ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner

We’re finally here:  ST3 Planning level 3 is where we cut everything but two options and send those on for an environmental impact study. Those options will include a high end options that relies on local funding an an affordable option that doesn’t.  At this point, our primary concern is with the low end options. There is a conversation to be had in the future about whether spending $1.9B on high end ST3 options makes sense and where the money will come from, but that’s a topic for another day.

Right now we need to make sure the affordable options that we send through are acceptable in case additional local funding never comes.  Building on our central concepts of Reliability, Expandability, and Accessibility along with our Level 2 feedback and plea to put riders first, here is what we’re focused on now by station:


Though we’ve heard ST staff say many times that the options are mix and match, we don’t get the impression they mean it when it comes to the Ballard station location.  As we (and others) have said many times a 14th NW station and a drawbridge are both unacceptable.  A drawbridge is an unacceptable reliability compromise for the future or our system.  A station on 14th NW simply doesn’t serve riders west of 15th or transfers well.  A station on 15th NW with entrances on both sides of the street does.

A 14th high bridge crossing with a station on 15th is our minimal expectation for an affordable option.  While it’s not impossible to see local funding via the port come through for a tunnel to Ballard, as the current options stand, the 15th Ave NW tunnel station the only option we can support.  

Continue reading “ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner”

A Gondola Amenity Station for SLU

It looks like Bogota may copy Medellin’s concept of putting community amenities at gondola stations.  These include libraries, community centers, police stations, medical clinics, theaters and other community amenities that the neighborhoods needed anyway.  Although this adds* to the apparent cost of a gondola line, it spreads out the reach of these community resources, and gives some cost savings in combining two projects into one.

I think a similar strategy would be a great idea for the Queen Anne – SLU – Capitol Hill line.  The Capitol Hill station would connect to a light rail station and the Queen Anne station would land in one of Seattle’s largest amenities.  But South Lake Union is a new and quickly growing neighborhood without any amenities at all.  It could use a school, a library, or a community center.

And I should add that this strategy could also be useful for other forms of transit.  It would have been nice to add something on top of the Beacon Hill station, for example.

* This is an understatement.  “Only 6-7 % of the total cost of the Metrocable went to the transit system and infrastructure itself.”

Priority Treatments on the Streetcar

One of the more exciting ideas in the new Transit Master Plan is the Rapid Streetcar Network, which is a way of having Seattle control its own transit destiny. The crucial word is “rapid,” which makes this potentially transformative rather than a fancier bus line. The lines would have significant stretches of dedicated right-of-way and ubiquitous priority treatments.  But how are Seattle’s existing and under-construction lines doing in this regard?

According to SDOT’s Ethan Melone, of the 18 signalized intersections on the South Lake Union line, ten have some sort of signal priority or preemption, while only one has a queue jump.

That’s not ideal, but it’s a magic carpet compared to the First Hill Line. I count twenty-two signals each way,  and Mr. Melone confirms there will be only four priority signals: across Broadway & Boren and Broadway & Howell in both directions; southbound, the left from Broadway to Yesler and the right from 14th to Jackson, across the diagonal of Rainier/Boren; and northbound, the left turns on and off 14th Ave.

Mr. Melone explains that cost, which is “a few thousand dollars per intersection,” is not the constraint. Instead, the transit lines and high vehicle volumes that cross Broadway make “it difficult to prioritize green time for the streetcar through movement, because of the impacts to transit/traffic on the other movements.” However, he adds:

Signal priority is therefore pretty limited, but we have made other changes—signalized left turn pockets on Broadway, the southbound exclusive track on 14th, and the streetcar-only approach lanes at each terminus, some new left turn restrictions—that supplement the signal priority in terms of speeding up the streetcar operation as much as possible in this corridor.

I find this disappointing for reasons of perception and branding. Although from an engineering perspective the time penalty of a traffic light may be small, coming to a complete stop creates the perception that the ride is slow. If the city can show voters that the streetcar network is more than just more transit stuck in traffic, they might be more inclined to support it. And frankly, if rail isn’t a means of making priority more politically viable the capital expense is much less compelling in corridors that don’t need the extra capacity.

As a candidate, Mayor McGinn understood this, saying that we should “strive to make [the FHSC] quick and separate it from traffic as much as is feasible.” Obviously, there are many cooks in the kitchen of this project besides the Mayor, but it’s sad his department hasn’t been more imaginative in fulfilling that sentiment.