Greater Seattle LRT Map

Seattle Subway released a new vision map a few weeks ago outlining proposed LRT alignments throughout the greater Seattle area. There were a handful of decisions I thought didn’t make sense – alongside additional lines and options I mulled over. This *train* of thought led to designing an alternative Greater Seattle LRT Network.

Some disclaimers:

  • This was just as much an alignment/routing project as it was a learning experience in building an effective transit diagram. It’s my first time attempting something like this and I made it from scratch, so design feedback is welcome and appreciated.
  • This map is expansive, I have no responsibilities to convince or affect policy – therefore some decisions might not acknowledge political/economic/geographic realities. If it were to be built, the timeline would probably be around the next 70 years.
  • I have no legitimacy as a transit planner and I definitely don’t pretend to know more than Seattle Sub/Sound Transit. All research is 100% armchair.

Most of this map should look familiar, here are some notable changes:

A smarter 8 Metro (ORANGE LINE): A connection to the Cap Hill makes this line much more effective and resolves one of the most inexplicable decisions on Seattle Subways map. Additional stations on Union and Fairview will increase access to bus corridors and growing dense neighborhoods. The connection in Tacoma has also been extended, traveling further south from the Tacoma Mall to Lakewood.

Bellevue Loop (BLUE LINE): Seattle Subway claims a floating tunnel from Magnuson Park to Kirkland would be a similar price as outfitting 520 for LRT. This is non-intuitive, but if built continuing from Kirkland across to Redmond (vs down to Bellevue) would help justify this northern alignment. A 520 alternative might look something like this

Issaquah Line (PINK LINE): Instead of turning towards UW, the Pink line travels north to Bothell. Intersecting the Blue line it builds an Eastside grid – connecting Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond. (Look how far out of your way you would need to travel to move from Redmond to UW on Seattle Subways map). The Pink line would continue from Bothell to Lake Forest and turn NW, following 104 to Edmonds and intersecting the Purple and Red lines.  

A 99 Metro (PURPLE LINE): A line down Aurora seems a no-brainer, it’s straight and flat, has huge density growth potential, and currently is serviced by the busiest bus line in King County. Reaching Fremont, UQA, Belltown, both downtown tunnels, and First Hill this line completes and connects almost all Seattle’s downtown destinations with one line. Especially the two most notable misses from any Seattle Subway plans, Belltown and First Hill. The Urbanist has written a great piece on the idea’s merits (and challenges) here. As a bonus, it also maintains the subversive agenda of each and every Dick’s Drive-In being served by rail. 

Kentplete Lake Loop (LIGHT BLUE LINE): This line fulfills the aesthetic and superficial purpose of a complete LRT loop around Lake Washington. It also provides a connection to Kent’s Sounder stop and higher density eastern side. The present demand certainly doesn’t merit its construction, but with Renton and Kent’s growth this might pencil out eventually.

Both the Seattle Streetcar and Tacoma ‘Streetcar’ have been expanded. In Seattle, the Center City connector continues up first to LQA, while in Tacoma an expansion in the vein of this map has been included. Both expansions are obviously optimistic due to the present systems underperforming.

There were two additional lines I considered but not included. The first would be a Delridge spur in West Seattle. The second would be another downtown tunnel, running from the Mt. Baker Station up Rainier to Judkins, then to Little Saigon, Yesler/Harborview, and the First Hill station. It would cross I5 to a Denny Triangle station (maybe a Convention Center station?), connect to SLU, and then proceed up Eastlake to UW. Here is a potential alignment. 

Seattle Gondola Network

Here’s my dreamy map: a handful of potential alignments for a Seattle Gondola Network.

Gondolas are regularly used as hypothetical transit solutions in Seattle – they have specific advantages suited for a city filled with the natural barriers of hills, lakes, and highways. They’re also cheaper and faster to build than subways or other grade separated transit. That said – it’s certainly not the solution to most transit needs, and some of the lines could definitely be suited better by a subway or true BRT (Ballard -> UW).

I’ve seen a handful of proposals, but never a handful of Seattle gondola lines laid out in a network. So I curated some of my favorite ideas and added some new ones.

For a gondola line to make sense it must:

  1. Cross a barrier that cannot be served efficiently by another form of transit
  2. Obviously, connect high traffic destinations
  3. Not demand the ridership/capacity of a rail line

I’m imagining all lines built with 3S technology (variable station distance, detachable grips, <30 second waits, and 20-30 passenger cabins.) All route times are estimated at a speed of 15mph with a 30-second layover per station – although there may be additional uncalculated time penalties for turns. Speaking of turns, I’m sure some routes have straighter more efficient alignments – especially if you don’t restrict lines to street ROW. This will make things faster and cheaper. Considering every turn requires tower infrastructure comparable to a station, strategic placement of turns and stations will reduce cost and overhead.

Here are the lines, there are some obvious redundancies, but I think SLU, UQA, Boren, Pine, and Jefferson all make sense as transit alternatives and together build a network. The rest range from interesting to kinda dumb.

SLU: This is the alignment that Seattle should be funding and planning right now. The simplest iteration goes Seattle Center->SLU->Broadway. it connects three high ridership/dense destinations and provides additional coverage for the 8. Turning a 45-minute gridlock bus ride into a consistent 7-minute sky cruise. This connection could happen on a number of East-West streets through SLU (I mapped it on two) and could be extended from LQA all the way to Madison. This would also complement our Streetcar network by turning it into a loop, connecting the SLU and First Hill lines (especially if an extension down 1st to LQA is built). 

Upper Queen Anne: This line is a little sloppier, but probably provides the second most useful alignment. Starting at the Zoo it works it’s way to Fremont/SPU then UQA and ends at Seattle Center. Upper Queen Anne has little opportunity for grade separated transit outside of a gondola line. 

Boren: This line builds the network’s backbone. Connecting all the other downtown proposals together it provides a ride from the (future) Judkins Park station to First Hill to SLU. Although Boren is a street that could potentially be covered by BRT/Streetcar – traffic and grade create reliability challenges that a gondola can easily conquer. It also provides an opportunity to build a connection station in the new Convention Center and meet the Pine line.

Jefferson: Starting at the Ferry terminal this line travels to the Pioneer Square station, up to Harborview, then over towards SU and finally Swedish. It covers one of the steepest downtown streets and two hospitals. A James/Cherry alignment might also make sense- sacrificing a Yesler connection for a better SU station. I could also see adding an additional station on 5th.

Pine: This line connects some big hitters – waterfront, Westlake, Convention Center, Cap Hill, and makes way more sense than this proposal. A Pine line definitely caters towards tourism but also has opportunities to serve a pretty pragmatic transit function.

Yesler: This line was covered here. It’d be competitive with the Streetcar – with the exception of no ID connection.

Magnolia Connector: Only If Magnolia goes through substantial rezoning and the village becomes a true dense urban village, will this line have cost-effective ridership. But connecting the Magnolia Village to the future Ballard/WestSeattle light rail (and current D line) –  and to UQA then Aurora hugely improves reliable transit connections to otherwise isolated housing pockets.

Mercer SLU alt: This is pretty much the same SLU line but with less demand, the only advantage being a straiter alignment. And a gondola from the shore of Lake Union up to Roy/Broadway would have great views.

Ballard to UW: Really should just be a subway line. 

UW connector: Don’t see this ever happening – not sure if the ridership would ever justify the investment plus UW would never ruin their Red Square to Rainier views. Also – if a Ballard/UW subway is ever built and 520 is chosen as a lake crossing – it’s easy to see this same Ave/Uvillage/Stadium/520 triangle covered with rail.

If you click a line the mileage and travel time estimate will pop up, it’s fun to compare with driving and transit options (especially at rush hour).

Please critique and/or suggest new lines.