Seattle’s grandest train hall doesn’t lie in the newly-restored King Street Station. That honor goes to Union Station, the 107-year old fallow station just across 4th Avenue. Beautifully restored and now home to Sound Transit headquarters, as a public space it underwhelms; its majestic Great Hall is now just an aesthetic treat for Sound Transit employees, some rainproof warmth for the unsheltered, and home to the occasional special event. Still, it’s not hard to envision its glory days when it was bustling with commuters. And here’s a big idea: let’s make it a transit hub again by building a Link rail station underneath.

Regional voters approved a historic $54 billion ballot measure in 2016 to spread light rail to Everett, Tacoma, West Seattle, Ballard, and more. Part of that measure is a second tunnel for Downtown Seattle, providing essential new capacity and serving traffic-choked job centers like South Lake Union along the way. Three lines will serve downtown Seattle, the Red (Everett to West Seattle) and Blue Lines (Lynnwood to Redmond) in the current tunnel and the Green Line (Ballard to Tacoma) in the new one.

Transfers between all three lines will only happen in only two places: International District/Chinatown Station and Westlake Station. As important as Westlake is, International District/Chinatown is the most important hub of all, providing additional access to Amtrak, Sounder, streetcar, and buses. It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s the most important transit hub between San Francisco and Vancouver. We have to get it right.

International District/Chinatown District Station will be the fulcrum of the ST3 transit network. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit currently plans to tunnel directly underneath 5th Avenue from Westlake to Chinatown, creating two new platforms east of the current International District/Chinatown Station platforms. Green Line trains at these new platforms would run trains every six minutes from Ballard to Tacoma. 

Construction staging will likely obliterate an entire block or two at 5th Avenue from Jackson Street to King Street in the heart of Chinatown for the better part of a decade. What if there were a way to avoid that and make the station better for everyone?

Well, there is. Let’s build the new International District/Chinatown Station west of the current platforms instead of east, right through the heart of Union Station.

Conceptual schematic for a connected transit hub for King Street Station, Union Station, and Chinatown/International District Station.
Conceptual schematic for a connected transit hub for King Street Station, Union Station, and International District/Chinatown Station.

Doing so creates basically a single superstation: five Amtrak platforms, two Sounder platforms, two freight tracks, and four Link light rail platforms. It draws all regional transit services closer together in an integrated way. It saves Chinatown from a decade of disruption. It renews Union Station back to its intended use. Denver recently completed a similar consolidation at its Union Station, which will serve over 200,000 passengers daily in one fantastic and well-organized space. There’s no reason we shouldn’t either.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The “garden level” at Seattle’s Union Station–a large tabula rasa currently home to a windowless maze of cubicles–would be home to the new Green Line platforms, above which an existing mezzanine would encircle them with small shops and newsstands. The mezzanine would directly connect to the southbound Red and Blue Line platforms, through what is currently a Sound Transit kitchen and outdoor seating area. Above, the majestic Great Hall would be reactivated with passengers once again, with even more opportunity for commerce inside the station in what is now Sound Transit’s boardroom and reception areas.

The whole area around Union Station consists of a series of historic viaducts built on tidal fill. 4th Avenue is this way, Union Station is this way. Many of the caverns through which the new tunnel would run already exist, currently in use only as underground parking. Construction through these areas would be less disruptive at street level while making for a better station.

There would be a number of additional beneficial downstream effects in SODO, too. Though the Blue Line would head east across I-90 and be out of the picture, the Green Line would need to cross the Red Line somewhere south of International District/Chinatown Station so that the two lines could head to Tacoma and West Seattle, respectively.

The representative alignment of the West Seattle light rail extension. (Sound Transit)
The representative alignment of the West Seattle light rail extension. (Sound Transit)

There are a number of flaws in the current Sound Transit 3 (ST3) plan in SODO. First and foremost, from 2030 to 2035, West Seattle trains will terminate in SODO forcing transfers to connect to the rest of the system, an awkward situation that will hinder capacity during peak hours. Second, the current plan is for the Green Line to emerge from its deeper tunnel in a trench and slowly come up to at-grade before the current SODO station, removing the current Stadium Station. That’s right, riders from Rainier Valley, SeaTac and Tacoma will lose their access to Stadium Station under the current plan. In its place, a new elevated Stadium Station would be built on the Red Line just west of the current location.

Here’s a better plan: rebuild Union Station first and temporarily terminate West Seattle trains there, somewhere actually useful. From 2030 to 2035, finish the tunnel from Chinatown to Lower Queen Anne, and build the crossovers required for Ballard trains to enter Union Station and West Seattle trains to switch to the current International District/Chinatown Station. As a bonus, doing so gives you permanent non-revenue track connections in all directions, meaning any train can serve any terminus from any operations and maintenance facility, in perpetuity.

Additionally, West Seattle trains could approach downtown from 1st Avenue, where SODO jobs are most concentrated. This could be achieved by using a mix of existing at-grade right-of-way and elevated rail resulting in substantial savings in cost and political capital while providing West Seattle riders a superior connection to most services at Union Station. 

Conceptual alternative West Seattle alignment and station locations in 2030.
Conceptual alternative West Seattle alignment and station locations in 2030.
Conceptual alternative West Seattle alignment and station locations integrated with the Ballard extension in 2035.
Conceptual alternative West Seattle alignment and station locations integrated with the Ballard extension in 2035.

The Seattle Times was accidentally onto something when they concern-trolled about Sound Transit’s office expenditures, unhelpfully suggesting they move 800+ employees to Bellevue. Though the agency should be as centrally located as possible, that doesn’t mean that a grand asset such as Union Station should be reserved for a small fraction of them (most Sound Transit employees work in four adjacent buildings). As part of this plan, Sound Transit would have the opportunity to relocate elsewhere downtown. Build their own single tower and consolidate employees? Move to Columbia Center? Up to them, but Union Station should return to its first and best use, a public mobility hub unrivaled anywhere else in the region.

Title image courtesy of Matt Brubeck on Flickr.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider supporting our work. The Urbanist is a nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

41 COMMENTS

  1. So as proposed, in the ID the Green line is under 4th Ave and the Red line is under 5th Ave. The Red line would still use the existing tunnel under 3rd to head to UW, right? So is the new tunnel now under 2nd Ave? Or does it cross over/under/through yet again before the Madison station? I’m trying to get my Red/Green lines straight.

    • Yes, he’s proposing under-running the DSTT somewhere south of Yesler. The geometries are challenging, to say the least. However, as I posed above, if the platform under Fourth South is under the station-connector tunnel it become much more doable.

  2. This is a great concept! Thanks for putting together the plan and the graphics.

    The proposed plan as described made more sense to me once a figured out a couple details:

    1. 4th Ave South is built as a viaduct on supports alongside Union Station. Excavation or closure of 4th Ave would not be required to install new light rail tracks and platforms under the street.

    2. The existing IDS platforms needs to serve the West Seattle Red line after 2035 because those same platforms serve East Link (blue line). East Link will be built connected to the existing IDS platforms when it opens in 2023. Therefore in this plan the new Green Line (Ballard-Tacoma) needs to cross the existing Red/Blue line twice: between Pioneer Square Station & IDS; and between IDS & Stadium. The only alternative is to reconnect the East Link tracks over/under the existing light rail alignment to the new Union Station link platforms.

    Hitting the grades necessary to make these crossovers will make or break this plan, which is a great one, if it can be built.

  3. Let’s build the cheap surface rail to the outer working communities in the greatest need of transit relief before we talk about how to perfect transit exchanges for the city of Seattle residents.

    • I think we should quit spending money on existing areas with light rail and build the system out to other areas. Seattle is much more than Downtown Seattle and Capitol Hill. No 2nd station at SLU or a remodel of the Capitol Hill Station.

    • Being that many of those riders will be going to Seattle where they work and that the current tunnel doesn’t have the capacity for all the added trains this is not about perfecting its about building something right the first time.

    • ST2 is going all the way to Lynnwood and Redmond by 2024 at the latest. Federal Way will follow a few years later, though I hope that ST opens service a station at a time because Midway has the potential to be a great bus-intercept if a bus-only bridge is build across I-5 at 240th.

      There will be new Seattle stations at 145th, Northgate, 65th and Roosevelt, the central U-District, and Rainier and I-90 in just five years as a collateral benefit of those extensions outside the City.

      Grant, Everett and Issaquah won’t be completed until after West Seattle and Ballard are reached in ST3, but to be honest, very few people will ride Link all the way between Everett and Seattle with the Paine Field deviation. They’ll take an express bus to Lynnwood and get the train ahead of the one which leaves Everett at the same time.

    • The “greatest need of transit relief” are the areas within Seattle. it isn’t even close. That is where the people are, and where investments in rail service pay off. Seattle isn’t unique in that regard. It is true in every city. There is not a single city where commuter transit riders outnumber those in the city. Even in cities where they have made huge investments in very expensive and very fast commuter based rail systems (like BART and DART), city transit riders outnumber suburban riders by a huge margin. Density + proximity = high ridership. It is as simply as that (although the reasons why are a bit complicated).

      In other words, what we do in Seattle is far more important than whatever rail we lay in Everett or Tacoma. We shouldn’t even extend rail to those cities (they should have express bus service instead) but that is another big discussion.

  4. I lived in Denver for a year, right as Union Station was opening up. It’s a great, busy, city-center location, and a great example of reinvigorating old rail stations into modern uses.

    I honestly just assumed that the new line was going to be there expanding the King St/ID station since that’s the only logical thing to do. Why build a whole new station, and all the development pain that causes, when one can just update the existing, beautiful, classic stations we have?

    • Denver’s historic Union Station isn’t actually used for transit – it’s a vibrant retail space immediately next to the actual train station, which is brand new.

      Here in Seattle, the new station will be underground, likely under 5th Ave, though perhaps under 4th Ave as Doug suggests. Either way, a brand new platforms will be built underground, a hundred paces away from the historic union station.

      The point of the new tunnel is a add capacity. To “reuse” existing platforms would defeat the point of building a 2nd tunnel.

      • That basically describes every train station worth its salt. A train station does not necessarily mean that the trains stop inside the main structure or in a structure at all. In Denver’s case, Union Station has a new train shed to cover the platforms next to the entrance hall. This format is replicated the world over. Anyway, it’s not true to suggest that it isn’t used for transit.

        • Fine, but that goes against Doug’s headline. He’s saying Union Station isn’t “used for trains” despite being immediately adjacent to the Link tracks and a stone’s throw from the Sounder tracks. Moving the new tunnel from 5th Ave to 4th Ave will not impact how Union Station is used. If Doug wants to argue, “hey, we should adjust the new tunnel alignment to make for an easier Link-Commuter rail transfer,” that’s a reasonable argument, but the presence of the Union Station building is irrelevant.

          • I was addressing the non-argument you made above. Denver’s station is used for transit, which you had said was not. Seattle’s Union Station is used as a corporate office. Train stations can and do provide a spectrum of services beyond just pass-through access to platforms and ticketing, such as seating, dining, and retail options. Part of the idea in this article argues for doing that–creating a destination, not just having a utilitarian pass-through station. ST’s base proposal wouldn’t even do the latter.

            I think most people understand that this would operate functionally similar to Grand Central Terminal, Penn Station, and Union Station (DC).

          • So basically you want to make Union Station Fun Again?

            I don’t see why office space in an inferior use of land adjacent to a transit hub, particularly given like 99% of the people that work in the building take transit.

            I prefer my stations to be utilitarian pass-through – most people transferring just want to catch the next train. I’m all for designing stations so that people can quickly, safely, and comfortably transfer. I don’t think replacing busy office space with busy restaurant space is better, it’s just different.

          • To clarify, I’m not arguing that Union Station need be “fun again”… I was being pedantic and taking issue with the characterization of Denver’s station as not a station. In my view, train stations can and do serve their transit purpose while providing corresponding amenities. Does Union Station (SEA) have to do that? Well, that’s up to the people and policymakers, but if you asked me for my personal opinion, I’d say that it’d be highly welcomed.

            At the bare minimum, however, it would be wonderful if Union Station (SEA) were partially or fully repurposed to function as part of a station compound centered on Jackson Street with an underground concourse connecting IDS, King Street Station, and the new light rail platforms. Right now, the transit framework in PSq and Chinatown consists of distinctly separate transit facility entities that are disconnected. Painful street crossings, confusing access from IDS, and of course the odd King Street Station accesses, which collectively leave a lot to be desired for connections. The ST representative project proposal to put a new station under 5th Ave continues this problem with only very minimal possible corrective actions leaving it to another day to rectify.

            But all that aside, I think there are some other vital ideas in this piece such as light rail service to 1st Ave, long-term network connectivity benefits, and the immediate benefits to West Seattle transit riders who will be stuck in SODO forcing an additional connection until 2035.

      • That’s true, but I think the article’s argument still stands. Rehab Union Station to be used as a station, with restaurants shops, ticket windows, etc. have good Concourse access to all the different means of transit. Something equivalent to Paris’ Les Halles, or Amsterdam’s Centraal station, where there can be distinct gated areas, but it’s all one “place”, and I as a passenger can get to whatever service I need without having to go out into the weather and traffic.

        • OK, but there’s two different conversations being had. My point is those questions should be considered independently.

          1) What’s the best alignment for the new Link tunnel, and how does that impact the transfer environment?
          2) What’s the best use of Union Station?

          Doug is proposing:
          1) Move the to-be-built ID station from under 5th to under 4th.
          2) Union Station should … have more pedestrians walking through it?

          • Yeah, I get that. They can be considered independently, though the “Make Union Station the intermediate endpoint” that is a logistical improvement to the Red Line in point 1, then leads to the “then we should ‘lean in’ and make Union Station a great Transit Hub/Focal Point”.

            1- Move the alignment to improve intermediate & longterm station placement, train mobility, and passenger experience.

            2- leverage Union Station as a strong “focal point” where all forms of transit stop at/near, and update it into a “Grand Hall Station” concept. Put in shops, tickets, Tourist information, etc, allowing people to intuitively move from Sounder, to Amtrak/Cascade, to Bellevue East Link, West Seattle, etc. None of the tracks would literally be at Union Station, just like they’re not in Denver, but Union Station is still the “place” that everything is happening, and from which all the means of transit are accessed.

  5. UPDATE: It should be easier to connect East Link to the new Union Station/4th Ave link platforms, eliminating the two crossovers of the Green and Red/Blue lines.

    East Link will follow along the I-90 freeway ramps and connect to the existing light rail tracks well south of IDS and Union Station. Extending the east link tracks along the existing freeway ramp from I-90 to Royal Brougham allows them to connect to the new Red Line tracks to West Seattle just north of Royal Brougham.

    The Blue/Red lines to West Seattle & Bellevue to diverge off from the existing DSTT between Pioneer Sq. and IDS, serving the new Union Station platforms. The new Green Line tunnel through downtown would connect the existing IDS platforms and tunnel, and extend to Tacoma using the existing Stadium & Sodo Stations and tracks.

    • It took me a second to figure out what you were proposing, but untying that knot is really smart. Basically, instead of building the Red/Green crossover south of Union Station, ST just needs to build a new East Link crossover from I-90 to Union Station.

      This is how I picture the project flowing:
      1. Build West Seattle to Union Station and open it, as described above.
      2. Build crossover ramps from Union Station to East Link.
      3. Tunnel from Union Station into the DSTT, somewhere before Pioneer Square.
      4. Tunnel from Seattle Center to the DSTT, at the same point as (3).

      The final lines would be –
      Red: Everett to West Seattle via Union Station
      Blue: Everett to Redmond via Union Station
      Green: Ballard to Tacoma via Chinatown

      As a bonus, both downtown lines connect to East Link, and a switch between the lines can be installed between Union Station and Pioneer Square, providing maximum operational flexibility.

      • You got it. That is what I am proposing.

        However, I can’t think of any way to build this besides shutting down all train service between IDS and Pioneer Square stations, for a long period of time (like a year). Each track is in its own concrete tube, and the southbound tube would need to be demolished at one point to allow the northbound tube to connect to Union Station. But this sort of retrofit construction happens in subway systems all over the world, so maybe there is a way to do it with minimal disruption.

        ST’s representative plan to revise/retrofit IDS, Stadium and Sodo stations will also have some painful service cuts/closures during construction.

    • As someone who worked on the IDS station (and worked on the lower level of Union Station), I think this is an intriguing idea – and a real architectural opportunity. It’s hard to visualize without a larger map – any chance of that ? And how does the railroad tunnel fit into all of this. The current link light rail tunnel had to dive under the railroad tunnel in order to get to 3rd Avenue. That’s a pretty complex tunneling zone.

  6. Union station is indeed a beautiful station. The current use of the building doesn’t use it to it’s full potential. As stated currently it is not a lot more than an inefficient and because of that expensive, office building. We can do better! This proposal is fantastic. But already in the current state it could easily be converted to something more useful. Think of what with many other old stations has been done. Denver, Washington DC and so on.

  7. I actually dislike this concept a lot. It prioritizes transfers at the expense of the actual urban environment; west of 5th is essentially a giant activity dead zone between the wide roads, the rail tracks, and CenturyLink Field, and most of the destinations in the area are east.

    • There’s quite a bit over to the west, you just have to go north of the stadiums. If the extra block is so painful, then the transfer to the streetcar becomes more useful. Prioritizing transfers at a transit center just makes sense.

    • >> It prioritizes transfers at the expense of the actual urban environment;

      Huh? I think you have it backwards. The transfers are a bit worse, but you add stations. First and Lander is not a great station, but it at least is new. Putting in a new station (right next to the headquarters of Starbucks) is a good thing. The only people negatively effected by that are the handful of people coming from West Seattle headed to the existing SoDo station (and they could transfer and backtrack). That is tiny compared to the number who are coming from the north and would want to use the new station.

      Meanwhile, you build a new Stadium Station that is actually close to the stadiums. Probably not enough to switch trains, but those who happen to be on one will appreciate it.

  8. As Chad mentioned below, the grades just north and south of IDS in the new tunnel are critical in this plan. Your cross-section shows the new Green Line platforms at the same level as those of the existing DSTT station. That simply cannot happen. The existing DSTT tubes dip down to pass under the BNSF tunnel which holds the same grade throughout its length. The DSTT tubes start the downward movement a bit south of Main Street and pass under the BNSF tunnel (an excavated “square box” style double track tunnel) a few yards north of the five-points intersection of Prefontaine, 4th South and Washington. I understand that the DSTT clears the BNSF tubes by only five feet, the barest minimum to prevent collapse during construction. The freight trains using the BNSF tunnel are heavy

    To pass under the DSTT tubes, even if they held a constant grade would require the the Green Line tubes be about an additional 24 feet lower at the railhead, fifteen feet for the trains and catenary, three additional feet of clearance above the power line, about a foot for the tunnel lining, and another five feet of clearance for ground strength. So, to minimize the depth by moving the crossing to the east near Fifth, let’s assume that the Green Line tunnel makes a fairly sharp “S” bend between Fifth and halfway between Main and Washington and Fourth and Jackson. The tubes can obviously be deeper under Fifth Avenue to the north of Washington so we don’t need a “U-shaped” dip, just a rise to the south. In any case, the Green Line tubes must be a whole level lower than you envision them at most a block and a half north of Jackson. The trains can’t magically bounce up to the same level as the DSTT platforms between Main and Jackson it would require a roller-coaster-like vertical change of direction that people would hate.

    Then, there is the problem of the “big X” in 2035. Sound Transit will never allow a level crossing of the Red and Green Lines to the south of IDS. So you’d have the same need for a high-angle descent to under-run the Red Line tracks to the south.

    So clearly the proper cross-sectional view should show the new Green Line platform (singular) under Fourth South below the level of the Concourse with the station-connector tunnel above it. Please do not make the mistake of having ANY new stations in the CBD with side-platforms. Sure, they were necessary for buses in the existing tunnel, but train stations should always have center platforms; they’re a much more efficient use of the space, and the allow reverse direction transfers at the same level.

    Chad’s update below about changing the Blue Line junction with the Red Line is interesting but I don’t think it’s geometrically possible using elevated structures as envisioned. He is suggesting that the Green Line tunnel be attached to the existing IDS platforms and the DSTT trackage go to a new platform under Fourth Avenue. If such a new station were made center-platform it would nicely solve the problem of the Bellevue-Airport trips having to make two level changes at IDS; it would be a cross-platform reverse-direction transfer.

    However, that doesn’t help one get underneath Fourth Avenue from the west side which the eastbound track will have to do. Chad is proposing either to take lanes from the I-90 extension or build a new structure alongside it for the Blue Line tracks, abandoning, presumably, the existing bus ramps to the existing station. If the Edgar Martinez ramps to Fourth South weren’t there, it would not be difficult, but they most assuredly are there and they will not be removed nor will lanes be taken. That means that the structure would have to be north of the existing I-90 extension to Fourth Avenue northbound off ramp. And, very importantly, you have to have a track on each side of Fourth Avenue, the eastbound to the west and the westbound to the east. There are buildings in the way on the east side of Fourth Avenue all the way from Royal Brougham to Seattle Boulevard (Airport Way). Yes there are a couple of relatively narrow parking lots but the resultant curve using any of them would be nasty and the elevation change to a tunnel under Fourth South non-trivial.

    The only way I can see it being possible is if the new Blue Line ramps were tunneled all the way to east of I-5 and rose up to meet the HOV facility just east of 12th Avenue. The HOV facility bellies out to the north there, probably designed to accommodate a rail curve, and there’s enough room between the main lanes and the HOV facility to squeeze in a rising track. On the northside there’s plenty of room to add a diverging track between the HOV facility and Dearborn. There’s a City of Seattle or perhaps WSDOT work facility that occupies the land today; it could certainly be reduced in size to accommodate a track.

    The good news is that the HOV facility under-runs the westbound main lanes about 14th Avenue, so it’s only a few feet above Dearborn where the junction would be made. There’s plenty of room to get under I-5 and it’s on a berm there, not structure. The tunnel could under-run Plummer Street and the parking which extends west of it all the way to the HOV structure.

    If the 2023 Blue Line tracks remained it would provide the ability to run trains from Redmond to South Lake Union. Such a line would be an overlay running only during peak hours.

    So far as the deviation to First Avenue, it would certainly be desirable, but I seriously doubt that Sound Transit would entertain the extra costs required.

    They are not trivial, since the Red Line trains will have to remain under Fourth Avenue South past the Edgar Martinez to Fourth South northbound ramp at the very least, and conceivably all the way to Martinez itself where it crosses the railroad tracks. This is because of the tangle of ramp structures around Royal Brougham between Third and Fourth South. Your map doesn’t distinguish between at-grade, elevated, and tunneled trackage, so I don’t know what you envision between the new Stadium Station (which appears to be optional?) and IDS, but I’d bet it has to be tunneled all the way. Fourth South drops off its elevated decking just south of Seattle Boulevard about a block north of the Martinez northbound off-ramp. And while “Yes, there’s room to at-grade the tracks between the off-ramp intersection and Royal Brougham”, the supports at Royal Brougham and immediately to the south cannot be navigated successfully by train tracks. So you very likely would have to tunnel all the way to Martinez and Third South through the notorious landfill that almost wrecked Bertha.

    Grant that once you do attain grade along Third South for a few blocks until the transition over to First South you probably could narrow Third South and take the crap parking between it and the BNSF tracks. But you’d need to rise up early enough to curve and pass over the BNSF tracks right next to you, which means the curve can’t start until full height is reached. Then you’re on structure all the way to south of Spokane. Grant that ST intends to put the Red Line on structure down the busway, so that’s roughly a wash.

  9. Wow, you deleted my long post about this article. I guess I’m not welcome here. Good bye.

    • See below. We did not delete your comment. Unfortunately, Disqus can behave oddly and marked the comment as “spam”, which is presumably due to its length? It didn’t indicate a specific reason why it thought it was spam. Please let us know if you have any comment concerns in the future.

  10. You know, instead of having to cross them over at grade south of Chinatown/Union Station, you could run a split-platform Union Station stop into the existing transit tunnel, with the eastbound eastlink line cutting across under Seattle Boulevard and the northbound track droppin under the current south portal tracks and get under 4th Ave a level lower. The West Seattle line southbound could come out the side of 4th Ave as the heavy rail tracks veer away, and the northbound tracks would cross at the intersection of the I-5 offramp and bore under 4th Ave right in the bus lane as 4th ascends. Just hook Royal Brougham into the offramp and you’ve got a place for a 3rd Ave-Stadium station literally in the shadow of Safeco Field.

    The existing Chinatown station would then veer right instead of left to follow 5th Ave to Midtown and Westlake, and you’d have crossover service using the existing Chinatown-Pioneer Square tunnels. The only naive crossover capacity you’d lack would be West Seattle – Ballard.

  11. There are a couple of fundamental station design issues to keep in mind.

    1 – In the underground stations the tracks are TWO levels down with a transfer/access mezzanine one level down. In the two “end” stations of the original design the transfer/access mezzanines are AT street level on plazas. In the proposed scheme, the transfers take place via ped tunnels BELOW the tracks – a grim solution with real safety concerns. A better solution would be to keep the transfers at street level – but that also requires an incredibly ingenious solution to crossing 4th Ave S at grade (or just living with the current signalized intersection) because the transfers for Sounder and Amtrak platforms are already at street level.

    2 – I like the idea of capturing the space already existing under 4th Ave south for the new platforms but the real issues are north and south of the station. Going south, 4th Ave S comes down to grade, eliminating an extension of the space. Going north the tracks would have to dive under the existing Link tunnel which itself is already diving under the existing Amtrak and Sounder tunnel (at is below sea level at that point, with a very big pump). Not to say it can’t be done; but it’s not a straight line solution.

    3 – As far as the station hall is concerned – if the transfers can all be kept at street level, then they are also at hall floor level. That means everyone would have easy access to seating / waiting areas and retail. More than that will be needed though. If you look at any big busy subway connection station, there are not a lot of people waiting around – it’s the nature of subways. The waiting takes place for long haul trains such as those going to Portland and Vancouver BC – and that’s happening in King Street Station.

    • Mark, all over the world, in ultra-safe Tokyo and crazy Buenos Aires people transfer between subway lines using underground walkways. It’s the way it’s done and it doesn’t have to be “grim” or unsafe.

      • Yes, it does happen all over the world; but that doesn’t make it desirable. And, in this system, the existing transfer pattern is up and over, not down and under. Why not make that work.

        • Because Fourth Avenue is “up and over”. People have been asking for a replacement or at a minimum an alternative to the Fourth Avenue crosswalk at the train bridge. It’s wonderful that it is there, but the wait time, especially westbound when your Sounder is due to leave in two minutes, is excruciating.

          • Yes – one of the annoying conflicts between modes people have to put up with. I just think that in this instance, given the amount of ‘up and over’ investment, we’d be better off implementing an assertive management of 4th Avenue traffic. I agree it’s not a setting with an ideal solution.

  12. I like it. I especially like the new stations. With the current plan we get very little south of I. D., as the two stations are identical. With your proposal, folks from the north will be able to go to two new stations. The First and Lander station is far enough away from the other one to be worthwhile, while the other station is actually closer to the stadiums. I also like the Union Station idea (although I have a question about it, asked in item 2).

    There is a bit of a trade-off though. Correct me if I’m wrong (especially with my second point).

    1) People going from West Seattle to Rainier Valley will have to wait an extra two stops to make the transfer. I don’t think this is the end of the world, but some would lose out. I’m not sure how many people would make that transfer. If you are in West Seattle and are headed to Rainier Valley, the 50 would make more sense (especially if the 50 skipped SoDo and ran more often). If you are headed to the airport, then a lot of people would be better off taking a bus headed south. The people hurt worse are those in West Seattle headed to the SoDo station and Beacon Hill. That seems like a pretty small number of people overall.

    2) It is clear that the transfers are better for getting from Sounder to Link. But how about Link to Link? Union Station is pretty and all, but most people just want to get there. Isn’t the actually distance walked (for your proposal) longer than ST’s? Not by a huge amount (of course), but still something. I could see more people changing tracks here, especially if the Madison Street Station was on First Hill.

    I don’t think either item is a real deal breaker. Either way I think we come out ahead with your plan. There are a fair number of Sounder riders who want to get onto Link, and they come out way ahead. For Link to Link transfers, your proposal is only a bit worse (if that). It is possible that ST would actually design something worse.

    One key thing is that the Westlake Link to Link transfer be designed well. That is by far the biggest transfer point in the system (much bigger than this). Designing that transfer well would also take the pressure off of this station. Someone trying to go from, say, U-District to West Seattle would make the transfer there, instead of at I. D.

  13. Great concept, but what the new combined station be called? “King Street-Union Station-International District/Chinatown”?

  14. I just wanted to add that I am in support of this idea/ concept and would like to hear more about how to make this happen.
    I would also like to disagree with folks saying that rail should not be extended to places such as Tacoma. guess where all the folks are going to right now, as they flee Seattle due to housing and traffic issues. – TAComa! Tacoma is actually a city and will be experiencing a large amount of growth that has not been planned for at all. Have you commuted on the st express bus between Seattle and Tacoma. unless dedicated bus lanes are put in, that is an very unsustainable solution to commuting between the cities. And I speak from experience.

Comments are closed.