In my last post a few weeks ago, I argued that Sound Transit is uniquely exposed to changes in regional commute trips caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, that it has yet to pivot the ST3 package of investments in a meaningful way (aside from the wrong-headed proposal to consolidate the Madison and CID stations), and that this pivot should occur sooner rather than later. I also presented some principles for what should guide this:
- Respond to the new transit ridership market
- Focus on frequent service, not commuter service
- Less intense peak periods are an opportunity
- Re-invest in existing assets that no longer match their need
In this post, I’d like to share some specific ideas of how ST3 projects could pivot guided by these principles. I understand there are political and maybe even some technical challenges to this proposal, but as I’ve looked back over my many years of writing on this site, I realize I haven’t spent enough time articulating the thing I think ought to happen. So here it is, for what it’s worth.
My goal is to deliver a regional high capacity transit system that results in a better system and more riders given changes caused by Covid-19. As I alluded to earlier, I also think some of these changes present better solutions to the construction impact and cost issues that the ST Board is currently debating for the West Seattle and Ballard Link project.
Commuter Rail Projects
- Sounder North Parking – At the minimum, cancel the parking project and redirect project funds to accelerate Link to Everett or add BRT projects in this subarea. Alternatively, end service all together on the N Line and redirect funds to BRT and CT/ST connections to Link. Repurpose parking by leasing parking to cities or building affordable TOD.
- Sounder South Capital Improvement Program – Maintain operations but redirect existing resources and project funds to deliver all-day bi-directional RER type service. If that is not feasible, right-size Sounder operations and redirect project funds to build BRT reroutes connecting communities in the Kent Valley to Link or make other investments in Link to accelerate or improve it. Lease extra parking to cities or build affordable TOD.
- Sounder Expansion to DuPont – Cancel project and redirect funds to other projects in the subarea based on the needs of communities in the area.
Light Rail Projects
- Downtown Seattle Light Rail Tunnel, Ballard to Downtown Seattle Light Rail, Downtown Seattle to West Seattle Light Rail
- Build the project as a single line from Ballard to West Seattle, not as an interline route as currently planned. Use this change as an opportunity to build an automated light rail system (like Skytrian in Vancouver) with smaller stations and 2-3 minute all-day frequencies. Spot on analysis over at RM Transit.
- Leverage the smaller station footprint of an automated system to save costs and:
- Reduce construction impacts on Chinatown
- Locate the Ballard station underground near the historic center of Ballard through reduced construction impacts.
- Locate the midtown station on First Hill by major hospitals and high density neighborhoods
- Use savings due to smaller stations to:
- Improve station siting of project and accelerate delivery
- Reinvest in Monorail with a new intermediate station and bring fully into the regional transit system with improved pedestrian transfers at Westlake
- Infill Stations: Boeing Access Road, South Graham, 130th – Accelerate projects using savings from elsewhere.
- South Kirkland to Issaquah Light Rail – Allocate funds to:
- Upgrade East Link to automated light rail operations and interline with revised West Seattle to Ballard Line resulting in operations between Redmond and Ballard via SLU. East Link only has a handful of at-grade sections and this routing makes more sense than the planned service pattern (Redmond to Northgate).
- Build a rail-convertible RapidRide K Line going all the way from Totem Lake to Issaquah. This would mean building key parts of the rail right-of-way needed for a Link extension, uses them for buses in the short term, and then converting it to rail in the future. For example, the right of way could be built between Downtown Bellevue and Bellevue College but then the BRT service could use existing I-90 HOV and direct access facilities to get to Issaquah.
- Lynnwood to Everett Light Rail – Eliminate commuter focus and out-of-way Everett Field deviation and build extension as automated light rail with smaller stations. Use savings to fund:
- Upgrade operations from Lynnwood to Stadium Station to automated operations for Everett to Stadium routing
- New BRT connection from Link to Paine Field with CT
- Accelerate delivery of the project
- Improve station areas sitting away from I-5 to improve TOD potential
- Federal Way Link Extension, Tacoma Dome Extension – Build as-is but accelerate with savings from elsewhere. Operates from Northgate to Stadium as automated and Stadium to Tacoma as it is now.
Bus Rapid Transit & Bus Projects
- I-405 Bus Rapid Transit – Broaden focus of route away from just commuting trips to Downtown Bellevue by routing project to increase use cases. Add new stations within regional growth centers that are busy/growing along I-405 like Southcenter Mall and Totem Lake and increase all-day frequency.
- NE 145th Street and SR-522 Bus Rapid Transit – With savings from elsewhere to extend the route and connect to Shoreline Community College.
North Sammamish Park and Ride – Cancel and direct funds elsewhere in the subarea.