Environmental Impact of Transit Projects such as the West Seattle Link Extension

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!

Continue reading “Environmental Impact of Transit Projects such as the West Seattle Link Extension”

A win-win for the CID dilemma: Stick with current tunnel

The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel bends towards the south under Pine St to Third Avenue after leaving Westlake Station. (Oran Viriyincy)

New proposals for a second tunnel would increase cost, but none provide a compelling rider experience. Let’s just improve our existing tunnel and use the savings to make up for lost time on other projects.

ST3 promised higher capacity transit through downtown by building a second tunnel with seamless transfers at Westlake and Chinatown/International District (CID), along with an additional Midtown station at 5th & Madison. But after looking into the details, the seamless transfers may not be achievable. The tunnel would be far more complex, time consuming and expensive to build than anticipated. It would also burden the CID, which has already seen a lot of construction-related disruption and loss of properties. Sound Transit abandoned the idea of a station on 5th Avenue South and proposed a shallower 4th Avenue South station. But this station would increase construction time and cost. Because of the additional burden to the neighborhood, there have been two recent guest editorials against it, in The Seattle Times and The Stranger. Sound Transit responded by proposing to combine the Midtown station with a North CID station close to Pioneer Square and/or a South CID station as an alternative. Unfortunately, neither station would provide easy access to the heart of the CID, nor to King Street station with Sounder, Amtrak, the streetcar, and many bus lines along Jackson Street, 2nd Avenue, and Yesler Way. Currently the 1 Line stops at 5 stations downtown (Stadium, CID, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake). This new line would now stop at only 2 or 3 stations, forcing a transfer at SODO which neither provides frequent service nor is well designed as a transit station, as Stephen Fesler pointed out. Residents are concerned it would break South Seattle apart when they are already suffering from frequent accidents and disruptions due to the at grade alignment.

While various alignments and station locations have been discussed, It is time to focus on an alternative which Sound Transit considered before they put the 2nd tunnel proposal before voters: to upgrade the existing tunnel to allow interlining of all lines through the existing tunnel. Capacity would increase, likely with better signaling systems and better ventilation. MUNI did this in 2010 and Frankfurt just started. This would avoid any disruption of the CID, be available much sooner, and be much better for riders. There are more stations in the existing tunnel, they are closer to the surface. Same direction transfers would be trivial. Reverse directions would be easy, and even easier if center platforms were added. The carbon footprint would be far lower (WSBLE is currently estimated to generate 3 million tons of carbon), and of course, this would be much cheaper.

Continue reading “A win-win for the CID dilemma: Stick with current tunnel”

The case for Automated Light Metro Technology for Ballard and South Lake Union

Sept. 2020 rendering of 160 Street Station on the Surrey-Langley SkyTrain Extension. (TransLink)

ST3 passed enthusiastically in the Seattle region because voters were excited to get mobility improvements. However, Sound Transit has had trouble coming up with compelling designs to deliver on this promise. To address this problem, we should revisit some of the design assumptions.

Vancouver’s SkyTrain and Montreal’s REM took far less time to design and construct. We can learn from them and adopt automated train technology. If Sound Transit would interline trains in the existing tunnel and keep the Ballard to Westlake line separate, the new line could use different technology.

Continue reading “The case for Automated Light Metro Technology for Ballard and South Lake Union”

What do we name the different Link lines?

A few months ago, Sound Transit backtracked on their decision to name the different Link lines after colors (e.g. Red Line, Blue Line, etc.). This was a wise move for several reasons, among them the history of red-lining in housing, the difficulty of explaining what “red” is to non-English speakers, and potential difficulties for colorblind users.

While Sound Transit have already committed to changing the naming scheme, they have yet to announce what that scheme will be. While many different name examples abound in transit systems around the world, I will contest that naming our rail lines “L-number” (e.g. L1, L2, etc.) is the best for a number of reasons, including local and international consistency, ease of explanation to new users, and simplicity.

Six possible line designators, chosen to be maximally colorblind safe.

Today, our bus-heavy system already uses numbers (the 8) and letters (RapidRide E), meaning any name will need to distinguish itself from those. Since our rail system is regularly referred to as Link Light Rail, naming Link lines L1, L2, and so on will make it easy for users to know that they need a train, not a bus, in a manner consistent with local standards. Additionally, many systems around the world use a similar naming scheme – Barcelona, Munich, Mexico City, Bilbao, and many more cities use a similar pattern. Copying their consensus will make life easier for visitors used to other systems.

Continue reading “What do we name the different Link lines?”

A “Precedent Setting” $10 million Mercer Island Settlement

I-90 Floating Bridge and Mercer Island (Image: Joe Wolf)

The Sound Transit Board approved a $10 million settlement agreement with Mercer Island after residents lost special access to Interstate 90 due to the expansion of light rail. Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, a Sound Transit board member, cast the only dissenting vote during the board’s June 22 meeting.

“As a fiduciary of this organization I’m not going to be able to support this today,” Strickland said. “We have to look at things such as equity and fairness.”

“Some of this agreement does include the mitigations we would make, but it’s not a $2 million settlement, it’s not a $4 million settlement, it’s not a $6 million settlement, it’s a $10 million settlement,” she added. “In the world of Sound Transit maybe that’s budget dust, but we are setting a precedent. It’s not about the amount, it’s about setting a precedent, despite the fact that we, Sound Transit, keep winning in court.”

In February the Mercer Island City Council voted to sue Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) after the town lost special access to I-90’s high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes to make room for light rail. Mercer Island drivers would now have to abide by the HOV-2 standards. Mercer Island argued that a 1976 agreement provided them with lasting rights to HOV lanes, while WSDOT said that single-occupant vehicle (SOV) access to HOV lanes was intended to be temporary, and allowing continued SOV use of HOV lanes would violate federal law and jeopardize funding agreements.

Bellevue Councilmember and Sound Transit board member Claudia Balducci defended the settlement, calling it fair, reasonable, and the board’s responsibility after conditions changed and Mercer Island was no longer able to retain the same access to I-90. Continue reading “A “Precedent Setting” $10 million Mercer Island Settlement”

SR520 Route Restructure Open House

Eastside bus riders, feeling the slow-down from traffic congestion, have already begun taking advantage of the quick ride the Link Light Rail offers, transferring to the train at the University Washington Station to head downtown.

“It’s just six minutes from UW to Westlake on the train,” said Ted Day, a transit planner for King County Metro, during an open house presentation on June 19 near the UW Station. “That’s incredible. There’s no other way you can do that, except in the air, and I don’t know many people who own helicopters.”

“People are already adapting, getting on the Link at the UW Station to come downtown,” he added.

King County Metro and Sound Transit, preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, are planning a major restructuring of Eastside bus routes for 2018.

This is the first restructuring of Eastside buses to facilitate better connections to light rail, the transit agencies plan to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the UW Station. The restructuring would then free up buses that would have been entangled in downtown traffic, allowing the agencies to expand services to new areas and increase the frequency of buses throughout the day.

Three options were presented:

  • No change to service
  • “Frequency focus”: Redirect all routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
  • “Connections focus”: Redirect some routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland

The June 19 meeting was sparsely attended with most participants wandering in after seeing signs posted for the event. For many attendees of the open house, either alternative option would improve their commute due to the expanded services to SLU and north of the University. The main difference between the two plans is with option b buses would be more frequent while option c allows for better connections for new service areas.

Participants were asked to rank the options, the most popular was option b, focusing on increasing frequency of buses. Riders acknowledged that transferring to link when heading downtown will eventually be faster than traveling by bus.

Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, wants to see the transfer experience improved.

Continue reading “SR520 Route Restructure Open House”

WPC: “Sound Transit officials may not need any tax increase to build more light rail”

Folks, if there’s any truth in this Washington Policy Center op-ed, I think we need to discuss a potential option if we do not get ST3.  Most of us here are not too keen on extending the spine to Everett with an expensive Paine Field detour of questionable value when a better bus network & a vastly improved marketing campaign would work wonders.  Almost all of us here are of the view that Ballard needs a light rail spur.

So when I came across these Washington Policy Center allegations, I had to share so we could discuss this:

Sound Transit officials may not need any tax increase to build more light rail.  How?  Because of the revenue that is hidden in the way Sound Transit officials calculate their future borrowing costs.

Sound Transit officials’ most recently adopted financial plan through 2023 assumes they will borrow $7.3 billion at a 5.75% interest rate, paid off over 30 years.  Their interest rate cost assumption is high, especially since they are actually issuing debt now at far-lower interest rates.

In 2012 Sound Transit officials borrowed $216 million at a rate of only 2.62%, less than half of what they assume as their future interest rate cost.  Just a few months ago, they borrowed $1.3 billion as a federal TIFIA loan at a 2.38% interest rate.  The TIFIA loan can be paid off over 40 years, and the first payment isn’t due until 2028!  Today, Sound Transit could borrow money for 30 years at fixed interest rates between 2% to 3% (or at lower variable rates), about half of its current budget assumption.

So what does this mean?

If Sound Transit officials simply changed their financial plan to assume a more-realistic 3% interest rate, they could borrow an additional $2.2 billion without raising regressive taxes and keep their debt payments the same.   That is enough public money to build light rail to downtown Redmond (approximately $800 million) and build much of the line from Ballard to U.W. (approximately $1.7 billion) without raising regressive tax rates at all.

Sound Transit’s financial report shows the agency thinks it can only borrow $7.3 billion at current tax rates, when they may actually be able to borrow closer to $9.4 billion without raising taxes.  This is not fair to the taxpayers.

We agree with using conservative estimates and careful budgeting by public agencies, but in this case, the interest rate estimates Sound Transit officials are using are extreme, and come at the expense of the taxpayers.

I am of the view we do need these projects as a state.  I am also of the view we need to force Snohomish County to come to reality about their transit situation.  I am finally unqualified to speak of transit needs between Tacoma & Seattle – I will leave that to the comment threads.  But this is something we in the STB community need to discuss and have a no-new-taxes contingency plan ready to unite behind and present to Sound Transit’s Board if necessary either if the legislature nips ST3 in the bud or the voters reject ST3.

One last thing: If you have evidence the above WPC op-ed is untrue, present it.  Otherwise…

Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point

View post on imgur.com

A couple of days ago there was a great deal of discussion about the merits and costs of a Sand Point crossing. There are two things that a study would find out that everybody would like to know; the monetary cost of the crossing and the potential ridership over the connection. Unfortunately I can’t give any insight into those things. What I can to do is provide some tangible benefits based on travel time using Seattle Subway’s previous posts about the Crossing, Ballard Spur and Better Eastside rail.

Continue reading “Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point”

Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits

Tukwila Int'l Blvd. Station
Tukwila International Boulevard Station, by l0st2

Paid P&R parking is getting its nose under the tent at Sound Transit.

In its meeting last Thursday, the Operations and Administration Committee of the ST Board voted to recommend that the full Board approve a parking pilot program. The Board is expected to vote in favor at its Thursday meeting. The pilot is described in this draft board motion which was attached to the agenda for the committee meeting.

By far the most noteworthy component of the pilot program is paid parking permits, which would guarantee parking availability at high-demand P&R lots to permit holders, even if they arrive later in the morning. This is a first in the Puget Sound area. ST would initially reserve 20% of the spaces at the following four ST-operated P&R facilities for permit holders:

  • Tukwila International Boulevard Station
  • Issaquah Transit Center
  • Sumner Station
  • Mukilteo Station

This is fantastic news. Details below the jump.
Continue reading “Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits”

Mercer Island Station Open House Report

Screenshot 2013-06-07 at 6.33.04 PM

Thursday evening Sound Transit staff conducted an open house at the Mercer Island Community Center focused on the East Link light rail extension. Approximately 80 to 90 people, including staff, trickled in throughout the evening, which included the brief opening, presentation, and Q&A sessions. The presentation centered on the design of Mercer Island Station in particular, approximately 30% complete. Essentially, the alignment of the track is completely determined at this point; several Sound Transit engineers at the open house intimated that this was the crucial first step of the design.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of this, but we’re at a point where we have a good idea of what’ll work correctly,” said David Hewitt, founder of Hewitt, an urban planning and design firm handling the design of Mercer Island Station East Link.

As one resident put it: “They’ve done their homework.”

The Mercer Island Station (a working name) will squat firmly in the center roadway of I-90, with light rail running on either side. From 77th and 80th Avenues SE, riders can stroll into the western and eastern entrances of the station, respectively. Detailed images and layouts are available here.


Each entrance will consist of a plaza with ticketing and seating areas, leading to an escalator, a stair, and an elevator, with surrounding lightweight steel and glass structures. The east entrance will also have a bicycle cage for secure storage. Once a rider descends 25 feet onto the central platform, she has roughly 380 feet of open space in which to frolic, with a central canopy serving as weather cover. Sound-dampening walls specially designed to absorb I-90’s acoustic assault will outline the tracks.

“It’s fairly symmetrical in nature,” Hewitt said. “The scale of the station is a very pleasant one we think.”


More after the jump.

Continue reading “Mercer Island Station Open House Report”

Rider Alert: Link Light Rail: Scheduled Track Maintenance: July 26th-30th

Sound Transit will be performing track maintenance near the Columbia City station from 10pm – 1am on July 26th through July 30th.

Link trains will operate every 25-30 minutes during this period.

The following station platforms will be temporarily closed during the scheduled maintenance:

  • Columbia City — Southbound platform will be closed on Thursday from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.
  • Columbia City — Northbound platform will be closed on Friday from 10 p.m. – 1 a.m.

Please board all trains at the other platform during the times indicated.

New proposal to keep North Link extension underground

Alternative North Link Portal Location. photo courtesy of Mai Ling via Maple Leaf Life

According to Mai Ling of Maple Leaf Life, Sound Transit unveiled an alternative to the North Link light rail line extension at the recent public meeting at Roosevelt High School:

University Link Deputy Project Director Ron Endlich introduced a new proposal to keep the light rail line underneath Interstate 5 farther than the current proposal, which has the trains beginning their rise to freeway level starting at Northeast 75th Street. Under the new proposal, they would rise above ground en route to the Northgate station starting at Northeast 85th Street…

“This will improve our overall construction schedule,” Endlich said. “We believe it will also have a lower net cost to taxpayers under this approach.”… According to a flier from the meeting, the proposal is expected to save $5 million to $10 million.

Rethinking Station Access (II)

Detail of the Bicycling Guide Map. Blue and Green indicate sharrows or better for bikes.

The philosophy behind the plans for Link stations in the Rainier Valley was that people would take “alternate” transportation — buses, bikes, and feet — to get to the train.  A couple of weeks ago, we looked how the bus side of that plan was working out.  Today, walking and biking:


Sound Transit invested a lot in improving sidewalks, along MLK in particular. However, MLK is a relatively undeveloped, low-density corridor by Seattle standards, and the density was further reduced by eminent-domain seizures for construction staging areas.  The walkshed, measured in people, is simply not that large.  West of the line, the steep and heavily wooded side of Beacon Hill further restricts the accessible area.

If walk-up ridership is to significantly improve, the most important thing is to upzone and aggressively encourage dense development, although sidewalk improvements are urgent in the places where they are needed.


Sound Transit was sure to put bicycle racks at each station, and more importantly trains are well designed to accommodate bikes.  However, the failure to put any sort of bike infrastructure on MLK itself  — just rebuilt for the train — is a huge failing.  A quick glance at the latest Seattle Bicycling Guide Map (pdf) shows the pitiful bike infrastructure around most stations.

Beacon Hill is served by sharrows, and Rainier Beach has an actual bike lane (thick blue) and bike trail (green) approaching it.  For the other three Valley stations, there are oh-so-inviting “unmarked, un-signed connectors” (yellow lines) in the rough vicinity of the station.  There isn’t even a signed bicycle route (dotted black line) that takes you directly to any of the five stations in the Southeast.

Building along the relatively sparse MLK corridor, with little to no parking, was a conscious decision to trade lots of ridership now for the promise of a more development, and therefore, more ridership, in the future. While that decision is defensible, it makes it all the more imperative that the City make minor improvements in pedestrian and bike access, as well as doing whatever is necessary to bring about the development that was the purpose of the routing in the first place.

Link Ridership up 8% in March

"Almost Out of Service," photo from Flickr user Atomic Taco.

According to the bean counters at Sound Transit, Link ridership was up in March. 18,094 boardings occurred on the average weekday in March, an 8% leap from 16,741 in February. March 2010 has had Link’s highest weekday ridership so far.

The jump could reflect Metro’s February bus service changes that included ending the 194 route to the airport, and could also reflect a less gloomy economic picture.

We caution readers not to extrapolate too much from a one-month gain in ridership as the data set is too small to make strong conclusions in one direction or the other. Link wasn’t built for its first year of ridership, it was built to serve the region for decades to come. The raw data is accessible here (pdf).

The 2010 Service Implementation Plan (pdf) from Sound Transit predicted that ridership would average 26,600 across the year, a figure that is unlikely to be met. Sources at Sound Transit have told us those estimates do not reflect the lower-than-planned train frequencies and the fact that fares are charged in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, and do not account for the deep recession. It’s unknown if the 2011 Service Implementation Plan will continue to use unreliable estimates.

Rethinking Station Access (I)

"Where's Mt. Baker TC?", by Oran

An important part of Seattle’s decision to not build park-and-rides near most Link stations was the idea that people could take walk, bike, or take the bus to the train.  Indeed, one frequent criticism of Metro is that bus connections are not good enough.  Although Link is usually the better option if you’re actually at the station, close examination of transit options indicates that at the close-in stations if you’re already on the bus, the transfer generally doesn’t pay if you’re headed for the downtown core.

To reach Rainier Beach Station, riders may take the 106.  Simply remaining on the bus will get you downtown in about 38 minutes in the morning rush.  Link takes about 23 minutes for the same trip, so it will get you to work a bit faster, even when you factor in crossing a couple of streets and waiting an average of 4 minutes for a train.

At Columbia City, the 39 is your downtown-bound bus option.  Incredibly, the station is not a timepoint (!), but it’s about 26 minutes to University Street, vs. 16 minutes for Link.  However, in the peak, almost anyone on the 39 for any significant length of time can also choose the 34, which is 11 minutes faster to University Street,  beating 39+Link.  Off peak, the train is either better or a wash, but the 39’s headways are pretty awful.  The 42 is 20 minutes to the ID vs. 12 for Link. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Rethinking Station Access (I)”

Car vs. Link Collision

At Othello, blocking at least some of the track. No further details at this time.

Update: Normal service has resumed.

Update: Sound Transit has released for the following statement:

At 4:20 p.m. today a northbound Link light rail train struck a northbound vehicle that apparently ran a red light to make an illegal left hand turn at Othello Street South. The driver of the vehicle was transported to the hospital with non-life threatening injuries, and medics tended to three Link passengers who had minor injuries. Local news media covered the incident. Light rail trains had to single-track around the accident, causing delays, until the scene was cleared just after 5 p.m.

Bel-Red Open House Tomorrow

There’s been a lot of argument about East Link Segments B and C, but since the “Bel-Red” alignment* was chosen, there hasn’t been very much chatter about Segment D.  That may change with Sound Transit’s open house about this segment tomorrow:

East Link Light Rail Preliminary Engineering Open House

Bel-Red/Overlake Corridor
Thursday, April 1, 2010
5 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Highland Community Center
14224 NE Bel-Red Road, Bellevue

* Not actually on Bel-Red Rd. at any point.

Gregoire Vetoes 520 Light Rail Planning

Update 3/31 @ 11:20am: The governor’s office tells us that this veto just affects the “legislative intent” section of the bill, not the underlying contents which still directs a work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge. However, the underlying legislation — with the “intent” section vetoed — does not direct “any final design of the state route number 520 bridge replacement and HOV program accommodate effective connections for transit, including high capacity transit, including, but not limited to, effective connections for transit to the university link light rail line” as the intent section did. I don’t know if other legislation has this provision.

And while the legislation does direct a King County work group to study high-capacity transit over the bridge, it does not require the bridge accommodate any plans from that group. However, we now understand what the governor’s office meant when it defined a section as “vague;” unfortunately, that section had a stronger requirement for high-capacity transit than the rest of the bill, on my reading.

The Seattle PI report we link to below has not been changed as of this writing.

Original report: The Seattle PI reports on another of today’s vetoes, this time not so transit-friendly.

The governor also vetoed a section of the bill [authorizing the 520 bridge replacement] that directed planners to come up with a final design that could handle both carpool lanes and light rail. However Shelton said the governor still supported ultimately seeing whether the replacement span that connects Seattle with its Eastside suburbs could ultimately accommodate high-capacity transit. She felt the language in the bill first section was “vague.”

“We still have work groups addressing those issues,” [a Gregoire spokesman] said. “The work is still going to get done.”

Light rail across SR-520 is a long time away from being seriously considered. Even in the long haul, though, it would be an up-hill lift to build light rail across the bridge if it meant removing capacity — even if that capacity were just HOV lanes. I think if we were to add light rail to the bridge, it should be done in addition to the HOV lanes on the bridge. So that section of the legislation made sense to me; what’s possibly vague about it?

Mercer Island Link Workshop

If you’re interested in the Mercer Island Link station layout, be sure to attend Sound Transit’s community workshop on the subject this Tuesday, March 9th, from 5-7:30pm with the presentation starting at 6.  It’ll be at the Mercer View Community Center (8236 SE 24th St.)

  • Learn about the East Link light rail system and view in-progress preliminary engineering drawings
  • Share your thoughts about the Mercer Island station layout
  • Tell us more about your community and how East Link can best serve you and Mercer Island.

To beat a dead horse for a moment, Mercer Island residents might let ST know whether or not they want direct Link service to the Downtown Bellevue core, as well as a line that serves the South Bellevue P&R, thus preventing I-90 commuters from having to use the Mercer Island Park & Ride to access Link by car.

First Ad on Link Spotted

Apartments ad
Looking to Rent? Light Rail Stops Here!

Presenting the first advertisement on Link light rail. It is an ad for III Marks Apartments next to Tukwila International Boulevard Station. I like the station symbol included, as it gets people thinking about locations relative to Link stations (and transit lines, in general).

Last November, Clear Channel Outdoor was awarded a contract from Sound Transit to manage all revenue-generating advertising for the agency. This likely explains the absence of ads in the first few months of service of Link. Even after November, there’s a dearth of advertising on Link. The economy obviously affects ad sales but there must be some other reasons why we haven’t seen more ads. I’ve joked that we should have some ads for the blog on the train. Is it a policy to only allow businesses along the line to advertise on Link? Neither Sound Transit nor Clear Channel Outdoor have responded to a request for more information.