An idea is going around, particularly in conservative circles, that the Covid pandemic fundamentally changes transportation needs and behooves Seattle to cancel its transit expansion plans. These ideas are built on a basic misunderstanding of cities, society, and geometry; they should be discarded.

On Monday, Puget Sound Business Journal published an op-ed from Mariya Frost plying the “let’s abandon transit” case. Frost works at the conservative think-tank Washington Policy Center and has long been grinding an axe against light rail projects. Her critiques are easily refuted.

Pre-Covid, mid-Covid, or post-Covid, transit is the backbone of our transportation system. Seattle’s ambitions of growth and high quality of life–things the Puget Sound Business Journal normally champions–only work if transit lays the groundwork. Highways can’t be widened fast enough even if we did want to waste all that money and lock in all those climate emissions and sprawl. Autonomous vehicles don’t change the basic geometry of cities. If you want the city to be dominated by places rather than parking lots, private vehicles and ridehailing cannot be your focal point, autonomous or otherwise.

“Four years ago, transportation experts predicted Sound Transit’s light rail expansion would be obsolete before it’s built,” Frost begins her piece, with “experts” referring primarily to her own think-tank and Republican leaders. Already granting herself victory in re-litigating her failed Sound Transit 3 (ST3) argument, she adds Covid only “accelerated trends that were already happening.”

Claiming voters only passed ST3 out of desperation to improve their commute–heaven forbid–Frost launches in the central transportation argument: let them eat buses. “Officials plan to spend billions to send light rail to low-density suburban areas despite better alternatives like Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), which is more flexible and less expensive.”

Never mind that ST3 funded 54 miles of BRT along with 64 additional miles of light rail. How would buses better serve Ballard and Uptown? Those neighborhoods already RapidRide D, a version of BRT-lite, and don’t actually seem satiated by it. Likewise, Tacoma wanted a light rail connection to the airport beyond the express buses they already have, the same goes for Everett.

The light rail network will greatly expand in the next couple decades. (Credit: Sound Transit)
The light rail network will greatly expand in the next couple decades. (Credit: Sound Transit)

“It is time for a Sound Transit reset,” Frost continues. “Planners should stop developing 20-year transportation plans when our future is so unknown.” She proceeds to make an argument that working from home in mass numbers is a lasting deep-rooted phenomenon, despite that being the most knee-jerk conclusion to draw from Covid. People would rather work from home than contract a deadly virus in the office, but it seems foolish to assume that’s immutable once a vaccine is available. And it’s already not the reality for the essential workers that make up one in three transit riders. More to the point, tons of transit trips aren’t work commutes anyway.

The next erroneous claim is that light rail is failing to “attract companies.” The example she cites is REI selling its shiny new headquarters to Facebook. She fails to note that REI pocketed a handsome profit in the process–light rail was a big reason why it could flip its headquarters so easily. A suburban office park on a lonely highway may have been a different story.

Onward to some inflexible thinking: “Light rail is inflexible, while decisions about real estate, as well as the choices people make about where they live and work, are dynamic.”

If this were true, we’d find buses abandoning old transit corridors all the time and pioneering new ones on a regular basis. In reality, that rarely happens and most of Seattle’s busiest buses are the old streetcar routes of the past. If you look at the 1941 streetcar map below, you’ll notice that almost all the streetcar routes continue to be major bus routes 80 years later. Untethered from rail, buses could have went wherever. They didn’t. A good transit corridor lasts no matter the technology because people settle around it and build beautiful places that endure even as they take on new life in each generation.

The extent of Seattle’s streetcar system in 1941, shortly before it was entirely dismantled. Note some of the lines were already converted to bus at this point. (Seattle Municipal Archives)

People continue to live and work in the same corridors a century later. Cities are dynamic, but not in the way Frost imagines. Adapting and building on the infrastructure of the past is what makes cities dynamic, not running a bus out to some cul-de-sac and abandoning a perfectly good transit corridor.

Moreover, once a bus reaches BRT level, it becomes even less mobile than Frost suggests because moving it would involve abandoning high quality bus stations, station access improvements, dedicated bus lanes, and upgraded traffic signals with transit priority and implementing them on a new corridor. To get all these things right, high quality BRT can be nearly as expensive as light rail–I-405 BRT is a billion-dollar-plus project that will spend $260 million on one mega interchange alone. Unless of course Frost is proposing BRT creep, a common phenomenon where a really high quality rapid bus is promised and a much lower quality slower bus is delivered.

While Frost pretends transit-oriented development suddenly stopped being a thing this year, almost every major development in the region continues to be tied to transit nodes–U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate have seen a huge wave of development ahead of light rail reaching them next year. “Expanding an increasingly antiquated $100 billion-plus fixed rail system is not a good use of public money, especially post-Covid. Working from home was popular in the U.S. before the pandemic hit, overtaking transit ridership for the first time in 2017.”

Just 26% drove alone to Downtown jobs
46% of Downtown workers used transit, according to Commute Seattle’s survey. (Graphic by Commute Seattle)

Again Frost seems to invent a statistic. Transit ridership may be rather low looking at the whole United States (counting rural and suburban areas with very limited transit options), but in Seattle it’s quite high. Commute Seattle’s annual Downtown survey that 46% of workers used transit in 2019, compared to 6% teleworking. Walking to work outperformed teleworking at 7%. Regionwide, transit’s mode share sits at 23%, which compares favorably to most American cities (save for New York) and far exceeds teleworking in normal circumstances. Frost can try to obscure the matter, but the reality on the ground is transit is far more popular than her tortured statistics let on.

“Competing technological innovations in transportation are announced daily,” Frost announced, which is patently false. Even if you believe snake-oil salesmen like Elon Musk, their new ideas aren’t that frequent–nor are they as revolutionary as billed. And Musk recently revealed Boring Company–billed as the future of transit–was “basically just Teslas in tunnels” and his Las Vegas Hyperloop was delivering a fraction of the promised capacity. Likewise, autonomous cars have long been just around the corner and could be a lot longer away and far less revolutionary than the hype.

Despite the car industry spending billions on advertising, Frost is frothing mad that Sound Transit spent $900,000 on ads. “In an effort to convince the public to ignore these trends, last year transit officials spent nearly $900,000 on bizarre ads promoting light rail as the future of travel. The ads, featuring people struggling to take off with jet packs, appeared on social media with the slogan.”

Flying cars and jet packs may have been some of the “innovations” she alluded to in the previous paragraph, so maybe she’s just hurt that they’re being trivialized. And you’ll notice ads are never taken as a sign of weakness for a car company despite the massive volume. Why don’t cars sell themselves if they’re so great? Perhaps, Frost is on to something here–Seattle is leading the nation in reducing its car ownership rates. Maybe cars aren’t actually that useful in cities, so car companies come up with lifestyle brands to make us think they’re indispensable? Is Ford selling sports utility vehicles and heavy duty trucks or are they selling an overpriced cure for male insecurity?

Sensing the weakness of the argument so far, Frost invents some more statistics suggesting transit primarily serve higher-income workers. “As Sound Transit officials ignore innovation in how people choose to live and travel, taxpayers continue to pay for a light rail system that fails to serve those with the fewest options. Census Bureau statistics reveal that more Seattle-area workers making over $75,000 commute by transit than those making under $25,000. Sound Transit is building a system for higher-income workers who often can work from home, while those most disproportionately impacted by Sound Transit’s taxes are less likely to use the system.”

This is very wrong. Part of it is math. The median household income in King County is more than $100,000. There are far more workers making more than $75,000 than less than $25,000 in the region so her comparison tells us almost nothing about the rates of transit use by income. In reality, low-income folks are the most reliant on transit, particularly in a pandemic setting when many high-income office workers are working from home or driving.

It also wrong because the “disproportionately impacted” part ignores that Sound Transit has among the most progressive tax mix of any taxing authority in the state. Sound Transit’s motor vehicle excise tax is highly progressive, hitting high-value cars much harder than older low-value cars. The other primary tax is property taxes, for which low-income homeowners can apply for an exemption and which tenants don’t pay directly.

Ending with a bang, Frost suggests Sound Transit didn’t build enough park-and-rides, despite it investing hundreds of millions on them. Plus, she suggests park-and-rides are somehow efficient while costing $80,000 or more per space to get one daily rider each. Likewise, private sector partnerships she pined for haven’t panned out that well; the shuttle services Ride2 provided fizzled out due to high costs and mediocre ridership.

Covid is a dramatic challenge, but we shouldn’t act like the pandemic will last forever. Sound Transit will create an estimated 223,000 new jobs building out ST2 and ST3. Abandoning that would send our region into a tailspin and deepen the recession. We must plan for our nation-leading transit ridership growth and economic growth to return like it was before this crisis. We should be accelerating rapid transit expansion to curb climate emissions rather than be contemplating cuts. Cities still run on transit despite what Republican lobbyists and snake-oil salesmen try to tell you.

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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.

20 COMMENTS

  1. For those of you too young to know, light rail was called “trolley lines” or “street cars” in the past. They all were quite popular for a span from 1890-1930.

    They all went out of business. There’s a reason. They were less convenient than other modes of transportation. Still true today.

    • John, you may want to read up on their history. It was NOT because of convenience, Detroit lobby was a big contributor. In fact, there is no large city without subway system or at least light rail or street car or gondola system I can think of. (Some in Africa but they are all working on it)

  2. May be we should think about Link purely as a spine and BRT and regular buses (may even aerial gondolas, too) as filling in the rest if volume isn’t there (yet) or getting people to Link in a hub and spoke way. The Ballard route would make sense if it continues North as Seattle Subway vision map shows. West Seattle might be better served with BRT or gondola as continuing South gets challenging due to density but a Link spine via Georgetown, South Park, Burien may make sense (see ST and Seattle Subway vision).

  3. I would disagree with the caricature of the eastside in one of the comments. For example, Mercer Islanders made $7,788,373 in political donations this year. Biden received $663,601 and Trump received $75,660. The DNC received $660,465 and the RNC received $95,285. https://www.opensecrets.org/address/summary.php?zip=98040

    ST has never truly understood the eastside, and its sheer size, lack of density, and topography, and has never really understood the female commuter. ST has always been about Seattle, until the money started rolling in. The only real first/last mile access for most of the eastside is by car, and that requires huge park and rides.

    Most transit planners will acknowledge most transit users, especially commuters, are loath to take a three seat commute, and the “first” seat on the eastside is in a car from doorstep to the park and ride. So asking the eastside commuter to drive to a remote park and ride, which does not have the safety of a large park and ride, to then take a bus to catch a train is going to be a very tough sell.

    The other unanticipated factor when ST subarea equity was being adopted — which requires that any ST tax revenue raised in a subarea be spent there — is the growth of the eastside, from Issaquah to Redmond to Kirkland to Bellevue. Even after East Link and the eastside subarea paying 100% of east-west ST buses that serve westside travelers too, the eastside subarea will have $5.5 billion left over. Factor in the revenue from ST 3 and the eastside subarea can never spend all the funding it has. That is why odd decisions like spending $4.5 billion to run a line from Issaquah to S. Bellevue in 2041 make sense, kind of. You have to spend the money some place, and eastside cities like Seattle neighborhoods all want rail, whether it makes economic sense or not.

    Eastsiders prefer to drive, and basically see transit as a way to commute and avoid the parking costs (plus 20% state and city parking tax) and congestion. But when not commuting they drive, and they like having a car at a park and ride to drop kids off at school on the way, or pick them up or groceries on the way home. On the eastside, downtown Issaquah is considered “dense” although it is totally unwalkable. It is nearly unbikable.

    So yes ST is spending hundreds of millions of dollars on eastside park and rides because those cities are demanding them because that is the form of first/mile access that works, it is their money, and the eastside has to find someplace to spend it all.

    Working from home is still an unknown in the long run, but lease renegotiations going on in downtown commercial properties right now suggest it will likely be permanent, with most companies adopting policies like Microsoft. It is a win/win: fewer (no) carbon emissions from commuting, it saves businesses quite a bit of money on office space, and it allows an eastside commuter who once went to Seattle or Bellevue to save 60 to 90 minutes/day standing on a crowded bus (there is no light rail yet).

    WFH will have some significant impacts on transit use, certainly on the eastside although my understanding is in Seattle most transit trips are not peak hour work commutes, and it will shift a good deal of revenue out of downtown cities and into those neighborhoods or cities the workers live in, and will now work from. They will still go out to lunch, or happy hour, or to the office one or two days/week if the office is somewhere they might want to shop or dine after work, and that is a good thing for the business and worker, although maybe not so much for downtown cores or unattractive cities. But as far as transit funding on the eastside, and ST’s fantastical ridership growth projections on East Link, it doesn’t matter. So East Link will recover less fare revenue. So what. The eastside still has more ST revenue than it knows what to do with. Rail for everyone (except Renton).

    Who knows what the future will bring. Will eastside residents from cities not served by East Link such as Sammamish, Issaquah, Snoqualmie or Renton suddenly agree to a three seat commute because ST wants to eliminate rapid buses directly to Seattle to try and meet its fantastical ridership growth projections on East Link? Probably not. In fact, if congestion is low enough from WFH look for more commuters to drive to the office, and some employers right now are subsidizing parking at work because they and fellow employees don’t want them taking transit to the office.

    Transit is never going away. Some ST subareas are going to see financial issues, especially the N. King Co. (Seattle subarea) because its costs include running a line to Snohomish Co. and because every neighborhood from West Seattle to Ballard are demanding rail, but transit as the most affordable form of transportation will stay true, at least until driverless cars.

    • On driverless cars: they won’t replace transit either as they don’t provide higher density, only a bit if you can to caravan them, but look forward to them with the help with the school drop off scenario and to get you to the LR station without needing P&R. (but I’m not counting this to happen any time soon)

  4. I just want to be clear: Frost is an idiot. You are right for finding fault with their arguments. The argument for large park and rides is ridiculous, given their cost. Leasing small satellite park and ride lots (typically from churches) and running feeder buses is a much better value. More people can walk to a feeder bus, and even those that drive have a shorter drive to the park and ride.

    But even idiots can stumble upon the truth (like when an anti-government zealot complains about subsidies for oil companies). Most of ST3 is a terrible value, especially in the suburbs (https://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/). Given the right wing emphasis on the suburbs (by that I mean, they don’t care about the city) many of Frost’s criticisms are valid.

    Light rail is inappropriate for Tacoma and Everett. They are simply too far away from the urban center (Seattle). Consider how someone will get from downtown Tacoma to Seattle or SeaTac after Link gets to Federal Way: They take a bus from downtown which then gets on the freeway and goes on the HOV lanes to Federal Way (using the HOV ramps). Then they take Link. Now consider what will happen when Link gets to the Tacoma Dome: Pretty much the exact same thing, expect that the transfer occurs by the Tacoma Dome instead of Federal Way. Oh, and along the way they get to stop in Fife, and other freeway stations (stations we know perform poorly*). In other words, billions spent, and it is no better. Unless, of course, they continue to run the buses, which would actually provide a faster trip, more often than not. Oh, and of course, people could also use the commuter rail to reach downtown Seattle, a trip that will always be faster than using light rail.

    Everett is similar. From downtown Everett it will be faster to take an express bus to Lynnwood (which, like Federal Way, has an HOV ramp connecting it to the station). So unless you are headed to another station in Everett, you are worse off with the light rail extension. There could be people headed to other stations in Everett, but either they are by the freeway, or will never have the density to justify a major investment in a mass transit system. Everett is simply too small (and the density that does exist is closer to downtown).

    Then there is the Issaquah to South Kirkland line. This was born out of the mess surrounding the Cross Kirkland Corridor. The city of Kirkland hired a consulting firm to look at putting transit there. They recommended BRT. Nearby residents, meanwhile, wanted nothing. Sound Transit, for no apparent reason, wanted light rail. So Kirkland essentially got nothing. Unless, of course, you count a light rail line from a suburban park-and-ride lot to downtown Bellevue as something. Issaquah, in contrast, will have a light rail line that makes no sense for getting to Seattle, but will be just a tiny bit faster for getting to Bellevue (if you time the transfer just right).

    As with all of these areas, this is not what they really need. They need better bus service. Even after spending billions and billions on these projects, transit will suck in these areas, because they are unwilling to make the investment in the bread and butter of transit in their area: buses. Bus service in these areas is so poor, some would say it doesn’t exist. Unfortunately, I don’t see any role in ST3 rail improving things. If anything, the huge amount of money for something of such little value (to areas outside the urban core) is likely to sour people on transit investments in the future.

    * https://media4.manhattan-institute.org/sites/default/files/economics-of-urban-light-rail-CH.pdf. Yes, the Manhattan Institute is a right wing think tank. But they are 100% correct in pointing out why freeway stations are a terrible idea — an idea shared by transit experts like Alon Levy.

  5. “Moreover, once a bus reaches BRT level, it becomes even less mobile than Frost suggests because moving it would involve abandoning high quality bus stations, station access improvements, dedicated bus lanes, and upgraded traffic signals with transit priority and implementing them on a new corridor.”

    Unless, of course, the BRT line is converted to a rail line, something this city did before. It was built with rail in mind from the beginning, and any future BRT line would be built with rail in mind as well.

    “I-405 BRT is a billion-dollar-plus project that will spend $260 million on one mega interchange alone”

    Wasting money on a BRT project is not a strong argument for wasting even more money on a light rail project. The station should be skipped. Everything else about the project is fine. It would have been ridiculous (although quite fitting for Sound Transit) to build the 405 project as light rail. It would have cost a lot more, and done less.

    Oh, and while we are talking about missing stations, let’s not forget that Link missed one of the most important potential stations in the entire network: First Hill. Is that called “Light Rail Creep”, or just general incompetence?

    • I’m not interested in re-litigating all of ST3 again. I-405 BRT is a good project (and it does offer a couple stations in Kirkland so let’s not pretend they got nothing.) My point was that BRT isn’t as cheap and flexible as Frost suggested. It can still be the right technology for a corridor and 405 definitely fits the bill. 522 is a good fit too and it’s too bad it’s not getting more dedicated bus lanes.

      Light rail to Tacoma and Everett is totally justifiable, and its been the goal of leaders from Pierce and Snohomish for decades. You can fault Sound Transit for not adopting your plan, but it’s a democratic result. You place a lot of faith in WSDOT building and enforcing bus lanes and interchanges across its entire I-5 corridor so that buses could continue to serve Pierce and Snohomish counties even as the region grows. We can’t assume that because it takes X for a bus to reach Seattle from these places that this will always be the case.

      You seem determined to turn Sound Transit into the villain here. They’re far from perfect, but some of the problems you heap on them get made by the local DOTs, such as watering down or cutting bus lanes. Politics is messy while one advocate’s dream transit map can be very clean and simple. When your plan survives a public outreach process, stakeholder process, ballot measure, and Tim Eyman initiative trying to undo it all, you will have much more of a leg to stand on.

      Could ST3 be better? Sure of course. But it’s still a very good package of improvements, and the alarms bells should be going off when you’re agreeing with Mariya Frost.

      • “My point was that BRT isn’t as cheap and flexible as Frost suggested”

        Except that BRT *is* cheap and flexible along the *ST3* rail routes. That’s because ST3 largely follows freeways and express ways. This enables huge savings over what will be built. You are arguing an abstract idea, while I’m arguing that BRT could deliver everything (and more) that ST3 will deliver for a lot less.

        That wouldn’t be the case with ST2, or with, say, Ballard to UW. There is no advantage to building that as BRT. It would be just as expensive. But that’s not what we are building. As it turns out, every single bit of ST3 rail could be built as gold level BRT for a lot less money.

        “Light rail to Tacoma and Everett is totally justifiable, and its been the goal of leaders from Pierce and Snohomish for decades. ”

        How? What first class transit system extends that far from the urban core?

        Ridership per dollar spend will be abysmal. Rider time saved per dollar spent will be even worse. This would be bad enough if these areas were spending a lot for other parts of their transit system, but they aren’t. This will be an infrequent train, carrying very few riders, while the buses in the areas do the heavy lifting while being underfunded — just like every other city that has done something similar.

        “You can fault Sound Transit for not adopting your plan, but it’s a democratic result.”

        No its not. We had no say in the various proposals. No one in Tacoma could support, say, a lot of extra money on buses instead of a train to the Tacoma Dome. The board simply went their own way.

        Even if it is democratic, so what? By that reasoning, the Iraq invasion was democratic. That certainly doesn’t make it a good idea.

      • It is possible to built TDLE as BRT for substantially less cost than rail. However, you would need make 2 major concessions:
        1. Reliability. Right now, the HOV lanes will come to a complete stop at peak congestion. Asserting that bus-only lanes would solve this problem is both correct and irrelevant in the absence of political will. The region has decided to create new transit ROW rather than reduce vehicle ROW.
        2. Station locations. Like Federal Way Link, TDLE pulls the stations away from the freeway envelope. To do the same for BRT would require capital expenditures comparable to rail.

        Would 1 & 2 be good trade-off for significant cost savings and better interoperability with multiple bus route? Perhaps, and smart people can disagree on the best policy decision. But the region made their decision, and it’s because Pierce leaders understand the want the reliability and speed of dedicated ROW and Link is the best way to realize that. They aren’t morons who decided to commit vast amounts of political and financial capital on Link simply because they think rail is cool, no matter how much contempt you direct towards those who disagree with you. Bruce Dammeier understand this when he speculates about downgrading TDLE to BRT because he’s willing to spend less to get less.

        Arguing that ST can delivery the same quality of mobility with BRT is disingenuous. Instead, you should argue, “Hey, how about instead of great transit at great cost, we give you mediocre transit at the fraction of the cost because I don’t think your region is good enough for great transit.” I’ve read your posts and your critique of ST outside of Seattle boils down to ‘they don’t deserve Link.’ No one is offended if I argue “you know, Totem Lake doesn’t merit light rail, Stride is good enough for that neighborhood.” You should be as honest when critiquing Tacoma and Everett.

        • The cost is the issue. I live on the eastside, and personally have my doubts about the economic wisdom of East Link (before Covid), especially as a link between Seattle and Bellevue, although I think East Link will be popular between Bellevue and Redmond, and think spending $4.5 billion on a rail line from S. Bellevue to Issaquah is a poor economic but understandable political decision.

          As one wag put it on another blog you won’t see any signs on Bellevue transit saying “Seattle is getting closer”.

          But if you live in a ST subarea in which there is more ST revenue than it can spend, what the heck. Build rail to Redmond. Drive East Link from the western part of Bellevue Way to Redmond. There is a lot of nothingness along the way, parks and wetlands and large lot single family homes that the citizens won’t agree to upzone to magically create ridership and density for a rail line that is never going to be the number one choice for mobility on the eastside. But if your subarea will have over $30 billion under ST 2 and 3, and people want to see rail, I guess Bellevue to Redmond is as dense as it gets. Next up is rail to that metropolis Bothell.

          Of course I also have my doubts about the wisdom of running light rail to Snohomish Co. (plenty of nothingness along that run too, unless you consider Mount Vernon and Burlington dense), because of the cost to the N. King Co. (Seattle) subarea that still needs to pay 1/2 for the second transit tunnel. But rail is how ST was sold to Snohomish Co. and Pierce Co., although they are wondering when they will see any benefits, and whether it made sense to make Seattle the hub in the wheel. I have my doubts about Snohomish Co. (and to some degree Pierce) having the ST revenue for any kind of intra-county rail. Basically just a rail spine for them, and BRT.

          The other issue is ST 3 (and ST 2) were sold on rail. No one voted to raise tens of billions in taxes for BRT, even though BRT for areas on the eastside and less dense areas is a much better investment.

          But how do you tell commuters from Sammamish, Snoqualmie, Issaquah, Eastgate, Factoria, Renton et al that we spent $5.5 billion on East Link so you can now have a three seat commute rather than a two seat commute on BRT to Seattle because ST does not want to run buses across the bridge span in order to drive up ridership on East Link (the drive to the park and ride being the first seat). Their commute to Seattle just increased by an hour each day. Lucky many will have their commute each day go to zero due to working from home, but increasing the commute for huge areas of east King Co. not served by East Link by one hour/day is not a great way to boost ridership.

          I highly doubt there will ever be a ST4, unless it is Seattle only. That means the N. King Co. (Seattle) subarea will likely run out of money before all those rail lines are built to Ballard and W. Seattle and so on (just like the 84% cost overrun on ST 1 eliminated a lot of stops) and either it will be surface rail, or BRT, anyway. But you will be able to take a bus from one of those neighborhoods to a rail station, and then to Pierce or Snohomish Counties, although the commute will be loooooong, and pointless if there is no congestion on the freeway.

          • AJ nailed the nail on the head. I’d add that it appears you’re conflating political feasibility/popularity and technocratic ideal of cost-benefit analysis as you see it, Ross. They’re two different things.

            It’s true a BRT spine never got a direct vote, but nearly all the electeds involved did not favor it, nor was there any evidence of a public groundswell in favor of wholly BRT-based plan. Voters could have removed the electeds for supporting expensive light rail or they could done a big pressure campaign for a BRT-based plan. They didn’t. And one has to imagine it’s because most Pierce and SnoCo residents aren’t sitting at home pining for BRT.

            Finally you claim no metropolitan area would ever build a rail spine as long as the Everett to Tacoma corridor (e.g. 61 miles), but this is clearly false. Plenty of regions run rail transit systems stretching that far, such as S-Bahn systems in Germany are routinely that long (e.g. Berlin, Munich, and the Ruhr) and the “first class” metros like Beijing, Shanghai, Seoul, Paris, Mexico City have many more miles of rail and extend similarly as far from the core.

          • “I’d add that it appears you’re conflating political feasibility/popularity and technocratic ideal of cost-benefit analysis as you see it, Ross. They’re two different things.”

            Not true. I’m saying we built the wrong thing. I understand the politics all too well. That doesn’t mean that it made the decision any better. (Once again I’m drawn to the Iraq War example).

            In short, the left — in its eagerness to vote for any transit anywhere — voted for crap. I get it. If I didn’t know any better, I would have supported it, enthusiastically. The problem is, we will get crap. And most likely that will be all we get, like so many other (almost always American) cities have (Dallas, Denver, and to a lesser extent, the Bay Area). If the Left had the guts to actually oppose the measure on principle (too much crap), then we would probably be voting on a much more urban (and better) proposal right now. But instead, folks accepted the crap, and assumed it was all we could get, or naively assumed that Seattle is the next Seoul, and we will soon build a 250 mile subway.

        • “Arguing that ST can delivery the same quality of mobility with BRT is disingenuous. Instead, you should argue, “Hey, how about instead of great transit at great cost, we give you mediocre transit at the fraction of the cost because I don’t think your region is good enough for great transit.” I’ve read your posts and your critique of ST outside of Seattle boils down to ‘they don’t deserve Link.’ No one is offended if I argue “you know, Totem Lake doesn’t merit light rail, Stride is good enough for that neighborhood.” You should be as honest when critiquing Tacoma and Everett.”

          That is BS, and it is offensive. I never said that those areas don’t deserve great transit. I wrote that those areas are not appropriate for light rail.

          You have it backwards. Tacoma, for example, probably won’t get good transit, let alone great transit. That is because they blew their wad on a horrible light rail line. It won’t even serve downtown Tacoma! How can you call it great, when it doesn’t even go into the heart of the city.

          You just don’t get it. You are ignoring how cities work. The most popular bus in Tacoma is the 1. It has more ridership than all of the express buses from Tacoma to Seattle, combined. There just aren’t that many people going from Tacoma into Seattle. And get this — if they take Link, the ride will be slower. It will be slower than taking Sounder, and slower than an express bus most of the day. Meanwhile, the rest of the buses won’t be any more frequent. Most of the buses in Pierce County run every half hour. Even the 1 only runs every 15 minutes. It is crazy to think that what Pierce County needs is to have a metro serving the edge of town, when it is obvious what they need is better bus service.

          You are ignoring when other cities have done the same thing. DART is a great example. Both Dallas and Fort Worth have terrible transit, even though they built a huge light rail line connecting the cities. If you don’t serve the urban core, then you end up with crap. Link to the Tacoma Dome does not serve the urban core of Tacoma, and neither does Everett Link. For that matter, even Lynnwood Link doesn’t serve the vast majority of people who live in Lynnwood.

          It just doesn’t make sense to build mass transit on routes that carry only a handful of people, especially when those routes are relatively fast. A bus from Tacoma, Everett or Lynnwood routinely averages over 30 MPH. That is blazing fast for mass transit. For example, the 44 averages about 12 MPH in the middle of the day. The express routes into Seattle are not special. With or without rail they will only carry a small percentage of the riders in those areas. It would be bad enough if those areas had good transit, but they don’t. After billions spent on Link, those areas will suffer with half hour frequency — or worse — for the vast majority of trips.

          Link serves Tacoma in name only. Pierce County is spending billions serving a handful of riders, when the masses get crap. Do I think that Tacoma deserves better? Hell yes.

  6. “How would buses better serve Ballard and Uptown? ”

    OK, I’ll bite. Imagine this: https://seattletransitblog.com/2015/02/18/westside-seattle-transit-tunnel/. Hers is how Ballard and Uptown are better served:

    1) Folks from areas in Ballard not by a station (e. g. anywhere on 24th, or anywhere north of Market on 24th or 15th) avoids a transfer.
    2) Those in Uptown would have a more frequent connection to Ballard or downtown.

    Keep in mind, this is by far the best light rail line in ST3. Oh, and there is the real possibility that the Ballard Station will be in the outskirts of Ballard, in West Woodland (one 14th). This means that the vast majority of people who live, work or visit the heart of Ballard will have to take a connecting bus, along with people who live up the street(s).

    The Ballard corridor is more of a “spine” (https://humantransit.org/2018/09/dublin-what-is-a-spine.html) as opposed to s strong stand-alone corridor. You have 15th and 24th in Ballard. You have everything in Magnolia. All of that converges onto Elliot. Elliot converges with Lower Queen Anne and buses from Aurora. Much of it is already very fast (or could be, with a minimum of investment). Elliot and 15th have very few traffic lights, and speed along there is similar to what it is MLK for Link (very fast). Thus an investment in the core would enable much faster speeds for a lot less money. It is a natural BRT corridor.

    In contrast, Ballard to UW is an independent corridor. There are no converging corridors (which is why it is only served by one bus, not the half dozen or so that serve Elliot). It is also extremely slow — for cars and buses, even outside rush hour. Buses routinely average less than 10 MPH — in the middle of the day. It is a natural corridor for mass transit (i. e. light rail).

    Could Sound Transit then build what is appropriate (light rail from Ballard to the UW, a bus tunnel for West Seattle and Northwest Seattle)? In theory, yes. In practice, probably not. They are an incompetent agency, with plenty of evidence to support that. We are stuck with crap, and will always have crap. Writings by people who dismiss rail entirely (like Frost) or think that every rail project is a great won’t help. Either way we’ll end up with crap.

      • Three possibilities:

        1) It doesn’t. Or at least, it only connects with a non-service connection. There are various subway lines like this. The lines go under each other, which means that riders have to transfer. But the line also extends around so that the trains can all go back to the depot at the end of the day. So that would mean someone taking a train from Ballard to Capitol Hill would transfer at the U-District (a big destination in itself).

        2) A simple junction. This means that frequency is halved after the U-District. This is a natural split, since the U-District is a very big destination (much bigger than anything north of there).

        3) Build a spur junction. This allows the flexibility to run the main line more often (during rush hour) and then have the Ballard line continue to downtown the rest of the day. So during rush hour you would transfer (to a train running every three minutes) while the rest of the time the train runs every six to ten minutes (meaning a combined 3 to 5 for the U-District to downtown section). Here is an example: https://www.flickr.com/photos/67869267@N07/9152772373/in/photostream/

  7. Not directly related to the article, but I was wondering whether any studies have been conducted regarding increasing grade separation and working towards automatic train operations similar to Sky-Train (Vancouver), 7 Line (New York), or Victoria Line (London). It seems to me that the at grade sections of the original segment (Rainier Valley/SoDo) will permanently crimp the system by preventing shorter headways, and that these operational constraints will only become more acute the larger the systems grows. While portions of East Link have at grade crossings, too, they are much less frequent and delays will have a smaller operational impact than those that occur on the ‘spine.’

    Insofar as a ‘reset’ is a critical analysis of existing facilities, projects, operations and priorities, I think looking to how operations can be made more cost efficient and reliable should be the first place to start.

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