’t know what options are available. In this case it definitely falls under current ST3 plans. Anything more is a lot more work. I would say more, but it would probably start slipping into “off topic” category, with people making rude and unfounded claims about my character and opinions.
Sound Transit is politically dead….. there won’t be another public vote ever.
ST3 lost pretty badly in Pierce County…. it passed in the other 2 subareas, but the only reason it passed was a huge majority in Seattle proper.
Pierce County pols #1 goal now is stopping an airport from being built in what little rural land left in the County. Putting a bullet in Sound Transit would be a great start to saying fuck you to an airport.
Seattle has a huge housing crisis that tax payers just voted for the City to fix. (I-135 passed rather easily). Voters want housing not transit. The crazy idea that there is billions sitting around to do both isn’t going to fly. If there was a vote to roll all the Sound Transit money into housing, it would pass with a huge margin.
King Country voters have always been pretty soft on transit. Sound Transit management hasn’t done anything to change that.
You think this 2nd tunnel will be better or worse than the Tacoma Link?
Sound Transit isn’t any good because it just doesn’t have to be. There’s no way to kick the bums who made the Tacoma Link out with a public vote… or anything else Sound Transit builds. One vote, 30 years of crap projects that are impossible to stop. So Seattle gets it 2nd tunnel and who cares if it’s actually any good? Sound Transit is a political zombie. It was only a matter of time before they messed up in Seattle… big time.
[Off Topic. Also in violation of the comment policy in other ways (name calling, unfounded accusations, etc.). ]
[More Off Topic and rude comment. Come on folks, read the comment policy again. ]
Alex, there is a difference between wanting to cancel rail transit projects in principle and wanting to cancel unproductive rail transit projects.
The core issue about ST3 is that the projects were selected in a political process rather than an analytical one. Heck, DSTT2 south of Westlake was never studied before the ST3 packaging happened! (The early West Seattle studies put the train in the DSTT and the early Ballard corridor studies stopped at Westlake.)
In the case of West Seattle, the ST3 vision was to reach the most gentrified part of West Seattle. It skipped the lower income areas and higher minority areas. Consider how much more of a hassle making White Center residents change to a train up in the air at Delridge would be, riding to SODO, going up and down in a second station, and then continuing to Third and Columbia is — when today that’s a direct bus.
The only people somewhat benefitting from West Seattle Link are those within walking distance of the “gentrified neighborhood” stations, because everyone else has a forced transfer. It would be much cheaper and offer similar travel times (maybe even faster) to merely build a bus connection to Link in SODO and have the buses fan out across all of West Seattle from there — Alki/ Admiral, Fauntleroy / Ferry, High Point, Delridge / White Center and Burien.
Finally, there is no push by the City to significantly increase the walking distance population near those station sites. There will still be low density blocks within walking distance. There are no proposed increased height limits to allow 30 story buildings in West Seattle (and airport approach overlays may prevent it). There is no proposal to move the golf course. The prevailing attitude is that the station areas in West Seattle are “good enough” for not only light rail but a subway station — because an aerial station is “so ugly”. It’s such a glaring example of privilege That it deserves some derision.
Congrats. You got censored. What can you say?
I actually thought your comment was both topical and pertinent to some of the larger issues facing this blog right now. That is a good thing.
But I’m not the one who gets to bang the gong on the Gong Show. So oh well.
Hopefully things improve in the future. That might be the best we can hope for.
OK. I did it, but since I have no check boxes in the “Who am I” section, I’ll be ignored. I only commented on the Tunnel section and pretty much said “DON’T BUILD SOUTH OF WESTLAKE!!!!”
I did get in “Don’t Build West Seattle Either” as a part of the interlining plan.
It’s telling that the SoundTransit board says using the existing tunnel is out of the scope of the ST3 project…
…yet one of the requests for comments on the CID and 4th Ave station design has to do with Union Station and “activating the plaza” which sure as hell were not mentioned in the ST3 ballot measure.
Glenn, did the board come out to say this?
Last week Sound Transit published an analysis with such statement. It was prepared by HNTB, their contractor. Of course HNTB has a vested interest in building the new tunnel.
It does show how Sound Transit relies on outside contractors far more than they should for crucial planning work.
It’s was in the last page of questions on the survey linked to at the top of this article. They treated it just like any of the other ST3 projects included on that EIS survey.
I know I’m repeating myself here, but this is another way to think of this new tunnel. Imagine that all the lines come together, and then there are switches, allowing trains to go to either tunnel. Thus we can divert trains into the new tunnel if there are too many. This would be the best of both worlds, in a sense. A secondary tunnel that we will use if and when we need it. But here is the thing:
1) We will probably never use the secondary tunnel.
2) If we did use the secondary tunnel, we would only use it is for brief periods of the day.
The main reason we avoid using it is because it is worse for riders and offers no additional coverage. Even if we have some crowding, it isn’t clear if you ever really want to flip that switch. There are worse things than crowding, like really bad transfers, and really bad stations (this new tunnel has both).
Now contrast that with every other secondary line in the world. None of them are like that. The Ontario Line — specifically designed to relieve crowding — does a lot more than that. It runs all day because it provides unique trips and coverage. The Second Avenue Subway has dramatically decreased crowding on nearby lines; but it has also given riders unique trip combinations that never existed before, and is popular all day long. The WMATA system expansion for 2040 specifically mentions that it will relieve crowding; but it will also expand coverage, with several stations and combinations that didn’t exist before.
But of course the new tunnel won’t be built this way. If we build it, we are stuck with it, whether we “need” it or not. Unless you have a lot of crowding, it will be worse. In times where crowding isn’t an issue (which is most of the day, and thus most of the riders) it will be worse. It just doesn’t make sense to build something that will make things worse for most riders. It is just a bad idea.
I think this is a bad idea. I do not want it. It is shortsighted thinking.
Build the second tunnel, Seattle is going to need it.
STB is no longer an open forum for broad discussion. It’s become a platform for pushing a pretty narrow agenda. It’s wrong-headed and nonsensical to ask ST to cut the guts out of a voter-approved plan to secure long term core capacity to and thru downtown. It probably isn’t even legal for them to do so. The platform isn’t doing readers a service by asking them to push for something that isn’t under consideration, and which would take the planning process back to the beginning and delay projects for many additional years.
What was in front of the voters in 2016 is quite different from what Sound Transit is currently proposing, Railcan!
I’m not a lawyer but section 2 of the ST3 motion the voters approved gives the board broad rights to modify the voter approved plan if the plan turns out to be impractical or infeasible:
I don’t think they can add new stations or whole new lines (like Ballard to UW or a Broadway tunnel), but they can certainly scale back the program like they did with First Hill station in ST1/Sound Move.
If they can add tunneling in West Seattle and Ballard and move and consolidate the Midtown/CID station, I think the board can decide to consolidate to a single tunnel if it improves rider experience and reduces cost.
Idle speculation. You are not a lawyer, indeed. I suggest you consult one. ST has made no such determinations. The litigation risk in stepping away from the plan is high. And the data on travel demand will not support this idea. It is not physically possible to funnel every line into a constrained tunnel capped at 4-car trains. It just won’t accommodate demand long term. . If your standard is passenger experience, the a single tunnel concept fails completely. And I’ll restate that it’s not under condition. Not even on the table. Putting it on the table requires taking the process backward by a factor of years. It’s irresponsible to tell your readers otherwise.
Railcan, re: the Board’s statutory authority to materially change the legislation, or designs, I felt the same about the Board’s sua sponte extension of ST taxes without a vote. And East Link’s route was materially changed including a new tunnel my city had to help pay for without a vote, and doesn’t even access Bellevue Way.
I think two things would eliminate opposition from the four other subareas:
1. The contribution to DSTT2 by the four other subareas should be eliminated so those subareas can use that money to finish projects in their subareas. The ridership estimates ST used in ST 3 to claim the four other subareas needed to pay 1/2 of DSTT2 to meet capacity limits for their riders were materially false, even pre-pandemic. There is plenty of capacity in DSTT1 for lines 1 and 2 for decades
2. Announce Seattle riders will use DSTT2. Riders from the east and south will stay in DSTT1. The reason N. King Co. is so sanguine about the design of DSTT2 to reduce costs is because they don’t think they will have to use DSTT2.
With those two acknowledgements Seattleites can have a robust discussion about WSBLE and DSTT2 among themselves, probably beginning with a WTF moment in which they ask themselves how are we going to pay for this, and does anyone plan on going where WSBLE and DSTT2 are planned to go?
The rest of us can just tune out knowing our light rail trip will remain the same, once the issues with the I-90 and Federal Way bridges are figured out.
I am not a lawyer, nor do I care to be. And I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night.
But since 2020 I have spent more time than I care to admit listening to lawyers make supposed statements of fact in front of too many different cameras for me to remember. But, after all the shrill statements have ended and the hair dye has been wiped up, I have learned one thing:
What a lawyer is willing to claim as fact in the court of public opinion, and what a lawyer is willing to claim as fact in a court of law, are not necessarily the same thing.
This is not intended as a specific criticism of yourself, it is in fact intended as encouragement, and a call to action.
You seem to believe that ST is operating outside its legal authority. And you claim to be a lawyer. If so, then please do us all a favor. Please take ST to court. Please.
I beg you to do this. Because if ST needs to be reigned in legally, then it would be better for ST and the region for this to happen now.
Let’s get things right – legally, financially, and technically – so we can move forward on a solid foundation.
Please help us out.
Lazarus, I did not render a legal opinion about the Board extending taxes five years without a vote. I simply said if the Board did that they could reevaluate WSBLE. East Link’s route was changed 10 years after ST 2 passed. The line from U Dist to Northgate was never suppose to be underground. Ballard and WS were to have above ground stations and lines. The major transfer point for DSTT2 was suppose to be the CID. DSTT2 was suppose to mimic DSTT1 but on 5th with three stations between CID and Westlake because supppsedly capacity through downtown Seattle was an issue.
What happened to all those promises? Or that this region would grow by 50,000 citizens per year through 2044, or East Link would have 43,000 to 52,000 boardings/day, or Seattle office towers would be full. You are still living in the past.
My subarea could not care less about East Link, or any Link. Eliminate the contribution from the four other subareas for DSTT2 and guarantee Seattleites will use DSTT2 since all of King Co. paid for DSTT1 and build whatever you want.
Even ST admits that after spending $20 billion on WSBLE which the subarea does not have 660 drivers in WS will switch from driving to Link, and that figure is pre-pandemic and high. Like Anonymouse you need to wake up from your dream, especially that there will be a ST4 or Everett Link, TDLE, or WSBLE can be completed with the subarea revenue, or WSBLE has increased 300% in estimated cost in two years but the 2016 cost estimate for DSTT2 is still $2.2 billion. . You make Seattle Subway look rational.
DSTT2 is nothing like it was in ST 3. WSBLE was estimated to cost $6 billion in 2016, and in fact two years ago. You seem to have no concerns about all the lies ST told to pass ST 3.
I think you will find the “hoards” from Lynnwood, Federal Way, and East Link (when the latter two open) to be greatly exaggerated. You also appear to confuse the volume of a tunnel with rider capacity. Capacity is the frequency of trains and the number of riders they hold. When East Link opens — and assuming four car trains can run across the bridge every 8 minutes — you will double the frequency of trains that can hold 596 passengers, trains that will in Seattle as empty as the 550 and 554 today. . You seem to not understand that.
“The reason N. King Co. is so sanguine about the design of DSTT2 to reduce costs is because they don’t think they will have to use DSTT2.”
The actual ST plan calls for moving the Rainier Valley line to DSTT2 and make that for Ballard trains. So, Seattle riders from Ballard to Rainier Beach would be stuck using DSTT2.
Spot on, Martin. Reductions in scope are always allowable and in a discouraging number of projects, necessitated by the construction or financing problems. ST had made easily a dozen “reductions in scope” in ST2 by removing entrances, replacing escalators with staircases, and shortening two lines. The north line supposed to go to Mariner when originally proposed and the east line all the way to Redmond.
Glenn, Daniel has shed his original bonhomie and is increasingly expressing his Inner Troll. He knows that Line 1 will go to Ballard in the current plan; he just wants all three of the new quadrants of Seattle riders to be stuck with only one station downtown.
Serves them right for electing a “woke mob”, right?
Well, WSBLE is still a work in progress. We will see where that ends up.
But your big example of ST run amok is that “The line from U Dist to Northgate was never suppose to be underground”? Sorry, but that is complete and total bunk. And you know it, That is a false statement.
The line from UW to NG was always supposed to be underground at least as far as about 62nd, and potentially farther. All ST did was move the portal to 92nd, which in the greater scheme of a multi-billion project is sort of like changing the paint color in your living room.
And what did ST and the taxpayers get for this change? They got a straighter, faster line with less construction risk, less schedule and cost risk, less surface disruption and a better sited station that more directly serves the community. And the cost impact? Even assuming none of the risk came true, the cost impact was zero (0, nada zilch).
Oh, and the community advocated for the change.
So, ya, if your idea of a government agency run amok is an agency that listens to the community and successfully manages construction, cost, and schedule risk while giving the taxpayer a better product at the same cost, then I guess ST is guilty.
And as far as ST not planning around the pandemic in advance of it happening, ya, I guess they are guilty of that. They didn’t see it coming and didn’t bake it into their plans. They should hire a better epidemiologist next time.
I assume that what Daniel wrote about is the decision to move the Roosevelt Station to the east (close to Roosevelt Avenue). The original plan was to emerge from the tunnel earlier, and follow the freeway until the park and ride (under the freeway). This would have saved money, and unlike a lot of freeway stations, would have been OK, given that it is has easy access from both sides, and there is plenty of density to the west. Even today, despite the station being well to the east, you can see lots of growth closer to Green Lake.
But it still wouldn’t have been as good as what they ended up with. It is pretty hard to complain about ST changing things, and ending up with something much better. Yes, it cost a little more, but still. In contrast, just about every change that ST has made over the years has made things worse. It is laughable to say that “voters wanted a second tunnel”, when most voters had no idea there was going to be a second tunnel. It is even more absurd to say we can’t eliminate the tunnel, even though it would be better for riders. That just doesn’t make sense. Meanwhile, consider all the changes that have made things worse. The obvious one is the lack of a First Hill station. It is the height of hypocrisy for ST to claim that getting rid of a tunnel (i. e. making the experience better for riders) is against the will of the voters, but it is OK to eliminate what would likely would be one of our top stations (if not our most popular).
But it doesn’t stop there. Just look at the plans for ST3:
1) Eliminate the Avalon Station.
2) Move the Ballard Station 200 meters farther away from where the vast majority of riders will come from.
3) Bury said station, making the trip to the platform take even longer, and the trip less pleasant.
4) Combine the Smith Cove/Dravus Station into one. This means that not only is Expedia not served, but the entire future bus network to Magnolia would be destroyed. Instead of simply sending all the Magnolia buses to the U-District, they are left with some buses going downtown, and some going to the U-District. (Get used to living with half hour frequency Magnolia, forever).
I’m sure there are more. All of these are being seriously considered. Some of these are much bigger changes than eliminating the tunnel. But more importantly, all of these changes, to various degrees, make things worse for riders. In contrast, sharing the same tunnel makes things better.
Folks seem to be focused on the cost aspect of this. This is a total straw man. Read the post again. Nowhere do I mention cost. If sharing the tunnel saves money, then it is a bonus — it means it would be better and cheaper. But mostly it would be better.
I guess I need to point out that the concept to merge the Smith Cove & Dravus stations into one station, with the ROW entirely underground, was explored as a potential cost-saving alternative that would also reduce/eliminate surface impacts. They then figured out that it would cost an additional $210M to put it all underground. Spending an extra $210M to make rider experience worse and put the whole thing underground (in a liquefaction zone, nonetheless) completely disqualifies it from future consideration.
The litigation risk in stepping away from the plan is high.
And yet the board is seriously considering eliminating stations in both Interbay and West Seattle. That is a much bigger step away from the plan — it is a giant leap!
And the data on travel demand will not support this idea.
It is not physically possible to funnel every line into a constrained tunnel capped at 4-car trains.
Not according to Sound Transit. They have stated that with a bit of work, the tunnel can handle trains every 90 seconds.
It just won’t accommodate demand long term. If your standard is passenger experience, the a single tunnel concept fails completely.
You have it completely backwards. The two-tunnel experience is WORSE for riders. Sorry for the shouting, but this is not about money. This is not about tearing up Chinatown. This is about terrible transfers and terrible stations. If you care about rider experience, the second tunnel fails completely.
As far as demand is concerned, Sound Transit has no long term plans to run more than 30 trains an hour through the station. None! Where would they go, anyway? West Seattle? East Side? Can the East Side even accommodate that many trains? We know Rainier Valley can’t.
Folks don’t seem to get this. Sound Transit has said they can run trains every 90 seconds through the tunnel. It would require some extra work, but it is possible. They don’t want to, nor is it likely they will need to. But if they have to, with a relatively small amount of effort, they can. It is highly likely they will ever need to run them every two minutes. But if they did, that is just as much planned capacity as with two tunnels.
The limit in our system is not downtown, it is Rainier Valley. We can’t run trains more than every six minutes. But guess what? It doesn’t matter. The trains aren’t even running that often now! Sure, over time that number will grow, but even so, it is unlikely we will ever need to run the trains more than every six minutes.
It is tempting to assume that we have it wrong here — that we should “trust the experts”. The problem was, this wasn’t designed by experts. The experts never came up with the idea of a “spine”, and they certainly never proposed a rail line to West Seattle. These are ideas concocted by politicians who simply didn’t know any better. Dow Constantine is a very capable administrator (that’s his job). It is unlikely any of us commenting here could do his job half as well as he does. But transit isn’t his job. He doesn’t know squat about transit. He is not an expert, nor did he every consult with experts when he floated the idea of light rail to West Seattle. In fact, the one time transit-consultants (i. e. experts) were consulted on an issue, the board completely rejected their findings. The transit firm suggested BRT on the CKC, while the board wanted rail or nothing. So Kirkland got nothing (or pretty much the equivalent — rail to South Kirkland). The same is true with the new tunnel. Somehow folks got in their head that it was a good idea. Then, rather than maximizing downtown coverage (the standard thing to do) they tried to have every downtown station be the same (to avoid transfers). Again, any consultant — any expert — would have told them that is a terrible idea, but they just went along with it. And now, it is clear, that the promise of “world class transfers” is gone, as is the idea that these stations are anywhere near as good as the ones in the old tunnel.
Some folks here are terrified that we will run too many trains in the tunnel, and that some day we will have to run express buses from the suburbs again (oh, the horror, look at all those lucky riders). I fear the opposite. I fear that we go ahead and build a second tunnel, with its crappy stations and crappy transfers, and as a result, never come close to the ridership justifying a second tunnel. The trains just run on every line every ten minutes, while riders from all over the region deal with bad transfers (or just drive).
Currently the highest ridership section is CHS to Westlake, not downtown. That might shift a bit with Eastlake, but it’s interesting that the 2nd tunnel won’t address the current bottleneck. Brent, I agree it will get worse with the opening of Lynnwood.
An increase in frequency in the current tunnel however would alleviate this bottleneck.
Ross, it probably would have cost more to portal at 62nd because the tracks would have had to thread their way through the now fairly old Lake City Way interchange. The truth is, WSDOT would have demanded — and gotten — ST to pay for a complete rebuild of the interchange. That would have meant a couple of years of greater congestion for users of Lake City Way and maybe even the main freeway lanes, depending on how much bridgework would have been required.
ST chose the prudent solution and probably saved a bit of money in the final accounting. Remember, NG Link bids came in under estimates by a few tens of millions of dollars. Sure, the project was bid during the slump after the Financial Crisis and the freeway path would have benefited from that as well. But over all, as you state correctly, the resulting solution is better for riders AND drivers.
I guess I don’t see the “litigation risk” from stepping away from “the plan”. Is “the plan” DSTT2 or WSBLE? To me it looks like there are several “plans”, including one with a second station on 5th next to the CID.
First there really isn’t a plan. The Board is trying to identify a preferred design the stakeholder’s will accept . The real risk of litigation in an EIS is from those who don’t want the project, or change, disruption, or a surface train or to have their house torn down. No train is worth that, and WSBLE is terrible transit serving few at an obscene price. Shut down the WS bridge and then people get worked up. People on this blog think there is some huge organized group of politically powerful transit riders. Just the opposite. Is Seattle Subway going to front millions in attorney fees? I doubt it.
What WS and Ballard want is Link underground and out of sight and sound. It would be hard for them to prove standing, especially for DSTT2 or its route, if cancelled. The real standing is from the four other subareas that were coerced into paying half of DSTT2 based on lies about ridership and capacity, who then have to use a clearly inferior tunnel. Cancel DSTT2 and they will help defend against any lawsuits.
ST has a perfect defense if it cancels DSTT2. It will cost $4.2 billion and three subareas are broke, or will be when their projects are complete. Keel knows that.
When it comes to DSTT2 the issue for ST is none of the stakeholders want it. No one is going “to sue” to place it near them with a decade of construction building transportation of the past so riders from Pierce, S King and S. Seattle come. . They will sue to put it next to someone else. Which is why ST is exploring a $700 million “shallow” tunnel under 4th when the price of WSBLE has exploded to $14 billion in two years, except the traffic disruption is too great.
The CID wants it someplace else, so do the downtown merchants, no one except some transit advocates who won’t be impacted want DSTT2 based on inflated population and ridership estimates, and the mantra that bad transit is better than no transit, if someone else is paying.
My city sued ST twice because ST completely changed the plan and intensity of the intercept and then again when ST blatantly breached the settlement agreement it wrote. My advice to WS and Ballard is good luck, although usually neighborhoods or cities sue ST because they don’t want link, at least on the surface, or feeder buses, or a bunch of transit riders (Bellevue). They don’t mind it along 405 but not on Bellevue Way. People sue projects like Link to move it someplace else, which is why it runs along freeways.
The CID proves it is politics that work best, including “equity”, and a lot fewer people want WSBLE or DST2 than some speculate, and those who do think it will all be underground with no surface disruption paid for by someone else. Hard to build a case based on those fantasies.
My advice: don’t worry about litigation that will cost millions, if the decision is to “extend” DSTT2. Focus on designing something the stakeholders actually want and is affordable. So far we haven’t seen a design and construction the stakeholder’s want, so keep trying. That is the point of the DEIS.
All the current STB authors except Martin have been writing articles for several years and still have the same ideas they’ve always had, though evolved over time. Martin is the most recent author but has the same mindset I think. I was one of the earliest champions of getting Ballard on Link, to eliminate the 30-45 minute overhead of getting to Seattle’s fourth-largest village. Seattle Subway convinced me it was politically feasible, we convinced STB, we all convinced Mayor McGinn, he convinced the ST Board, and the other subarea boardmembers then wanted to accelerate their projects too. So I don’t take lightly the thought of eliminating a tunnel or delaying Ballard’s opening.
But the purpose of Ballard Link in my mind is to decrease travel time and make it more convenient to get there. That fails when stations are so deep or so far from their existing station counterparts that it takes several minutes to walk between the two. ST never suggested train-to-train transfers would be so unusually bad, and the 14th Ballard station alternative that’s so far from the village was never suggested before the vote. So even if we get the second tunnel, it will still significantly fail in what it was intended to do.
Part of the reason for publishing articles is to test the ideas and see if there’s anything we hadn’t thought about, and the resulting pro-con discussion helps us all learn.
How has STB’s agenda narrowed? To me it’s the same as it was. What’s changed is WSBLE, specifically Ballard-DSTT2 after the vote. Also, the pandemic has made us question assumptions about what ridership and travel patterns and times will be. I also want ST to articulate how it thinks ridership patterns have changed long-term, because just saying they haven’t changed at all is incongruous.
Brent, whose comment below has an opposite opinion from this article, is also a long-time STB editor and author. So that’s part of the “STB agenda” too.
By eliminating the 2nd tunnel, I would hope the Ballard opening could be accelerated as it is currently being delayed due to funding.
Martin, maybe it could be done sooner. There will still have to be some sort of physical connection constructed between the existing tunnel and a stub. That would require demising the north wall of the Westlake Station box at the Pine Street curve and building a cross-over track within USSS.
Even Jonathan’s dogbone idea (trains enter DSTT at the Pine Street curve using the old reversing stub tracks from a tunnel under the Pine Street on-ramp and exit by going straight west under Pine Street from Third to Second and then looping around to join up at Denny) would require demising the west wall of the Westlake Station box. It could have spectacular transfers, though, especially for reversing, by putting a center platform in at Westlake.
If our Hail Mary Pass idea of a new vault just north of USSS is feasible that will take easily as long as digging any of the new stations. The fact is that the tunneling between the stations is trivial, taking weeks not years, and we’re only removing one of the three holes needed to be dug. The Third Avenue vault would substitute for the Midtown station box; it would be much shallower but longer and perilously close to the untouched southbound tube.
The New Westlake platforms along Olive Way would have to be “stacked” because the tunnels north of the new vault would have to be stacked to allows the northbound tube to under-run the existing Third and Pine curve. Stacking potentially makes the transfers easier; walkways from the south side platforms could include one that is a level deeper to pass under the existing tracks and then has ramps up to the northbound platform, IF the support structure of the station box allows it.
So the only station truly eliminated would be New CID. And yes, that solves a major headache.
If the full deviation plans is feasible and adopted, I would include a center platform in USSS for “reversing” transfers with no general access to the Mezzanine except for emergencies.
I just had a “Eureka”. If a center platform is put in at USSS, there don’t have to be transfers at Westlake at all. So move Denny Way station a block or two south and put it entirely within the Westlake Avenue footprint (except the entrances of course) and you have a station that’s at least in theory close enough to serve the cluster of big towers around Boren and Stewart.
Then move the “South Lake Union” station into the Westlake right of way about Republican and Bingo! better coverage of the area from north to south. Finally, this works well with a Mercer station for Lower Queen Anne, and that extends the walkshed north into the hillside towers better than Republican.
This saves one station! because “New Westlake” doesn’t need to be built. “Lower Denny” serves those riders.
I like the USSS station approach, TT, in fact if you use automated trains, you could just merge into the SB track at the Pine St curve, stop at USSS and then back out of it the way you came in. The downside is that you effectively reduce the capacity of the existing tunnel further as you now add another line.
I wonder whether it would just be easier to keep the Ballard line separate and connect it at Westlake like the Monorail.
Martin, sure, a stub would work fine. Since it would be perpendicular to the existing tracks a station at the same depth (or maybe with the tracks a bit deeper allows people to walk off the train and directly to the southbound platform. If the supports of the existing station box allow, a ramp down could take folks bound for the northbound platform under the tracks with ramps up to the platform. Very nice transfers.
However, unless you can figure out where to put a completely separate Heavy Maintenance Facility somewhere by the BNSF yard there has to be some sort of connection to the trunk to get vehicles in need of heavy maintenance to somewhere it can be performed. Even if the Ballard stub were automated, the cars would have to have a small operator’s cab in order to run on the non-automated section to get to the MF. That’s not uncommon.
I concur. This blog has completely gone off the rails (pun intended).
Asking people to lobby for something that isn’t even on the table, is probably outside the legal authority of ST, and is contrary to the will of the voters as expressed through the democratic process, is certainly a new low for this blog.
Additionally, the claims being made in support of bundling all new and future lines in the existing tunnel are both nonsensical and farcical. Are we really supposed to believe that one tunnel has more capacity than two? That two tunnels will produce less transit coverage than one? That adding capacity will produce more congestion and a worse rider experience? That tying a new tunnel to an old will somehow be “cheap” and effective?
These claims are illogical and false. They don’t deserve the time it would take to debate them.
The transit advocacy community and the agencies can have legitimate debates about things like routings, station location and operational details, but proposing something like this just diminishes our credibility and our voice as advocates.
Asking people to lobby for something? That’s not how I read this post. I read it as asking ST to study something. What’s wrong with asking ST to conduct a study?
Sam, asking for yet another study is the definition of the Seattle process
It delays and ties up development. That is the problem.
When the board discussed the “realignment” last year, Kent Keel, at the time the board’s president, reminded the board members that their role isn’t just some political action, but they have a responsibility to accomplish the best outcome for the public including to do so with fiscal responsibility.
When things don’t work out as envisioned, it’s the board’s responsibility to look at the best alternatives to meet as many of the original goals at a reasonable cost.
I believe that the options Sound Transit has come up with thus far do not meet those criteria. One of the reasons the Seattle board members asked other alternatives to be studied, but for example Sound Transit’s proposals to avoid CID harm by building a North and/or South Station don’t meet those criteria either. I believe interlining would serve the original mobility goals far better.
Nobody is advocating for all future lines be put in the same tunnel.
Have you seen a map of Berlin or London or New York? The only cases where duplicate tunnels exist are places that have added lines to vast swaths of their cities and so few to no service gap areas exist.
Using the existing tunnel actually adds quite a bit of flexibility in that regard, as it means starting to build junctions that don’t force trains into a specific tunnel.
Left to its own devices, ST would build DSTT2 as a Ballard only tunnel. By adding a junction at its north end, you start to inch towards a Chicago type situation where a number of lines can be diverted to each other.
Ultimately I really don’t see Ballard to SLU being that important a destination pair, and think eventually Ballard winds up in a Belltown tunnel and SLU winds up being part of a “Metro 8 subway”, possibly becoming a Ballard – SLU – Capitol Hill – First Hill – CID – Belltown – Ballard loop line, or something.
Anyway, just because this particular tunnel is a bad idea, doesn’t mean all future concepts are bad. 5th Ave, Belltown, First Hill and numerous other locations exist. Those places deserve service too.
I’ve seen so many bad takes on this issue. While the increased price tag is definitely a legitimate and serious concern, not investing in the second tunnel is such a short-sighted decision that will screw Seattle in the future. Having 3 lines converge in one tunnel is only going to reduce headways. Spending the extra money now for the second tunnel may seem pointless, but the only time to build is now. In 25 years when the system will be inefficient because of the congestion in the one tunnel, there won’t be an opportunity to build another tunnel. The time is now to get it right, and every day that SoundTransit waits to build the second tunnel the more expensive it gets. Better to spend more now and get it right than make the wrong, short-sighted decision and regret it years later and have no feasible way to fix it. Underinvesting and choosing the cheaper option when it comes to transit is always the worst choice. You only get one chance to make the right decision when it comes to transit planning.
Better to spend more now and get it right
But they aren’t getting it right! If they were, I wouldn’t have written this. If the new tunnel went to First Hill — or just anywhere the old tunnel didn’t go — I wouldn’t have written this. But it doesn’t. It does something very unusual, if not unprecedented. It tries to go to every place that the current tunnel goes to, without adding a bit of additional coverage. And it fails, miserably! The stations in the new tunnel are worse than the existing ones. There are fewer of them, and they are deeper. No one will ever bother to transfer to the train so they can go in the new tunnel. No one will ever choose a train that goes to one of the new stations, instead of the old ones. It just isn’t worth it.
Meanwhile, the transfers are terrible. This is much worse for riders who simply want to keep going the same direction (e. g. Ballard to Bellevue) as well as those that want to switch directions (e. g. Ballard to Capitol Hill).
For what? So that we may avoid some bunching in the future? Sorry, but that is nuts.
I think you have it backwards. This new tunnel is an underinvestment. Adding a lot of coverage with the new tunnel — something like this would have cost more. But guess what? It would have added three excellent stations, all of which are worth the transfer.
Yes, it costs more, but that’s what cities do, when they build second lines downtown. They don’t just relieve pressure on the other line(s), they add coverage, and provide unique connections. In fact, I can’t think of any city, anywhere, that has done something like this. Do you know of one? Seriously, I’ve cited three examples of cities that have built secondary lines to relieve pressure, while also adding coverage. Can you think of a single example (like this) where all they do is relieve crowding? If not, don’t you think there is a reason for that?
The idea that this is something we will eventually be happy to have just ignores the fact that most riders will be worse off with it. At best this avoids crowding for a couple of hours of the day. Big deal, as the vast majority of riders don’t ride then. They will be stuck with this new tunnel and it’s crappy stations and crappy transfers.
Not to be too snarky, Ross, but New York has subways on Second, Broadway and Sixth Avenues from the southern tip of the island all the way to 60th (Broadway switches to being the westernmost line at Times Square).
So cities DO build parallel lines. That in and of itself isn’t categorically wrong. THIS version is because of all the “details” which are so catastrophically bad.
New York also has a huge number of lines spread over a huge area. They didn’t build two duplicate tunnels and leave the rest of Manhattan Island with no lines.
New York’s subways were built by multiple private companies who were competing with each other for the same passengers. It’s like if you had a Boren freeway near a Yesler freeway near a Bell freeway. Manhattan is dense enough to have more than one north-south tunnel, but if the network had been designed by a single transit expert it might not have as many north-south tunnels as it does.
Glenn, of course not. They built FIVE “duplicate tunnels” and connect them to various destinations all over the place. I forgot about the Eighth Avenue line when I listed the parallel lines. So at 14th there are lines under Lexington which is about Third, Fourth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth. That Eighth Avenue Line runs all the way north to beyond Central Park on Central Park West one block from the four-track Broadway IND line. With one exception, 79th/81st EVERY station on both lines is at the same east-west street! Nobody is proposing shutting down the Eight Avenue subway because it’s “too close” to the big-dog IND line. It even has a little tail that goes all the way to the Harlem River one block west of the Broadway line.
All I said was that Ross made a categorical statement “Cities just don’t do that”, and he’s wrong to be categorical. There are some instances where parallel lines on adjacent streets are exactly what’s needed, as in Manhattan and London’s “City”. But downtown Seattle is not one of them.
If a diversion can be built under Third between USSS and Pine Street it could run right up Third Avenue and serve Belltown if you think that’s better. As it swings west to a station west of Seattle Center it would behoove ST to “stack” the tracks and that station so that what you advocate — the Metro Eight — can link in. Maybe it stubs at Smith Cove or maybe it goes to Ballard during the rush hour as an “overlay”. That can be decided later depending on the degree of growth of the northwest quadrant of the city. But planning for some sort of junction should be included, whether ST takes the “South Lake Union” detour or not.
But building the parallel tunnel — especially the bastardized “single station at the jail” version — should NOT HAPPEN!
Mike, it might not have all five north-south mains, but it would absolutely have at least three, Eighth, Sixth and Lexington. They serve very different ridesheds. Heck, they have plans for the Second Avenue Subway all the way down to Chambers Street if they can ever get the enormous funding it would require. Given the hollowing out of office work, I doubt they’ll really need it or would be able to get the funding.
To your point, Tom, those lines (in Manhattan) were built when they were privately owned. These were different companies running different lines into the city, running in different tunnels. They weren’t building the additional tunnels to deal with crowding.
In contrast, the Second Avenue Subway is meant to deal with crowding. Absolutely. And yet it provides unique functionality. This trip here takes 6 minutes: https://goo.gl/maps/UKMnAeJEzN9mzFbo8. As you can see, the old alternative (the second option provided by Google Maps) takes 17 minutes, and requires extra walking. You save over ten minutes with the new line! There is nothing like this on the Seattle downtown tunnel.
I have nothing against parallel lines. That isn’t the problem. It is when those parallel lines aren’t designed to maximize coverage. That is the issue. The new tunnel will provide one unique station. Just one. Our system converges into the same place, so there is no unique combination (unlike the New York subway). The station is also remarkably close to existing stations. It will be about a 4 minute walk to the University Street Station (https://goo.gl/maps/i8Ehs91Q5NsNF34a8). The time savings will be eclipsed by the extra depth, and the pain of transferring (or waiting). As I wrote before, I don’t see anyone transferring to get to that station, or specifically seeking out the trains that go there. In contrast, the new station 72nd Street station serving the 2nd Avenue Subway is about an 8 minute walk from the nearest old station (https://goo.gl/maps/7Lkt2xjuxVfJ47Wr9). I definitely see people seeking out the trains that go there, or transferring to them.
I should mention that there are times when they do add new lines just for capacity relief, but in those cases, they don’t add stations. For example, this: https://qns.com/2000/11/rail-spur-will-offer-relief-on-crowded-e-f-trains/. It is basically a bypass, with switches so that it only runs during rush hour. It is not a substitute, but an alternative (like an express). For a system like New York (massive and extremely complicated) such things make sense. It is a relatively cheap way to deal with crowding. For that matter, any search of crowding leads to a whole host of ideas, some of which have been mentioned here. For example, updating the electronics, so that the trains don’t get delayed (Muni). Train cars that can carry more people (Toronto). Just running the trains more often (Seattle).
What they don’t do is build a new tunnel with very expensive stations very close to the old ones. It is really a bizarre thing to do. It is meant to handle the extra load, but in such a way as to give existing riders the same experience. Not only is this weird, but they failed. The transfers aren’t “First Class” as they promised, but terrible. The stations are not as good as the existing line (they are deeper, and there are fewer of them). They would have been better off just maximizing coverage, by adding station(s) on First Hill, the way any sensible agency would do. Or, as is the suggestion of this post, simply not worrying about it for now. Someday, eventually, we may want a second line downtown, but that second line should definitely add coverage.
Here is another example. From Union Square to the Upper East Side: https://goo.gl/maps/cfUTqjyYVjD7gmfJA. At first glance, the Second Avenue Subway doesn’t seem to add much. It is very close to the other subway line. Not only that, but from there, both lines can be accessed with a two minute walk. And yet it saves a full 9 minutes over the alternative (all of which is walking). This is huge. The Second Avenue Subway, specifically touted as a way to alleviate crowding on the most crowded system in North America (by far) is still primarily about coverage. That is why it runs on Second. Any further east and it is too close to the water. Further west and it is too close to the existing lines.
Oh, for God’s sake Ross, you’re a bad as Daniel with the wham-wham-wham about the head of anybody who questions you. I give up. You are right in EVERY statement you make.
“In contrast, the Second Avenue Subway is meant to deal with crowding. Absolutely. And yet it provides unique functionality. ”
He is absolutely right about this.
I lived in Brooklyn and had a girlfriend who shared an apartment at 86th and 1st ( because she just HAD to pive in the city after college). She got it there because it was some of the cheapest rentals a young woman would dare to rent (Harlem and alphabet city were too dangerous).
The reason they were cheap? It was a pain I’m the butt to get to. The Lexington line (4,5,6) was too much of a walk. If you live in Manhattan, you expect a station within a 5 minute walk.
If you live in the densest parts of Seattle, you should expect that too.
But sorry Ross. Noone ever. Ever. Rode the bus.
Persistence is not veracity. Nor is verbosity.
Stick to the data.
And by “no one”, you mean about 1.2M daily rides:
To quote the relevant passage, for people who are not willing to go to the link: “We operate the largest public transportation agency in North America and one of the largest in the world. The New York City subway has a daily ridership of approximately 2.4 million, and our bus system has a daily ridership of 1.2 million. This represents only 45% and 56%, respectively, of our pre-pandemic ridership levels.”
But, by all means, extrapolate from your own experience, please. Which is the very thing we accuse others on this blog (like DT) of doing.
Lazarus, what was that Oracular Emanation intended to convey?
Since we’re talking about NYC, almost all their subways were built cut-and-cover under the streets of Manhattan rather than deep bore tunnels. This means they’re very close to the surface and for many of the stations, you only need to go down one or maybe two flights of stairs to get to the platform. Also it’s much easier to transfer between lines and they even have a few cross platform transfers (e.g. the 63rd-Lexington station).
The question is not if, but when the downtown light rail tunnel will be overloaded, i.e. when it becomes a frequent occurrence that trains can’t accommodate all the waiting passengers on a regular peak-hour basis.
Ridership will come back, once people feel safe travelling again (some do right now, some don’t, and I’m really not interested in tonedeaf fantasies that everyone who wants to ride the train is already doing so).
If it were simply a matter that passengers might have to wait for the next train, and know they are at the front of the queue to get on, that would not be so bad, given a train coming every four minutes.
But imagine you are trying to board southbound in the morning, at Roosevelt Station, to get downtown, during rush hour. Train after train comes by, with just a few people alighting from each, and a growing throng of people trying to get on, with security standing by the entrance where queues of riders are waiting to be allowed into the station.
If the second tunnel isn’t built, the question will not be whether that scenario will occur, but when it will start occurring.
Brent, the second tunnel won’t help Roosevelt Station as the new tunnel will serve SLU/Ballard. What would help Roosevelt Station is higher train frequency. Once Eastlink opens, the current frequency and capacity is going to double.
Vancouver runs trains at times every 90 seconds, we’re still far from that. Munich serves 800,000 daily riders using a single tunnel. Frankfurt just looked at building a second metro tunnel but instead decided to upgrade their signaling system to accommodate higher train frequency and therefore rider capacity as it provides better rider experience and lower cost.
That Munich tunnel is served by “real” subway trains with wider bodies and third-rail power distribution. It’s not a fair comparison.
Also though there ARE footprint lines running through their Spine tunnel, there are also two perpendicular tunnels which cross the Spine, each hosting two lines.
I expect that the Spine tunnel really accommodates about 300-400K riders, not everyone who uses the system
TT, I’m actually talking about the S-Bahn tunnel which has overhead power just like Link. I understand it serves longer trains, so I agree with your capacity estimates. All I’m saying is that we’re still far away from maxing out.
My reply should have read “four” not “footprint”. Not sure how I typed that badly.
The question is not if, but when the downtown light rail tunnel will be overloaded, i.e. when it becomes a frequent occurrence that trains can’t accommodate all the waiting passengers on a regular peak-hour basis.
That is absurd. You are projecting something that has happened in only a handful of cities (mostly in the developing world). This has nothing to do with the pandemic. It has everything to do with future ridership. Why would there be a sudden, gigantic, unprecedented rise in ridership, which would necessitate running more than 30 trains an hour through downtown (and 20 trains an hour by Roosevelt Station)? If there is such a gigantic rise in ridership, wouldn’t some of it be in places that are better served by the freeway, which is pretty much every station north of Capitol Hill? Bring back the 41; bring back all those CT buses; hell, bring back the 71/72/73 during rush hour and you still think we need 20 trains an hour through Roosevelt? Come on.
Why would there be a sudden, gigantic surge in LR ridership?
Oh, let me think. Maybe because Lynnwood Link will come on line? Maybe because East Link will come on line? Maybe because Federal Way Link will come on line? And maybe because all these “sudden events” will add to a base population growth rate that is guaranteed to continue?
We already saw what adding just 3 stations did (NG Link). Ridership surged. Even with the lingering effects of the pandemic.
Na. This is not absurd. It is in fact predictable, and it is in the modeled data.
No, what is absurd is to propose building WSBLE in a way that is guaranteed to hamstring the entire system for decades to come. And what is even more absurd is proposing rectifying those future issues by going back to the past and resurrecting such old routes as the 41 and 71/72/73.
But I get it. You look at the world through Metro Colored Glasses. But the old ways are what got us here. People don’t want the second coming of the 41. They want fast, effective, and reliable mass transit.
That is the promise of ST, and that is what the voters voted for. I think ST has a duty to give it to them.
That may indeed be the promise of SoundTransit, but the “deliverable” of ST3 is reckless spending on ill-designed “extensions to nowhere” and a cavernous underground wonder world of lonely platforms served every 10 minutes.
It’s not “transit” it’s welfare for the concrete, steel and construction cartels.
“It’s not “transit” it’s welfare for the concrete, steel and construction cartels.”
It’s not that; it’s just that ST doesn’t understand transit from the passengers’ perspective. They don’t understand what it’s like to travel predominantly by transit, or to take it several times a day every day, or what it takes for transit to be good enough that most people don’t have cars like in New York and London. If they did, they’d understand why frequency, transfer distance, and distance from pedestrian centers is so critical. If they simply observed why transit in Vancouver, Europe, and Asia works so well and has such high ridership and replicated it here, we’d have ridership like Canada and approaching Europe.
@Lazauras — You are completely missing the point. Yes, of course ridership surged when Northgate came on line. It is an urban line. Anyone with any sense knew that was going to happen. People (like me) have been talking about this for years. We should have started with U-District to downtown (with way more stops).
Even Sound Transit (which has generally greatly exaggerated suburban ridership while downplaying urban ridership) recognizes this now: https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/01/30/link-riders-2040/. Of course ridership will go up as more stations are added. Lynnwood Link, Federal Way Link and East Link will be significant advancements. But if I’m not mistaken, you have suggested that we still won’t be running the trains every six minutes. Now you are saying we need to run them more often? If so, where?
Seriously, the plan I mentioned has trains running from West Seattle, Tacoma Dome and Redmond every six minutes. They converge in one part of downtown, and then spread out again. Two of the trains go north, the other to Ballard. That means 20 trains an hour running through the U-District, and 30 trains an hour through downtown. Yet you think that isn’t adequate?
Oh, and if so, why not just run express buses? Every place you think is going to add stress to the system (north, east and south of Seattle ) can also be served better by express buses. Ask around. Folks there will miss their express buses, especially during rush-hour (the only time we have even the potential of crowding). Even in Seattle people miss their express buses (the 41 was very popular). It would still be popular, if they kept running it. Hell, right now Sound Transit — the very agency that runs the trains and has every incentive to terminate all their buses at the nearest Link station — continues to run express buses that run by Link. They even run the 586 — a bus I would have truncated years ago — that runs from Tacoma to the U-District. The 510 is still operating as an express from Everett to downtown Seattle. These buses are kept because they are popular. Link doesn’t change that. The only reason they are truncated is because it is cheaper.
But guess what? Running express buses is expensive, but it is nowhere near as expensive as adding a second tunnel, especially a tunnel that is so much worse for riders. The vast majority of riders will get nothing out of a second tunnel.
It is really a bizarre argument. Somehow a tunnel that can handle trains every 90 seconds (according to Sound Transit) will be the weak point, and yet we will never want to run trains down Rainier Valley more often than every 6 minutes. Or run express buses again, even though they save riders a considerable amount of time and are very popular. We will cherish our decision to build the new tunnel, while never regretting adding stops on First Hill.
Ross’s analysis is good. One other factor is how full the trains will be when they arrive at DSTT1 because capacity at any choke point is frequency of trains X available seats/standing room.
Six factors I have raised before suggest to me the trains won’t be very full, even during peak hours:
1. 60% of downtown workers have not returned. I think that is permanent. WFH is only 2.5 years old. It will likely increase.
2. East Link trains especially will be empty if one looks at express bus ridership today. There is a different mentality toward transit between urban and suburban areas. Suburbanites take transit only when they absolutely have to. In the past that was work in Seattle because of congestion, free ORCA cards, and the high cost of parking.
3. Many areas will continue to run express buses like the 554, 322, 630. There are huge areas Link does not serve like First Hill, Issaquah, Kenmore, Renton, downtown Bellevue, etc. I know some on this blog think riders can be forced to transfer multiple times, but I don’t see it, especially on the Eastside where WFH is now the preferred work mode. After several years of WFH too many workers resent spending two hours/day in uncompensated time commuting to work, and any transfer is really resented and feeder agencies stretched thin with reduced farebox reconvert and driver shortages.
4. If large employers are going to force workers to return to in office work they are going to need to provide more private shuttles like Microsoft. Workers can work on these shuttles reducing uncompensated time. Just as important as frequency is the number of maddening stops a feeder bus makes.
5. With workers returning to fewer than five days/week there is increased parking capacity for those workers. We see that in empty park and rides on one end, and workplaces at the other end. Why drive to a park and ride or make transfers when you can drive straight to the office? Employers looking to return workers to the office will have to offer more parking.
6. Future population growth estimates that are driving so much of our planning including ST 3 look post pandemic to be way high, and OFM’s population growth estimates for 2021 and 2022 vs. actual (negative) growth are way off.
If anything the DEIS for DSTT2 and WSBLE should be postponed until Federal Way, East and Lynnwood Link open to see what ridership actually is rather than more wild claims about future ridership, and to better understand future ST revenue in N. King Co. post pandemic now that ST is moving toward the actual cost of WSBLE of $20 billion, which is not affordable for the subarea even if subarea revenue remains at $600 million/year with a 40% office occupancy rate.
I will also be interested to see overall farebox recovery rates on Link when these long suburban lines open. My guess is closer to Metro’s 20% (goal).
Lazarus and ST might be right but let’s not rely on “estimates” and wait a few years for revenue and ridership actual numbers. If Lazarus is correct the subarea’s ST tax revenue and ridership totals will bear that out.
ST’s ridership estimates follow FTA guidelines and are fully FTA compliant. And they have been fully vetted.
Your ridership estimates? Are they FTA compliant? Have they been independently vetted? Or are they based just on random speculation?
I don’t know, but if I had to bet money I’d go with the transit professionals who have followed FTA guidelines and have had their estimates fully vetted. But then again, I usually only bet when I can bet on a sure thing.
Ya, COVID-19 has changed things a bit, at least in the short term, but time will tell.
And, if we have learned anything from the previous Link openings, we have learned that the appetite for fast, efficient, and reliable rail based transit in this region is insatiable. Every opening so far has been a major hit with the traveling public. There is no reason not to expect that winning streak to continue, and we should resist short sighted ideas that will hamper or restrict rail capacity in the future.
Stuffing all rail lines into one tunnel with the idea of relieving congestion by bringing back the 41 from the ash heap of history is not forward thinking. It is planning to fail.
“ If anything the DEIS for DSTT2 and WSBLE should be postponed until Federal Way, East and Lynnwood Link open to see what ridership actually is rather than more wild claims about future ridership, and to better understand future ST revenue in N. King Co. post pandemic now that ST is moving toward the actual cost of WSBLE of $20 billion, which is not affordable for the subarea …”
Daniel, I agree with this sentiment. I will note that the DEIS is a mere document and a literal “draft” document at that. It can have supplements later. and ST has supplemented prior ones. These new options (the catalyst of the post) already seem to require a supplemental DEIS anyway — which will include another comment period. That pretty much means that no construction will begin before 2026 although property acquisition and utility work may begin earlier. So your wish to wait to see what happens seems inevitable — although if ST doesn’t want to look at things now they really won’t in 2025.
The appalling element to me is that many of these issues were seemingly there in 2020 yet the ST Board went ahead with the DEIS alternatives anyway. Much of the work since 2020 has been to slowly design the terrible line and stations sent to the DEIS team in 2020 — as well as the earlier fateful decision before that to do a combined DEIS to cover two different line extensions set to open many years apart with different funding issues and sources. I think the most substantive legal and procedural challenge may actually be to simply force ST to split the DEIS into two.
Even with a wait period, can ST be forced to study something they steadfastly don’t want to? Outside of a local candidate running on a “Stop Unproductive Rail Line Investments” (SURLI) platform and winning and getting out on the ST Board, I don’t see how to push ST to study other things. Maybe you or someone else does. Surely they have gotten literally hundreds of comments asking to study just using the DSTT by now — and yet ST continues to refuse to even admit that these comments have been received en masse.
I guess there is one ithos “Hail Mary” strategy, which would be for the legislature to get involved. Since DSTT2 requires all subareas to financially participate, there are legislators who could advocate for funds to study a DSTT alternative and not be fettered by the ST staff trying to kill the idea. That’s what sort of happened with the Ontario Line in Toronto.
Lazarus, I personally know at least 6 forecasters whose work has been put through ST scrutiny. FTA forecast review can take months and even a few years. FTA is well aware of the “tricks” to pad ridership numbers and probably will make ST revise them.
The DEIS technical reports are pretty vague but the details published with the DEIS suggest that the low hanging criticism is the time it takes to get to the station platforms. The limited descriptions in the DEIS and the introduction of new alternatives that will affect this mean that forecasts already must be revised.
Unfortunately, ST makes no decisions based on ridership unless it’s a “convenient” way to kill an idea. The major thing they want from FTA is New Starts money. If FTA declares the preferred alternative as too wasteful, ST will just lobby Jayapal to figure out another way to get the money.
3. Many areas will continue to run express buses like the 554, 322, 630. There are huge areas Link does not serve like First Hill, Issaquah, Kenmore, Renton, downtown Bellevue, etc.
This is a very important point. Our rail system is not thorough. There are many significant destinations that rail will never cover. Likewise, there are huge suburban areas with only a smattering of stations. This helps explain why express buses remain popular, and former express buses (should they ever need to be resurrected) would be popular. There are three important aspects of our rail system:
1) Omissions like First Hill.
2) Not that many stations.
3) Each line intersects the freeway, providing a faster connection for riders.
Our system is highly dependent on connecting buses from both sides. Lots of people get off the train, and then take a bus (or the streetcar) to get to First Hill. Even more take buses to the station in the first place. If it wasn’t for those feeder buses, ridership would plummet. To put it another way: if we ran express buses like we used to, ridership would plummet. At Northgate and Roosevelt, extremely popular buses like the 522 and 41 were essentially truncated at the train station, and now work as feeders. Every station north of Northgate will have more feeder ridership than walk-up ridership. To the south it is similar. Feeder buses from the south will connect to the Federal Way Station (which is very close to the freeway). East Link is highly dependent on riders from the I-90 corridor (transferring at Mercer Island or South Bellevue). In every case, riders would be better off with express buses. In every case, the buses can actually serve the station, while continuing to downtown, providing riders the best of both worlds. A bus can stop at Federal Way and then keep going downtown, providing riders access to SeaTac or Rainier Valley. Likewise, an express from a neighborhood in Lynnwood or Everett can serve the Lynnwood Station and thus provide both a faster way to downtown, but also a way to get to Northgate or the UW. A bus from anywhere along the I-90 corridor can serve Mercer Island and just keep going.
At first glance it seems inconsistent to call for the elimination of express buses (like the 41) while also saying they can handle demand surges. Far from it. This sort of thing happens throughout the world, even with systems that are much better than ours. New York City has express buses, despite having a very thorough subway system. It is an excellent way to handle peak demand.
But they only make sense as a way to deal with crowding. Otherwise, they are simply too expensive. This is true for all express buses, including those that run along bus routes. They aren’t a good value, unless the buses are crowded. If the regular bus — making all of the stops — is so full that you are running them constantly, you might as well add an express. But the rest of the day, you are better off putting money into running the regular bus more often. This is why the 301 (which ran as an express alternative to the RapidRide E) only ran during rush hour.
The same thing is true here. Truncating buses at Link stations saves a huge amount of money. It isn’t what riders prefer, but it is for the greater good. But if the trains are really crowded, then it is a good value. Never mind the other changes that would allow trains to run every 2 minutes — simply running some express buses would be a good way to handle the load (in the highly unlikely event it ever comes to that). It isn’t cheap, but is nowhere near as expensive as a second tunnel, and might even be cheaper than making the changes necessary to run the trains every 2 minutes.
“The DEIS technical reports are pretty vague but the details published with the DEIS”
There is no WSBLE DEIS yet. The board has to choose a preferred alignment before it can write a DEIS, because that’s what a DEIS is based on: it’s the zero point for comparing other alternatives to (including the mandatory “No Build” alternative). So far the board has chosen part of a preferred alignment, the West Seattle and Ballard part, but it declined to even choose a preference at CID pending further studies. And now it’s talking about revising its West Seattle and Ballard decisions. So we’re totally not close to a preferred alignment, and thus not close to a DEIS. The board is hoping to choose a preferred alignment in March. But with so many wildcards and controversies, and having failed to last year, I wonder if it will be ready to by then.
Mike, the WSBLE Draft Environmental Impact Statement was was published on January 28, 2022. The EIS process doesn’t not require a “preferred alignment” – it’s just that the Board had hoped to deliver the Final EIS (FEIS) faster if they only had to completely study one alignment.
“ Not that many stations.”
That is very true. I’ve pointed out before that Bellevue will have more Link stations per capita than Seattle will have upon ST 3 completion. The quintessential example is that there is just one station between UW and Westlake.
“imagine you are trying to board southbound in the morning, at Roosevelt Station, to get downtown, during rush hour. Train after train comes by, with just a few people alighting from each, and a growing throng of people trying to get on, with security standing by the entrance where queues of riders are waiting to be allowed into the station.”
To summarize Ross’s point in a little more snarky way:
“I did. It was a nice dream. But then I woke up.”
Your catastrophic scenario is MUCH more likely to occur with Line 1 trains running through the second tunnel to Ballard. North Seattle wouId in that case be served ONLY by trains originating from Lynnwood or beyond, whereas with Line 1 interlined to Northgate, 1/3 of the trains would be empty when they first open their doors southbound at Northgate.
For disabled people such as myself, having these transit options so far apart like at the airport make using them not worthwhile or usable and makes it frustrating. I have to evaluate whether spending my disability income on a cab is worth not having to walk to the light rail at the airport in the cold when my mobility is limited. Why the city ever thought having the light rail not connect in the same station is not exclusionary or biased. We could have a world class transit system here instead we have a sound transit organization that treats the disabled as less than human.
You give yet another reason why just putting all three lines in the DSTT is worthy of study. You would only have to get off one train and wait for the next one right next to the platform. If there can be a center platform (like Capitol Hill has) you could just cross the platform to get to every train going in the other direction.
Some cost savings could then go to bring the existing DSTT up to ADA standards.
Yeah, when Ballard Link is added, a lot of existing trips (Rainier Valley to the UW, SeaTac to Northgate) will require a transfer. If the trains use the same tunnel, this transfer is trivial. Just get off the train, wait a few minutes, get on a different train.
In contrast, with a second tunnel, we aren’t sure what that will entail, but it won’t be that good.
Another aspect of this is not prioritizing having the Ballard line stop close to Swedish Hospital, instead having it dump you into a very unpleasant situation if you’re mobility limited. How is accessibility not a more prominent aspect of ST’s planning process?
This is what I’ve been pushing forever.
Run a 2nd tunnel so that expansion potential remains for future Aurora and Lake City lines.
Use a shallow 4th tunnel at CID for connectivity purposes to other modes/services. Also less pain and suffering for ID folk.
Eliminate a few of the deep downtown stations (at least the Midtown and maybe Denny; these stations are too deep and expensive). This would shave a few minutes off the new line but leave critical connections at Westlake and CID. It would also release funds to the expensive 4th avenue tunnel
It does dawn on me that ST needs a technical study on Rainier Valley capacity regardless of WSBLE. What would it take to get trains on MLK to five minute headways, or even four or three minute headways?
Could the cost savings of using DSTT go to fix the MLK capacity problem?
Consider a scenario where each of the three lines run through the DSTT run every 3.3 minutes (10 minute headways) at the base. Then a fourth line runs at peak times once the trains get crowded enough — say between Northgate and SeaTac — so that the spacing is every 2.5 minutes instead. That would put two lines through the RV (note that the most crowded per train segment is the Beacon Hill tunnel) and require 5 minute spacing. If ST were to use the DSTT2 funds to build short aerial or subway sections on MLK — Dawson to Dakota (new Columbia City platform), Orcas to Renton Ave (new Graham and Othello platforms), and Cloverdale to Merton (new Rainier Beach platform) — that seems to be enough to allow for 5 minute trains.
I think it’s pretty clear that WS and north of Mariner will need only 10 minute service (as 1 train carries as many people as 8-10 articulated buses). That may be true for East Link as well. It’s only the segment from Lynnwood to Seatac that seems to need more in the future at this point.
I’ve thought this for years, but ST has never acknowledged it as important or scheduled a study.
I think it is very difficult to predict if or when we will have a capacity problem. By all means we should do cheap and simple things to increase capacity. But in this case, this is not cheap, and it makes the rider experience worse.
It is actually relatively rare that capacity is a major problem. It is one of those “nice problems to have”. It gets complaints, but very few would put it towards the top of their “todo” list. Most cities our size in North America don’t even have it there (they just don’t have enough riders to justify running the trains often, let alone the huge costs they occurred). Even in cities with big capacity problems, it is rarely the fault of the trains. Take Vancouver, for example. Much is made about the Canada Line, and how it is underbuilt. But with minor adjustments, they are able to increase capacity substantially. But it is by no means the biggest weakness of the system. UBC/Broadway is, by far. While BRT fans laud the success of the bus along that corridor (50,000 riders a day!) it is long past the point where it needs to be replaced by rail.
Same with Rainier Valley. While this is definitely the “weak link” when it comes to capacity, it isn’t clear it will ever be a problem. In contrast, there are clear problems there. There aren’t enough stations, and for the most part, they aren’t particularly good. That is why the idea of a bypass on Rainier Avenue (suggested by The Urbanist) is a solid one. They suggested an elevated line, but a cut and cover would work well too. You would have several stations, closer to where the people are. It has been almost 20 years since we first knew there was going to be a rail line on MLK, and yet Rainier Avenue remains the place with more people, and even more growth. Move the line there (under or above ground), have better stop spacing, and you have a much better line.
If, by the time we ever get around to seriously considering that, we also have crowding downtown, then we should absolutely run a second line downtown. But it would be something better, like what Frank proposed (up to First Hill): https://seattletransitblog.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/04/WSBLE-proposed-2-1-1536×1185.png. The little Beacon Hill stub (labeled “B” on the map) would continue on MLK, following the current Link path. But after Rainier Beach Station it would turn, run on the surface, and end close to Rainier Beach High (connecting to the other line, and giving it a much stronger anchor). During peak periods, when trains are running every four minutes from Redmond, SeaTac and West Seattle (and every two minutes from the UW) the train would terminate in SoDo*. The rest of the time (when trains run every six to ten minutes) the trains could interline.
* I wish. I really don’t ever see that happening. But it is nice to dream.
In October I took Link to Beacon Hill and transferred to a 60 to get to Georgetown. There’s actually a fair number of people getting off there and transferring during rush hour, so I don’t think you’d want to make a Beacon Hill stub. It’s already at least a two seat ride for many.
If something needs to be removed from the tunnel, it seems to me you could do a reverse C West Seattle – Judkins Park – First Hill – Capitol Hill – Ballard line that would allow for a single transfer to every other bus and rail line, and still be time competitive with going through downtown Seattle. Two lines would serve Ballard.
Anyway, there’s lots of other places to serve other than 3rd Avenue. The key is to try to hit as many other routes (bus or Link) as possible to minimize transfers.
Yep, that’s The Metro Eight moved west through First Hill, and it’s a superb candidate for small, frequent automated trains. The junction at Mt Baker might be tricky so maybe just end there?
It is much more functional than DSTT2.
If automated trains become an option, I’d go full circulator and make a full loop going through on First or something. See London, Berlin, etc.
Eliminating level crossings on MLK isn’t just for capacity. It would reduce ped-train and car-train collisions, and allow trains to run at 55 mph instead of 35 or potentially in the future 25.
True, but I don’t think running at 55 mph vs. 35 mph would actually save riders much time, especially if more stations are added, preventing the train from actually reaching 55 mph for more than a few seconds.
I don’t think lowering speed limits on MLK is a good idea because it would slow down only Link trains, whose speeds are strictly controlled, while car drivers would simply ignore the new signs and drive the same 40 mph they always have.
Rainier Ave. is a better candidate for reduced speeds because the street as a whole is less highway like, and the #7 never gets over 25 mph anyway with its numerous stops. You can enforce the reduced speeds with the timing of the traffic lights. Drive too fast, you accomplish nothing except having to sit longer at the next red light.
It would be more than a few seconds. Cars that accelerate to the speed limit between stoplights spend most of their time at the speed limit. Trains take longer to accelerate/decelerate, but with 2-3 minutes between stations they could run full speed for at least a minute.
“I don’t think lowering speed limits on MLK is a good idea because it would slow down only Link trains”
Seattle has a “Vision Zero” policy to reduce arterials to 25 mph and residential streets to 20 mph throughout the city, because slower collisions are less fatal. It may blindly reduce MLK to 25 mph regardless of whether drivers obey it or it increases transit travel times. This is part of not understanding what transit passengers need.
Mike, isn’t Martin Luther King still a state highway (SR900)? The city doesn’t set the speed limits on state highways; WashDOT does. Sure, they ask what the Cities think, but they do what they think.
Tom, looks like SR 900 stops at the Tukwila/Seattle border now. So it’s all SDOT.
Al, why did you choose those particular sections of Martin Luther King Blvd for elevation or subways? In particular, why would you leave the short section from Dawson to Orcas on the surface? The ramps up and down are more of a visual intrusion than are the supports and trackway for an elevated structure, so putting two of them five blocks apart seems a bit “busy”. And guarding the transition between surface and tunnel trackage is very hard to do without loads of fencing and razor wire.
If you’re going to change the elevation along King Blvd at all, do it for the entire distance.
The real issue with changing the elevation (up or down) along the route is “How do you do it and keep the trains running on the existing tracks?”
Center supports for elevating can’t be built between the tracks; they’re too close together to accommodate a large enough support. Single-tracking for the time it would take to put the supports where one or the other track is today would require far too long a duration to contemplate. It would be two or three years to build all the supports and the platform, not to mention four elevated stations.
I suppose that if the City agreed, one lane of Martin Luther King Blvd could be taken for a long-term “shoo-fly” in one direction or the other, but that would make station access a bit sketchy in the interim. But it would work.
I assume that boring a pair of tubes is off the table simply because of the cost of four even “normally” deep TBM stations.
Cut-and-covering could be done with shorter sections of single-tracking. A pair of opposite-handed cross-overs would be installed, and then the track between them could be raised and supported while the initial excavation took place and decking was installed. Then the cross-overs would be reversed and the other side raised up and decked. Then the sorts of face mining equipment used for subterranean coal mines could be used to remove the earth under the decking a few yards at a time and the permanent support walls built.
But ay-yi-yi, what a long, painful process either way. Is it really worth it? Do many people travel between the Rainier Valley and south of Sea-Tac? Will enough people ever make that journey to weight their convenience very highly? If South King County ever booms enough to require more frequent trains just build the Bypass and just have Rainier Valley service end at Sea-Tac.
A bypass can be pretty cheap if it’s largely at-grade next to Airport Way.
I still like the Duwamish bypass, but another way to fix RV would be to build underpasses on Alaska, Orcas, Graham, Othello, and Henderson and close all other crossings to road traffic to separate it totally from car interactions. Cars can take a bit of detour if they want to turn or get across the line…
Yes, that is true, Martin. That would certainly remove most of the train-car crashes, though there are several of places where cars can turn across the tracks one way or the other which it wouldn’t fix. But it would be a huge improvement.
The problem is that the cross-streets are pretty darn narrow. They have to be at least four lanes wide far enough back for the “through” lanes to gain the elevation to cross the trackway with clearance. That means maybe a block? While Alaska and Orcas are wide enough, there are several “through-ish” streets which aren’t; they are two lanes right up to a few yards before the Martin Luther King intersection.
It’s the best solution for all concerned, for sure, but not easy to do everywhere.
Oh, I see you proposed closing the turn bays. That would probably result in no car-train crashes at all, and that’s very good, but it wouldn’t help the problem at Graham and Orcas which my wife and I used to travel when going to her niece’s above Seward Park on Orcas. If you made it so cars had to “go around the block” to get onto King Boulevard, then it would, but that would raise Hell with the neighborhood.
I just mentioned those segments because I am an armchair observer who has ridden Link and Route 106 as well as driven the street many times. Finally, I think improvements may need to be done in segments or maybe only one segment of changes are needed to enable regular five minute service. I just don’t know.
See that’s why I say a study is needed. I’m tired of reading about trains killing people. I’m tired of train service stopping because of an accident (and thank God I wasn’t trying to make a flight at SeaTac). I’m tired of people repeatedly suggest solutions but nothing ever gets proposed besides louder bells and horns, and adding some gates and more warnings.
It’s like everyone sees there is a problem but no one dares to study it.
I can’t see how a study of Link on MLK is a waste. A summary of project elements and costs are needed to assess whether it is practical to do. Without rational study, we are all just amateur visionaries and complainers.
“Cars can take a bit of detour if they want to turn or get across the line…”
What about pedestrians? Are you going to make them detour too? Keep in mind a detour that adds 5 minutes in a car might take 45 minutes as a pedestrian.
I’m just eliminating the turn bays for cars. Pedestrians and cyclists can make tighter turns and could go under MLK and then right above it.
But you may need to add a few pedestrian underpasses in between the road underpasses just like there are a few pedestrian only crosswalks.
Yes, TT, it does involve cars going around the block to take a turn. That’s easy on Columbian Way to get to Alaska, but more of a detour in other places. Maybe you could accommodate a turn off right under the underpass, but that takes extra space.
One way to fit an overpass into the narrow footprints of Orcas and Graham is to have ramps up and down to King Boulevard like Texas does on the expressway on both sides of the UP main south of IAH. There is less room on King Blvd, so at those five intersections the right lane would rise up to the overpass, forcing “through” traffic into two lanes.
There would then be two intersections on each of the overpasses, one for each side of King Blvd. The overpasses could be three lanes between the intersections to accommodate left turns.
The reason I prefer overpasses to underpasses is that four of the streets approach King Blvd from a hillside on the west side, and two go back up on the east side. Why not just go straight across the gap instead of digging a trench? Maybe Othello would be good with an underpass be ause it’s flat on both sides.
So far as pedestrians getting to the stations and other track crossings, there would still be crosswalks at the King Blvd level with stoplights or flashers to keep it from turning into a freeway.
Tom, I like those intersections, but I don’t think there is space for such double intersection under or overpasses and it gets tricky to provide safe pedestrian access across such intersections. (The Brits would put double roundabouts on such intersections)
I am envisioning something like: https://www.engsurveys.com.au/images/projects/19/78-bakewell-underpass.jpg but pedestrian access only on one side and less lanes.
One advantage is that pedestrians don’t have to go as low as the cars and still would be able to cross in any direction. For the stations close to such underpass you could add a ramp going up to the station platform. That would also provide extra light into the underpass.
When you go to a neighborhood meeting and ask questions, do they give you honest answers and make you believe they are listening? My experience has been that I get a boiler plate answer like I was asking online how to fix a credit card dispute. The last time I actually talked to a politician in person about public transporatation was with the Monorail expansion. I asked questions about cost over runs and possibility of shortening of the line. I think that was in Nathan Hale High School. About a million years ago. And I think it was Greg Nickels that handed me a bottled water and smiled and said “I will see you on opening day”.
I had the same experience here in Denver with RTD board members. It was clear that no one on the board actually rides the system they perside over other than for the photo op when i pressed them about various rider issues. Because their answers were ones that seem to be blind to the rider experience and what it’s actually like. They only in the last couple of years have addressed the fact that the current Siemens high floor trains need to be replaced with low floor ones. Or figuring out how to deal with bus concourse safety problems at Denver’s Union Station.
Part of the ST public “process” is to first print four-page brochures in multiple languages and have translators around for those that don’t speak English. They view their role is primarily to “educate the public” which to them means treating every member of the public like a below-average third grader.
Then they don’t require engineering staff to attend and listen. They don’t ask what as a rider as the best and worst parts of the proposed changes. They don’t show visualizations and display mostly cross section plans in one dimension. They never build 3D models.
The standard script begins with “it’s not my expertise to answer the question” (I heard that by five different people at the CID open house two weeks ago) — which to be a public information meeting is very Orwellian. Then they won’t write down the question that they couldn’t answer so the question is never written out. Then written comments received are never detailed and the Board gets a tidy little summary document about their biased interpretation of what they heard. And yet they’ll go to the board saying what success they had because hundreds of people showed up!
And this, Dear Reader is how Trivial Transit gets built for tens of billions of wasted dollars.
Seriously, is there any piece of ST3 other than possibly South Lake Union that makes sense as High Capacity Transit? Bound across the vastness of Snohomish County. Spin along the freeway through the bustling metropoli of Milton and Fife. Thrill to a a fun amusement ride over a two hundred foot high bridge and then plunge down to a bustling steel mill for some olfactory stimulation! Visit busy Issaquah, home of the World’s Biggest Buying Club, but whiz past the home of the nation’s Third Biggest Phone Company because “bridges!”
Would T-Mob have gotten service if it had been Number Two? I guess they just didn’t Try Harder enough.
Yes, this is obviously Snark, but it happens to be very true Snark. ST is WAAAAYYYY out over its skis and there’s an appliance dead ahead.
The Seattle Times has a front-page article today noting ST is now considering running DSTT2 through the Pioneer Square Station and making the station a “super station”. Seattle Subway voiced their support for the shallower fourth ave. station they called “very sexy”, and asked ST to stop studying other options although it adds $700 million to the cost, (although SS has never been too concerned about costs, especially other people’s money.
According to the diagram there are two options from 2017, one along 4th and one along 6th through the CID. It sounds like Harrell, a ST Board member, prefers the “north version” at Pioneer Square, next to the King Co. admin. building and jail.
“We’re not there yet, but we’re getting there, Balducci stated, “progress not consensus”.
When it comes to a station at CID, Gei Chan, a volunteer with SS, was quoted as saying “Sound Transit can promise with all good faith, saying we won’t destroy your neighborhood. But you don’t know down the line what will come up”. The article notes over a century of discrimination and decades of intrusive public work projects including I-5 and the station for DSTT1 for this “marginalized” area of Seattle.
Having worked in Pioneer Square for 32 years right next to the Pioneer Square station, that was not a well-used station, especially towards the end and after buses were eliminated from the tunnel. It is on 3rd and Yesler, with few offices and retail that has badly eroded, and lots of new low income housing. The alley behind the Smith Tower is somewhat notorious for crime and drugs, which is why delivery trucks and vans won’t use it and just park on the sidewalk next to the Smith Tower on Yesler. It is still around 4-5 blocks to the water and ferries, and well south of the waterfront park.
At this point it looks like Pioneer Square is left holding the short end of the stick, as usual.
The Times now has the cost of WSBLE up to $15 billion.
The $700 million in additional cost for the shallow 4th ave. tunnel does not include the cost to remove and replace the five lane fourth ave. south viaduct, which carries 30,000 cars/day, or any renovations to King St. station and S. Jackson St. “If there is a will there is a way”, said Kathleen Barry Johnson, exec. dir. of Historic South Downtown.
I am beginning to wonder if my cost estimation of $20 billion is now low.
It appears there is a group of young people and elders arguing for the “no build” option they claim ST has never seriously discussed, which the Times said is just a formality to compare costs. “Dumplings not Demolition” is their battle cry (sorry STB members who also advocate for no build), reminiscent of the saying “Humbows not Hot Dogs” that past activists used during preservation struggles of the 1970’s. According to the Times “Transit board members agree to look at No Build” (which I doubt is serious).
If the “north” version is used it could save $360 million, mainly because the next stop would be at Denny Way.
The Pioneer Square station option would require eastsiders arriving on East Link to “waste” 3 `1/2 minutes backtracking into downtown if going to SeaTac. Personally I can’t imagine anyone taking East Link from the eastside to SeaTac, unless truly desperate.
Bettie Luke noted Portland’s Chinatown has become a ghost town due to decades of construction
DT, what’s your source on the $700M not including demolition/reconstruction of the 4th Ave Viaduct?
Yeah, the January 26, 2023, Further Studies Executive Summary discusses viaduct replacement construction processes as part of the Shallow CID station alternative. That’s WHY it costs $700M to build a shallow station – I’d bet ~2/3rds of that is just replacing the viaduct with proper seismic considerations, which results in Seattle getting a pretty sweet bridge replacement from its ST tax base.
I’ve lost patience for bad faith commentary, but I’ll admit that this line from the Seattle Times article is somewhat poorly written: “‘Fourth Avenue Shallower’ adds $700 million to past estimates, not counting any lid, nor renovations to glamorize Union Station and South Jackson Street.”
To clarify: the “lid” not included in the $700M is the lid requested by the community: “a lid west of Fourth to provide road lanes, then become a park plaza afterward”. Unfortunately, Mike Lindblom included a paragraph break between these two sentences, which makes it understandably hard for some readers to tie those two points together.
Because DT didn’t offer it: the article in question is https://www.seattletimes.com/seattle-news/transportation/will-a-new-international-district-chinatown-light-rail-station-land-in-pioneer-square/
No, “the next stop” would not “be at Denny Way”. Nobody has proposed eliminating the new platforms at Westlake Center [i.e. “New Westlake”] except if the new tunnel is completely eliminated and all three lines from the south junction use the existing tunnel.
And eliminating Midtown would save a lot more than $360 million. Midtown is to be at least 180 feet deep; that’s a lot of overburden to haul away.
I don’t know if we’ve ever gotten an explicit description of the estimated cost difference between having the Midtown Station at ~180 ft vs ~140 ft.
The cost of the North of C-ID station includes demolition of the KC Admin building, which counter-balances some of the savings in deleting the Midtown Station. However, it would be KC saving a lot of money on demolition of an asset that needs replacement.
This is from the Times article Nathan links to:
(Page A-11). “Fourth Avenue Shallower adds $700 million to past estimates, not counting any lid, nor renovations to glamorize Union Station and South Jackson St.” I took that to mean a lid over 4th Ave. to replace the viaduct.
Re: the Denny St. station, the article states:
“The “North” version could save $360 million, transit staff say. That’s largely because Sound Transit would consolidate stops and cancel the deep Midtown Station, below Fifth Avenue and Marion Street near 76-storey Columbia Tower. The second downtown tunnel would then provide no new destinations until beyond Denny Way.”
Maybe “new destinations” means DSTT2 will have a stop at Westlake and I misread that.
DT, I direct you to this comment:
“no new destinations” clearly doesn’t mean Westlake. It was a poorly-worded sentence in the article, and I had to stop and think whether it was accurate.
This comment (like a few others) belongs on the general WSBLE page (https://seattletransitblog.com/2023/02/13/sound-transit-reviews-wsble-study-results/).
It seems to me that a huge supplement to the DEIS will be required if the key transfer station is removed.
Maybe we should also push to split the DEIS too? The process is getting pretty convoluted and complex. Because the WS part of the DEIS seems easier to complete, it would also make it easier for ST to keep the promised schedule for that extension.
I wonder if the inflated cost of the WSLE is now enough to garner FTA funding without being paired with BLE.
There’s only one way to find out, Nathan! ST has to run the numbers!
As I mentioned before, a stand-alone WS extension would probably force ST to give up on the “stub” idea in a stand-alone DEIS to show better usage and cost-benefit to FTA, and instead be that third line through Downtown and North Seattle. That would then also force ST to fully study having three lines in DSTT and what system upgrades would actually be required.
Very good question, Nathan. A two mile, three station line to a pleasant but not very populous neighborhood with few “third-party attractions” should cost in the hundreds of millions ball-park, not multiple billions. But there’s that Navigable Waterway to bridge; who knows when an aircraft carrier will need to sail up it? And there are those significant hills and a valley — with a golf course to contribute a few foursomes a week to the ridership — to cross. And heaven forfend that the last six blocks of a Light Rail line which will never be extended might run on the surface!
“A billion here a billion there and pretty soon you’re talking real money!”
“Seattle Subway voiced their support for the shallower fourth ave. station”
Seattle Subway members also endorsed it in public testimony at the February 10th System Expansion meeting.
“the “no build” option they claim ST has never seriously discussed”
They’re misunderstanding what “No Build” means. It means no WSBLE, or skipping CID Station. Moving the station a few blocks is not “no build”; it’s within the alternatives any station can have. If the “North of CID” station is actually a moved Midtown Station rather than a moved CID station, then you could maybe say CID is “no build”, but that’s not how it’s being presented. And this is getting so convoluted and so far away from a “No Build” of the entire EIS that this phrase creates more confusion than it’s worth. One test for “no build” is that the entire cost of the feature is eliminated.
“The second downtown tunnel would then provide no new destinations until beyond Denny Way.”
This is a good argument to abandon DSTT2 entirely and just build a separate automated subway line from Ballard to Westlake station with transfers to the main Link line. This separate line eventually could connect to First Hill and form a Metro 8 line.
DSTT2 provides no value add.
See sound transit Transportation Technical Report Appendix N.1. There are troubling forecasts. By 2042 WSBLE will increase systemwide transit use by ~20,000 daily riders. Prepandemic there were ~450,000 daily riders for sound transit. In 2042 there will be an estimated 17,000,000 milion total daily auto & frieght trips in the Puget Sound. The Urbanist ran an article (w/o specific footnotes) saying the WSBLE has a cost estimate of $12,000,000,000 – quite large.
Larger than you think Don. ST now estimates the cost of WSBLE at $14 billion not including the $700 million for the shallow 4th Ave. station (but with DSTT2 still estimated to cost $2.2 billion, the estimate in 2016) and the Seattle Times has the cost at $15 billion. With cost contingencies and the true cost of DSTT2 better figure on $20 billion with the current design.
BTW I wouldn’t put too much stock in ST’s future ridership or trip estimates.
Excellent proposal, RossB. As usual, I find myself agreeing with you. Unfortunately, Sound Transit officials and their board love to hide behind it wasn’t in their plan. However, many things have changed since the plan was proposed and passed. Up my way in Everett, for instance, Boeing moved its headquarters from Chicago to Washington, DC. They outsourced a bunch of finance and HR jobs to India, and RIF’d others before that. They flew their last 747 flight. Meanwhile, remote working has exploded in the region, changing our workdays and work/life balance forever. Some are working multiple jobs remotely now, crowding other candidates out of the market that in-office work allowed. In transportation, Paine Field started commercial operations and is on the cusp of being named the region’s alternate (to Sea-Tac) airport this summer, yet ST won’t put a station at the PAE terminal, leaving transit users a meandering, limited service Everett Transit bus or a long uphill walk from Airport Road for the light-traveling, able-bodied folks that CT’s corridor-job centers-density-and commuter-oriented service caters to. Similarly to what you’ve stated, ST folks say that it wasn’t in the plan to have a station at the airport. I’m still holding out for the maintenance & operations facility to be located across the street, as that might make a station there a reality after all of us are long gone.
Opinion piece by multiple CID groups:
ask to make sure CID gets served but not disrupted – exactly what interlining would accomplish.
I wish they would mention that not only does the alternative skip the middle of CID but the direct line is coming from the Rainier Valley, where there is a sizable population that shops and lives going to CID businesses. The north-south scheme requires making difficult transfers instead .
Meanwhile, West Seattle residents earn CID access by kicking the RV residents out of the station.
It’s severing a direct connection of several Asian communities.
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