Sound Transit Submits Suburb-Heavy Expansion Plan


Commuters in Seattle’s suburbs should like what they see in the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan that the Sound Transit Executive Board unveiled on Thursday. Seattle urbanists are left wondering what they get out of the ambitious but suburban-focused 25-year $50 billion plan to bring Sound Transit’s total to 108 miles of rail, a length that would rival BART in San Francisco. Sound Transit officials estimate that $27 billion would come from regional taxes and $23 billion would be leveraged from other sources like the federal government.

Seattle: West Seattle Junction, At Grade To Ballard… That’s It?

The plan would build light rail to West Seattle Junction in 2033 and to Ballard via Interbay and a new Downtown transit tunnel by 2038. The plan calls for at-grade rail in Interbay and a moveable bridge crossing of Salmon Bay which cause some to worry that light rail to Ballard would be bogged down in traffic, both nautical and terrestrial. Sound Transit’s own study found that the at-grade option to be 5 minutes slower than a completely grade-separated option (23 minutes versus 18 minutes). We can take solace that a second Downtown transit tunnel is on the plan, but, without many additional Seattle destinations in the light rail network, that tunnel would also be more about expanding capacity for suburban commuters than it would be about helping Seattleites. If ST3 has $50 billion, why did Sound Transit not pick a gold standard rail option for Ballard? The Ballard-to-Downtown options that were entirely elevated or with a tunnel crossing of Salmon Bay show massively larger ridership. Options C-01B (elevated) and C-01C (tunnel crossing) each showed ridership of 102,000 to 133,000. With the opening of the University Link, the Central Link hit ridership of 57,000 on Tuesday. Option C-01B or C would more than double that, showing its colossal potential. So why did Sound Transit not go with the superior option on travel time, reliability, and ridership?

A portion of the Draft Plan expansion proposal. (Sound Transit)
A portion of the Draft Plan expansion proposal. (Sound Transit)

Extensive Suburban Rail Service

Finishing the Central Link spine north to Everett and south to Tacoma remains the central focus of Sound Transit’s vision. Everett promoted the extravagant option of routing to Paine Field picking up roughly the same ridership while spending about $2 billion more and taking 13 minutes longer than the I-5 alignment, and costing about $1 billion and taking 7 minutes longer than the most direct SR-99 alignment, according to Sound Transit own study.

Extending the East Link to the Redmond city center also got priority by being pegged for 2028 completion. Tacoma Dome would get service by 2033 and Tacoma Community College by 2041.

Meanwhile, Everett could be served by 2041 (a mere 26 years from now) via extensions of the Link spine. Same goes for Bellevue to Issaquah with a 2041 opening while the plan also calls for the extension of Sounder rail service from Lakewood south to DuPont by 2036.

Sound Transit plans to deliver suburban projects first but Seattle would have a 12 year gap from its last station opening in 2012 to its next opening in 2033.
Sound Transit plans to deliver suburban projects first but Seattle would have a 12 year gap from its last station opening in 2012 to its next opening in 2033.

Park The Herald Angels Sing

The plan calls for tons of parking, including early deliverables to Kenmore, Lake Forest Park, Bothell, Kingsgate, several places along the Sounder and in Renton. Plus more later park and ride additions as more suburban stations go online. Early estimates showed that Sound Transit would spend somewhere in the ballpark of $1 billion on parking alone in the ST3 package. If we’re looking for funds for a Ballard-to-UW like we should be, this is one place to find them. Let the private sector handle more of our parking concerns as we’ve laid out. Don’t blow a billion of our precious transit dollars storing cars. Seattle Mayor Ed Murray asked Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff about starting to charge for parking at Sound Transit garages to recover operating cost if not capital expenses and Rogoff didn’t really have a firm answer beyond: we’re going to study/look into that.

BRT For The Suburbs

Bus rapid transit is slated for the I-405 corridor from Lynnwood to Burien and the SR-522 corridor from Bothell to the 145th Street Link station on the edge of Seattle, both to be completed by 2024. In an early deliverable, Sound Transit promises to implement shoulder-running for express buses, which may speed up service if highway traffic doesn’t become much more crippling than it is today.

Upgrading RapidRide: C & D Are Promised Love, E Is Forgotten

Responding to Seattle’s request for early deliverables, the plan also promises unspecified capital improvements to the RapidRide C and D. Despite Sound Transit’s own stated goals of equity and following metrics and the like, no love was showered on RapidRide E, Metro’s most successful bus line which averaged 15,800 daily ridership in spring 2015. To compare, the D averaged 11,700 daily riders while the C averaged 10,100. Since no Sound Transit improvements are planned for the SR-99 corridor where the E runs, it would seem more appropriate, efficient, and equitable to invest in a corridor where BRT wouldn’t be made redundant by later ST3 rail investments. Doing so could shore up votes in under-served northwest Seattle.

A Continuing Lack Of Transparency

Although there was much fanfare around Sound Transit’s draft plan roll-out, the “bold” proposals came with minimal detail. Costs weren’t even broken down by line or phase, let alone by station or service type. John Howell from the independent expert review panel warned the board that their lack of transparency invited people to question their models and methods yet in the very same meeting Sound Transit neglected to release their cost estimates of its proposed projects. Releasing cost estimates may help explain to Seattleites why they do not get more for a plan that promises to leverage $50 billion. Moreover, the utility of the new light rail will depend on the efficiency of bus connections and Sound Transit has so far punted on the issue. We should demand they outline bus integration in the coming months.

ST3 Must Fund Ballard-to-UW Subway

After the plan was released, Seattle Subway tweeted, “We won on making ST3 big – now we need to make ST3 great. Stay tuned – we’ll need your help! . The large scope of the plan certainly gives us a big canvas. But too much of it is painted with lower priority projects. Ballard-to-UW should be on the map, not just as a study. Seattle Subway’s idea to build Ballard-to-UW subway as an extension of the Downtown-to-Ballard line has promise. It would save on the expense of a separate operations and maintenance plant and allow east Ballard, Phinney Ridge, Fremont, and Wallingford residents one-seat rides to Downtown. It would also vastly improve upon the sluggish Route 44 bus and provide crosstown service, which is sorely lacking in the whole $50 billion plan.

ST3 Must Serve Belltown

Ballard-UW is the lowest hanging fruit, but Sound Transit also plans to swing the Ballard-to-Downtown line to the east to pick up South Lake Union and Denny Triangle in the process missing Belltown. Not serving Belltown is a huge oversight. Perhaps getting Belltown a deal like First Hill got where Sound Transit funds a streetcar would mitigate this disaster. Alas, a Belltown streetcar wasn’t included in the ST3 draft plan. Some, present company included, had floated the idea of a Metro 8 Subway so that South Lake Union can get a subway specifically dedicated to its needs while the Ballard line can take the most direct line downtown through Belltown. Sound Transit could throw Seattle the bone of at least studying something like the Metro 8 so we can see how feasible it is.

Looking Forward

In summary, the whole timeline for Seattle rail improvements is troubling. Northgate will go online in 2021 and Judkins Park circa 2023, but ST3 doesn’t slate another Seattle station opening until 2033 with West Seattle. The ten year gap in light rail roll out is a problem, especially when Seattle, not its suburbs, is leading the region in growth. Ballardites would have to wait until 2038. Sound Transit also has refused to commit on the 130th Street infill station to the Central Link (citing concerns over jeopardizing federal funds) and has put off Graham Street station until 2036. These disappointments could just be Sound Transit under-promising in hopes of over-performing, but really we should expect both higher expectations and higher performance. Let’s push Sound Transit to build the infill stations as soon as possible, forge ahead on the Ballard-to-UW subway, upgrade the RapidRide E closer to BRT standards and fund transit in Belltown whether streetcar or otherwise. Seattle is the fulcrum of the light rail network that makes the rest of the system work. Subarea equity should not mean the suburbs build dubious projects out into the hinterlands while Seattle languishes for decades. The whole network will produce better ridership and results when more of Seattle’s core neighborhoods are well integrated in the system.

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Doug Trumm is The Urbanist's Executive Director. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.

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Need to spend more money to build it right. We need a more equitable tax system that collects higher revenues, both locally and at the state level. The problem is it is too small and too slow. The legislature will have to raise taxes next year in order to pay for education. Done right, remove some tax expenditures, remove exemptions for taxes on property, including intangible, add a capital gains tax, maybe an income tax and ST3 could become what transit advocates want, bigger and sooner.


Agreed. Waiting seven years for ST to complete a fifteen mile line to transport Microsoft employees into Redmond is not my idea of progress. It makes it look like they take the Seattle vote for granted while desperately pandering to suburban voters.


A lot of the criticism of this plan, including the authors relies on some incorrect assumptions. Firstly, the pay for its own local service comment is kinda misleading. Sound Transit works under a regime called “Sub-Area Equity.” This means that the money that is raised in Seattle must be spent in Seattle and the same for Tacoma, Everett, etc. Basically the money that Seattle is paying is already being used in Seattle and there’s no contribution to be “rebated.” Seattle is not subsidizing the system for any other places. Secondly, ST is a regional entity, eg. BART. In an ideal world it would be Seattle who plans and develops intracity (Ballard, West Seattle) connections like MUNI does in SF. However, Seattle has mixed (at best) track record on doing this. Finally, the time in which it will take to build the system is problematic, but timelines can be sped up through bonding and other tools with ST has. Failing to approve the system will send the wrong message to ST. It will send the message that we don’t want rail, we don’t want them to go big and will give anti-transit advocates two or four more years to work against investment in transit and push for more roads. The plan is not perfect, but we need to seriously look at this. 40 years ago, Seattle had an opportunity to begin building a rail line (Forward Thrust). We chose not to, due to many of the same arguments listed here. Imaging how different our traffic would be if we built that line. Voting No on the Sound Transit 3 plan just kicks the can down the road another 20/30/40 years, and by then it will be more expensive and still take 20 years to build.

Ultimately the question is this, do you want to be having this same debate in 2050 or do you want to be using the transportation lines?


Subarea equity exists, but it isn’t clear why it takes so long to complete the Seattle projects. One might guess that the organization is moving money back and forth (loaning from one area to another) in order to keep the dream of the “spine” alive. That may not be the case. But given the fact (as the author clearly stated), that Sound Transit has not been transparent about any of this, one has to wonder.

Putting that aside, you are absolutely right: Sound Transit is like BART. It is an agency that is trying hard to build regional transit. Unfortunately, it has learned nothing from BART. BART simply shows that expensive, brand new regional rail fails. Outside the core urban area (San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley) it is a failure. Look through the station listing and you can see cities as big as Tacoma (i. e. twice the size of Everett) with ridership for the entire city lower than some of our buses. These are cities that are more densely populated than Tacoma (and certainly Everett) and a region many times bigger than us. Yet they run half empty trains every 20 minutes to these suburban cities, because they can’t afford to run them more often (and they can’t even afford that, as should be obvious by their famous fiscal problems). BART is a failure, and most people don’t want BART.

But people in Seattle want light rail. It actually makes sense for parts of the city. But the city can’t legally afford to spend that much money. That is the problem. The legislature gave Sound Transit a huge amount of money to spend on projects of dubious value, but they severely limit the city in terms of what they can build. If this was 1980, such an approach — a regional rail approach — might have made sense. People back then predicted that the suburbs would grow exponentially, and that Seattle would be a hollowed ghetto. It didn’t really work out that way. In absolute numbers, Seattle is growing faster than all the suburban cities combined. It is poised to grow even more, and become more densely populated. It is only the zoning (which could easily change) that restricts the growth (as has been noted on this blog many times). There is no “mixed track record” as far as light rail is concerned. Forward Thrust was a county vote, not a city one. Seattle has supported every light rail proposal, simply because it was the only light rail proposal it was given.

But even if you accept that subarea equity makes sense, and that hour long rides to Fife will be popular, that still doesn’t excuse the planning mess that has been slated for Seattle. West Seattle to Ballard light rail is a foolish, wasteful project, no matter when it is built. As many people have said (including Seattle Subway, folks who think we should have three rail lines to SeaTac), there will be no ST4. This is it. So we have to find a funding mechanism if we ever want anything that makes as much sense as Ballard to UW light rail or a Metro 8 subway. Saying no to a proposal that no sensible transit expert in the country would propose (but the politicians love) is not sending a message that we “don’t want to go big”, it is a message that we don’t want to spend $12,500 (per man, woman and child) on something so pointless. We want good transit, not this.


I am an eastsider and I will not vote for ST3 if any part of it is at-grade in traffic, even in Seattle. At grade sections in the city compromise the usability of the entire system. When Eastlink is complete it will still take 50 minutes to get from south Bellevue to the airport by train, mainly because of the stupidity of the rainier valley LRT sub-section. A bypass or upgrade of RV is not part of ST3 and will likely not be implemented in my lifetime, and I’m in my 20s. In Seattle LRT apparently has to be done right the first time.


I’d expect a little more for $50 billion. Divide that by 3.5 million and see how much you’ll be paying, then tell me what proposed is worth it.

Jonathon Morrison Winters

Thank you, Doug. Your last paragraph hit the nail on the head!


OK, so this isn’t precise, but Seattle Metro Area ( includes most of the Sound Transit taxing district ( So roughly 3.5 million people (if you want to discount Tacoma, then 3.3 million people) of which Seattle is only about .6 or 18%, nearly a fifth. Seattle is going to be too expensive for so many people to live in, I think in planning for the future, they are planning for more people to live further away. Those people will need better transit.

Marven Norman

Yep. Or, we can just widen the freeways…right?



Marven Norman

Thanks for proving my point. When people keep telling suburban locations that they’re “not dense enough” for transit, those areas don’t sit back and do nothing. They internalize that message then set out to widen the freeways and build freeway-sized roads, even though it’s decently common knowledge that more roads won’t solve the problem. They even go so far as to try to keep transit away because they’ve bought into the idea that they’re “not dense enough” for it. While certainly, we might not be building trains for one passenger, the notion that suburbs aren’t “dense enough” for transit will ensure that suburbs continue growing as auto-oriented sprawl for years into the future.


I don’t think anyone said that suburban areas aren’t dense enough for transit. They said they aren’t dense enough for light rail .There is a huge difference. Buses can work quite well in areas that aren’t particularly dense. Most of Seattle is like that, which is why most of Seattle will never have light rail. It is a matter of building what is appropriate, and what is appropriate for the suburbs is bus service (or commuter rail if is it cheap, and it usually is).


If they are planning on more people living farther away, then they are making a mistake. As this article pointed out, the trend is towards people moving closer, not farther away. The only reason it is more expensive to live in the city is because it is more popular (and they put a lot of restrictions on growth). It won’t be less popular because it is more expensive — that would be like Yogi Berra’s great line “No one goes there anymore, it is too crowded”.

Besides, even if people do head back to the suburbs, light rail makes a lot less sense. Light rail is more popular as well as more efficient (from a capital as well as maintenance standpoint) when it serves areas that are densely populated and close to each other. It just doesn’t work well for trips like 128th Street, because the area is too spread out, and it is too far to the nearest big destination (the UW). Areas like that are much better served by buses that spread out to the various neighborhoods, and then shuttle people to the light rail line (in Lynnwood).


It’s not just that it’s “more popular” to live in the city. But I think part of the reason it’s more expensive is because there are more people with higher incomes who want to live here: it’s not the same crowd as before. You think people didn’t want to live on Capitol Hill before the tech boom? I think for other people who live or rent in the area, or move here, and aren’t working high-wage jobs, the situation is a lot different. Places they used to be able to be able to live aren’t affordable to them. And I do not mean to demonize tech workers, I don’t think there’s anything really “wrong” with that situation: by and large these are great jobs, at great companies, and they are important for Seattle.

I totally agree that light rail isn’t the best for long distances/the suburbs. Suburbs already have better rail anyway, the sounder, and it’s great! It should be expanded a little, and maybe add some weekend service, if that makes sense. I think expanded Sounder service makes a lot more sense than light rail from Everett to Tacoma. I know there are some complications because the rails are leased from BNSF or something, but if they could sort that out, it’s such an obviously better solution than light rail.

Michael Connolly

Can someone explain what the “midtown” station is on that map?
The current light rail line completely skirts around the central district, which is rapidly getting more and more dense, as Capitol Hill expands past 23rd Ave into the traditional central district area. Where is the station that someone living along 23rd, at Madison, union, cherry, or Jackson can walk to?


The 23rd corridor is a key piece to the “Metro 8 subway” line. I agree that this is a key area to connect to light rail, and under the concept, it would also connect to SLU. Unfortunately, Sound Transit is not even willing to study it. Big mistake. We need this line.


Yeah, the “midtown” station should really be called “Madison”. My guess is they didn’t want to tie their hands if there was some reason they couldn’t put it there. The WSTT had the same station, as shown here: It makes sense. It would be expensive and redundant to add all the same stops. So they add the I. D. and Westlake (for connectivity) and a station in between. Madison makes the most sense, as it was left out of the original bus tunnel (for budgetary reasons). This would connect to Madison BRT, and in general do a better job of complementing the existing stations.

When the WSTT was designed, there was talk of pushing the station up the hill a ways (towards First Hill). There has been similar talk with ST’s proposal.

As for the Metro 8, it is a different beast. There are a number of different variations that are possible, and it isn’t clear to me which one would be best. It would likely include at least one stop on 23rd, so that buses could connect to it. It would almost certainly include a stop on Madison. However, I think it is highly unlikely that it would include 23rd and Madison, just because that would require a very sharp turn, and also make many of the stops along 23rd redundant (you don’t need to have a bunch of stops on 23rd — serving other areas like First Hill, Cherry Hill or Madison and Pine would be of greater benefit).


Well put, Doug. I understand the argument that ST is a regional entity a-la BART, but as a north central Seattle resident it’s hard for me to understand why I should support this plan at all, and I say this as a long time transit advocate. No Ballard-UW, no Madison BRT, no 130th Street, and no investment in the E Line? If Seattle is forced to pay for its own “local” service as some in the comments have advocated, then it should be able to get its ST contribution rebated.

Howard Metzenberg

I feel that Seattle voters and their approval have been taken for granted in this draft proposal, in which Seattle subsidizes its suburban commuters. For example, the proposal is said to earmark more than $1 billion for parking lots at suburban rail stations, and the assumption seems to be that all suburban parking will be free! Why not give the suburbs the land, but let them decide how much parking they want to pay for and how to pay for parking operations, whether through taxation or user fees? Seattle’s own benefits, like the Ballard line, are second rate alternatives and are postponed to the 2030s and beyond.


I agree with some of that. Especially with giving suburbs the options of putting in less parking, but hopefully with some cap in place, so they couldn’t put in more. Maybe rolling out better feeder busing for suburban light rail stations could be an alternative? A lot of the areas they’re going in are — surprise! — not so walkable. So yeah, if you didn’t put parking in, and put dense housing instead, that doesn’t really help the people who would be voting on it NOW, does it? Those with houses farther away who will never be able to walk to these stations, and not be able to park either… You’re kind of asking a lot of people to be really altruistic.

Howard Metzenberg

How about having the suburbs PAY for their parking, as in 1) they pay to build it, 2) they pay to operate it, and 3) they pay fees for it when they use it. Yes they need parking in the suburbs, but should Seattle itself pay such huge subsidies for low ridership commuter lines and get so little out of ST3 for themselves, especially in the first decade?

The Seattle lines in this proposal are a disappointment for Seattle. Transit within Seattle would benefit suburbanites who are using this system to get to jobs, entertainment, and shopping in Seattle. But it’s not like Seattle residents go out to Issaquah to eat.


That’s a healthy attitude for a regional system “I’m not going to use it, so if it benefits other people, they should pay for it themselves”. Don’t forget that Central Link was voted on, and paid for by sales tax and car excise taxes in Snohomish, Pierce, and King Counties, even though Central link only serves a small portion of that area, and all they got were some express buses. Funny huh? Light rail only got off the ground at all because people outside of Seattle (finally) agreed to be taxed for it. So why don’t you broaden your perspective a little bit, and consider ST3 items on their own merits, and how they contribute to the overall plan, instead of pitting one part of the region against the other.

Blue Steel

Well, to be fair, the other taxing districts in ST *chose* not to fund rail lines. They chose buses instead and other infrastructural priorities. You get what you ask for. Their priorities: Sounder, park and rides, and express bus. Rail? That’s Seattle’s deal. At least that was the case for Sound Move. ST2 is a different matter, but it was still very heavy on non-rail/non-transit infrastructure in many parts. Seattle and Shoreline were all in for light rail and didn’t blow their most of their money on low-quality infrastructure.

Marven Norman

So what’s the problem with transit in suburbs again?

Matt the Engineer

They help generate sprawl. Especially if they include park and rides.

As urbanists, we should make living in a city as easy as possible. This means upzoning, and it means transit good enough that you don’t need a car. And it’s critical we make city living easy, urbanization is the number one way to reduce our carbon and environmental impact.

Adding transit to park-and-rides does the opposite. It makes it easy to live far outside a city.


Can I counter that Sound Transit’s goal is intercity transit, to connect cities and job centers, and not intracity transit? Hence, linking Issaquah to the system. Trying to improve transit within Seattle is incredibly important, but that’s the mandate of first SDOT and second King County, not Sound Transit. Trying to add more & more within Seattle becomes scope creep.

Obviously, not all cities are created equal, which is why ST is doing things like linking Ballard, Northgate, & West Seattle to “the system”, and there is merit to something like Ballard to UW when UW is viewed as a job center that is effectively Seattle’s 2nd downtown.

But I would say the Metro 8 subway that is often floated is a project for Seattle, not Sound Transit. This is why ST wasn’t interested in funding Madison BRT, or the E-line. Those are great transit corridors, but to be served by different agencies. I think this is the same thing that got Kirkland’s LR dropped – Kirkland wanted an open bus lane running through the CKC, which is a lovely idea, but I think Sound Transit decided that it was more appropriately done as a city or county investment.


Thanks Doug, good answers. I think maybe what I’m trying to say is that if the final ST3 package doesn’t include, say, SR99 BRT, then that’s not a reason to oppose ST but transit advocates should just say, “welp, I guess we’ll have to find a different funding source for E-Line / Swift improvements”

Obviously we aren’t to the final package yet, so still opportunity to all this to change.


Sound Transit’s goal maybe be Intercity transit. If that is the case, then they are going about it all wrong. There is value in spending money in creating inter-jurisdictional transit (such as extending Swift farther south, or RapidRide farther north) but spending billions on something like this is silly. No one has done this and been successful at it. If BART, serving an area much more populous than us, runs half empty trains every 20 minutes to cities much bigger than Everett, why would we expect our trains to be worth the billions?

The problem is that the average voter knows nothing about transit system, and knows nothing about what works and what doesn’t. That voter is likely to support a transit system because it “sounds good”, and the voter trusts the people in charge to come up with an appropriate system. It is becoming increasing apparent that the folks in charge of Sound Transit are just as ignorant of light rail lines, or simply don’t care.

Not to jump on your phrase, but when you say “Ballard is linked to the system”, I think most people would believe you. They would think “Ballard has light rail”, But that is meaningless. Light rail is not a swimming pool. It isn’t a community center. It is only part of a larger transit network. It matters where it goes, and it matters what it connects to. A line from Ballard to downtown does nothing for someone coming from the north end. From the UW north, it means you still take the bus. It does very little for connecting buses. Someone a mile east of 15th NW, would get nothing from the new rail line, even if they are headed to downtown. There really are no crossing bus lanes that would complement the light rail line, because Sound Transit isn’t interested in them. Sound Transit has ignored what works in every city, and followed a model that has failed wherever it has been tried. This is very much like BART, and nothing like SkyTrain.

Marven Norman

So if Seattle has all those needs, Seattle shouldn’t be relying on the entire area to subsidize them. Especially if we’re just talking about BRT. That’s the easiest of all: go out one night, repaint the street with bus lanes, build some enhanced stops, and call it a day. Transit to the suburbs is important, especially for those that are growing, to ensure that people moving in are able to use transit from the beginning instead of having to be coaxed onto it at a later date. Additionally, if they’re paying into the system, it’s only fair that they get something out of it, with half-hour buses not cutting it.


You are confusing Metro “coverage” service with ST expresses. Check the schedules on the ST core buses. All of them run every 15 minutes or less, all day long.


Nothing is wrong with transit in the suburbs. It’s necessary to get this thing approved by voters in November. If suburban voters believe this plan is Seattle-centric and ignores their needs in favor of urbanist dogma, they will vote against it.

We don’t fight sprawl by denying urban infrastructure to the suburbs. We fight sprawl by enforcing the Urban Growth Boundary

Matt the Engineer

The UGB, even when it works (and it often doesn’t), allows for quite a lot of sprawl.

I think I’m ok with Pierce/Snohomish not signing up. With subarea equity their tax money doesn’t help King county anyway – it just goes for their own projects.


Regional planners have designated the area within the UGB for urban development. Apparently you believe some of that is sprawl, but I do not. We need lots of urban centers and urban villages within that UGB. Urbanism isn’t limited to the Seattle city limits.

Matt the Engineer

Any growth boundary that reaches to North Bend misses the point.


The UGB is settled law. Let’s work to keep it intact, whatever its perceived shortcomings.

Blue Steel

Well, there’s precedent for removing some UGBs entirely. So not in fact settled law. Contract?


There is nothing wrong with transit in the suburbs. There is something wrong with new rail to the suburbs. To be clear, you need to end a line somewhere, and so just about every subway system in the world (even relatively compact ones, like Toronto) have a suburban station (or two). But investing billions in light rail infrastructure in low density areas a very long ways away from popular destinations simply doesn’t work. It hasn’t worked anywhere.

BART is a good example. Almost all ridership is concentrated in the urban areas close to San Fransisco (the city itself, Oakland and Berkeley). There is a very strong correspondence between the distance from the center of the city and the popularity of the station. Even stations that serve cities as big as Tacoma, but contain neighborhoods far more densely populated than Tacoma have very few riders (as many as a typical bus). Despite the fact that the Bay Area is many times bigger than us, it hasn’t been very successful (outside the urban core). BART is by no means unique. Cities that have followed that model (Dallas, Denver, etc.) have systems that aren’t very functional. Trains run less frequently than our buses, and often carry fewer people.

Suburban areas have been successful with one of two things. The first is building commuter rail off of the existing railroad lines. You still don’t see huge ridership (like you would with an urban subway system) but it doesn’t cost that much. But the most common new investment is in buses. Buses that travel the various neighborhoods, then go to the freeway on bus only lanes and connect to downtown, or the subway system (or both).

The most successful systems connect to a strong urban transit system. This means that someone who takes a bus into town can get to where they want to go. For example, let’s say you live in Everett, but work in Ballard. Even when all of this is done, your trip isn’t much faster. Once Link gets to Lynnwood, you would take an express bus from your neighborhood to the Lynnwood Transit Center. From there you would take the train to the UW, and take a bus. If Link gets to Everett, you would start your day by taking a bus to the nearest Everett train station. The ride from there to Lynnwood would probably be slower than an express to Lynnwood. From the UW, you would still take a bus to Ballard, because going all the way downtown and back is just not worth it. There are dozens of trips like this all across the city that people take, and they contribute a huge amount to the traffic you see. For example, SPU, Fremont, First Hill are all pretty decent employment centers, and yet they lack the infrastructure to support this type of trip.

The best thing we can do is mimic systems that work. A great example is Vancouver, BC. Their rail line does not go that far into the suburbs. But more importantly, it connects really well with bus service, and allows for fast, frequent travel anywhere within the city. So someone in the suburbs can take an express bus, then get to where they want to go (even if it isn’t downtown). The result is transit ridership (not just rail ridership) that is about three times what ours is (per capita).

Ross P

Yes, thank you for this. When I saw this plan as a former Seattleite, now Oaklander, I immediately thought “fuck, it’s BART”

Intercity regional rail systems get pushed through because of politics, but growth isn’t there. Is it really better to spend billions building a line that will be barely be used, or double down in areas that are already desperate for more transit?

The vast, vast majority of BART ridership is in SF and Oakland, but neither the planned routes nor the funding reflect that. They’ve been running way over capacity for years but are only just now talking about building a new tunnel, that we might not see for decades (because BART isn’t anywhere near as effective as ST seems to be).


“BART del Norte”®


Actually, Ross, if Ballard Link (Downtown-Ballard) is built and someone is headed for a place of business within walking distance of 15th NW and NW Market from somewhere up north on Link, then going downtown would be “worth it”. It will be two more stops and five minutes to Westlake on the train on which the traveler is already riding (so no transfer delay) and then would be seven stops and thirteen or fourteen minutes to 15th and Market. The transfer between Central Link and Ballard Link might be quicker than climbing out of the U-District pit and crossing 45th, so the single transfer either route would require would either be a wash or in favor of the all-rail route.

In any case, 18 to 20 minutes travel time is faster than the 44 by a good margin any time that matters for work and the ride is more pleasant. It’s the same sort of reasoning as what you say is good for Ballard: travel across to U-District and then downtown on North Link. I certainly agree that the greater number of stations on Ballard Link than Ballard-UW and the greater “double back” would make the through-downtown route to Ballard overall less useful than the “through the U-District” route from Ballard to Downtown, but the “rail advantage” would still apply.

Of course, if the destination is not within walking distance of 15th and Market and also on the 44 then of course one would transfer to the 44 at U-District. But if the destination is 65th and 24th NW say, then you might as well take the train and transfer directly to whatever the 40 is called then.

But all this is somewhat moot. We agree that the best use of North King funds is the WSTT, with “real” BRT to West Seattle and Ballard and that “Spine Destiny” should be fulfilled at Lynnwood and West Kent.

The only thing I see that we disagree on is whether “Metro 8” or Ballard-UW would be more valuable. I’m solidly in the Metro 8 camp because I don’t buy the glib promises that there will be sufficient capacity on U-Link to accommodate everyone from north of 45th and west of Latona who wants to go to downtown Seattle south of Lenora once all those express buses from 55th north to Everett are dumping their riders into Link upstream of U-District Station.

I strongly believe that the WSTT, modified to follow the “Ballard Link” route through the edge of SLU and tanker loads of red paint are the right answer for in-Seattle transit.


>> It’s the same sort of reasoning as what you say is good for Ballard

NO, NO, NO! Sorry, but NO. I like your comments, and I hate to jump on you, but NO. They aren’t the same. Not even close. I did the math, shown here:, and going from Ballard to downtown via the U-District only take an extra 2 minutes over the Interbay route. 2 MINUTES. On the other hand, going around (going from Ballard to the UW via Westlake) takes around 24 minutes, not counting the transfer. Unlike the other route, there is no way that transfer can be eliminated, and it is highly unlikely that transfer can be timed. 24 minutes is a lot of time. Right now that is exactly the time that Metro estimates for a trip like that at 9:00 AM. But all of that assumes that 20 years from now, that Ballard to UW trip is unchanged. This is unlikely, as Seattle is busy planning on improvements for that corridor. It won’t take much for SDOT to make the idea of “going around” to Ballard as silly as taking Link from the UW to Redmond (taking a 520 bus will always make more sense). If Ballard to UW takes 15 minutes (or twice what a train would take) it would still be much better than going via Westlake.

I’m sorry to be so negative, especially since I think you know this. But I don’t think other people get this. Going from Ballard to downtown via the UW is a very minor detour (again, 2 minutes). But going the other way (UW to Ballard via Westlake) is not. That’s a big reason why Ballard to UW is a much better value than Ballard to downtown. The other reason is bus transfers (Ballard to UW has them, the other route does not).

Which is not to say that an Interbay line is void of useful stops. But they aren’t all that great, either. Denny is fine as far as it goes, but it doesn’t go very far. It isn’t the same as a stop a couple blocks to the north, which would cover more of the area (and overlap less with Westlake)*. The stop on 99 as well as the stop on lower Queen Anne are both great. Those two stops, by the way, are essentially the same as those provided with the WSTT, except that the WSTT would have higher frequency. In general, the WSTT can provide everything that the Ballard to West Seattle line can provide, and then some (higher frequency, more reliability, fewer long transfers). Ballard to UW would complement it (by providing a fast connection to the UW as well as downtown for the rest of the north end).

* The Ballard line didn’t want to go farther north than Denny on Westlake, because doing so would require an even tighter turn. The Metro 8 route doesn’t have that problem. So a stop in the middle of the region (e. g. Terry and Harrison) would make sense. This is a much better stop, since it wouldn’t poach ridership from Westlake.


Great article. one nitpick: Judkin’s Park station will open in 2023, which is in Seattle.


Not ideal, but it IS a stop that will serve some. For me, I have friends around that stop — and visiting them WILL become easier.

As I write above — Looking at Link as BART makes this proposal make more sense, but also points out that Seattle needs to stop putting all of its eggs in the ST basket and begin filling in the gaps with local investment.


Making all the I-90 on and off ramps intersect Rainier at right angles with lights would make a huge improvement to the ability to walk to the station on Rainier, and could free up some sizable lots for development, though would cost a bit and require WSDOT support.


In my mind, ST Link is fashioning itself into the region’s BART. Seattle needs MUNI Metro to complement the regional scope of ST Link, Seattle’s votes going forward should begin carving out finances for King Metro to fill the gaps left over by subarea equity, and ST’s suburban focus.


I agree, but probably not with rail investments … there is plenty of good work that can be done with Seattle money for Seattle, including all the RR+ routes, Madison BRT, and Central (+Belltown?) Streetcar. It would be nice if ST funded thinks like Belltown Street car of E-Line BRT investments, but if not then Seattle will have to go it alone.