Ambitious Training


Ambitious training–Sound Transit is doing just that and in spades. With the unfurling of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) last week, ST’s leadership has given us urban/transit nerds a taste of what may be proposed in a future ST3 package.

2005 Current Plan Alternative

2005 LRPTo the right, we see the 2005 Current Plan Alternative map for light rail and high capacity transit (HCT) with the alignments outlined below.

Light Rail

Potential light rail corridors in the Current Plan Alternative.

A. Tacoma to Federal Way

B. Burien to Renton

C. Bellevue to Issaquah along I-901

D. Renton to Lynnwood along I-405

E. Renton to Woodinville along Eastside Rail Corridor

F. Downtown Seattle to Ballard1

G. Ballard to University of Washington1

H. Lynnwood to Everett

HCT (mode not specified)

K. University of Washington to Redmond via SR-5201

L. Northgate to Bothell on SR-522

1Portions of these corridors could be constructed in tunnels.

We’ve known for some time about most of these corridors, but what we didn’t know before was that some corridors could be constructed by tunnel. In the 2005 LRP, there was no mention of that potential. This gives further credence to the hopes that Downtown to Ballard and Ballard to the U District will in part, if not wholly, be achieved via tunneling. NW Seattle needs another route across the ship canal. And not just any new route, but one that is quick and hassle-free. Everyone in North Seattle can agree that going east-west, west-east is a pain considering the distance and inevitable congestion. Light rail in a tunnel mitigates both of these current pains.

2014 Potential Plan Modifications Alternative

2014 LRPTo the right, we see the 2014 DSEIS Potential Plan Modifications Alternative map for light rail and HCT with the alignments outlined below.

Light Rail

1. Downtown Seattle to Magnolia/Ballard to Shoreline Community College

2. Downtown Seattle to West Seattle/Burien

3. Ballard to Everett Station via Aurora Village, Lynnwood

4. Everett to North Everett

5. Lakewood to Spanaway to Frederickson to South Hill to Puyallup

6. DuPont to Downtown Tacoma via Lakewood, Steilacoom and Ruston

7. Puyallup/Sumner to Renton via SR 167

8. Downtown Seattle along Madison St or to Madrona

9. Tukwila to SODO via Duwamish industrial area

10. North Kirkland or University of Washington Bothell to Northgate via SR 522

11. Ballard to Bothell via Northgate

12. Mill Creek, connecting to Eastside Rail Corridor

13. Tacoma to Ruston Ferry Terminal

14. Tacoma to Parkland via SR7

15. Lynnwood to Everett, serving Southwest Everett Industrial Center (Paine Field and Boeing)

HCT (mode not specified)

19. Tukwila Sounder Station to Downtown Seattle via Sea-Tac Airport, Burien and West Seattle

20. Downtown Seattle to Edmonds via Ballard, Shoreline Community College

21. West Seattle to Ballard via Central District, Queen Anne

A potential new tunnel under Downtown Seattle could also or alternatively support a Ballard-to-Seattle light rail line, which is included in the Current Plan Alternative1.

Under the current plan alternative there are eight corridors. Under the potential plan modifications alternate, there are 15 and that doesn’t include the three HCT corridors. I mean, how sweet is that?

And from first glance, I like what you’re showing ST. We’re seeing at least the following being proposed as potential modifications for the updated Long Range Plan:

  • Three corridors that are effective from Seattle to Everett (H, 3 1, and5)
  • Four corridors in Tacoma (A, 6, 13, and14)
  • Three corridors for West Seattle to Downtown (2, 19 & 21)
  • Six corridors touch Ballard (F, G, 1, 11, 20, and 21)
  • Bothell has three corridors for potential light rail investment (L, 10, and 11)
  • The Central District has a corridor that would connect to both NW and SW Seattle neighborhoods (21)
  • SR 167 gets its corridor changed from BRT study to light rail (N to 7)

Once again, the 1footnote, hopefully indicating a strong willingness to build Downtown to Ballard via tunnel.


Now, there are lots of other goodies in the DSEIS to get excited about (like buses and streetcars all over the place!), and I encourage you all to dive in and see them for yourselves. Once you’re done with that, please provide feedback on what you think of this draft before July 28, 2014, it will only take a few minutes of your time. Remember that there is arguably a ton of power in your feedback.

In the Downtown to Ballard Study results, a resounding 76% of respondents indicated a preferred alignment that would be fully grade separated. The study also found that the alignment would have the highest ridership. In my humble opinion, that is exactly the type of investment we should ask for because the infrastructure being constructed will be long-lasting. Remember to get your comments into ST before July 28th, and then shoot us a comment on this article about which potential plan modification alternative you are most excited about!

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Caelen is a third generation son of Ballard. When he was in high school, his parents moved the family out to beautiful Bainbridge Island where he found himself missing urban life--homesickness for Seattle continued on into his college pursuits. Classically trained in structural engineering with an emphasis in earthquake design, he loves steel, glass, and concrete. He primarily writes about Ballard land use (hopefully home to future TOD) and Sound Transit packages, both emphasizing long-range planning.

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Robert Cruickshank

So what happened to the N-S passenger rail corridor on the Eastside – Lynnwood to Renton via Bellevue? It was in the 2005 plan, is it still there or is it no longer in the 2014 plan? That would be a mistake to remove.

Ultimately we need to include all these routes, and maybe more. The question then becomes how to prioritize and which ones to build first. But we need to build up a list of desired projects. We should not be negotiating with ourselves as to which ones go on the list and which don’t; we should be negotiating with government to see which ones get funded now and which get funded later.

Stephen Fesler

I personally really like 2, 3, 4, 11. The Sounder extensions in Pierce County seem odd to me though.

Robert Cruickshank

The Sounder extensions make sense, as we should aim to connect all cities and towns in the region with rail. Whether they are first in line for funding, of course, is another matter entirely.

Another reason why those are valuable is that they can replace the notorious “cross-base highway” that has long been sought by Pierce County. It’s a lot easier to say “don’t build the highway” if we have an alternative, and rail is a good one.

Stephen Fesler

I might agree had we had growth management much earlier on where you could focus development around the rail corridors there. However, I just see this further legitimising (and inducing) sprawl along the spines while costing a lot of tax dollars to deliver. It would be much more productive in the long-run to encourage the fringe to die off. That said, investment in south Tacoma with LRT is a worthy goal.

Stephen Fesler

In other words, 18 might be a worthy investment for the very north portion of it, but only as LRT or streetcar, not commuter rail.

Robert Cruickshank

I don’t know enough about that area to weigh in on whether it should be LRT or commuter rail. But overall I think the goal should be to connect all the cities with rail. Even the suburbs. The rail stations can act as a spur for better growth and development patterns in those cities, and could make it easier to tighten GMA rules in Pierce County.

Personally, I am willing to accept a sprawl risk as the price of building as much rail as possible. I think the risk is low, and the rewards are significant. We need a transit network that gives people the chance to drive as little as possible.

Stephen Fesler

I can absolutely say that the last thing Pierce County needs is more sprawl. It needs redevelopment, not even building up, just to get out of the progressive ghettoisation that its experiencing. Also, as a growth management planner and environmentalist, I’m not willing to accept *any* sprawl if it can be reasonably prevented.

Robert Cruickshank

Maybe the answer is to provide a rail link (necessary to reduce CO2 emissions) but tie the project to strict anti-sprawl limits.

Matt the Engineer

I’m curious if the studies considered effect of increased frequencies from automation. With current standards and technology, we can only automate trains if we completely grade separate. And automating trains means we get a maximum frequency on day 1, as it doesn’t cost much more to run more trains – you don’t have to pay more people for each extra train you run. But these studies seem to focus just on the effects of route and speed. Frequency is just as important to travel time as speed.


They rejected automation for two reasons. First, it would require full grade separation, which they felt was cost-prohibitive from a capital standpoint. Second, it would be a different technology, and they felt that the benefits of automation didn’t outweigh the disadvantages of using something different (such as needing separate O&M facilities). Both of those are legitimate arguments, and indeed, they’re the same arguments that Vancouver has used in *favor* of building more grade-separated, automated lines (i.e. doing something different would not be sufficiently cheaper to make up for the extra expense of being different).

Matt the Engineer

Interesting. Do you know if a real cost analysis was done? I can’t imagine automation losing to drivers in an apples-to-apples comparison. Even if it did, how about the cost per additional rider compared to the cost per rider for the baseline project. If we’re going with a tunnel anyway it would be very surprising to me if these costs broke in favor of paying drivers.


To my knowledge, they did not do a quantitative comparison.

Do keep in mind that there are real economies of scale. ST is a relatively risk-averse organization; that’s why they abandoned the First Hill Link station, and it’s also why U-Link will be opening early, with absolutely no complications. It’s unquestionable that there’s greater risk in using a new (to ST) technology than in reusing one that they already have. If our goal is to build a functional and comprehensive high-capacity transit network sooner than later, then this is an entirely reasonable trade-off.

Other issues:

– Using SkyTrain-style automation, it’s impossible to have a direct transfer from an automated line to a non-automated one. At the very least, you have to switch to a different track.

– Whenever ST needs to buy new vehicles, they would need to place two smaller articles, which means they get less of a bulk discount.

– ST would need to train two sets of mechanics.

– You can’t extend an automated line unless you’re willing to grade-separate it — even if you’re extending it to an area where grade-separation just isn’t (otherwise) cost-effective.

I very much share your dream of grade-separated rail. I love the freedom that comes with the ultra-high frequency you can achieve with automation. However, I really do think that Sound Transit is being prudent to stick with technologies that they already have experience with.

If we want automation, I think the best way to do it is by gradually updating our existing network in a backwards-compatible way. For example, the Paris Metro has upgraded several systems to driverless operation; in fact, during the transition, there was one line on which automated and manual trains ran simultaneously. This is the kind of thing that we could do on a line-by-line basis, even as we expand the network. We identify portions of the network that are fully grade-separated; buy new driverless trains for those lines; and then move the old trains to new lines that we’re building (that might not yet be grade-separated).

Of course, the same technology that makes driverless cars possible may also make it possible to have driverless trains and buses without grade-separation. Imagine that! 🙂

Matt the Engineer

I think it’s a fine argument to be prudent, but isn’t making this decision before studies are complete missing a significant advantage? If an automated system does increase ridership and decrease costs, that would make a grade separated system more attractive. Not including this might make it look less attractive than other options, which would be a shame.
Personally, I’d support anything that does limit long-distance travel (in my view we’re using light rail wrong), and having to transfer is easy with highly frequent service. But of course I don’t likely have the dominant view.