Seattle Subway’s Comment on the Ballard to Downtown Level 2 Analysis

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To: Mr. Ryan Bianchi

Re:  Ballard Transit Expansion Study

The leadership and volunteers of Seattle Subway would like to thank Sound Transit and the City of Seattle for partnering to take the first steps towards bringing rail to Ballard. The Ballard to Downtown corridor is a key regional corridor that deserves fast, reliable service and connections, and we are excited to see that three of the five options in the Ballard-to-Downtown Transit Study include grade-separated service from Downtown Seattle to Market Street. Specifically, we have the following observations of and recommendations for the proposed grade-separated segments studied so far:

  • Grade-separation. Alternatives A, B, and D are grade separated and will provide a faster alternative to driving in traffic between Ballard and Downtown Seattle. Regarding the at grade sections included in option B north of Market street: We want to urge Sound Transit to not intermingle at grade sections into a line that would function best as 100% grade separated. The at grade sections would hamper the speed and reliability of the entire line and would preclude the option to select better rail technology, specifically both driverless technology and the fastest possible technology. Seattle Subway recognizes that Crown Hill may not be currently considered for grade separation. However, we urge Sound Transit to consider the system-wide impacts of at-grade alignment well into the future.
  • Operable Bridges. While options A and B consider operable bridges, none of the options studied include bridges that would be likely to open more than a few times a week. Seattle Subway urges Sound Transit to study the highest possible vessel clearance for bridges in order to minimize delays.
  • Future Connectivity. In all options, Seattle Subway hopes to see designs that are compatible with and connect to the studies currently underway for UW-to-Ballard and for Downtown-to-West Seattle. Furthermore, in order to accommodate the growth coming to Seattle and to get the most out of public investments, we believe it will be critical to design any downtown tunnel with the ability to split and connect to an additional line entering and exiting downtown in the future.

That being said, our work is far from over. As 2016 approaches, Seattle Subway realizes the next step towards building a high-quality subway system is preparing a great ballot measure. After Sound Transit completes its long range plan update, it will have an arsenal of studies at its disposal including Ballard-to-Downtown as well as other studies currently underway from Downtown to West Seattle, and from Ballard to the UW. This will give Sound Transit the tools to compose a package for the voters that balances geographic equity with the expense of building fast, reliable infrastructure that does not get stuck in traffic, and we urge the agency to use these studies to tailor the ballot measure to best fit each neighborhood and lay the groundwork for a system that will serve Seattle and the region for the next one-hundred years.

While Seattle Subway envisions high quality rail built to every neighborhood in Seattle, we realize that finite resources mean there will be difficult choices and tradeoffs. In a future package we hope to see as much of our vision funded for construction as possible, however we realize the scope of that package will depend on the availability of state and federal funding. Thus, we encourage Sound Transit to set aside money in that package for planning and design in all of the remaining Seattle-area corridors so that design decisions captured in the Long Range Plan don’t preclude the eventual build out of the rest of the system. Furthermore, we want to stress that tradeoffs should not include at-grade alignments as cost-saving measures. For example, a cost-saving measure for Alternative D (from Level 2 analysis) would not be Option 5 (from Level 1 analysis) – it would be an updated version of Alternative A or B  (from Level 2 analysis). Lastly, as Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan studies continue, we encourage the agency to build early community support by promoting their efforts specifically to those neighborhoods where rail is being studied, such as West Seattle and communities along the 45th Street corridor.

Again, we write in support of the work Sound Transit has done for Seattle and the region. We are passionate fans who urge Sound Transit to build a system designed from the beginning to serve every neighborhood so that we can realize our shared vision:  A city and region fully connected by fast, reliable high capacity transit.

Thank You,

Seattle Subway

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Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer organization that advocates for grade-separated rail transit in Seattle.

Seattle Subway’s Thoughts on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan

Our Vision has been well publicized so Seattle Subway focused on three other areas in our public comment letter:

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To: Sound Transit’s Board and the entire Sound Transit staff

Re: We need fast, reliable, transit that is both economically sustainable and designed for future expansion.

Seattle Subway is thrilled to see that Sound Transit has begun the study work for ST3 corridors – which, within Seattle, include Ballard to Downtown, Downtown to West Seattle, and Ballard to the U-District – and that Sound Transit is aiming to run a 2016 ballot measure. Congratulations are also in order for U-Link, which is on track to be both under budget and ahead of schedule. We are writing this public comment letter for Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update to urge Sound Transit to: (1) use driverless technology for all new rail lines, (2) design and construct all future rail lines prioritizing further expansion and (3) select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology.

1. Use driverless technology for all new rail lines

Funding for operations is critical to the economic health of any transit system and the direct Return on Investment (ROI) case for rail projects. The former is demonstrated by the current funding shortfall for King County Metro’s operations. Though the subsidy for each ride on Link will be far lower when U-Link opens, current fares pay for less than 30% of total operating cost per trip. The driverless system in Vancouver, BC covers its entire operating budget via fares; possible due to their low cost per trip. In 2011, Vancouver’s driverless system’s operating expense per trip was $1.97. Using Vancouver’s 2011 expenses per trip, Sound Transit’s revenue per trip in 2011 of $2.05 would have covered operating expenses completely. Such driverless systems convey three immense benefits: 1. Massive savings to taxpayers through faster ROI on rail system investment; 2. A more flexible system, which does not incur cost penalties to run a 1-car train every 2.5 minutes instead of a 4-car train every 10 minutes; and 3. Permanently removing partisan politics as a threat to funding operations of new rail lines.

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