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.

53 Replies to “How I’d pivot ST3 post-Covid and mitigate the CID conundrum”

    1. “It also deals with using police for fare enforcement.”

      The issue with fare enforcement personnel not being law enforcement officers was previously settled in the WA Supreme Court’s opinion in State of Washington v. K.L.B. from 2014.

    2. Good to see a post from you A Joy.

      I think fare gates will be necessary for Link, both for perceptions of safety — the idea eastsiders would take East Link to 5th and James and take an unsecured underground tunnel 100 yards to 3rd and James when they don’t go to Seattle today, especially south Seattle, is crazy — and farebox recovery, which Rogoff said is the ticking timebomb in his last speech to the Board, and I agree with Rogoff.

      If one class of riders can ride free then all classes can ride free. The Link system is fairly new, and agencies always steal from the replacement fund to cover current operation shortfalls. Very low ridership on the future suburban lines is only going to exacerbate O&M deficits.

      I disagree with the court’s decision, but this court has gone so far left with Inslee’s appointments (including invalidating the drug laws when local prosecutors were already overwhelmed) but not surprised. Hopefully it will force ST to do what it should have done from the beginning, and other transit agencies do: put in gates or turnstiles. A piece of steel can’t be racist.

      Court decisions often have unintended consequences. The irony of course is objective gates or turnstiles will probably result in less Black ridership than ST’s anemic fare enforcement because ideally they screen out 100% of riders without the necessary fare. But safety is a deal breaker, so my hope is the court’s decision forces ST to install gates or turnstiles the ONLY people in the stations and on the trains are those who paid their full fare, no matter what their skin color is.

    3. I think you are right about the turnstiles being needed, sadly. Especially with the comments on pages 8- 11 that state passengers must be free to decline the request, that a reasonable person must be able to believe they are free to decline the request, and that checking fares between stops does not meet this criteria. I don’t see the current system working under those parameters.

  1. I like the plan overall, but do think you should elaborate a bit more on the West Seattle/Ballard and Eastside rationale.

    > 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.

    Aka this works because Ballard and West Seattle does not have high peak commuter ridership therefore the long trains are unnecessary and more prioritize high frequency throughout the day.

    > 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

    I don’t quite understand? East Link route already heads towards the original transit tunnel, you can’t really change that.

    1. It’s less about Ballard WS not having high peak commuter ridership (they still could and Frank suggest is still great), but that Ballard-WS are generally short, urban trips and therefore the value of higher frequency is much greater than on the rest of Link, where most trips are longer distance aside from the high frequency Northgate-ID segment. 6 minute frequency is acceptable in Columbia City and Redmond, but not in SLU.

    2. Sending the East Side trains to Ballard would cost additional money — you are right about that. But it might not be that expensive. There is value in that pairing (geographically it makes sense, as the trains are east-west). Whether it would be worth it or not is a different question.

      If you want to just automate the trains, I see no reason why they can’t run in the old tunnel. It would be weird to have an automated line running through the same places as a non-automated line, but probably not unprecedented.

      1. > Sending the East Side trains to Ballard would cost additional money — you are right about that.

        Sure, I mean if that is proposed what is the exact plan then? It can’t be handwaved away.

        Is it to go up the existing tunnel until Symphony station and exit before Westlake and joining the new tunnel? Or to rebuild the overpass from i90 to somehow redirect into the new tunnel at 4th or 5th? I’m not seeing an obvious route.

  2. I think your points on WSBLE and Everett Link would be more clear if we have a brand name for the new 4th mode you are proposing (and I strongly support), which is an automated higher frequency but shorter train. I believe you are suggesting a forced-transfer at Lynnwood, very simillar to eBART at Pittsburgh station, but it’s not clear.

    As Everett & WS-Ballard need not be the same mode, I think branding that would help the average west coast voter understand your suggestion would be to say
    1. Build WSBLE as a single Skytrain-analogous line
    2. Build Everett Link as a eBart-analogous extension

    1. “I believe you are suggesting a forced-transfer at Lynnwood, very simillar to eBART at Pittsburgh station, but it’s not clear.”

      That was my take as well, so a further clarification on this idea would be helpful. Also, if the Redmond line is redirected what frequencies are being suggested for East Link to SnoCo?

    2. I applaud setting the case for automation. It’s coming — just like positive train control or “driverless” elevators or real-time arrival smart phone apps. It’s not a matter of if but how.

      The issues with Everett Link are how the project is packaged, not unlike WSBLE. An extension to Mariner seems reasonable. It’s the segment north of Mariner that appears much more wasteful in capital and operations.

      A case for an eBart Line segment is much stronger if the faster speeds are part of the design. Part of the challenge with posts like this is that it’s still heavy on projects and light on benefits. That’s pretty much the inherent problem with ST3. Procedurally, the region has a tendency to propose building things without first establishing what the benefit should be. At least ST3 tries to back end into benefits even though they are silent about the most relevant ones.

      1. I don’t really see the need or rationale for eBart? It just seems like much more hassle than extending it Link to Everett. Regarding the connection to Paine Field if it is truly desired and a bus is not good enough then extend to i5 as before but then copy LA Metro or NYC with a separate airtrain to Mariner Station along airport road. This will ensure relatively high frequency rather what a stub line would have.

      2. Actually, WL there are advantages:

        1. Link trains are designed for 55 mph and eBart trains are designed for 80 mph. The proposed 33 minute trip just from Everett to Lynnwood is quite punitive. If eBart could get that down to 7 or 8 minutes the trip times can be faster. It depends on the scheduling and having cross platform transfers — sonething ST thinks is unimportant though.

        2. It could seemingly let a driver get a full run scheduled, so that Line 1 can run from Federal Way to Lynnwood or Mariner.

        3. It could be battery powered with shorter trains as a full capacity Link train would be overkill. That saves on both capital cost (no catenary systems and smaller fleet) as well as operating cost (smaller fleet).

        4. It could interface with regular train tracks (although FRA would be concerned if there were simultaneous freight trains and eBarts. This could be powerful if ST wanted to have two way regional rail daylong service southwest of Tacoma Dome.

        The big disadvantage is that riders have to change trains. EBart is set up with timed cross platform transfers and the maps suggest it’s just part of the longer line.

      3. @Al S

        > 1. Link trains are designed for 55 mph and eBart trains are designed for 80 mph

        The max speed really has nothing to do with the vehicle but the stop spacing/straightaway eBart has. It is traveling 9 miles with only one stop in between. If you put eBart on the same link route it would need to stop and start and with 1 mile stop spacing it really wouldn’t go near 85 miles per hour.

      4. “ It is traveling 9 miles with only one stop in between. If you put eBart on the same link route it would need to stop and start and with 1 mile stop spacing it really wouldn’t go near 85 miles per hour.”

        This is not the case with most of Everett and Tacoma Dome Link extensions, WL. Everett Link is proposed with just 2 interim stops north of Mariner on a 12 mile segment so the spacing is identical to eBart. Tacoma Dome plans are for just 2 interim stops between Tacoma Dome and South Federal Way, which is over 8 miles like EBart’s distance — also fairly similar.

        I’m not advocating for all of Link to use eBart technology — just pointing out advantages when stops are every 2.5-4 miles like eBart.

      5. @Al S

        Then on those straight sections link might be able to go faster as well.

        For another example Bart itself can reach 80miles per hour, but only really uses it when in the the trans bay tunnel most of the time it never goes beyond 50 has it needs to speed/slow down for the next station.

        The speed (around 50 to 100 mph)again really rarely has to do with the technology. I highly doubt replacing it with eBart would make it run any faster on those sections

      6. The first option would be to simply put in a branch at/around Mariner, but ST seems very hostile to a train running from Tacoma to Everett (but OK with Redmond to Mariner), which then suggests a mode change.

        Al, based on your #4, it sounds like you are thinking the automated/shorter train would be interlined with main Link? The opportunity to run on a mainline train would be Everett northward. Alternatively, there could be a mode change at [South] Federal Way (such that both modes could use the OMF-S), in which case yes there are option for an eLink to leverage some of the ST owned ROW.

        With eLink, like eBART, I was expecting a forced transfer. This would allow for ST to run much shorter vehicles Mariner-Everett (resolved the over-capacity issue) but match Link’s frequency, minimizing the transfer penalty. This unlocks advantage #5 – doubling of frequency Mariner-Everett for a decrease in operational cost. Even if the train has the same speed as regular Link (frankly, could be the exact same vehicle), the doubling of frequency improves quality of tranist in SnoCo.

        Advantage #6 is mostly relevant for Tacoma Dome – if there is a mode change at South Federal Way, that would allow for Link’s O&M budget fully excluded from Pierce’s subarea budget, and in turn an “eLink South” would Pierce’s budget alone. This subarea accounting would allow for Pierce & King/Snohomish to pursue different policies, operationally & financially, in future ST voter approved plans. Honestly, I’m surprised Bruce Dammeier hasn’t embraced this approach, as he is skeptical of Pierce being permanently coupled with King’s spending priorities & high overheads.

        “eLink South” could even fully replace the Streetcar (and therefore properly be called T-Link); running shorter trains (per #5) would make it much easier to run a single vehicle from Hilltop to Federal Way, basically moving the forced mode transfer between T-Link and C-Link from Tacoma Dome to Federal Way.

  3. Why not just propose to automate all of Link? The ROW in Bel-Red is little different than in Rainier Valley – if we can automate the Bellevue-Redmond segment, then we can automate across the system.

    And I don’t get your East Link comments at all.

    Line 2 is proposed to run Redmond to Mariner, not Northgate-Redmond. If you are automating the line, then run the 4-car trains all the way to the end of the line (Lynwood or whatever) to create capacity along the Seattle trunk. Short-turning half of the trains at Stadium will be very unintuitive for riders; the branch at ID is already built and is an elegant solution to the demand mismatch of travel north vs south of Seattle CBD.

    If the point of running WSBLE with smaller trains at higher frequency, if you interline East Link in that new tunnel, then either East Link loses capacity (need to run shorter trains), WSBLE cannot run at full frequency, or probably a combination of both. East Link is fine with 4-car trains running 6~8 minutes. 2-car trains at 6 minutes is not enough capacity at peak, and anything more frequency is going to kneecap the frequency/capacity of the WS-Ballard trains if they are sharing the same tunnel. The suggestion to run a Redmond-SLU-Ballard train only makes sense in the context of the 2nd tunnel being built for 4-car Link trains.

    Finally, the value of building WSBLE as a standalone line as less disruptive construction goes away if you try to tie East Link into WSBLE.

  4. There’s too much here in this post, though good ideas all, where the current moment calls for focus. Given the current crisis and vacuum in transit leadership — where the region is enthusiastically lining up to make a generational mistake and destroy transit access from the Rainier Valley, South King, and Pierce County to the CID — I think we need more talk about what a salvage operation might look like once this disastrous vote and alignment come to pass.

    Your idea of pivoting West Seattle-Ballard to a standalone line is one such salvage idea worth exploring. The only difference capital wise would be track configuration changes in SODO, though “special work” connecting all the lines was going to happen anyway to make all lines interoperable from any OMF.

    Instead of splitting the regional spine, we should stack it, with the 1 Line going from Tacoma to Lynnwood, the 2 Line from Redmond to Everett, and let the 3 Line from West Seattle to Ballard. It would:

    1. Leave the ‘regional’ hub at King St./CID in place.
    2. Preserve stadium access for South King and Pierce without a SODO transfer.
    3. Preserve and not take away critical connections between the Rainier Valley, Beacon Hill, and the CID.
    4. Create wholly-new, in-city transit that (sub-optimally) connects to that hub.
    5. Remove one glaring flaw of the current ops plan. Namely, by freeing the new tunnel from MLK, its headways wouldn’t be capped at 6 minutes. The current split spine ops plan would leave us with a two line, overused, 60-year old tunnel, alongside a single line, underused, brand new one.

    If we’re going to make lemonade from this moldy lemon of a decision, a standalone West Seattle-Ballard 3 Line is probably the way to go, as long as suburban Board members still allow the tunnel’s construction to be funded as a regional asset. Which I would hope they would support, since it would preserve both stadium and King St/CID access for *everyone* from Everett to Tacoma, stick Seattleites with the suboptimal CID connection, while also freeing that in-city line to live up to its full operating potential in terms of headways and capacity.

    1. > If we’re going to make lemonade from this moldy lemon of a decision, a standalone West Seattle-Ballard 3 Line is probably the way to go, as long as suburban Board members still allow the tunnel’s construction to be funded as a regional asset.

      They definitely wouldn’t allow it to be funded as a regional asset. But honestly, forcing the suburban trains to enter the ballard/west seattle alignments just makes everything more expensive and defeats the purpose of the outside north king subarea funding since 4-car underground stations are vastly more expensive than 2-car ones.

    1. Not too surprising. Just consider the political forces at work:

      Supporters of North CID: The leader of the county, and quite likely the mayor. Local community leaders.

      Supporters of 4th Avenue Shallow: A bunch of transit nerds.

      Sorry, that isn’t even close. The idea that an online petition organized by Seattle Subway (a group with very unrealistic goals) would sway the board is silly. That isn’t how politics works. To be fair, if they were proposing something new — something that people hadn’t considered, then absolutely. For example, we on this blog got the city to renegotiate the Monorail contract so that they accepted ORCA cards. But my guess is most of the city council was oblivious to the Monorail issue until we wrote them. That is what made it so effective. A lot of council members read the letter(s) and figured they would get an easy win. They clearly agreed with us the second they heard our argument.

      In this case, they are well aware that some in the “transit community” want 4th Avenue Shallow. But so what? This means far less than community leaders opposing it. Just imagine a protest. You’ve got a bunch of people, mostly white guys, pushing for a better station. On the other side you have the community — shop keepers, local leaders, little kids. On the one side it is mostly white dudes. On the other it is mostly Asian Americans of various ages and gender. Not even close.

      The only chance that we have of fixing this thing is to unite with the people in the community. Consider what is best for them. The answer is clear: Interlining. Reuse the same stations. It is the best of both worlds. There is no disruption in the CID. If you are worried about construction, forget about it. If you are worried about losing your customers, forget about it. People from Rainier Valley who hop on a train and visit the CID continue to do so while new riders from West Seattle join them. From a community standpoint, it is ideal.

      Like the monorail situation, this is not a matter of yelling louder, or assuming that your Twitter argument is better. It is a matter of education. My guess is the vast majority of people who support north CID have not considered interlining. That needs to change.

      1. > The only chance that we have of fixing this thing is to unite with the people in the community. Consider what is best for them. The answer is clear: Interlining. Reuse the same stations. It is the best of both worlds.

        Probably need a more concrete proposal/post on how the interlining would work then. I don’t think it’s really been fleshed out how the connection to Ballard will really work beyond some comments we’ve been having.

    2. My guess is the vast majority of people who support north CID have not considered interlining.

      Exactly. The CID activists have said nothing about DSTT1-only, either for or against. This suggests they don’t know about it. They’ just answered ST’s question, “Where should DSTT2 CID station be?”, without considering whether DSTT2 can be eliminated. That gives us an opportunity to say, “If we eliminate DSTT2, the CID construction you don’t want goes away. And passengers will continue using the existing CID station.” We also need to emphasize that breaking the connection between Rainier Valley, Jackson Street, and central-east and northeast Seattle is not a good idea.

      1. Mike Orr and Ross B….

        Where do I sign up?
        After reading thru all the comments the last few days following the post about the “North CID” proposal from Dow C, an urban renewal idea posing as a transit station siting “solution”, I’m just sickened to learn that there already seemto be some forces coalescing around the idea. (Ughhh!) I think commenter Jonathan Dubbman (sp?) had the best response to that when he suggested taking Dow’s proposal and a shovel and burying it in the block-size pit at James/Cherry and 3rd/4th. (Two thumbs up to that imagery!)

        The lemon/lemonade analogy comes up often when discussing salvaging the disaster that is ST3. (Full disclosure: I voted against the 2016 measure after voting in favor of 1996’s Sound Move and 2008’s ST2.) I think a more apt analogy is that recipe you get online for something that looks appealing and sounds interesting and so you decide to give it a go. Then you and your family/friends eat the dish and no one likes the outcome. So you decide to change the recipe a bit by deleting this ingredient, and adding this one instead, modifying the seasonings a bit and give it another go with your family/friends. Still a no-go with the gang at dinnertime. You give it one more shot by making some other changes to the recipe and decide to bring the dish to a potluck affair you’ve been invited to and sadly yours is the platter/casserole dish that remains 3/4 uneaten and the host is asking you if they can wrap it up for you as you’re leaving. When you get back home you set the dish out for the neighborhood strays and tear up the recipe. Sometimes a recipe is just a bad recipe.

      2. Tlsgwm, I tried to email you but it bounced. You (or others) can email the contact@ address to discuss with the editors future articles on this and other potential strategies.

    3. So Tammy Morales is down with building a “station” in the no-man’s-land between Seattle Boulevard and Royal Brougham Way? Who of her beset constituents will such a station serve? The Salvation Army Shelter?,-122.3259536,3a,75y,180h,86.93t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sjrZUjnYQrdCQsI_1OyxGSw!2e0!7i16384!8i8192

      Great, the businesses of the International District will surely thrive from the steady flow of customers making the hike from “Shelter Station”! Hey, it’ll be cheap for an underground station! Maybe some of the “guests” at the shelter can become day laborers pushing wheelbarrows out of the pit. Will the Army open the gates for folks to walk to T-Mob for ball games?

      Can these incompetent amateurs make this multi-billion dollar “investment” any worse than the charade it has now become?

      1. I think “Shelter Station” is the best name so far. Constantinople was clever, but Shelter Station really identifies the flaws with this plan, and would force Constantine and others to face reality.

        First, eastsiders might not make a connection (especially when completed) between the station and Dow but they will look at a 100 yard unsecured underground tunnel between 5th and 3rd and James to transfer south and no matter what the official station name will think Shelter Station.

        Second, although the plan is this mega station is designed to revitalize this area of town and “capture” the value in vacant county and city buildings any developer and their investors/banks in a very high inflation market will ask one question first: where? The answer whether it is the formal station name or not will be Shelter Station.

        I think The Spring Dist. is class B and Wilburton B or B- and East Main C office space. Basically the mega station runs under a county COURTHOUSE that staff felt was so unsafe they refused to return to in office work, the county had to buy the pretty park next door and fence it off, along with the other city and county buildings near there. Shelter Station would be considered class F office space today (which is why the city and county built there in the first place) when there are endless amounts of. better parcels to build (if anyone wants to build office space anyway anywhere).

        One thing the flippers who hoped to convert The Smith Tower tower floors into condos, before going bankrupt, learned is that in expensive residential buildings in sheltery areas you need two secured underground parking stalls, one for each spouse, which is very expensive. I could just see progressives building new residential buildings with tax money where vacant and county office buildings now stand with no onsite parking claiming residents will use Shelter Station. Then we would have new empty residential buildings rather than the old empty office towers today. The county would lose $400 million in county tax revenue rather than “capture” $400 million.

        I can just see the glossy real estate broker mailers we get on MI: “DITCH YOUR CARS, MOVE TO SHELTER STATION IN DOWNTOWN SEATTLE AND RIDE LIGHT RAIL.

        Too bad they can’t somehow fit the word “jail” in the new name for the neighborhood. “The Jail Dist.” maybe.

      2. Daniel, the name “Shelter Station” was for “South of CID”, not the Government Complex station “North of CID”. Morales has explicitly stated her support for a “two-station solution”.

        Sadly, they’re not two stations where they would be useful.

  5. I drew a mock-up of what an Everett link devotion away from I-5 could look like for possibly better TOD potential. For the sake of this post ignore the Paine field line.

    The use of interurban trail right of way I believe, not politically but physically, is possible. Much of the trail is well over 100 ft wide before property encroaches on the right of way. The original Kirkland issaquah link plan said light rail tracks require 30 ft of reserved space with a 16 ft multimodal trail next to the tracks. This far surpasses the width of that plan and would allow for trail preservation and utilization of at grade right of way

    The difficult segment is up wetmore where the trail right of way ends. Grade sepating a line up such a narrow street would be met with pushback but if it could be done we’re talking about adding possibly 6-7 mostly at grade stations within Everett. Possibly boosting walkshed access, TOD potential, and likely with lower travel times than the airport road alignment

    Do you guys think the difficulties of construction in a suburban area would make this project more or less costly than ST’s representative project? Would this be worth pursuing or just shoot up I-5, were Everett link to be built regardless?

    To be frank if we’re not planning for TOD on these very suburban stretches of light rail and just go about only including a handful of expensive elevated stations over possibly much more at grade stations this extension is probably going to fail in regards to its *future* ridership potential

    1. > The use of interurban trail right of way I believe, not politically but physically, is possible. Much of the trail is well over 100 ft wide before property encroaches on the right of way. The original Kirkland issaquah link plan said light rail tracks require 30 ft of reserved space with a 16 ft multimodal trail next to the tracks. This far surpasses the width of that plan and would allow for trail preservation and utilization of at grade right of way

      It was always technically possible, not just for this section but also through Shoreline/Lynnwood on highway 99.

      > Do you guys think the difficulties of construction in a suburban area would make this project more or less costly than ST’s representative project? Would this be worth pursuing or just shoot up I-5, were Everett link to be built regardless?

      It’ll be cheaper but politically impossible to go down this route. More likely just go up i-5 makes much more sense.

      > To be frank if we’re not planning for TOD on these very suburban stretches of light rail and just go about only including a handful of expensive elevated stations over possibly much more at grade stations this extension is probably going to fail in regards to its *future* ridership potential

      It was always going to fail it’s future ridership potential (outside of reaching downtown lynnwood/everett) no matter any alignment besides going up 99/evergreen way but that was never politically acceptable.

      1. Just wanted to addon so it’s not as negative

        > I drew a mock-up of what an Everett link devotion away from I-5 could look like for possibly better TOD potential

        Yeah it’s a much better route than the existing one, it’s more that if Everett was more willing for alignments besides i-5 it wouldn’t be along it in the first place. It isn’t about technical feasibility really.

      2. WL,
        I would have to agree with you on that one unfortunately. I’d like to squeeze as much lemonade out of all the lemons in this region that we possibly could especially given our funding shortfall but political optics often mean everything else takes a back seat.

        Thanks for checking out the little alignment I made

      3. JJ, I like the stub idea. offered several alternative alignments.
        We have multiple places we could switch technology:
        1. Mariner: Use eBart on the currently planned Boeing to Everett route or build one line towards airport and a separate line to Everett.
        2. Mariner stub: Continue Link straight to Everett and build a separate stub towards Boeing/airport. As this is a short stub, it could be built using APM or gondola technology.
        3. Hwy526 intersection: Link could be extended to the intersection to meet a new eBart line from the airport/Boeing to Everett.
        It depends a bit on the expected ridership. I could imagine that there could be quite some local demand from Everett to the airport and Boeing to bring local workers and travelers to their destinations, may be more riders than towards Seattle. Then higher frequency may come handy.

  6. I will not vote for any elected official willing to treat riders as second class citizens by forcing this insane transfer. I’m going to look closely at donor lists and see who is getting “paid off” for future campaigns.

    The only saving grace for me is that I’m convinced opening day — supposedly 15 years away — will be 20 years away. Then my 1 Line access becomes significantly worse. But I’ll be barely able to use any stair step due to aging so I’ll just have to move.

    I’m curious where the disabilities activism is. Not only those in wheelchairs but those with arthritis who barely can walk down or up stairs.

    I’m also ready to support an elected ST Board. The appalling lack of consideration for the rider experience or system productivity and even the lack of not increasing transit mode share (with its green benefits) show beyond a shadow of a doubt that the current structure doesn’t work to the benefit of the public.

    Unlike other decisions that affect interests in a specific neighborhood, this affects every regular or occasional rider in the region!

    1. “I’m also ready to support an elected ST Board.”
      An elected board is a terrible idea, I live in Denver and don’t recommend it upon anyone. What should be done is a board of executives that are appointed by the local county government leaders to act on their behalf that are screened by an independent panel to audit their appointment. This is what Translink does in Vancouver as per their governance

      “The TransLink Board of Directors is composed of seven individuals appointed by the Mayors’ Council (from a candidate list presented by the Screening Panel), the Mayors’ Council Chair and Vice-Chair (at their option), and up to two members appointed by the Province. The TransLink Board of Directors:”

      It would allow for regional leaders be part of the process but keeps them far enough away from making politically charged decisions.

      1. Oh I’d be ok with that too, Zach. What I’m not ok with is the current arrangement that piles on responsibilities to elected officials responsible for many things — and they forget that looking out for riders is the biggest requirement for their Board job. Also, they don’t have time to give attention to anyone other than power brokers like developers and corporate heads.

  7. Thanks Frank for such a comprehensive article. I am sure it took a great deal of time.

    “With savings from elsewhere” or “accelerate with savings from elsewhere” is a common line in the article. Elsewhere is not very well delineated. That assumes ST’s revenue projections are accurate and doesn’t really price the alternative proposals. I think the bigger issue is there will be less funding to transfer than you think, and your alternatives will cost more than you think. That is the main problem with ST today: underestimated project costs, exploding project costs like 130th and WSBLE, and less revenue than promised.

    I also think the idea that eliminating peak travel due to low ridership means you can increase ridership during non-peak runs is unrealistic. The fundamental issue is the drop in overall ridership, especially peak ridership. I agree peak service should probably be reduced although peak riders actually have to be somewhere time certain, but that will not afford increasing non-peak frequency. There isn’t the money for that.

    The problems are subarea specific, and the subareas will solve them each, including the financial and political pressures. So let’s look at each subarea.

    1. North King Co. N KC generates around $600 million in subarea revenue each year. Without WSBLE it has no problems. On the other hand, no alternative I have seen including Frank’s is affordable, especially if they include tunnels or tunnels for automated trains, even if the four other subareas have their contribution. In fact, as noted below, WSBLE is about the only insolvable problem for ST because the funding gap, at least $10 billion, is too great to bridge. In the end I think N KC will get a stub from WS, and who knows to Ballard, but unlikely light rail.

    2. East King Co. This subarea won’t get Link until at least 2025. It isn’t certain trains will be able to run across the bridge at full capacity. At the same time this subarea is pretty blasé about transit post pandemic, and East Link’s route is pretty bad. Issaquah Link is so far off that post pandemic I don’t think it will get built. The freeway system is too good, the distances too far, the density too low, and the demographic too car dependent for this crazy route. Probably some RR or Stride on 405 north of Bellevue is all that is needed depending on ridership on Stride from Renton, plus some complementary ST buses like the 554.

    I don’t think there is any chance East Link will be automated at this point, or run to Ballard, because then Line 1 north loses its doubled frequency, which is all Seattle cares about. What you are really talking about is reducing the total number of trains by having Ballard and the Eastside share one set of trains — which would save East KC a lot of money — with probably 8-minute frequencies because that is all East Link can do across the bridge and more than Ballard will ever need.

    The bigger problem however is N. KC does not have the money to run Link to Ballard, at least as Ballard wants, and East Link already runs to Line 1. Eastsiders once went to SLU but no more, and never go to Ballard (Pluto). So the eastside will object.

    Finally, right now no matter how small the station is at the CID there won’t be a station at CID. Morales’ fawning statement proves progressive politicians will put race above transit without a hint of sophistication they are so intent are proving their progressive and racial bona fides. No CID station no East Link to Ballard in “DSTT2”, and the CID would object too because they have been waiting a long time for trains from the eastside (but really want more parking).

    3. Everett Link. SnoCo does not have the money to run Link to Everett, especially with the dogleg. The solution will be to remove the dogleg — because it is unaffordable — and “borrow” from East KC to complete Link to Everett with a looooooooong repayment schedule. It will look like a loan but really won’t be. But Everett needs to be part of the spine, although it never should have been. It will be easy to “borrow” from East KC because after East Link is a dud eastsiders will move on from Link.

    4. Pierce Co. This one is tougher. Eliminate the $1 billion in Sounder S. upgrades, but with the recent delay of TDLE I doubt Sounder S. during peak times can be eliminated, even when FDLE opens. Tacoma and Pierce are not going to agree to buses from Tacoma Dome to Federal Way until late 2030’s. With those savings Pierce might be able to afford TDLE, although the estimated project cost is $3.2 billion (which is certainly low) and the subarea has banked $1.2 billion in loans to other subareas since ST taxes were collected, which means low subarea tax revenue.

    5. S. King Co. Well, someone will likely have to help out with the additional costs for the suspension bridge. My guess is a loan from other subareas eventually backstopped by East King Co. The stations are so far from the population centers and the demographic pretty “non-commuter” to population centers like Seattle or Tacoma I don’t see S. King Co. having a lot of ridership except for feeder buses from Pierce until TDLE is completed. I think S. KC may be more agnostic about Link than East KC, if that is possible. They don’t even have their contribution to DSTT2, and will likely say build whatever you want, but we don’t have the money.

    In the end, eliminate WSBLE and the rest of the “spine” whether good transit or not is doable. We really don’t need to refigure every other subarea because WSBLE is unaffordable, but the politicians don’t want to admit that to some Seattleites who think money is free.

  8. The tragedy is, almost anything is better than Dow’s favored plan, which is ST3 with DSTT2 but without a CID station. Any of these changes would be an improvement:

    – Do nothing at all, bank the tax revenues until wiser minds are in charge
    – Build WSBLE as a separate line, automated (preferably) or not, half size and double frequency (preferably) or not
    – WS Link interlined in existing DSTT (instead of a stub from SODO)
    – A BRT alternative for West Seattle instead of Link
    – Ballard-Westlake or Ballard-Westlake-First Hill stub, automated (preferably) or not, half size and double frequency (preferably)
    – Ballard station at 20th, barring that, 15th, instead of 14th (which is really 13th, which is really in West Woodland, not Ballard)
    – Ballard constructed with more than zero thought to the UW extension
    – Cancel Everett Link past Mariner
    – Construct Everett Link, without Paine Field diversion
    – Cancel Tacoma Link
    – Build Tacoma Link such that it serves downtown Tacoma

    I’m sure I could go on. ST3 is starting to look to me like the dud of all duds in the history of Seattle planning – a bigger cluster than SR 520 or SR 99, and significantly more expensive than both of those combined.

    1. Personally, I think the lack of a midtown station is as big an omission as the lack of a CID station. I worked in Pioneer Square for 32 years. It is a long walk to midtown, sometimes up or down steep hills.

      A shallow 4th Ave. station is just too expensive. I am guessing ST assumes the folks who will be using DSTT2 are not office types or white collar so will never need to go to midtown. I wouldn’t care except for my subarea’s contribution, to what looks like a speculative real estate deal I don’t see as a “shared regional project”, and if you understand anything about commercial development and investment today has almost no chance of succeeding in creating value in closed and vacant city and county buildings someone will have to demolish and rebuild. Imagine if Bellevue had requested $275 million from each eastside city to build a tunnel as part of a real estate deal. Bellevue paid for its own tunnel (although tragically it is along 112th).

      I never thought the original design for DSTT2 with stations at CID and midtown was a shared regional facility because Lines 1 and 2 would never need the capacity, and ST lied about that with crazy inflated ridership projections through the downtown core to get the contributions. I think it is one thing for Seattle to skin the East KC subarea for DSTT2 because it is so flush, but not SnoCo, Pierce and S. King who are struggling to afford their own, basic stations and lines, and especially for a real estate deal that has ZERO chance of succeeding or raising the money Dow and Bruce are claiming, and of course all Morales can see is more revenue except she is clueless when it comes to money or development. There won’t be any real estate revenue from the mega station. Dow couldn’t give the admin. building away in this market.

    2. I like thoughtful posts like this – but I admit I don’t engage because ST is wired to make the decisions it makes. It’s governed by a federated board of elected officials whose focus is fixed on distributing capital investments and promoting real estate development, slathering it around the region as promised in the original plan. They are not motivated by providing the best service to transit riders, and they have never made a strategic change to adapt to changing circumstances other than to change delivery timing when the cash flow doesn’t sync with the schedule. They will continue to lumber along as fast as the money permits, even though it’s clear our land use and travel will clearly be different than their plans.

  9. I think an automated WSB line would be a great solution. I know ST won’t consider it, but with shorter platforms would a CID station on 5th have any merit? Construction footprint would be reduced substantially, and I assume that a smaller excavation could be completed in a shorter amount of time.

    1. At the last ST Board meeting, there was a parade of people complaining about station vaults at many possible station locations. Shorter platforms certainly could make the original CID location less disruptive — but the battle has moved to a point where I don’t see a compromise like this as persuasive to their interests.

      That said, the systemic problem has been ST’s refusal to get into subway station specifics until fairly recently (like the last 1-3 years). It’s much more complex to dig anything than it is to put it on the surface or up in the air. And it should have been more fully analyzed before ST3 ever went to the ballot. There are huge real estate forces involved with the potential for big winners and losers. DSTT2 is a mainly real estate game at this point — as opposed to a useful transit project that adds benefit to riders.

      That would be fine — except the region’s residents will pay hefty taxes to ST for almost their entire working life (30-40? years) so the elected officials and developers can play footsies under the table for the next 5-10 years. Bluntly put, Seattle taxpayers are paying regressive decades of sales taxes to make Downtown developers wealthier. The project is still woefully unfunded by several billions so all this pretty talk is masking the serious budget issues looming as it moves forward.

      It appears to me that the DEIS needs a supplement. It appears to me that civil lawsuits will delay things for years — but the delays give ST more cash in the bank until construction starts.

      It further appears to me that the backroom development deals will eventually manifest themselves in the form of general tax increases applied to all of us, especially North King residents and maybe City residents. The official pitch will be transit improvements but those looking at the data will see that it’s not improving anything south of Westlake except for specific Downtown blocks and instead it makes riding Link harder than even today.

      Personally, I’m in favor if requiring LIDS or station areas paying for the extra billions required to complete DSTT2. I don’t want to pay more taxes for obviously worse transit for me and my SE Seattle neighbors — and I think that local elected officials are naive in believing that Seattle city voters are liberal sheep willing to pay for anything “transit” on the ballot.

      1. While I agree with nearly everything you post Al there are a few points I would make:

        1. Cut and cover or shallow stations are a tough sell because of the endless construction in the past. If ST gives you a 6-year construction schedule you know that means 10 years, and the construction is incredibly messy. It is very hard to plan or lease or build if ST takes ten years to begin construction and ten years to complete it. It has taken FOREVER for ST to just complete the roundabout on MI and landscape (twice because each station had inadequate drainage) the station entrances, and for months dirt and construction vehicles have been parked along N. Mercer Way. You would think ST was building the Columbia Center. It looks nice now, but you know they will have to come back to fix something. So ST has very little trust.

        2. I say it all the time, but I don’t think transit advocates want to believe it: businesses, property owners and real estate developers don’t see transit — even Link — as a benefit. The whole point about the debate over DSTT2 and WSBLE is not near me, so the city and county have chosen their own closed buildings and the worst part of the downtown. Businesses and the DSA see transit as 3rd Ave. downtown. So there is very little ST has to offer these businesses or property owners in exchange for a 6-10 year construction schedule.

        3. Like Rice in the early 1990’s, Harrell’s existential issue is revitalizing downtown retail. That is why he attended the annual DSA meeting, although he took some hits, especially over fentanyl (and praise compared to the last string of mayors). How to do that without the work commuter (which to me the mega station admits are not coming back if the city and county can’t require staff to return to in office work downtown and the county has moved most its operations to Kent — I mean whoever thought someone would rather work in Kent than downtown Seattle?) I don’t know. But it doesn’t include a decade of downtown construction and even further traffic disruption. Downtown Seattle is so frustrating because even though there are many fewer cars the congestion is still a pain, out of design, for no reason unless Harrell think bicyclists will revitalize the downtown. It is a new world: a shopper can go so many other places in the region to shop or dine, unlike the early 1990’s.

        4. “It appears to me that the DEIS needs a supplement. It appears to me that civil lawsuits will delay things for years — but the delays give ST more cash in the bank until construction starts.”

        Just the opposite. The recent consultant’s report noted it costs ST $50 million/month for each month of project delay. Even when inflation was low project cost inflation outstripped ST tax revenue, hence the “realignment”. The realignment extended ST taxes five years but also completion dates which means ST LOST money during those five years. $50 million/month equals all of N. King Co. subareas ST tax revenue each year ($600 million/year). For nothing.

        5. What Harrell and Constantine — and especially transit advocates — don’t understand (or admit) is transit never revitalizes an area. It is urban vitality that validates and attracts transit, and mode. You build Link because there are too many people wanting to go places that buses don’t have the capacity and cars don’t scale. DSTT2 or a mega station will never cure the reasons that area of Seattle is depressed. Until the downtown rebounds Link or DSTT2 are unnecessary because cars do scale today, even downtown with Seattle’s purposeful congestion, and on buses. Seattle does not need the capacity of Link through downtown Seattle today, and I don’t see that changing unless there is a real sea shift in the council and policy.

  10. Thanks for the Urbanist Link Sam. Glad to see someone at The Urbanist has discovered this, years late.

    Ray is usually pretty good, for The Urbanist. He got the part about a CID station being the one critical station for transfers, and a long time after Al first raised the issue forcing every rider from the south to transfer to DSTT2 (although I don’t know why he didn’t use The Urbanist’s favorite term for the brown people in the CID: “Nimbyists”).

    But I think he missed two other points:

    1. Dow is not offering $400 million in county tax money for a mega station in Pioneer Square. Dow is claiming that the mega station will magically “capture” $400 million in development profits from city and council buildings that today are worth very little. So yes, if ST or someone somehow converts these vacant and useless buildings into new $400 million skyscrapers with $400 million going to Seattle and King Co. after development and construction costs/profits in this part of town Dow will pledge some of that towards WSBLE, although I think the rest of the county will want their cut, or at least count it against their contribution towards DSTT2.

    2. $400 million is around $10–$12 billion short to complete WSBLE (strangely enough around the same amount Rogoff disclosed last year, before the “realignment”), even without a midtown station. I really thought Ray would have understood how much “third party funding” will be needed to complete WSBLE as currently designed. Surely he knows the estimated cost of WSBLE has gone from $6 billion to $12 to $14 to $15 billion when revenue if anything has declined in the subarea and each month of project delay costs ST $50 million.

    If Ray thinks $400 million will cover the shortfall he is very naive when generally he is less naive than most on The Urbanist (a low bar). I also think Ray suffers a common misunderstanding among urbanists: that developers believe transit is good for their projects. The reason Dow is offering County buildings for the station is because no other property owner is, even the CID who is probably laughing their heads off about the claim the station will generate $400 million in surrounding development profit.

  11. potential adds to Frank list.

    Negotiate with WSDOT, BNSFRR, and UPRR to get capacity on the BNSF line for midday South Sounder.
    Kill north Sounder and use the service subsidy and rolling stock on better projects.

    Reduce Link headway and waits even if smaller trains are needed.

    Consider the other operators
    CT could extend Swift to Edmonds and Bothell; perhaps Metro could help fund the latter.

    Metro could delete almost all one-way peak-only routes.

  12. Good post! I love the out-of-the-box thinking, which unfortunately is devoid in most of the transit agencies due to their being unaccountable to the voters. For ST’s board, being a director is their second job, and virtually none of them are regular riders of any transit beyond, at most, a single origin/destination. They make arguments based on whatever’s convenient for their campaign contributors and to get re-elected. For instance, alternatives are on the table for Tacoma, but not for Everett, the excuse being “that’s what the voters wanted,” when in fact the voters voted on a *concept* and not on a specific route. And, since 2016, a lot has changed in the region, most notably the pandemic propelling remote and hybrid work into being acceptable and the norm that begs for a different direction such as you’ve outlined. Out in Everett, we’ve seen Boeing move its HQ to Chicago and DC, PAE start commercial service and being recommended as the sole airport to absorb excess capacity in the region for at least the next 25 years until everybody agrees on something or, more likely, the new airport ends up in Yakima, since they want it there. We’re about to see the renovation of the lackluster Everett Mall. The high-A Everett Aquasox are lobbying for – and will probably get – a new stadium. Yet, out to Everett the route is the same, the time-consuming for construction and permanently for riders, higher-fare dogleg to apparently satisfy Boeing campaign contributors and devoid of any station at PAE.
    Automated trains made sense all along, but appeasing the labor unions won with Link, and today’s airport trains go faster and are far more reliable than Link. BRT should be used for low-density areas such as Paine Field, which former Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald espoused, and while it is being used to Boeing/Everett since 2019, it bypasses the PAE terminal, thus folks have to walk uphill on a narrow, weather-swept sidewalk if they dare, for the planning staff out there only believe in connecting job centers and housing density on corridors, not serving destinations and including the non-able-bodied in their calculations. Their attitude hasn’t changed despite the pandemic, and that’s because they see themselves as private entities where the public is seen as a nuisance. The two worst offending agencies in this are the two that spend far more than any other transit agencies, including the behemoth of the region, King County Metro, on public relations. Hint: you see both of their advertisements all over the place.
    In summary, yours is a great plan that merits discussion, Frank, but unfortunately most planners I’ve met married the aforementioned philosophy decades ago, and for life. “Divorce” is highly unlikely.

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