Seattle Subway’s summary recommendations for the ST3 DEIS

As the public comment window for Sound Transit’s West Seattle Ballard Link Extension draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) comes to a close, it’s time to make your voice heard about what will be built as part of ST3. 

As always, powerful stakeholders who do not prioritize transit quality are very well represented in this process – we need your voice to make sure that our leaders hear from future transit riders.  When evaluating options, we focus  on what will be best for transit riders: reliability, expandability, and accessibility.  

There were a lot of surprises in this round of Sound Transit planning. Some of them were positive, such as options in West Seattle that seem to address both community and transit riders’ concerns, and cost parity between elevated and tunnel options in both Ballard and West Seattle.  

Some surprises were cause for alarm, such as deep stations, slow transfers, and lack of options that serve Central Ballard and South Lake Union. Sound Transit made significant steps  during this round but still has a long way to go. Sound Transit needs to study more options; because of that, we are not ready to recommend specific options for every alignment and station presented. After reviewing the draft plan, these are Seattle Subway’s recommendations for giving feedback on Sound Transit’s DEIS.  


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Put First Hill back on the table?

As Sound Transit has moved the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) through the EIS process, several challenges have emerged, with early concerns focused on the Ballard and West Seattle termini. These are nowhere near solved, but a compromise alignment seems within reach.

The middle of the line is another question: serious disruption in Chinatown / ID, deep stations with poor transfers, and some really complicated maneuvering and bridging required in SODO to add a second set of tracks that isn’t strictly necessary. Meanwhile, the only palatable option in CID, a shallow 4th Avenue station, adds $500M to the project budget and has some nasty impacts.

So, since it’s Saturday and we’re waiting for the EIS comment period to close, let us indulge ourselves in an alternative alignment through downtown that avoids some of these problems.

Continue reading “Put First Hill back on the table?” | 129 comments

SLU Station Can Be Better, Cheaper, and Easier to Build on Westlake

When looking at the two options presented by Sound Transit for South Lake Union (SLU) in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), we’re struck by how poorly the station will serve South Lake Union.  The Harrison option is deep at about 120’ and all the way on the western edge of SLU.  The Mercer option is slightly less deep at about 85’ but its location west of highway 99 isn’t really in SLU and involves an extremely poor pedestrian environment.  Both stations are monumentally difficult to build and expensive due to their proximity to highway 99.  We can avoid all of those issues and build a station that serves South Lake Union far better by building the SLU station on Westlake.  

The Center of SLU deserves a station.

A station under Westlake located approximately between Harrison and Republican has a lot of advantages. Though it’s still slightly to the west of the center of South Lake Union, the walkshed includes nearly all of this dense neighborhood.  It’s aligned with the Denny station which means isolated construction impacts and the potential for a shallow station.  It can also cross SR 99 further north where it isn’t as deep while avoiding the need for a complex and expensive mined station under the highway.  

Central SLU is somewhere around Westlake and Republican

A SLU station under Westlake aligned north/south can also serve the dense population and job centers to the north and east far better than the proposed DEIS SLU station locations.  Aligning the station north/south will also enable a future Link extension along the highway 99 corridor much easier – opening up one of the best corridors for transit oriented development opportunities in the country.  

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Route 48 Electrification Expected in 2026

STB has been on the 23rd Ave electrification beat since 2011, and the last update was via CHS in 2016, when trolleybus service was projected to begin in 2018. The street repaving and pole installation described in 2016 is long ago complete, and 2018 was a while ago, but Route 48 is, alas, still plied only by diesel hybrids. I contacted King County Metro for an update on this project, and here’s what I heard (emphasis added):

Continue reading “Route 48 Electrification Expected in 2026” | 67 comments

Diagramming station depths

Sound transit has a blog post up that pairs well with our recent discussions of transfers and deep stations:

As people have begun to study the recently published Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), some have wondered about the depths of the stations and what the rider experience would be like to access the platforms and transfer between lines.

There are several factors in the Downtown segment that influence the depths of the tunnel stations.

In addition to physical considerations like existing terrain, soil properties, and existing underground infrastructure or building foundations, geometric design constraints imposed by the depths of adjacent stations also may determine how deep underground a station must be built.

Click through for a visual comparison of the station depths. You can see that a “shallow” station on 4th in the CD would be deeper than Capitol Hill, for example. Or that a deep station in the CID would require an even deeper Midtown one.

Regarding Midtown, one interesting idea that’s stuck with me is, given the steepness of the hill, a street-level entrance on 2nd & Madison, with a long pedestrian tunnel, could connect directly to a 5th & Madison station that would otherwise be only accessible by elevator.


ST3 Transfers Must be Excellent

Convenient transfers can transform a good transit network into a great one. When you don’t think twice about switching lines, the network is really doing its job. Unfortunately the designs proposed for ST3’s two new massive transfer stations, Westlake and International District (ID) Stations fall well short of that mark. These designs feel like they come from principles steeped in “transit is only for commuters” or “transit is for other people” rather than what they should be:  transit intended to be the primary way everyone gets around the city.

So what makes a good transfer?  Some of that is subjective – people don’t want to have to cross the street or get rained on in the process, but most of it is objective:  How fast can I get to the platform with the other train I need to catch?  Anything over three minutes for an average rider is too long: after making it to the platform you still have to wait for the next train. Getting from one line to another has to feel as close to seamless as possible.

ID Station

Of the ID station options presented in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, only two seem to be worth further discussion: 4th and 5th Avenue “shallow.”  As we noted in our deep stations post, we were disappointed to see that shallow doesn’t actually mean shallow – it just means less deep than the absurdly deep options.  Sound Transit excluded a real shallow 5th Avenue option from consideration in a previous analysis phase due to construction impacts and considered a shallow 4th station too risky due to proximity to the existing DSTT.  Not having either option to discuss or recommend at this phase is a major miss because rider experience matters and shallow stations provide the best rider experience possible.

Of the “shallow” options presented, 4th seems to have the most potential. It could be a real transportation hub located between the existing ID station and Sounder/Amrak with direct transfers from buses on 4th Avenue. It also appears to be the hardest to fix for riders without switching to a station design that is as shallow as the existing ID station. Very common transfers from the line that terminates in Tacoma and Ballard are expected to take four minutes. We don’t see obvious ways to speed that up but we’ll leave those solutions to engineers. Sound Transit estimates that 43% of the daily 34,200 riders will arrive via transfers. That means every minute shaved off transfer times will collectively save these 14,700 riders transferring at this station ten days, every day.

Very common transfers add four minutes to each trip. ℅ Sound Transit.  
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Link options in Interbay

A series of public meetings focused on limited segments of the WSBLE DEIS is underway. Those who are unable to attend can comment by email, voicemail or snail mail using this page. You can even schedule a 20-minute virtual meeting with the project team to ask questions about the DEIS in the meantime. 

As a supplement to the previous Ballard-focused post, I wanted to include some brief details about the South Interbay (Smith Cove) segment shown below.

You can find details about each of the proposed alternatives on one page here. Key impacts such as estimated costs, ridership, displacements and disruption from construction are summarized here.

Below are some site context photos scraped from Google Street View. Note that these are the approximate suggested station locations, not the suggested station entrance locations.

SIB-1 Galer Street – Looking northwest towards Magnolia from Elliot Ave W
SIB-2, SIB-3 Prospect Street – Looking northwest towards Magnolia from Elliot Ave W

A few notes about this segment:

Continue reading “Link options in Interbay” | 14 comments

No good options in CID

Lizz Giordano, South Seattle Emerald:

The CID is preparing for a messy buildout for the West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail Extension that will run a second set of tracks through the neighborhood. After weighing options studied in a newly released planning document, many in the CID say the choice is clear: lay tracks under 4th Avenue to avoid taking land from the Chinatown Historic District.

The existing light rail line, with its 19 stations including the existing one in the CID, began operating in 2009 and now runs from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Northgate. For the new extensions, Sound Transit is considering building the CID station below 4th or 5th Avenues, just south of Jackson Street not far from the existing light rail station. Only the route along 4th Avenue bypasses the neighborhood, preserving buildings in the CID. 

Sound Transit sill has fourth options for Chinatown / International District (CID). 4th or 5th Avenues, deep or shallow stations. None of them are great. Deep stations have crappy transfers to the existing CID station. Shallow stations are very disruptive, as the article suggests. 4th Avenue adds half a billion in costs (roughly the cost of a West Seattle tunnel). could displace Metro’s Ryerson Base, and would make Stadium Station permanently inaccessible for riders coming North from Tacoma / Ranier Valley. Here are the gory details from the Draft EIS:

Chinatown residents have a strong case that 5th Avenue would be devastating to the neighborhood, and the result would only be marginally beneficial for a neighborhood that already has excellent transit access. While shallow stations are disruptive, deep stations completely fail to offer acceptable transfer options between the 1 Line and the 3 Line. If I were Mayor Harrell, newly installed on the Sound Transit board, I’d be prodding city and ST staff for more creative options here.


Commute Seattle’s 2021 mode survey

Madeline Feig, Commute Seattle blog:

However, the pandemic significantly altered travel behavior, and this year’s data broke from these historic trends. Comparing 2019 to 2021, the share of remote work among all Downtown commuter modes increased by 36 percentage points, to 43.3% of all surveyed trips. The percentage of transit trips, once at an eight-year high, dropped from nearly 50% to 18%. Walk/bike and rideshare trips decreased slightly, while the percentage of those driving alone to work remained flat.

The chart above puts in context what I think we all know anecdotally to be true: working from home soared, while transit use cratered.

Seeing these numbers and reading about more employees opting to work from home, I began to worry about the future of the ORCA Business Passport program, which sustains so much of transit agencies’ revenue. So I phoned Madeline Feig to ask whether commuter benefit programs were at risk of being slashed.

Feig noted that Seattle’s Commuter Benefit Ordinance, which went into effect just about the time Covid started showing up in the US, requires “businesses with 20 or more employees… to offer their employees the opportunity to make a monthly pre-tax payroll deduction for transit or vanpool expenses.” For many businesses, especially small ones, offering an ORCA card is the simplest way of complying with the law. No complicated reimbursement forms required.


Transit agencies roll out spring service changes

King County Metro rolled out its spring service change last Saturday, with new green-striped schedule pamphlets.

Several routes’ schedules were adjusted to better serve school bell times, including routes 48, 50, 106, 107, 128, and 269. Routes 106 and 107 will have a slightly different schedule on Wednesdays than the rest of the week.

Routes 302 and 303 were adjusted to better serve shift times for some First Hill employers.

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Are ST3’s Deep Stations a Problem?

Like most observers, we were shocked when we saw how deep Sound Transit’s station plans were for the new downtown tunnel. Beyond engineering complexity, deep stations can present a problem for riders: getting to and from the surface isn’t always easy and fast.  This concern is particularly amplified by the location and intention of these stations, downtown stations are expected to be high-ridership and a lot of trips will be short. 

Before the pandemic, a large portion of trips in the current Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) both started and terminated in the tunnel.  We would expect demand for these kinds of trips to be even higher when the new ST3 tunnel opens, which adds high value tunnel destinations at Denny, South Lake Union, and Seattle Center. That demand might look elsewhere if the rider experience is bad, adding 5 minutes to both sides of a short ride just to get to the platform doesn’t really make sense for riders. The scale of the investment detaches from the utility of the infrastructure.  In short – this tunnel is very expensive and better be very good too.

So, is it possible to have deep stations but maintain a good rider experience?  The center of this issue for riders is about speed and reliability to get to and from the train platform.  The depth of the station isn’t an issue if you and 200 of your fellow riders can get from the platform to the surface in a couple of minutes.  That means that escalators are pretty much out as a primary means of getting people in/out of a station that is over 100 feet deep. Sound Transit’s DEIS presented the following depth options for each station: Midtown:  140-190, Westlake: 125-140, Denny 100-125, SLU 85-120, Seattle Center 85-120.  That means it’s very likely that every station in the new DSTT would fail riders if the primary conveyance is escalators.  

  Midtown station, ℅ Sound Transit.  Riders are skeptical.  

Continue reading “Are ST3’s Deep Stations a Problem?” | 326 comments

ST3’s Ballard Station Has to Serve Ballard

As we review the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) results as presented by Sound Transit, the decision to cut out all the central Ballard station options stands out as a huge mistake. There is only one Ballard station in ST3 and we have only one chance to get this right. We need a Ballard station where it will serve people who live in and visit Ballard:  20th and Market, directly in the center of the urban village.  

A place is not defined by its largest intersection. The EIS includes two station location options, 15th and Market and 14th and Market. Though a station at 15th and Market is marginally better than a station at 14th and Market, neither serve the entertainment district on Ballard Avenue well or maximize usability for most people who already live in Ballard. The forthcoming Ballard station doesn’t need to rely on new transit oriented development; there is already an urban neighborhood there in need of transit service already  – this must be development-oriented transit.

The good news is that Sound Transit studied the 20th tunnel option during Pre-DEIS work and discovered the obvious:  A 20th Avenue station performed significantly better for riders than the other options presented. The bad news is the station was cut from consideration before the EIS process for cost reasons. But an interesting thing has happened since then: the EIS analysis brought cost parity between elevated and tunnel options in Ballard. An elevated 15th station with a drawbridge now costs the same as a 14th tunnel now.  Would that cost parity extend to a 20th station?  It might. We need Sound Transit to go back to the drawing board and find out, because the difference for thousands of daily riders is significant.

20th is much better than 15th for riders (and 15th is better than 14th.)  
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News roundup: service change

Pierce Transit 2021 Gillig Low Floor Electric 526

This is an open thread.


News roundup: safety

SEATTLE--303 at Westlake

This is an open thread.


Action Alert:  SSB 5528 In House Transportation Committee

Senate Bill 5528 is moving!  It passed the Washington State Senate with Bi-Partisan Support and is now scheduled for public hearing in the House Transportation Committee on Thursday, at 1:30pm.  

We need your help to make this bill become law. 

To show your support for more and better transit:

  1. Go to the House Committee Sign In
  2. Select position:  “Pro”
  3. Enter your information
  4. Verify that you are not a robot
  5. Click “Submit Registration”
  6. That’s it!

A huge thank you to all of the sponsors of this bill in the Senate:  Senators Pedersen, Liias, and Hawkins; and in the House:  Representatives Hackney, Berry, Fitzgibbon, Ryu, Valdez, Wicks, Chopp, Pollet, Bergquist, Macri, Lekanoff.

If you support more transit service at local levels, you can help make it a reality, it takes under 30 seconds: sign in pro for the House Hearing of 5528.
State Senate Roll Call results: thank you to the Senators that voted in favor of SSB 5528