One of the FTA’s stated goals is to help “metropolitan areas meet national ambient air quality standards (NAAQS) by reducing overall vehicle emissions and the pollutants that create smog” and to reduce “fuel use and greenhouse gas emissions.” So we just need to build more transit, right? But what about construction-related emissions? The recent Seattle Transportation Plan (p. 188 3-98) draft states that, “Given the transient nature of construction-related emissions and regulatory improvements scheduled to be phased in, construction-related emissions associated with all alternatives would be considered only a minor adverse air quality effect.” However, Sound Transit’s draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) estimates that the West Seattle Link extension (WSLE) will generate 614,461 tons of carbon. As so often the answer is: It depends!

I certainly share Seattle’s hope that recent regulatory changes encourage or even mandate the use of less carbon-intensive construction materials and machinery, but realistically that transition will not happen overnight. Construction companies won’t scrap all their machines and purchase new ones. McKinsey estimates that cement production will only reach 30% of the carbon-emissions reduction required to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius goal. Therefore, I don’t think we can just ignore the construction impact but take it into consideration. I don’t accept Sound Transit’s assertion that “short-term greenhouse gas emissions during the construction … would be temporary” either. Emissions have an immediate impact to the health of residents and our climate; they tend to stick around for a while. How about their assertion that they will be “offset by the emission reduction during project operation, well within the project’s life span, due to the reduction of regional vehicle miles travel”?

For West Seattle, Sound Transit is proposing elevated and partially underground light rail. The DEIS estimates that constructions will generate 614,461 tons of carbon based on typical averages for elevated and tunneled rail projects. As the WSLE guide rail is much taller than typical elevated light rail lines, the actual carbon emissions are most likely even higher. (For comparison Seattle’s total annual transportation needs generated 1,887,000 tons of carbon in 2020.) As KUOW already pointed out before the ST3 measure passed, most of these emissions would be generated at Ash Grove Cement in Georgetown, a marginalized community which already has one of the highest pollution levels in Seattle.

When the WSLE is finished it will only run to SODO and riders will need to transfer to the 1 Line. Like the East Link Starter line, during that time Sound Transit does not expect much ridership. Once the downtown connection is finished, Sound Transit estimates that during peak 100 riders will switch from driving a car across the bridge to using the train for a total of 400 riders daily by 2042. The EPA estimates that each traditional car emits 4.6 tons of carbon per year. If these 400 car owners would sell their car and always use transit, then it may save up to 1840 tons of carbon a year. If we take the construction-related carbon into consideration it may take 334 years before this project would generate a net positive outcome, even longer if some of these vehicle owners had already switched to an EV. In any case this will be beyond the life expectancy of this infrastructure.

Should we just all buy electric vehicles (EV) and forget about transit? There are a few small EVs starting at $25,000, but regular ones sell for well more than $40,000, used EVs are not much cheaper, and their batteries are not as good. For many people this isn’t even an option.

Even if you are able to afford and operate an EV, any car, electric or not, needs road construction and maintenance and requires lots of road and parking space. EV’s batteries require mining for rare metals around the world and even if we can switch to green energy production the heavier EVs still generate toxic emissions from lubricants, tires and brakes, some of these even more than traditional cars due to their extra weight.

What about other transit modes? If we can use our existing road network to run buses then we may not need to build new infrastructure, painting existing lines red for bus lanes is relatively easy. For most of our RapidRide lines we still rebuilt the roads. If we can make those lines faster it may convince more people to leave their cars at home, then that may still be a net benefit. Trolley or battery buses can use green energy though they still have similar issues as EVs have, but much less per rider. Even current diesel buses emit far lower emissions than individual vehicles per rider. Increasing bus frequency and coverage is far more important than replacing diesel buses before the end of their life with electric ones.

Rail projects are not generally bad for our environment. West Seattle has many hills, other transit modes such as buses or a gondola line would handle that much better, but a rail line will need to get over or around the hills as rail can’t handle gradients well. Flat at-grade rail lines have the least carbon impact. Elevated lines are slightly higher. Tunneled lines and stations have the highest carbon impact. Automated rail tends to use shorter trains which reduce station size and carbon impact. WSLE’s carbon impact increased considerably when the preferred alternative was changed from elevated to underground. Not only will this increase the carbon footprint for this project, but also increase the carbon impact of any future extension as the line will have to continue in a tunnel until it can surface again. While tunneling may be required to gain the support of downtown businesses to serve high ridership stations in downtown Seattle, Sound Transit only expects 400 additional daily riders for the WSLE – not enough to warrant the environmental impact.

To meet Seattle’s climate goals, the city needs to work with our transit agencies to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by increasing transit ridership. Enticing car owners to switch modes may require new infrastructure, but the carbon impact of any construction needs to be balanced with the VMT reduction. In some cases rail may be justified, but in other cases increasing bus services or other transit modes with a lower carbon footprint such as gondola technology may provide a greater net carbon reduction.

128 Replies to “Environmental Impact of Transit Projects such as the West Seattle Link Extension”

  1. “To meet Seattle’s climate goals, the city needs to work with our transit agencies to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) by increasing transit ridership.”

    If the city really wants to achieve this, it would pursue an all-of-the-above strategy to do so, and it would favor extensive incremental improvements over pie-in-the-sky projects if they can get the job done. A lot could be accomplished in West Seattle with aggressive incremental improvements in transit-priority lanes and more frequent buses in all the major corridors. Compared to West Seattle Link either underground or elevated, incremental bus improvements would get more drivers to switch to transit for more trips, it would cost less, and it would avoid these concrete carbon emissions.

    But West Seattle Link isn’t being built because it has the lowest carbon footprint or the lowest cost, or somebody thought it did. It’s being built because Dow Constantine wanted West Seattle light rail and put his thumb on the scale. And the West Seattle faction that wants light rail over anything else reinforces it. (If there really is such a faction, or still is. Is there?) So getting the policy changed requires convincing them that this light rail goal is obsolete or was never realistic. And that’s where we keep hitting a brick wall.

    1. The arguments about construction related carbon emissions get stronger when you talk about intercity high speed rail rather urban rail. Longer distances mean lots more use of concrete and diesel-burning machinery, a much longer construction period. High speed means entirely new travel corridors that will require a lot of grading (e.g. diesel emissions) and deforestation. When built, it will get less ridership than urban rail because people don’t travel between cities nearly as often as they travel within them.

      The point of building high speed rail is economic development – to boost tourism related businesses by making it easier for people to travel from one city to another, while also making it easier for people who only need to come to office one every week or two to live further away than ever before. It is not about reducing carbon emissions, and I don’t see how CAHSR will ever pay back the carbon emissions from its construction.

      1. I don’t see how CAHSR will ever pay back the carbon emissions from its construction.

        I can, simply because it is replacing a huge number of flights (and driving trips). I’m not saying it will, but I think it is possible. The Bay Area and L. A. are huge (from a population standpoint). In contrast, a high-speed rail line from Portland to Vancouver B. C. would have a much tougher time, just because the cities are much, much smaller.

        And yes, it does boost tourism. It also boosts “centralization”. By that I mean, it makes living close to the center of town (where there is a train station) a lot more attractive. But once again, we get into the complicated nature of the beast: will either city become a lot more dense (as it adds another reason to attract people to the center of the city)? Or will they continue to nibble around the edges, quietly making city living extremely expensive, while simultaneously subsidizing suburban living? If CAHSR is that one piece in the puzzle that finally changes the way California views development, then the (environmental) cost of the concrete will be a tiny price to pay. If not, then yeah, it could easily be worse for the environment.

      2. “The point of building high speed rail is economic development – to boost tourism related businesses by making it easier for people to travel from one city to another, while also making it easier for people who only need to come to office one every week or two to live further away than ever before.”

        The point is to facilitate people traveling for any reason. That includes visiting grandma, taking care of grandma, moving, going to college, going to a job, going to a flight, seeing a show, seeing a band, taking a vacation, seeing a medical specialist, and everything else. When a state has 40 million people, even a small fraction of them traveling adds up to a lot of people. If the UK has high-speed rail and the Northeast Corridor has Acela and plans to upgrade it, then California can justify it too.

      3. “ I don’t see how CAHSR will ever pay back the carbon emissions from its construction.”

        The distance between LA and the Bay Area is one which more competes with air travel. Regular flyers in these areas are familiar with the overcrowded conditions that exist at their major airports. This can include flight delays of several hours just from a typical rain event. The airports have been in a airside crowding crisis for decades.

        CAHSR seems intended to reduce air travel more than car travel. That alone saves GHG.planes require lots of fuel.

        Plus to ease the airport crowding problem would require building new airports at least 50 miles from the urban centers. Those new airports would need lots of concrete to build. They would need a rail connection and a road connection. Everybody would be using lots more energy to build and use the two new airport solution.

        Then the middle areas like Fresno and Bakersfield metros (lots more people than Spokane or Boise metros) also get served. Note too that Modesto and Visalia metros are almost as populous as Spokane.

        I guess one could argue that we should just encourage people to not travel period. That is the most effective way to reduce GHG. However if people do choose to travel CAHSR will seemingly reduce the carbon footprint of that trip.

      4. When we flew into Tokyo, our next leg was to Kyoto. Our choice was almost a coin flip whether to fly or ride the shinkansen. Driving would have taken 3 or 4 times longer. We chose the train both for the experience and the rail subsidy for tourists. A 2 week pass was maybe twice the cost of just one one-way trip on the Shinkansen.

        The calculus was very different for locals. Our friends who live in Tokyo really wanted to meet us in Kyoto. They did, but it was a significant expense, and it was the first time they had ever rode a shinkansen. They could barely afford it on a full professor’s salary.

        It was mainly tourists and a smattering of businessmen.

      5. I think CAHSR will definitely induce a lot of new trips between San Francisco and Los Angeles, but I don’t think it’s accurate to say that its presence would really reduce the number of flights (a necessary condition for it to actually reduce greenhouse gases).

        There’s a lot of reasons for people to prefer the plane over the train to justify continuation of flights. For example, access to airports like Oakland or Long Beach, which might be closer to some people’s origin and destination points than the high speed rail goes. Or, people who are simply changing planes at the airport and not actually going into the city at all.

        And, even if the HSR were to result in fewer SF->LA flights, those takeoff and landing slots would not simply disappear, but get replaced with new flights to other destinations further away. Which may be good for travelers who want more daily nonstops between Los Angeles and Tokyo, but for the planet, a 1:1 replacement of short-haul flights with long-haul flights actually means more greenhouse gasses, not less.

        One may counter this argument by saying that airport capacity is not fixed, and that HSR avoids the need to build whole new airports. But, I would argue that building any new major airport these days would be no expensive and NIMBY-fraught that it is effectively impossible, and that airport capacity effectively is fixed. I get that the Port of Seattle is talking about building a new airport in the hinterlands to address future overcrowding of SeaTac, but I’m very skeptical that, when push comes to shove, they will actually be able to build it, as nobody wants a new giant airport coming up in their backyard, inundating them with noise and destroying the surrounding natural environment.

      6. Another big wild card in the world of flights is potential for electrification of aircraft, something which is far closer to feasibility for short flights than long flights. Battery technology is not yet at the point where SF->LA commercial flights can be reasonably electrified, but it is rapidly improving and in the 30+ year’s time it would take for CAHSR to actually finish, I would not at all be surprised if it gets there.

      7. I don’t think it’s accurate to say that its presence would really reduce the number of flights

        Seriously? You don’t think anyone would switch to using the train? Sorry, but that is absurd. Of course they will. That doesn’t mean there won’t be people that fly, just a lot fewer. It is the same in Europe. People still fly between cities (just not as much as they would otherwise).

        Again, you wrote that you “can’t imagine” that CAHSR will ever pay back the carbon emissions from its construction, even though it is fairly easy to. I’m not saying it will. I’m not saying it won’t. I’m saying it is pretty easy to imagine it reducing emissions considerably. Here is a possible scenario:

        The project gets built, and soon the vast majority of people stop taking flights (or driving) between the two cities. At the same time, it feeds into the general “back to the city” movement, as central cities become more attractive. California (and the federal government) continue to tax carbon, making flying more and more expensive. The flights that no longer happen are not replaced by new flights, but by a general reduction in flights in California. All of this leads to more transit use, and less driving. Is that really that hard to imagine?

        It is also easy to imagine the opposite. The point is, there are a lot of considerations. The subject is complicated. You can see that by just perusing the literature on other projects:,,,, etc.

        We really don’t know whether this particular high speed rail line will be carbon negative or positive. What is clear though, is that it has great potential, simply because so many people fly or drive between the two cities.

      8. The oldest railroad bridge in operation in the Americas is on the Santa Tereza streetcar in Rio de Janeiro. It uses the Carioca Aqueduct as a bridge, and the structure was built around 1750.

        So, when you count emissions and cost for infrastructure investment, keep in mind that some of those structures (and their sunk emissions and costs) may very well be around for a century or two.

        So I don’t see how it is possible to dismiss the investment as never paying back it’s carbon use.

      9. “The flights that no longer happen are not replaced by new flights, but by a general reduction in flights in California.”

        This, I don’t think is plausible, as there is a huge pent-up demand for more flights that cannot be met today due to limited airport capacity. Whatever capacity is freed up by airlines deciding that they don’t need to fly SFO->LAX as often because people are taking the train, will be quickly gobbled up by new flights to other destinations. It’s possible that an economic collapse reduces the demand for flights in general, but that would happen with or without LA->SF HSR, and if there were such an economic collapse, ridership on the train would also take a hit. The idea of CA passing a carbon tax that would make flying too expensive is not realistic. It would have to amount to hundreds of dollars per flight to meaningfully reduce demand, and the public would revolt at levels much lower than that. And, no, the presence of HSR would not magically make such a tax politically viable, as people use airplanes to travel to numerous places in other states and even continents, which, due to huge distances and/or oceans, HSR will never be able to replace.

        Nor, do I buy the argument that the presence of HSR will magically make the city more urban and make people rely on their cars less often. Local and regional transit systems like MUNI and BART do that, but CAHSR doesn’t, since it targets trips people make very sporadically, vs. every day. People in Los Angeles don’t buy cars to drive to San Francisco twice a year because there’s no high speed rail. They buy them to travel in and around Los Angeles because the local transit sucks, and if take an occasional road trip with it, that’s just a bonus.

        I say all this not from the perspective of a rail-hater. In fact, if I ever had the need to make an open-jaw Seattle->SF->LA->Seattle trip and CAHSR existed, I would definitely seriously consider riding it. Nor am I even trying to imply that HSR is necessarily bad, or wasteful, as the economic benefits it provides to the cities it connects are real, and people can look at numbers I don’t have in front of me to decide whether the economic benefits are sufficient to justify the huge price tag of building it. I’m simply saying that the arguments that HSR will reduce carbon emissions within a reasonable timeframe is simply not reasonable, and that the line has to be justified based on non-climate-change reasons, economic development being the strongest one.

      10. “structures … may very well be around for a century or two”
        Glenn, one example doesn’t make for a good statistic. What happened to the Seattle’s street cars last century? How long did they last?

      11. CAHSR is not necessarily about replacing flights; it’s about giving people another traveling option between two tricky-distance cities — the “too far to drive, to close to fly” pitch HSR advocates use.

        Some people will still fly between the Bay Area and SoCal instead of the train because they need to arrive quickly (a family emergency, a big business event, etc.). The train however will attract people who don’t want to deal with that long car trip or bus ride, who want to relax in transit, who don’t want to mess with airports (I understand LAX is an absolute pain).

        CAHSR will also offer more transportation options for Central Valley residents to reach SF and LA, and likely opening up the Valley economies. I understand that those cities feel like they don’t get enough political or economical love from state government, so running CASHR through the Valley instead of the Coast is a step in the right direction.

      12. “ I don’t see how CAHSR will ever pay back the carbon emissions from its construction.”

        “In keeping with its focus on advancing clean construction, the Authority requires contractors use only zero-emission vehicles for their project fleets in all future construction contracts”

        “The Authority has also taken several steps to help offset the emissions from the rail’s construction:

        Planted more than 7,100 urban trees since 2018. Urban and rural tree plantings combined are expected to sequester 143,000 MTCO2e over the trees’ life cycles

        Sequestered or avoided an estimated 151,000 MTCO2e through conservation of more than 2,300 acres of natural habitat and 3,000 acres of agricultural land since January 2016

        Recycled more than 95 percent (196,906 tons) of all waste to date and sent less than 5 percent (9,651 tons) to landfills, avoiding more than 146,000 MTCO2e over the entire construction time frame. ”

        “Estimated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions from the California High-Speed Rail project is 102 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (MTCO2e) over its first 50 years of operating life, as detailed in the 2021 California High-Speed Rail Sustainability Report.”

  2. I don’t think for criticism of west Seattle link we need to reach for environmental concerns.

    Just literally list out the worse or at best just same as before travel times for many trip start and destination pairs

  3. I’m pretty sure that the 509 freeway extension has higher construction emissions than West Seattle light rail ever could

    1. And, since the EIS was completed in 2003 and doesn’t include a study of greenhouse gas emissions, we don’t have numbers to compare!

      1. I found the EIS update, completed in 2018, which includes GHGs.

        Table 6 indicates an the following estimates for operational annual million metric tons (MMT) of CO2e in the study area:

        2015 (baseline): 1.92
        2025 No Build: 2.00
        2025 Build: 1.98
        2045 No Build: 2.14
        2045 Build: 2.11

        This includes an estimated 30% growth in VMT within the study area between 2015 and 2045, with “no appreciable difference in emissions between the No Build and Build conditions for both forecast years”.

        At the end of Section 6 under Air Quality, this nugget is buried: “It is predicted the construction of the Phase 1 Improvements will emit a total of 637 MT of CO2e per year over a ten-year construction period. ”

        That’s 637,000,000 metric tons. If construction of SR-509 reduces operational CO2e by ~0.03 MMT per year, that’s over 21,000 years to reach offset.

    2. It isn’t hard to find freeway projects that are clearly worse for the environment. But it should be difficult to find a transit project that is anywhere close to break-even. Yet, there it is.

  4. If these 400 car owners would sell their car and always use transit, then it may save up to 1840 tons of carbon a year. If we take the construction-related carbon into consideration it may take 334 years before this project would generate a net positive outcome, even longer if some of these vehicle owners had already switched to an EV. In any case this will be beyond the life expectancy of this infrastructure.

    If we’re going to rely on ST’s mode share analysis, we should also rely on ST’s greenhouse gas analysis.

    2022 WSBLE DEIS, Chapter 4.2.6, Table 4.2.6-2: “Greenhouse Gas Operational Emissions from Regional Vehicle Miles Traveled” indicates an estimated greenhouse gas savings of 10,941 metric tons per year in 2042.

    (Note: this includes reduced greenhouse gas emissions from increasingly efficient SOVs)

    Table 4.2.6-3. Greenhouse Gas Emissions during Construction indicates an estimate of construction emissions between 158,067 metric tons (“low cost” alternative) and 641,461 metric tons (“high cost” alternative).

    Therefore, offset of embodied carbon due to operational greenhouse gas savings would occur between 15 and 58 years following operation. Afterwards, we’d have net greenhouse gas savings.

    I have more thoughts on this line of criticism in general, but will save those for another comment.

    1. Nathan, unfortunately the DEIS sometimes talks about WSB overall and only sometimes breaks out WS separately. Table 4.2.6-2 is for WS and Ballard overall while Table 4.2.6-3 is only for West Seattle. I applied the larger number for WS as Sound Transit explains the higher number applies if a tunnel solution is implemented which the current plan is.
      To compare the overall numbers, you would need to apply the 3m tons the WSB project is estimated to generate during construction overall. That’s still 300 years. A Ballard to Westlake spur would probably get a much better net benefit.

      1. Thank you for the correction. The use of the same tables in both chapters is very misleading.

        For the record, the estimated GHG emissions from WSLE range are stated above. GHG emissions from BLE range from 1,654.311 to 2,426,895 metric tons. Therefore, the total range for WSBLE is 1,812,378 to 3,068,356 metric tons. At -10,941 tons per year, that’s 165 to 280 years for direct offset.

        As I comment below, reducing the grandiosity of the construction (i.e. building at grade) significantly reduces the carbon emissions and significantly reduces cost.

      2. Nathan, I’m all about having the terminal stations at both ends “at-grade”, but I don’t see how you build the portion between the plateau and SoDo “at- grade”. You gotta go down a steep hill, up to a high bridge over the Duwamish and then back down on the other site.

        The street cars did the steep hill on Avalon; that’s why it has the broad curves it does. The street was originally built for the streetcars. But LR can’t “share” with cars like the streetcars did; nobody is going to let Avalon be an LR guideway with a driving lane on either side and no parking. Not going to happen.

        Now maybe the guide way could be squeezed in one track on either side of the West Seattle Freeway, but you’d be back to major structural engineering.

        If Link is to go to the Alaska Junction, it will go on stilts or by burrowing. And that makes the project unaffordable and an environmental disaster.

        Run more buses.

      3. Nathan, the current preferred alignment (with tunnels at Junction and under the ship canal) will generate 3,068,356 metric tons. Yes, other alignments (or dropping the 2nd downtown tunnel) would reduce the impact, but for various reasons thus far those have not been prioritized.
        I did not post this article to disqualify the WSLE project just on environmental reasons, there are far more compelling reasons not do proceed. My point is that carbon footprint should be considered in any project. I’m not advocating to stop all transit projects for embedded carbon reasons, but I do advocate to consider the carbon impact in deciding elevated vs underground rail or consider other modes such as buses or gondolas when the increase in ridership won’t justify the construction impact.
        For example if Sound Transit would take carbon impact into consideration, they may consider elevated rail along 35th Ave rather than tunneling along California Ave. That would reduce the carbon impact for this project as well as future expansion (though it still doesn’t address other project concerns).

  5. On the “Rethink the Link” open thread, I made the comment that if this stance against environmental impacts with dismissal of potential societal benefit were applied to were applied any other construction project, it would result in a “Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone” (BANANA) mentality.

    Again, there is valid criticism of the West Seattle Link Extension, but arguing that the supposed environmental impacts (especially focusing on GHGs) are a significant reason to abandon the project seems… desperate.

    As the WSBLE DEIS notes, the construction cost of the project is directly correlated with GHG emissions – spend less on concrete, and less CO2 is emitted. WSLE is salvageable if we can cut costs by bringing the alignment to ground surface within ROW. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that the same neighborhood which demanded tunnels and high aerial alignments now saying the GHG cost is too high.

    DEIS Appendix L4.6D1 features tables summarizing the assumed emission factors for the project.

    Construction of underground tracks is assumed to emit over 300 times that for at-grade tracks; elevated tracks are assumed to emit over 10 times that for at-grade tracks.

    Construction of an underground station is assumed to emit about 14 times that for an at-grade station; an elevated station is assumed to emit about 3 times that for an at-grade station.

    1. It all goes back to the same issue though. Consider Northgate Link. I’m sure the environmental cost was substantial. But the environmental gain was huge. It got a lot of people out of their cars because for a lot of people, transit is substantially faster. In this case, the transit gain is minimal, which is why the environmental gain is as well. You aren’t going to get that many new riders, simply because it only saves a handful of riders a significant amount of time.

      To be clear, it gets complicated. There are many factors involved, and determining whether it actually helps or hurts us from a climate change perspective would likely require a very in depth study, along with several variables that require a lot of estimates. But the fact that it is even close just shows what a weak project this is.

  6. The observation about the “marginalized community” would be appropriate if the cement plant were instead producing asphalt. That’s a “point-source” pollutant. Greenhouse gases don’t make anybody sick or cause respiratory difficulties. They just heat the planet generally, whereever they’re emitted.

    I grant that the cement trucks delivering the concrete to the construction sites will be diesel polluters in Georgetown.

    1. The coal kilns emit more than just CO2, but it seems that the EPA is already on top of forcing Ash Grove to reduce emissions at all their locations.

    2. I attempted to find at least some of the articles about the cement plant in eastern Oregon, but so far haven’t.

      In order to produce lime (a primary component of cement) you have to heat certain types of stone. The chemical process releases one molecule of CO2 for every molecule of lime. There really are no good ways to make that less carbon intensive. The process also releases a bunch of chemicals from the rocks.

      The cement plant in eastern Oregon is (was?) regarded by some as the largest source of mercury pollution in the USA, which is really saying something about how well the coal power plants have cleaned up.

      This plant was also really close to being the highest single point of CO2 emissions in Oregon, second only to the coal power plant in Boardman.

      In any event, there’s a lot more to the emissions from these processes than just CO2.

      With a plethora of 100+ year old wooden trestles still around in the region, maybe we should just go back to building those? At least they’re made from a carbon sink, and don’t transmit vibrations anywhere near as bad as concrete.

  7. Can we all just agree that, because of the topography, West Seattle Link is a hideously bad use of public funds? It’s stupid, stupid, stupid, and everyone knows it.

    It is slopping the hogs, and the hogs are political pork for the construction companies. Period.

    1. Why would Dow and the other politicians want to benefit construction companies above everything else?

      1. It’s a major driver of economic activity. Major. A large multi-decade construction project like Link is essentially “recession proof” and helps out with demographics which are in limited demand in the private sector.

        Of course, such mega-projects are a minor part of overall gross expenditure by all construction, but most of that other expenditure is quite pro-cyclical. When things are good, construction booms; when it’s not so good, it craters. But those mega-projects crawl on and on and on and on, providing frequent ribbon-cutting opportunities.

        Big construction companies are also huge campaign contributors, because they know that a significant part of their most profitable business comes from the government. They want to be “at the table”.

      2. Tom Terrific,

        Looking at unaffordable housing prices in greater Seattle, Sound Transit played a part in that. The cost of construction labor has been driven up by endless transit projects.

        So does Seattle want more housing or or transit projects? And no, you can’t have both. There’s only so many concrete workers and so big of tax base.

      3. Tacomee, just because I did not bow down to your class warfare bloviation about the Lincoln District does not give you carte blanche to claim I’m a “Link everywhere” idiot. I’m not. If you could get past your class resentment of my AP English writing style and actually read what I write you’d understand that I wanted Link stopped at Midway, with bus-only ramps to a new bridge at 240th. That sort of implies that I’m not “for” TDLE.

        You’d also see that I want nothing Linkish for West Seattle and to ditch the second tunnel south of Westlake for certain.

        You’d also learn that I’ve even suggested studying a project that would replace the Westlake to Elliott portion of “DSTT2” with a short tunnel from Republican and Elliott to Third and Vine and surface running south of there. Regular service would end between Stewart and Pine, with a single track “non-revenue” connection to the south on Second Avenue in the westside curb lane. No parking or other rubber tired vehicle access would be allowed between 10 PM and 5 AM, and retractable protection bollards would rise up during those hours to keep cars off the tracks.

        The NR connection would make use of the oblique intersections at Second and Third with Stewart to make the wiggle connection quieter.

        I don’t even think “going to Mariner” is a good idea. There’s no “there” there, just like there’s no “there” up in Lincoln. There may indeed be several thousand estimable people living in the neighborhood, but there are not enough of them to attract a streetcar.

        Extending Link north of Lynnwood via any route that cannot be built on the surface with excellent walk-up access to a super-upzoned strip of walkable density is folly of extreme magnitude.

        So quit lumping me with the ST fanbois and Seattle Subway.

      4. Tom Terrific,

        Sorry Tom, but this whole blog is classist at its very core. It’s boys and their toy trains for the most part. This place is little or no connection to the real world.

        I’ve been against Sound Transit from the very beginning, because after building light rail in Seattle’s central core (a good idea) the back half of the projects are in total rubbish. But if you’ve ever supported Sound Transit… (and almost everybody here has 100% until maybe the last year or two)…. the British have an old saying “In for a penny, in for a pound.”

        If you voted yes on ST3, you deserve all the crap that comes with it. What in the Hell did you think would happen? You can’t really believe Sound Transit can build a light rail line over a floating bridge, right? This is the same outfit that couldn’t build a simple 4 mile street car in Tacoma without going millions over budget and a year over deadline.

        So go right ahead and post about projects that make absolutely no sense…. environmentally, economically or politically.

      5. Sorry Tom, but this whole blog is classist at its very core.


        It’s boys and their toy trains for the most part.


        This place is little or no connection to the real world.

        Total bullshit.

        But if you’ve ever supported Sound Transit… (and almost everybody here has 100% until maybe the last year or two)

        Again, bullshit. You are making false claims about what other people have written. Worse yet, those claims are irrelevant. It doesn’t matter what someone wrote in the past — if they were right or wrong. That has no bearing on the argument that someone is laying out right now.

        The comment policy is pretty straightforward. Stick to the merits of the argument. Don’t make personal attacks. It isn’t even clear what your argument (or rebuttal) is at this point.

      6. “Looking at unaffordable housing prices in greater Seattle, Sound Transit played a part in that. The cost of construction labor has been driven up by endless transit projects.”

        Oh, puhlease. ST construction is a tiny fraction of the total construction.

      7. “Looking at unaffordable housing prices in greater Seattle, Sound Transit played a part in that. The cost of construction labor has been driven up by endless transit projects.”

        You may be able to use the same labor pool, but general construction contractors are not allowed to work on or within 50 feet of railroad or similar projects. Any standard workman’s compensation insurance policy has a a special line item that excludes all incidents that happen working on or within 50 feet of railroad lines or property, so the labor pool of construction workers as well as contractors is fairly limited.

        As best as I can tell, it’s one of the reasons why these projects cost more in the USA than other countries: with medical insurance in many other countries being handled through a national system, areas of special medical coverage such as certain workman’s compensation policies being void in some situations, isn’t as big a problem.

        It’s also one of the reasons why SoundTransit and every other agency struggles with their contractor diversity goals: it looks great on paper, but they’ve made no adjustments or accommodation in the insurance and bonding requirements, small businesses are typically excluded from working on these projects just due to these costs.

      8. Mike Orr,

        Let’s look at some basic concepts here. On/Off. Yes/No. Pass/Fail. Pretty simple stuff right? Kindergarten logic.

        ST3 was Pass/Fail. Only the Sound Transit board can change the ST3 plans the voters approved. There is no way to roll back any of the light rail. The board will modify projects to suit their own political needs, but the basic rail lines are politically impossible to change, starting with West Seattle.. So if you were a Sound Transit cheerleader in the beginning…. you’ll never lose the pom poms. Live with it.


        Nothing personal, but Portland is fucking mess right now. Makes me sad because I have always loved Portland. Look at every major West Coast town (and I love them all) and there’s a major battle on the horizon. It’s homelessness vs. everything else. Portland only has so much money. Same with Seattle. The idea that transit doesn’t get squeezed financially by the housing crisis is wishful thinking. Something has to give. In Greater Seattle, there’s no way to shift money building light rail projects to fund buses… even if that’s what the current budget points to. We’re 100% trapped by ST3.

        Whatever is happening in Europe…. Who cares? Believe it or not, Sweden and France might have political problems bigger than anything in the USA. Sweden is about to use the military to crack down on immigrant gangs. Can you imagine US troops mopping up the druggies in downtown Portland? More progressive my ass.

        I’ve been to France and Germany and seen huge rundown public housing projects, with bad public transit, chock full of Brown people. But that’s not on the tourist circuit. Nothing to see here. Western Europe made two huge mistakes over the last 50 years. First they didn’t invest in a military to counter Mother Russia to the East. Putin isn’t a joke. Second, they’ve never owned up to the legacy of colonialism and racism that made them so wealthy in the first place.

      9. Thank you, Glenn, for that “inside baseball” observation about the rail construction labor pool. I’ve been a student of railroad history and consolidation since I was young and was completely ignorant of that constraint on the labor pool for railroads (and presumably rail transit systems). It makes huge sense why the rail construction industry consists almost entirely of a half dozen national firms.

        And very good, Mike! Irony is a nice surprise from you, and very well placed in this discussion, for sure.

        Thanks, too, Ross, for your spirited defense of our techie ways around here. Most of us may indeed be well-educated middle-class guys, but we are not ignorant of less fortunate people or unfeeling about their struggles.

        Hint, tacomee: “We ride the bus, too. We know about other bus riders and, to the degree that we are empathic, about their needs.”

        And finally, I did not vote for ST3, mostly because I don’t live within the ST service area. But I have thought that Everett, Issaquah and West Seattle for certain were dumb from the get-go. I had hopes for Ballard and used to support the second tunnel when it had the Midtown station, because of the steep east-west hill between Spring and Columbia which separates the center of the office tower cluster from the existing tunnel. Now that Midtown is gone, the second tunnel is completely useless.

        I will admit that I once thought that if Tacoma wanted to be connected to the Airport and Seattle it made some sense, even with the miles of industrial unusability in between Federal Way and Tacoma proper. There’s at least the possibility of intermediate stations and growth between FW and Fife. But ST has embargoed a station at Milton and wants to build right along the freeway north of there “to save costs”, so, again, they’re messing up something that in theory might have been useful.

      10. TT;

        I’m employed by a small electrical equipment manufacturer. Our equipment gets used inside railroad rolling stock. We never do anything with moving equipment itself except occasionally ride it to check performance.

        Even we have to go through a special program created by the American Shortline Railroad Association to get workman’s comp insurance.

        But, this all wanders quite a bit off topic and so I’ll wait for questions in the next open thread.

      11. tacomee, you’re veering toward off-topic moderation. ST’s construction labor footprint is not related to homelessness, druggies, Europe, or how classist the blog is.

      1. How did Fremont vote on the monorail? How did Fremont vote on ST3?

        What difference does any of that make?

      2. TT asked if we can all agree. I’m pointing out that West Seattle as a whole has repeatedly and strongly supported off-grade high-capacity transit to the Junction.

      3. Brent White,

        Pierce County voted no on ST3, but that makes the Pierce County ST board members even more fierce about Pierce County getting its “fair share”. The only way Pierce County would opt out of the Sound Transit light rail projects is if Sound Transit would hand over billions in cash. You see that happening?

        There’s no political way out of the ST3 promise list. After Seattle got its subway, no other region is going to get short changed on “their” projects. And the worst thing is…. nobody even cares if there are enough riders to even make the projects worthwhile. Seattle got light rail…. now pay up!

      4. Tacomee, you sound like a senior citizen insisting they get the entitlements they “paid for,” ignoring the fact that the programs are running deficits and paying out much more than the median retirees paid in.

        Pierce continues to receive benefits commiserate with what it has paid for. TDLE will be funded mostly by debt, which future Pierce tax payers will pay down over the next 2-ish decades. If TDLE was cancelled, Pierce would either redeploy those funds in the sub-area or roll back ST taxes early. Early elimination of ST taxes would qualify as “billions.”

        The political way out of the ST project list is very straightforward: projects are delayed or deferred by the Board and then removed from the active project list in a future regional vote. Link to Tacoma still has support of the Board, but the South Sounder Capacity Expansion project is on hold and may receive that exact treatment if it is descoped from an ST4 levy.

      5. All subareas’ taxes would be rolled back at the same time. So if TLDE is canceled, that lowers Pierce’s cost. There would have to be comparable reductions in the other subareas to reach a point that all subareas could roll back. If Pierce is done but the other subareas aren’t, then Pierce’s money would accumulate in a savings account until Pierce finds something to spend it on, the way it did in ST1 and 2 until TLDE could start.

        Pierce is paying a share of DSTT2 because of TLDE trains. So if TLDE is canceled, that would affect the contributions to DSTT2. Unless ST wants to charge Pierce anyway for transferees at Federal Way, but that hasn’t happened before.

      6. AJ,

        I don’t know a huge amount about transit, but I understand local politics all too well. The trouble isn’t subareas opting out of Sound Transit…. because that’s hard and local pols rarely try anything hard. The trouble is local pols looking at that huge pile of ST cash and coming up with a plan to spend it on a pet project that isn’t really transit.

        Here’s how that works. There’s not going to be subway stop in the CID…. because although that makes sense transit wise, it’s also politically hard. So why no move the stop over the cluster of City and County offices on 3rd? Why there’s no reason Sound Transit can’t pay the City and County top dollar for those buildings, even though they’re complete trash at this point. Then Sound Transit can pay for them to torn down… build a subway stop underneith and secure parking on top. Then Sound Transit can give the leftover land back to the City for a private/public partnership to build housing…. you know, a few low income units and bunch of expensive condos? And let’s not forget the new shopping mall! Let’s make transit riders walk though the mall to catch their transit connections! It’s a win win! Downtown revitalized!

        I think Harrell is a huckster planning to rip off Sound Transit. He’s a skilled pol and the ST board will all get backroom deals for the same sort of shit. Auburn and Kent got a free parking garages downtown, and the day they’re finished might be the last day the Sounder even runs…. that’s local pols looking out for each other.

        But it’s all connected to building light rail to West Seattle. No environmental impact report is stopping this money train.

  8. I think it needs to be pointed out that most West Seattle Link riders will get there by bus and the construction of the last several hundred feet into a subway station just a few blocks past the second station doesn’t add that much. The last station could be at Oregon and Fauntleroy (with a new transit center for buses) and save lots of money and GHG as well as several hundred million dollars.

    Of course this whole topic is moot whose project development is based on backroom meetings. We still don’t know how the CID N/S option will affect ridership or GHG. The Board didn’t bother to ask before deciding.

    1. Why have a “transit center for buses” at the Link terminal? Run the buses by with a stop of course and thereby create some transfer-free local trips. And, free land for major development directly adjacent to the station, for people who can walk to the train.

      Parking buses next to the terminal station of a rail line seems to me to be pretty dumb. Yeah, you have to have lay-over opportunities somewhere in the vicinity, but not right there.

      1. The point is not that everyone in West Seattle would or even should be able to walk to the train, but that it makes no sense to put a bus parking lot adjacent to the single station on the plateau, reducing the potential number of people who will live in homes where they could have walked to the train.

        Al was suggesting that the Junction station be dropped as a way of reducing costs and putting a T/C — which is mostly a bus parking lot — directly adjacent to that single remaining station. The station would already have an attenuated eastern walkshed because of the hill.

        I doubt that ST would choose to put the T/C on stilts above that hill. Instead, it would “save money” by taking a chunk of the remaining 240 degrees of walkshed arc.

    2. Most of West Seattle’s island of density is in walking distance of the proposed station.

      There is more around Westwood and along Delridge, served by the H Line, and they will probably stay on board rather than transfer to a station likely to be inconvenient to the H Line.

      1. Most of West Seattle’s island of density is in walking distance of the proposed station.


        As of the last census, there are only a handful of census blocks that are over 10,000 people per square mile (or ppsm), and none over 20,000. Of these, the second densest one is High Point (with about 15,000 ppsm). First and Third are somewhat close to the main station at the Junction (at 16,000 and 14,000). White Center is the only other area with density over 10,000 (at 13,000). So basically only two of four “high density” census blocks are close to a station, and there is little difference between them. But these areas are not particularly high density, even for Seattle. What is striking about West Seattle in general is how little density it has, compared to the rest of the city. The area east of downtown (what I’ve been calling the “Greater Central Area”) has way more density. I count 24 census blocks with density over 10,000 ppsm, while all of what can liberally be considered West Seattle (all the way down to Burien) has only 4. If you start looking at areas with density over 25,000, it becomes even more dramatic, as again, West Seattle has nothing that dense.

        Of course census blocks can be a bit deceiving. The lines are somewhat arbitrary. You might include a cemetery with an apartment. But if you look at where the apartments are, it is clear that they aren’t all clustered around the stations. Far from it. Development in West Seattle is largely along corridors. It hugs the coast, along with major streets like California, Fauntleroy and 35th. There are a handful of places where density is more two dimensional: Alki, High Point, Admiral Junction, Alaska Junction, as well as others. This is the nature of West Seattle. It is fairly spread out. The density that does exist is not particularly dense (compared to other parts of the city). It is spread out over major corridors.

        This makes it particularly well suited for buses, not rail. West Seattle Link was not conceived with (current or future) density in mind.

        Census Data:
        Apartment development:

    3. Also, vast swaths of West Seattle are far from any bus stop. Expect DART routes or Metro Connect to enter the discussion. They might fight harder to connect to a train that goes downtown and beyond than to a mere crowded bus that can’t compete with just driving.

      1. So you are saying a train makes more sense because West Seattle lacks density? That is silly. I see several possibilities:

        1) You catch a shuttle to a neighborhood bus headed downtown.

        2) You catch a bus to a neighborhood bus which then lets you off by the train (in West Seattle).

        3) You catch a shuttle to an area where buses converge.

        4) You catch a bus to a train.

        Now compare the options. The first and second are the most cost effective. These sort of DART/Metro Connect lines are expensive (per rider). Metro Connect often struggles, with really long wait times. The more cost effective they are, the more likely they are to actually be effective (for riders). Of the two options, the first is better, as you avoid a transfer (and extra waiting).

        Now compare options three and four. These are very similar in terms of operations. The spot where the buses converge is very close to the station, and somewhat of a destination in itself. In this case, though, the bus option is clearly better. Buses will run more often, especially if they are “crowded” (as you suggest). Given that the time difference between riding a train and bus is minimal, the wait difference is what matters. It is far more likely that the buses run more often than the trains. Just look at Rainier Valley. The train runs every ten minutes (despite picking up plenty of riders along the way). The bus runs every 7.5. So again, the shuttle to buses is just better.

    4. “Most of West Seattle’s island of density is in walking distance of the proposed station. There is more around Westwood and along Delridge, served by the H Line”

      Admiral Way is more than a mile away; I think it took me 30-40 minutes to walk to the Admiral Theater, more than I expected. There’s also 35th around High Point, and Alki.

    5. The basic problem with West Seattle rail is that:

      1) It will cost a lot of money, mainly because you are building a brand new viaduct and bridge to West Seattle.

      2) It will save very few people much time.

      Removing stations doesn’t really solve the problem. Frankly, there is no easy way to fix it. It is just too damn expensive to get to West Seattle, and West Seattle already has a very fast way to get to downtown (and the rest of the city) via the various bridges and viaducts. Because of the very high cost, there are only three stations, all of which are very close to the freeway. It becomes the worst of both worlds. If you are far away from the station, you have to transfer, which means it is quite possible your trip is worse. If you are close to a station, you might come out ahead, but not that much ahead, since your bus trip was pretty darn fast to begin with. Since there are only three stations, not that many people actually walk to the station anyway.

      There are very few scenarios where West Seattle rail actually makes sense, given the very high cost to connect it with the rest of the city. For example:

      1) The area around the handful of stations has skyscrapers (like Downtown Bellevue). Massive office and residential towers within a short walk of the station. I just don’t see it.

      2) The line adds a bunch more stations. The train is faster for some trips than driving, even at noon (unlike what they have proposed). Now it starts looking like a Seattle Subway fantasy map. We just don’t have the money for this. Even if we did, why would this be more important than all of the other areas or corridors that don’t lack rail (First Hill, Metro 8, Ballard-to-UW, Queen Anne, etc.). It just doesn’t add up.

      West Seattle really is a textbook example of an area where BRT makes sense, and rail does not. There is no place with really high density. The areas with medium density are spread along corridors that would work well for buses. The same is true in terms of destinations (there are only medium-level destinations, and they are spread out). The geography makes rail very expensive (or very slow). In contrast, the existing infrastructure is very well suited for BRT (it is already very fast, and making it faster would be fairly cheap). BRT (in any form) is just a better value.

      1. Exactly. Everything Ross said and has been saying for several years.

        If West Seattle were a suburb of Dallas or Phoenix and could be reached by LR on the ground, it would make some “ridership” sense. But it’s not a suburb of Dallas or Phoenix, and it can’t be reached “at grade”. It doesn’t even have the “excuse” that the land between the current tracks and it would pass through is a residential area and could support a few stations along the way. There’s to be one such station, and it’s almost entirely a bus intercept with a steel mill cheek by jowl to it.

        This thing is among the worst examples of public policy wisdom being sacrificed to the whims of elected officials.

    6. The point of my comment is that even if ST goes ahead with West Seattle Link they could still significantly reduce the GHG impact simply by refusing to dig the final tunnel of only about 1000 feet along with digging a full subway station. It’s a huge added cost to the project.

      Add to that the avoidance of the “what’s next” topic if it extends beyond West Seattle Junction.

      I also will remind everyone again that just west of California St is the west edge of dense housing. Yeah walking from California and Alaska may increase from 800 to 1400 feet but the dense areas are almost entirely east of that — and moving the station is still just barely over a 1/4 mile walkshed. Plus the ridership of the Avalon Station has shrunk to only a predicted 1000-1500 boardings a day in 2040.

      The larger question is this: what’s the GHG impact of tunnels versus aerial? And again, quantitative logic is not a factor in how the current Board thinks. The “only build deep tunnels and stations” mentality is very disruptive to GHG and actually will suppress ridership because of the vertical distance to the platforms. Deep subway stations are generally much worse all the way around than aerial stations are.

      1. You make an excellent point on the hard boundary of density at 44th SW. Nothing exciting will happen west of there, because folks want to preserve the views of the Sound and Olympics, which are superb.

        But I don’t think you have any chance of getting an elevated station rather than an underground one. And of course if the Junction District Organization did relent and sign onto an elevated station, it would be another enormous SkyCastle looming over the otherwise charming district. The right solution is an at-grade station and surface running to the edge of the plateau at a minimum. What street(s) are used to host it is a fine discussion. I don’t know the neighborhood like I know Ballard, so I can’t make a useful suggestion. But bottom line is that a billion can be saved and riders will like it more by going on the surface up there.

        But even at-grade stations don’t solve the need for a roller-coaster east of the plateau which will cost far too much for the benefit accrued.

      2. Yeah it admittedly is a reverie even though it makes sense from a cost in GHG perspective. The closer to street level the better for ridership.

        As a piece of architecture, Mt Baker Link Station is not imposing and its design complements the neighborhood. Link stations do not have to be expensive aerial monoliths like TIBS or Northgate. This dislike of aerial stations is more driven by opinion and fear than logic.

        I’ve long felt that the end station should be diagonal on Fauntleroy between Alaska and Oregon. That area has many streets and some even have pretty wide right of way (enough to create perpendicular parking on 39th between Alaska and Oregon. It seemingly wouldn’t take much to shift Fauntleroy traffic to other streets — if not permanently then temporarily while a very shallow cut and cover or an aerial station could be built there.

        Given the probable need to remove hundreds of new apartments near Fauntleroy and Alaska, I could also see the removal of only about a dozen homes just north of Oregon Street and place an east-west station there between 39th and 41st.

        The bigger core issue is that the only alternatives that have been proposed have all been expensive ones. There simply has not been a willingness to even consider a station without an entrance south of Alaska — and that’s an arbitrary choice made by ST and influencers in West Seattle. The rest of us are expected to pay a billion dollars so a few people in West Seattle don’t have to see a Link station.

  9. There’s an updated West Seattle delivery station and routes on October 25 fyi.

    > Please join us on Wednesday, Oct. 25 to see updated designs for future light rail stations in West Seattle and SODO and share your ideas and feedback.

    > In the summer of 2022, the Sound Transit Board identified a preferred alternative for the West Seattle Link Extension (WSLE). The project team has worked to design the four proposed stations along the alignment, taking into account the community’s input since the start of the project in 2018. This fall, we will share our station design progress and gather community feedback on concepts for access, urban design, and transit-oriented development at the station. Your input will help us advance the design for station areas in collaboration with the City of Seattle and other agency partners.

    > Date: Wednesday, Oct. 25
    Time: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    Location: Alki Masonic Center, 4736 40th Avenue SW

    1. Thanks for this, WL.

      It looks like ST thinks it can squeeze at-grade tracks alongside the West Seattle Freeway just north of Avalon, at least for a few blocks. I’m a bit surprised; there isn’t much room on either side of the roadway, especially in the first few blocks north of Genessee. The homeowners along there are going to scream bloody murder at the removal of trees and other greenery between the roadway and their properties.

      And that ignores that beyond the block or so long little rise just south of the 35th SW intersection, the hill rolls off steeply to the east of the roadway. The trackway will hardly be “at-grade”. There will have to be a one- or two-tier notch cut out of the hill, with a big concrete retaining wall above it (shades of the controversy up in Lake City about the busway lane). The tracks will be right behind the patios of the houses on the west side of 32nd SW.

      Let the lawsuits begin!

      1. A notch in the hillside is definitely at grade. So homeowners living next to a freeway will complain about road noise?

  10. What would it take to get a carbon-negative concrete plant up and running in the Seattle area? An all-of-the-above approach to the climate crisis ought to include decarbonizing construction.

    1. The construction industry is very cautious when it comes to things like this.

      But I don’t see any reason why all the transportation agencies can’t start using carbon negative concrete for non-primary structure. It would generate useful data and build industry confidence in the material, while also reducing carbon emissions.

      1. AFAIK. we don’t have a local source of carbon-negative concrete, and will not until a producer of such sets up locally.

        I don’t see that happening unless a coalition of end-users works with producers to make it pencil out to set up shop here.

        ST is sine qua non to such an effort. But it was ST that organized the coalition of governmental users that made the wind farm a success.

        ST did an outstanding job minimizing the carbon footprint of operations. Now, for the sake of us all, it needs to turn its construction process from a high source of carbon emissions to a much smaller source.

    1. “Gondola to Alki”? Really? Across Elliott Bay right in the path of the container ships? Your brain has gone on strike, SLUer.

      1. What was once known as the Emirates Air Line in London is a similar construct that could easily clear any container ships. It’s 300 feet.

        Considering it connects two points basically already on the Jubilee Line, I’d think maybe a West Seattle gondola would have more uses, except the bus probably winds up being faster.

        It might be a popular tourist attraction though, and if Emirates Air wishes to build such a thing in Seattle they should be taken up on the offer.

      2. It has a lot of tourist potential. One of the issues with Seattle is that places like Alki are far from tourists. In cities like a Vancouver, English Beach, Kits are relatively close to the tourist core.

        Link doesn’t really solve this problem. Obviously I haven’t thought much about the Gondola, but I like it more than WSLE to SODO.

      3. Yes, it’s “at-grade”, but still expensive to construct, because of the retaining wall.

        It’s not “at-grade” like the segment in Bellevue or the median of Martin Luther King Jr Boulevard is “at-grade”. It would require major construction work and would completely elimate what vegetation is between the houses to the east. Would it increase road noise? No, you’re probably right that it wouldn’t make much change. But they’d have to LOOK AT the roadway out their back windows instead of having an admittedly pretty skinny strip of trees.

        Whatever the magnitude of the damage, they will be plenty angry.

      4. Oh, sorry, this was supposed to reply to AJ above.

        So far as the picture of the Skyway, YES, it’s much better. Thank you.

    2. Having more than just an infrequent 30-footer bus to just the southern point of Alki might also make more sense.

      But the beach is well-used, the restaurants are well-used, the condos across the road are built up and filled up, and the car parking is well-used. There is very little inland walkshed, so frequent transit along the beach doesn’t add much value.

      I suspect the locals would not care for the new throngs a frequent bus from West Seattle Junction Station would bring.

      1. Having more than just an infrequent 30-footer bus to just the southern point of Alki might also make more sense. … There is very little inland walkshed, so frequent transit along the beach doesn’t add much value.

        You could say the same thing about all of West Seattle, though. The development is almost entirely along corridors. With Alki, it extends inward a bit, to Admiral Way, simply because that is another corridor. It is the same way with the various junctions. They are a little more two dimensional, simply because they are where the corridors intersect, or converge. Even then, the boundaries are fairly small. Almost all of the apartments in West Seattle are along a narrow corridor. Almost all of the destinations are along those same corridors — or even weaker ones (like 16th, which has the college).

        Buses like the C, H and 21 get most of their riders from the parts of the corridors where development is very narrow. It is just the nature of the development pattern in West Seattle. Running a frequent bus to Alki would be fundamentally no different. It may be a bit of a stretch, but you could say the same thing with West Seattle service in general. Despite the very fast average speed of the routes, none of the West Seattle buses perform better than those in the rest of Seattle in terms of ridership per hour. Even the C is average. The much slower 2, 3, 4, 8, 11, 12, 13 all outperform the West Seattle buses. Thus running a frequent bus to Alki is really not that much of a stretch compared to other service to West Seattle.

    3. Funny you suggested an Alki line over Elliott Bay, SLUer! Some folks from West Seattle actually suggested this years ago and the city even met with some gondola suppliers but determined that it would require some towers in the Bay and that may impede ferry and container ship travel and abandoned the idea. Amsterdam is now pursuing a similar connection based on more recent 3S (three rope) technology which allows for longer spans between towers:
      To avoid the Bay, you could run along the Port side, serve Jack Block Park and then follow Admiral Way to serve Admiral Junction and Alki Beach.

  11. Shooting on the Metro bus, hammer attack on Link. Crickets from the urbanists who seem to think that safety, open drug use and crime don’t matter on our transit so long as the trains or buses run on time and frequently.

    1. What do you want “urbanists” to say? It’s fairly obvious that violence is tragic, and it’s well-discussed that discretionary riders are deterred by perceptions of safety, even if the perceptions are severely distorted reflections of reality.

      Instead of bemoaning what you perceive to be a lack of concern for safety, a more constructive commentary would present potential solutions that aren’t already in progress. On the topic of safety, I look forward to ideas which also reduce the frequency of the currently near-daily strikes of pedestrians and cyclists by oversized and overspeed SOVs.

    2. The only way to get the problem addressed is to make it something people care about.

      The only way to make people care about it is to make transit good enough so that a significant part of the population wants to use transit.

      This was proven over and over during the 1970s and 1980s. Nobody addressed the violence problem in any major urban area because it was thought of as something only impacting poor people, and the culture in the USA regards them as disposable. It only got addressed in the 1990s because of gentrification.

    3. Violent crime is definitely a problem, but not only on transit. Favoring anti-social transportation modes, such as cars, neither increases safety nor decreases crime.

      Violent crime is a wider social issue which requires wider social responses, things well beyond the purview of any transit agency.

      Furthermore, how does the frequency of public transit crime compare with vehicular crimes? Which is the more dangerous form of transportation? Am I more likely to die on a bus or train, or in my car?

      1. Violent crime is definitely a problem, but not only on transit. Favoring anti-social transportation modes, such as cars, neither increases safety nor decreases crime.

        Violent crime is a wider social issue which requires wider social responses, things well beyond the purview of any transit agency.

        Well put.

        Am I more likely to die on a bus or train, or in my car?

        Car. Not even close.

      2. I think the answer is really, it depends on the trip. The bus is safer once you’re on it, but many cities in the U.S. have terrible and dangerous pedestrian infrastructure that you have no choice but to brave in order to get to or from the bus stop. For instance, if riding the bus requires walking half a mile on a poorly lit busy road at night, with no sidewalks and narrow shoulders, the car is probably safer. On the other hand, if the walk is on sidewalks that are wide, well lit, and well separated from traffic, then the bus is safer.

      3. More people are a lot more worried about being attacked on the bus or train than they are about getting hurt in a car-related incident. The former is an intentional act of violence that makes the news; the latter usually happens more from negligence than malevolence, and rarely makes headlines. People feel that their personal space will be violated less by a violent troublemaker in their personal cars than on public transit, so they feel safer in their SOVs. The greater likelihood of traffic deaths in cars therefore doesn’t even enter their calculus.

    4. We also don’t know how many people have died from catching COVID on transit, or from catching COVID from someone who caught it on transit, etc.

      Efforts to better protect riders therefrom have met with vehement opposition from SLUer.

    5. Thank you for bringing up the important issue Real Americans should be talking about. Why are the Urbanists wasting their time on symbolic issues like West Seattle today?

    6. One policy that may be controversial here is that when an assault occurs on a Metro bus, the operator is to pull over and open the doors.

      The agencies aren’t good at catching assailants, but this policy may have saved the lives of others on board.

      When I sent in a commendation for the operator who stopped the bus because a rider who had just assaulted a homeless man at the bus stop was on board, I eventually got back an apology for the operator’s “unacceptable” behavior. It seems he was admonished for following the policy.

      I don’t know what policies the police were following, but the officer interviewing the victim went to great lengths to try to blame him. No professionalism whatsoever. Not even concern for his injuries.

      And we wonder why it is hard to fire bad cops and hard to hold onto good operators.

  12. Besides the reduced carbon footprint, the largest benefit of cancelling West Seattle Link would be the possible cancellation of the ever-worsening second downtown transit tunnel.

    But cancelling that tunnel would still require either a plan to connect SLU Link to the current tunnel, or cancellation of Ballard Link altogether.

    1. If we cancelled the second tunnel (but kept Ballard Link) there are two possibilities:

      1) End Ballard Link at Westlake. Eventually we could extend it to First Hill (and beyond) but for now, end it there.

      2) Interline with the other trains. Ballard to Bellevue is the best pairing from a geographic standpoint, although that would require turning back the trains on the other line. There are issues with headways as well. Just to back up here, fairly soon (when East Link is done) the trains will run every five minutes through the core (UW to Downtown). If you branch one of the trains to Ballard, then UW would have service only every ten minutes. You could potentially try to increase frequency across the board, but that becomes challenging along Rainier Valley. Even if you managed to do that, you still have to deal with turn backs, as I really don’t see trains running every six minutes to Federal Way all day long.

      That is why the first option is really the best. It dramatically reduces the cost of the project, which means it would get here much sooner. It opens up the possibility of smaller, automated trains, with smaller stations. This again reduces the cost, and could mean the stations would be closer to the surface. With smaller stations (and a scaled down project) we could revisit the station in Ballard.

      It is worth noting that all this could happen even if we build West Seattle Link. The three lines (coming from the south) could mix downtown with one line then going to Ballard and the other two to the UW. Or all three lines go towards the UW, and the Ballard line is independent. But I agree, without West Seattle Link, the second option is even simpler, since you would basically keep what we will have relatively soon.

      1. I prefer your option 1 too, Ross.

        Not only would it put North King into a more reasonable funding scenario, but we could have everything but Ballard done in 8 years, CID would have no major construction and there would be less transferring.

        I would hope that two other things also happen:

        1. Automation. Technology has evolved to a point where most new metro lines around the world are automated. It’s like we are still planning horse drawn carriages when the world has switched to motors. Automation would help ensure DSTT could handle the increased frequencies as well as run a line all the way from Everett to Tacoma if that becomes the best layout. ST should create an automation strategic plan ASAP.

        2. Vertical improvements. The two dimensional planking going on whitewashes the problems with deep stations from constructibility to cost to ridership and maintenance. A deliberate focused effort to revisit the vertical profiles of stations is badly needed. That really upsets engineers in that the easiest tunnels to bore are the deep ones but those station vaults are just too unreasonably deep. In the case of Westlake as an end station, I wouldn’t be averse to building the platforms under Olive to make them parallel to DSTT under Pine. Still the engineering is very complex so it’s silly for any of us to speculate too hard on how to do it.

      2. Even without a west line, there could be three lines from/to the south: east, south, and SODO.

    2. The problem with item 2 is trying to add a branch to the existing tunnel without being able to utilize the existing branch structure at Convention Place.

      1. Glenn, exactly. Ross has gotten less dogmatic that “the engineers can figure it out”, but that deep foundation in the northeast quadrant of Third and Pine is still there right in the way of a diverging northbound track north of University-Seneca.

        Ballard TO Third is easy: just take the tunnel out of service for a month, bore through the north wall at Third and Pine, clean up the mess and spike in a trailing turnout.

        If King County had built the cut-and-cover tunnel east of Westlake Center a full three lanes wide, a trench for a “stays flat” track could have been dug for the northbound Ballard track and a “stacked” tunnel under the Pike Street reversible ramp could carry the trackway up to Denny for the TBM. Alas, the tunnel narrows by a half lane just east of Sixth. The bearing walls cannot be demised for that descending ramp.

        There is no way other than adding a level crossing at the Third and Pine curve for a northbound track to Ballard to be connected.

    3. > But cancelling that tunnel would still require either a plan to connect SLU Link to the current tunnel, or cancellation of Ballard Link altogether.

      While it’s not as ‘fancy’ as the other plans, the original Ballard to West Seattle line down 1st avenue before the tunnel was added still works.

      I mean I guess the at-grade alternative is a bit slower at 23 minutes versus the 18/19 minutes tunneled. Well I guess you’re still stuck underground at 170 feet at the Midtown station and will need to take a couple escalators or elevator so the actual time difference might be less.

      1. While there is some merit, I don’t think it really adds much value. It begins to look a lot like a streetcar, or even BRT. Eliminate the choke points with buses, and they are roughly the same. If anything, BRT has some advantages, as it is easier to branch, and extend it further north (eliminating a lot of transfers). So something like this:

        1) A new bridge (which we have to build anyway) with bus lanes.
        2) New stop on 15th and Dravus (so the bus doesn’t have to exit).
        3) Various bus lanes up to Mercer, and down from Uptown.

        I feel like rail should only be done when it can add way more value than buses can. Northgate Link just wouldn’t make sense with buses. In contrast, a west-side alignment would.

        I also think running down First gets you very little. A new line should maximize coverage downtown. That was always the problem with the new tunnel.

        Interestingly enough, I saw a video recently that really hammered home this idea: While the title is very disappointing (basically “click-bait”) the author (who I respect) was basically exploring the difference between traditional trains versus subways. Most cities have old trains leading into their city. These have carried goods and people for quite some time now. Many of these have evolved to be regional or commuter rail. In contrast, a lot of subway systems are fairly new. There is a significant difference between the two systems, typically.

        This is what the video explores. Most of the concepts were fairly obvious. The subway stations are smaller. The trains are smaller, and meant to run more often. At about the 4 minute mark, he mentioned something I was vaguely aware of, but it hit me like a ton of bricks. Regional rail systems tend to all go to the center of town. They often overlap in the middle of town, and then branch. In this way, someone coming in from a suburb or other city gets right to the heart of town. In contrast, a subway system will cover a broader area. Each new line that runs downtown covers another part of downtown. Maybe it isn’t the heart of downtown, but it is another busy part of town that is worth covering. The pictures he shows starting at the 4:19 mark make the point quite clearly.

        Thus a new subway line in Seattle should increase coverage downtown. A line down First Avenue doesn’t do that. Neither does the proposed downtown tunnel. The downtown tunnel is actually the worst of both worlds. It is extremely expensive, as it is another subway tunnel. But the tunnel does not add coverage. Each station is very close to an existing one (just a little bit worse). From the very beginning it was designed with a commuter rail attitude, with subway costs.

        In contrast, a subway line ending at Westlake (with future plans for an extension to First Hill) definitely adds coverage downtown. I really think that is the best option at this point (assuming we don’t want to just “start over”). From the very beginning I thought Ballard Link was the only major rail project in ST3 with merit. It is being watered down — made worse at every turn. There simply isn’t enough money (or political will) to do it right. ST basically bit off more than they could chew. The project is too big, and they are looking to cut costs (and make it worse) at every turn.

        If the project is scaled down, there is a chance they could improve it, significantly. Move the Ballard station west. Get the details right in South Lake Union (with as many stations as possible). Make sure the transfer at Westlake — a crucial transfer point — is good. Then allow for future expansion towards First Hill. This avoids the controversy at CID, while saving a huge amount of money (that can be put into making the other parts of the line better). Quality over quantity.

        If you can’t do that, you might as well scrap the whole thing, and just improve the buses.

      2. Ross, I agree, Reece make a great point in his video. Sound Transit is essentially a regional network, I hope we can run more and faster trains on it. With a subway Seattle could add coverage: Ballard, SLU, First Hill with a transfer at Westlake and Mt Baker, a perfect application for short automated light metro trains.

    4. Maybe this has been said a million times. I miss many of the comments. It seems to me that the best solution for interchanging at Westlake disappeared when they closed off the last bus part of the tunnel. Then they built the Convention Center over the old bus layover zone. There was a perfect opportunity to split the line there and start heading west with tracks. The funny thing is the tracks were already there. Just put in wrong. I heard the tracks were laid as cheaply as possible to get federal funding. But that is a seperate story. They should have incorporated the convention center extension and left the layover zone underground.

      1. You’re close. There were and may still be a pair of stub tracks which head east under Pine another half block from the curve into the TBM vault just east of The Paramount. I do not believe that rhey are still connected to the main line, though, and the tunnel may have been filled.

        They were used to reverse trains before U-Link was opened to Husky Stadium Station. It is very unlikely that ST would allow use of them for a Ballard branch, though, because it would require a level-crossing of the southbound main line by the northbound Ballard track. While ST is planning to place a pair of level-crossing junctions north and south of downtown Bellevue for Issaquah-South Kirkland Link, there will be many fewer trains using those junctions than would use one under Pine.

        Also, there is the problem of “where to go from here?” at that location. It’s possible to put a stacked two-way tunnel in a trench under the Pike Street Reversible Ramp, but not two tracks side-by-side. The stub tracks are at the same elevation and much too short to get sufficient vertical separation for a stacked tunnel.

  13. No discussion of fancy transit options between downtown and West Seattle would be complete without discussing the Water Taxi to Salty’s.

    Getting anywhere from the taxi dock requires a transfer to an infrequent DART bus that is hopefully timed for the transfer, the availability of bike share, scooter share, or car share, ample all-day surface parking, or wearing your hiking shoes.

    The water taxi is more expensive to the rider than the 3 Line will be. As of earlier this year, the water taxis are now the only service in the ORCA Pod that charges a higher ORCA LIFT fare than the RRFP fare. I don’t expect that point of embarrassing uniqueness to last long, if the County Council is paying attention. And now youth and very-low-income cardholders ride free.

    The elimination of carbon footprint would come with building plug-ins on each end, and fleet replacement.

    Also, the next generation of propulsion systems will need to be safer for our marine mammal cousins.

    1. I have a pass provided by my employer, so the water taxi is free for me. When I ride it, I usually walk to my destination (it’s usually a long walk).

      That said, I do think Metro could have done a better job serving the Water Taxi and Alki in general with the bus network. For instance, the 128 terminates just half a mile away from the water taxi up the hill. The bus should be able to go down the hill and along Harbor Ave. The 50 could also travel along Alki Ave. to Seacrest Park, rather than simply ending at Alki. In general, it is better and cheaper to extend regular bus routes, rather than run special shuttles, whenever possible. The 773, for example, spends a lot of its service time duplicating the C-line, duplication that gets avoided if special shuttles are avoided.

  14. this is silly construction emmissions from building light rail are negligible and will be massively offset by mode shift not to mention improved connections, although adding bus electrification via trolley wires would also be a good idea since trolleybuses would be a good fit for west seattle

    1. “… will be massively offset by mode shift not to mention improved connections, “

      I agree that construction GHG seems negligible but then again so is the mode shift! That lack of mode shift is exactly the problem. It isn’t there! Why spend several billions to get a reduction of so few projected trips?

      What causes that?
      1. Speeds not much better than a bus going about the same speed.
      2. The hassles of transferring especially with 50-100 feet of escalators that may be working as well as adding travel time.
      3. New forced transfers to/from 1 Line south making everyone going to/ from the airport walk several blocks and use several escalators also taking time. Note that this includes everyone going to SeaTac with luggage from UW, Capitol Hill, North Seattles, Snohomish and the East Side in addition to parts of Downtown as well as King St Station.

      1. Unlike STX 577 and 578, STX 574 can’t compete with Link travel time north of Federal Way. That’s largely because the train is more direct. Even accounting for elevators, the walk to the airport terminal, and wait time at Federal Way Commons Station, the train will win comfortably. The Federal Way Link extension will take some diesel buses off the road, just not as many as some here want.

        By the time West Seattle Link opens, the buses being taken off the streets will be hybrids.

        I’m under no delusion than any transit project is carbon negative. Some are just less carbon-intensive.than others.

      2. The Federal Way Link extension will take some diesel buses off the road, just not as many as some here want.

        It depends on what ST (and to a lesser extent Metro) does. My guess is, they truncate all the buses in Federal Way. That would be quite a few buses no longer going to Seattle, and a fair amount no longer going to SeaTac.

        The bigger question is whether it takes cars off the street. Some, obviously, just not a lot in my opinion. The trip to downtown will be slower most of the time. Those south of Federal Way will be forced to transfer. There aren’t many destinations between Tacoma and Seattle on Link. You’ve got the airport and Rainier Valley, and that is about it. Rainier Valley is OK, but it isn’t a big destination like the UW, or even a moderate level one like Northgate. It also doesn’t help that the Rainier Valley stations are not the cultural center of the area (e. g. Columbia City). So that basically leaves the airport. A fair number of people who work at the airport do live south of there, so there is that. It isn’t clear how many will switch to transit though. Likewise, there will be some flyers who now switch to taking the train, but I doubt there will be huge numbers. With any airport, you get the bulk of transit ridership from downtown, and that is already covered.

      3. “The trip to downtown will be slower most of the time.”

        That’s not the case anymore. It was when I first did the comparisons, but when I recalculated it a year or two ago, I-5 congestion had slowed down enough to make Link competitive. Pierce and South King always predicted it would someday. If I recall, Federal Way-Westlake Link is competitive with ST Express peak hours, and Tacoma Dome-Westlake is competitive full time, or something like that.

      4. Ryan Packer tweeted last week: Completely packed 578 trip from Federal Way transit center to downtown Seattle on a Saturday afternoon. If this trip is fully replaced by Link in 2026, the trip time will go from a scheduled 24 minutes to…52 minutes.
        I still think that a Duwamish bypass would be worth it, it would make the FW line at least a bit faster and could offer higher frequency. By reducing wait time, it may come in roughly competitive. The draft Seattle Transportation Plan btw has identified Georgetown/SouthPark as a future transit corridor (just like the regional plan did). It might be time to consider building the Duwamish bypass rather than WSLE. As it may run mostly at grade, carbon footprint would be lot better.

      5. > I still think that a Duwamish bypass would be worth it, it would make the FW line at least a bit faster and could offer higher frequency.

        I’m not sure why this idea keeps coming up. You’d end up cutting the frequency in half. For the extra capacity in the tunnel that rainier valley can’t use the east link already is going to use it. We’d be cutting out 5 stations out of link. And it’s not as the station spacing here is that short nor that there aren’t riders on this segment.

        (Not towards just you) light along a freeway is generally a mistake. We should have built along state route 99 instead of i5 and Bellevue way instead of 405. For the one segment we’ve built it along the correct corridor I’m not sure why people keep wanting to place it right back against a freeway with low ridership potential.

      6. There is a way to do the bypass and not kill frequency on King Boulevard. That is to run trams between the Link trains and maybe send the trams to Renton. The trams could continue through downtown to through-line as a Fremont-Ballard tram.

        The !ink trains using the existing trackage would turn back at Angle Lake, retaining the connection between the RV where many airport workers live and Sea-Tac. It would be less frequent, but still useful.

        To keep from wrecking the ETB overhead, the S/B run should be on Third with curb platforms and the ETB’s in the center and eastern lanes. There would be island platforms between the S/B bus lane and the train lane. It would be sort of like the Portland Mall but without the weaving. Northbound would ideally be on Fourth, but that means crossing the ETB overhead at three pairs of streets. Maybe the trams could have batteries to pass through the dead zones.

        The MLK Link trains would stay in the tunnel because they would be too long for at-grade stations just one block long.

        This is a rough idea which would need lots of study, but it would make Link a better “Regional Metro” without the slow street running and allow technology right-sizing for the RV and Ballard.

      7. The Duwamish Bypass (aka Georgetown line) was in the ST2 long-range plan. It was deleted in 2014 because the board thought it wouldn’t be needed. The beneficiaries of it are South King and Pierce, who would get faster travel times to SeaTac, Federal Way, and Tacoma Dome. (While Georgetown and SODO would also benefit, their populations are so low they’re not a North King priority.) But South King and Pierce did not say one word to defend this corridor.

        “You’d end up cutting the frequency in half.”

        Not if you add a line but keep frequency on the other line the same. I’ve never heard the bypass vision described as taking trains away from Rainier Valley. Some visions advocate turning it into a short line terminating at TIB, but none of those say it would lose half its trains and end up with 20-minute frequency.

      8. @Mike

        > Not if you add a line but keep frequency on the other line the same.

        Mike how would that work in practice. If it is peak time then east link would use up say 8 minute frequency for 7.5 tph, rainier with 6 minute frequency or 10tph are we going to have the remaining 2.5 tph out of max 20tph or 24 minute frequency on the duwamish bypass? Or is one going to decrease east link trips for this bypass? I will concede that in the case the Ballard tunnel is built there is lots of spare capacity there, though if it’s just west Seattle link built the situation gets even worse.

        Secondly, and more importantly we still have the off peak scenario. If there is say 8 minute frequency from downtown to SeaTac most likely they will just cut the frequency in half for both segments with it alternating. Maybe they run two 12 minute frequency segments for a combined frequency of 6 minutes — but that means if they didn’t have the split rainier valley would have gotten 6 minutes.

      9. “If I recall, Federal Way-Westlake Link is competitive with ST Express peak hours, and Tacoma Dome-Westlake is competitive full time, or something like that.”

        I would love to believe this, but I’m struggling to.

        The 594 takes well less than an hour to get me to 4th and Pike at evening rush hour, 9 times out of 10. A car would presumably be even faster.

        Link would be what?

        45 minutes to Seatac?
        15 more to FW?
        20 more to Tacoma Dome?

        Are you taking into account some future congestion assumptions from (from historically wrong) WSDOT?

        It would be great if you could dredge up your numbers and show your work.

        Thanks, Mike!

      10. WL, that’s the reason to run overlay trams on the surface through downtown Seattle. Regional services with a significant “through” ridership get the tunnel while in-city ridership, which, yes, will also have some cross-town through ridership but with shorter overall travel times, get the trams.

        Snohomish County and UW to the airport and east side are the primary examples of such regional trips and are the sort of planned trips that will most benefit from the tunnel.

        If the City would make Westlake the transitway it ought to be, SLU could reasonably also be quickly and cost-effectively served on the surface. It’s just not that far from Westlake Center to any part of it to require service by subway as in the current plans. A CCC that ran on a Westlake dedicated to buses and trams with stop signs for crossing streets (obviously excepting Denny, Mercer, Virginia and Lenora) would have quick enough travel times that the relatively easier transfers between the surface and the relatively shallow existing tunnel would be faster than those to a deeper subway.

        Especially by subways deep enough that they may be uncommonly hot from their propinquity to Hell.

      11. The fundamental problem with the Duwamish Bypass is that it would cost a lot of money and the benefit would be small. I could be wrong, but the plans suggest only one station (in Georgetown) on the bypass. One! Georgetown is a nice neighborhood, but it isn’t like everyone in the region is trying to get there.

        Riders would get from SeaTac (and surrounding suburbs) a little bit faster, but not that much faster. Link is already an express from TIBs to Rainier Valley. It is over five miles between stations there! This is really extraordinary for a mass transit system. It happens when you have to cross major bodies of water, but otherwise, it is very unusual. For good reason. The main purpose of a mass transit system is to pick up riders. Skipping them (or traveling in an area without them) is not a good idea.

        Ideas like the Georgetown bypass are fantasy maps at best, and suggest a profound misunderstanding of mass transit at worst. I think this misunderstanding comes from driving (which explains why it is so common in America, and rare elsewhere). When we think of really bad drives, we think of being on the freeway. We think slogging along at 20 MPH on the freeway is “slow”. Don’t get me wrong — I do too. But driving in town is usually much worse than that. Subway system routinely average that (the NYC Subway averages 17 MPH). But it isn’t just this conception of speed that is the problem. When you drive, you assume that if you make it fast to go somewhere, you solve the problems in between. For example, if it is fast to drive from Seattle to Tacoma, then it is fast to drive from Seattle to Federal Way.

        But transit doesn’t work that way. If you build an express, then you benefit some riders, but you also leave way too many with nothing. The number of riders who benefit is relatively small (since most trips are not long distance). Their savings are relatively small compared to an express bus, or commuter rail line. Yet the cost is very high. If you try and increase ridership by adding in stations in between, then the folks farther away have a slow ride into the city. They do benefit when it comes to trips along the way, but often they have no interest in those trips (unlike a typical urban environment). You end up basically trying to square a circle. Add just enough stations to get good ridership, but not too many to delay the long distance riders (while somehow keeping costs low). You can’t really do it. You can’t build a subway line with fast speeds from the suburbs, while getting enough riders to justify the cost of the service. You could trying double-tracking (and that does work in New York) but that is for a massive city, and the subway doesn’t go nearly as far away from downtown as ours will. Double tracking our lines would also be massively expensive, with various logistical issues as well.

        That is why most agencies around the world just don’t do it. They leverage existing rail lines, to be sure. But they don’t build the sort of thing we have built (a very suburban-oriented express system that shortchanges the dense parts of the city) let alone something like the Georgetown Bypass. Way too few people benefit for the cost. They add express buses or they leverage existing rail lines instead.

      12. Yeah, I was thinking the same thing as Cam. It is worth noting that traffic — especially HOV traffic — flows a lot smoother because they completed the work around Tacoma recently. So it may be that the calculations Mike made are simply out of date — the buses are faster.

        We also can’t ignore the transfer. I always found it interesting that the 590 is popular, given that Sounder is more comfortable, and more consistent. The bus is definitely more frequent (running more often than Link). But I think some riders are avoiding a transfer in downtown Seattle (or in some cases, at the Tacoma Dome). While a transfer to Link won’t be that bad (it shouldn’t take that long) it will be a bit of a delay (along with the annoyance of any transfer).

        It is also worth noting that the 594 (which runs all day) has been far more resilient than the peak-only expresses (590, 592, etc.). Ridership is still peak-oriented, but not as much as in the past. If you just look at the buses, it is about 50-50 now, which is extraordinary, given the very low frequency of the 594 in midday. ST was going to run the buses more often (every 15 minutes) but couldn’t because of the driver shortage. The point being, a fair number of riders take the bus in the middle of the day (or very early in the morning) when traffic isn’t a big issue. Unlike, say, Capitol Hill to the U-District, Link from Federal Way won’t be faster than driving, even at noon. It won’t even be as fast as the existing buses.

        Which gets back to the timing. On Link, SeaTac to University Street Station is 35 minutes. Federal Way to SeaTac is supposed to be 15. So that means 50 minutes on Link from Federal Way to downtown. The 177 and 577, interestingly enough, would get you in the same general location about a minute sooner (according to Google). The buses take different routes though downtown, somewhat complementing each other (if you are headed to the north end of downtown, the 577 is better). So from Federal Way itself, it is at best a wash. My guess is, most of the time, the bus is faster, simply because it runs on the surface (and is a lot faster in the middle of the day). For those coming from Tacoma, you would have to factor in the extra transfer time as well.

        My larger point is that I really don’t expect much of an increase in ridership due to Federal Way Link. We might see a bump because the trains (and feeder buses) run more often, but during those times, the bus is considerably faster. You have dramatically faster times to Rainier Valley, it just isn’t a major destination. Likewise, you will see a significant bump in transit trips to SeaTac, just not a huge one.

        This isn’t to say that I think Federal Way Link is a bad idea. I fell that it is essential that Link interact with the express buses, without forcing them to make big detours. I just think it is important to understand that there is a trade-off when it does. Either the buses are truncated (which saves ST and Metro a lot of service hours) or they continue to run the express buses (which saves riders plenty of time). I think it is highly likely they do the former, and again, that seems reasonable, although unfortunate for folks making longer trips into the city.

      13. I don’t see funding for a Duwamish bypass. The only way I see if ever getting built is if 1 Line in the Rainier Valley gets so overcrowded that locals scream for relief.

        Another possibility is that a new line follows 509 with maybe a tunnel zag to West Seattle Link.

        Anyway, ST is going to be so bound by operations costs on top of capital expansion for at least the next 15 years at a minimum that it’s probably an issue that a whole new Board will be addressing.

        There are so many external forces at work from electric vehicles to sea level rise to automated trains to development and growth trends to a different national government structure that could wildly affect the way the project gets cast.

        My vote is to give up on 1Line extensions and the bypass and set our sights on rail alternatives of 79 mph minimum. It’s silly to create another 55 mph or less system from Tacoma to Seattle that can’t go faster.

      14. I don’t see funding for a Duwamish bypass. The only way I see if ever getting built is if 1 Line in the Rainier Valley gets so overcrowded that locals scream for relief.

        Then they would bury the line, and run the trains more often. As it is, we can’t seem to run it as often as they used to. Remember when we ran the train every six minutes during peak? Yeah, that was fun.

        The idea that we will spend billions of dollars building a second line because one line is a teeny bit crowded during one tiny part of the day is silly. There are other ways to deal with crowding (running the trains more often, going back to running express buses, etc.).

        The main problem is that it is just a fundamentally bad project. In contrast, consider one that does have merit: replacing the 7 with light rail. It could be cut and cover, with stations fairly close together. On the surface you would have room for bike lanes galore. It would transform the various neighborhoods, and get way more riders than this bypass ever would. It would cost a lot less as well. Eventually it could go out to Renton, even though the places in between are not very dense. You would be highly dependent on TOD, but not the kind of shadow-of-the-freeway TOD being built now, but real TOD built around real neighborhoods that have struggled for various reasons. Meanwhile, it is only about ten miles (as the crow flies) from Renton to downtown Seattle (or about half the distance from Federal Way to Seattle). Thus you don’t have the same issues when it comes to stations. You add them. A string of them, every half mile or so. Of course you make economic compromises as you go, which means that it wouldn’t be a perfect set of stations. But it would be better than the existing stations in Rainier Valley while connecting a corridor with strong cultural connections. It would be … gasp … very similar to metro lines around the world.

        I’m not saying it should be a priority, but it makes way more sense than the bypass. There are a lot of other ideas that make more sense as well. The only reason they aren’t being considered is regionalism. This gets us back to West Seattle. The argument for replacing the 7 with cut-and-cover light rail is much stronger than the argument for West Seattle Link. The only reason it wasn’t considered is because “Rainier Valley has theirs, and West Seattle needs some”. Which again, is another mass-transit misconception based on driving.

        Consider the Lyon Metro. It is less than 20 miles long, but has four lines, and 40 stations. Several of the lines are close to other lines, and of course, the stations are close to each other. It seems to violate every rule that ST thinks is a good idea. How silly. It can’t possibly get decent ridership, right? Wrong. It gets around 750,000 riders a day. It is ST that is the outlier. It is ST that is doing things in a weird way. The bypass would be even more weird than the existing weirdness that seems to permeate the agency when it comes to transit planning. It is just a bad idea.

      15. The biggest problem with the Duwamish Bupass concept is, what problem does it solve?

        If the goal is faster Federal Way and Tacoma to Seattle trips, the estimated time savings I’ve seen is only about 3 minutes over the ML King line.

        $2 billion might not get you as much today as it used to, but you could sure solve a lot of Cascades and Sounder bottlenecks for that.

        If you were to take the $2 billion in today’s money and say “make fast transit between Tacoma and Seattle”, the Duwamish Bypass isn’t that high on the list of what would work.

        If Sounder could become a Regiobahn type service with trains that average 70 mph including station stops and 100 mph maximum speed, you’d probably not need, or even want, a Duwamish Bypass. (These are actual numbers supposedly achieved by Berlin RE1 between Potsdam and Berlin, which takes 40 minutes by driving but only 24 by train, to go 20 miles.)

        Yeah, it would be expensive and there are many obstacles. But building Link is also expensive and there are many obstacles, and Link isn’t really suited for a 33 mile trip. It’s great for what it does, but it’s not an express intercity bus or regional rail service.

      16. A Duwamish bypass should have at least two stations: Georgetown and South Park.
        Besides the Duwamish bypass, the draft Seattle Transportation Plan also identifies a new corridor from West Seattle to Georgetown and up to Beacon Hill by the Veterans Hospital. This could be done with a gondola which may also connect the South Seattle College. It could be a feeder to the Duwamish bypass.
        The South Park station could provide a connection via bus or gondola to Westwood and White Center which would be faster than riding C or H buses.
        As most of this line would be at grade or slightly elevated, I bet it would be far cheaper to build than the WSLE. Building the Duwamish bypass with gondola feeders may provide more transit benefits than building WSLE.
        Yes, I’m all for turning Sounder into a Regio line as it would be a far better solution for Tacoma riders. That would still not help with FW, Seatac, or White Center.

  15. If we’re going to talk about GHG, I think it’s good to do so from the perspective of the transit system as a whole, not about the narrow GHG emissions from the construction of one particular rail line.

    Urban transit does, in general, reduce GHG overall, but that’s not the case on every trip or every route. Services that draw huge numbers of riders, such as Link, have the most GHG reduction, while many suburban coverage routes are actually net emitters of GHG because they don’t take enough cars off the road to offset the GHG impacts of running the bus itself.

    Overall, I tend to view transit as, first and foremost, about providing mobility to people. If it happens to reduce GHG at the same time, great. But, even if it doesn’t, the service still needs to run because mobility is important.

    1. “many suburban coverage routes are actually net emitters of GHG because they don’t take enough cars off the road to offset the GHG impacts of running the bus itself.”

      A bus only needs ten or fifteen riders per hour to use less fuel than SUVs. Most suburban coverage routes reach that. Even some van routes do. It’s only a few very-lowest routes that may not.

      1. I think the break even point is an average vehicle occupancy of 10 passengers, which is not the same as 10 passengers per hour, due to passengers get on and off in the middle of the route.

        I did manage to dig up some concrete data on this, which essentially backs this up:

        As I said, the purpose of a transit system is to provide mobility, not reduce carbon emissions, which is a good thing because lots of routes which have average vehicle-occupancy loads less than 10 would not exist others. Even bus route which are slightly above this threshold and technically carbon reducers are reducing carbon rather inefficiently, as it essentially comes down to the entire cost of operating the bus just to reduce the CO2 emissions of driving for 30’ish people per hour by around 20% or so. If the point of transit were really about reducing carbon emissions, you could probably get more carbon reduction for the money by taking the cost of operating the bus and just using the money to build solar panels or heat pumps. Only the highest-ridership routes in the middle of the city would stand as the most efficient carbon reduction per dollar spent. But, again, none of this really matters because the purpose of transit is not, and never was, about reducing carbon emissions.

        One other note about transit’s impact on carbon emissions. The “10 passengers per bus to break even figure” is based on a gas/diesel mindset where the carbon emissions of vehicles come from the tailpipe as the vehicles are driven. But, as the cars and buses become electrified, while the electricity grid simultaneously becomes cleaner, that relationship starts to go away. Instead, carbon emissions from vehicles gets dominated by the cars’ manufacture, rather than operation, so CO2 reduction becomes about enabling people to not own cars at all, rather than enabling people who do own cars to drive them less. This has implications for service (at least from a GHG perspective), favoring a de-emphasis on park and rides, and a greater emphasis on routes that run frequently, all day, and in multiple directions.

      2. I agree that you should view the transit system overall for GHG impact. In Seattle that consists of various types of buses, light rail, tram, monorail. You could even include microtransit options. For spurs leading away from the spine, you still have options: you can build a light rail line, add more/bigger buses, or add a new mode such as tram, APM, or gondola. As you expand your network, you should consider how it affects the overall GHG impact and construction ought to be one consideration. For a long time, light rail has been the default in Seattle. As carbon considerations become more pressing, I think it is time that Sound Transit considers the carbon footprint of any alternative.

  16. 400 daily riders? For three whole stations? By 2042? How did Sound Transit even get this comically low number?

    Google tells me there are about 30,000 people in West Seattle, and that’ll be 40,000+ by 2042, even if it remains less dense than other areas. Seattle already has a good bus network to get people to stations, so even people out of walking distance can get there fine. I’m assuming they’d run these things 4 AM to 12 AM, mostly every ten minutes just like the 1 Line already… By 2042 there’ll be a lot of automation there. That’s, what, 110 trips a day? They’re saying, to start, there will be an average of 1 rider per trip, and increase to an astounding 4 riders per trip?

    I can’t even comprehend why they would embark on a project this costly if they’re projecting absolutely catastrophic ridership, but I’m not sure I can even believe this number in the first place. Surely the benefits of easy transfers alone would push it above 400 riders a day, let alone future growth they can’t have actually accounted for, or future taxes/regulations that finally convince people to sell their cars, or other future events by the year *2042.*

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