Gondolas Can’t Meet West Seattle’s Transit Needs, Light Rail Can

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Seattle is amidst its most important transportation investment in 100 years. And—to no surprise—some neighbors have a problem with it. Seattle is well known for short-sighted skepticism towards robust transit investments, but never seem to gripe about the high cost of subsidizing automobile supremacy. 

While these residents of West Seattle ignore the risk and expense associated with slapping a band-aid on the West Seattle Bridge, there is careful line-item review of Sound Transit’s Link light rail expansion into their neighborhood. Rather than showing enthusiasm for getting a quick and sustainable connection throughout the Seattle Metro region, some neighbors see the expansion as a disruption and a waste of money. 

As this light rail expansion is in the planning stages for West Seattle, the effort to sow discord and discredit the plan has enlisted neighbors to propose an urban gondola in its place. Citing cost and schedule, the pragmatic locals see Link as a junket. They focus their complaints about station sizes, train noise, guideway height, and lost street parking. If the desire is to bring transit solutions faster to the peninsula, perhaps advocating for a Sound Transit-ready bridge–speeding up light rail by five years–is the right strategy. Proclaiming the gondola will be operational by 2024 seems unrealistic considering Sound Transit must study the capabilities for building and operating it. That hasn’t begun and wouldn’t even start for another year.

If I were marketing the benefits of a gondola, I am not sure I would tout that it takes longer and carries less people than my competition. (Credit: West Seattle SkyLink, highlights by the author)
If I were marketing the benefits of a gondola, I am not sure I would tout that it takes longer and carries less people than my competition. (Credit: West Seattle SkyLink, highlights by the author)

The reality is that the gondola will take 40% longer than Link to get downtown and it carries 38% less passenger capacity than light rail. The local activists praise the 30-second frequency of gondolas over the six-minute wait time for a train (Sound Transit’s four-car trains carry 800 people with six-minute frequency planned at peak). The gondola system that they have proposed can only carry 360 passengers in six minutes. So, while the frequency sounds great, the reality is it will take nearly 15 minutes to move the same amount of people light rail will, thus, half the frequency. Then a gondola would dump riders in SoDo or International District Station (if manages to make it that far) for a transfer, adding another time penalty.

And yet, the West Seattle proposal still praises urban gondolas around the world as cutting-edge, catch-all transit, citing examples in Europe and South America, even though they are best suited to niche transit problems.

Gondolas promise to be cheap, but they routinely face cost overruns and significant operational costs. They also promise transformative high frequency solutions that don’t deliver the same level of ridership as other technologies and don’t fundamentally address other urban problems. If light rail plans to move more than 30,000 people with twice the frequency during rush hour, then a gondola taking twice as long will only convince people to get back in their cars creating more menace and congestion on our streets. Part of the problem is gondolas take a simplistic approach of avoiding the root problems of planning streets. Light rail may be elevated, but it still works within the grid and helps solve over-dedicating street space to cars. 

Planning mass transportation in this section of Medellíin would be overly complex and expensive while also displacing thousands of people. Here, a gondola is appropriate. It will reach these areas and not cause disruption and displacement. (Credit: Reading Running Cycling blog)
Planning mass transportation in this section of Medellíin would be overly complex and expensive while also displacing thousands of people. Here, a gondola is appropriate. It will reach these areas and not cause disruption and displacement. (Credit: Reading Running Cycling blog)

A particularly oft-cited urban gondola example is Medellín, a city with a unique use case. Having five lines that fan out from mainline transit, the gondolas reach and bypass informal settlements (barrios, colloquially) in very steep, hard-to-reach hillside terrain. These informal settlements would require complicated routes and infrastructure to reach with a bus or train. Here, a gondola system makes sense by reaching communities directly without plowing through them indiscriminately.

A map shows SkyLink could offer similar stations in West Seattle, but it would terminate in SoDo, to transer to light rail.
West Seattle Skylink proposes to connect to Link in SoDo. The set up means two transfers for many riders. This adds delay, whereas West Seattle Link light rail is tabbed to ultimately offer direct service north as far as Everett. (Graphic by West Seattle Skylink)

But ridership of Medellín’s gondola system is hardly worth mentioning, carrying just over 50,000 daily riders–16 million in total ridership in 2019. That’s comparable to Seattle’s three RapidRide bus lines–the C Line included–that together carry more than 43,000 people per day in a normal year. That ridership further disappoints considering that Medellín has twice the density of Seattle (clocking in at nearly 18,000 per square mile to Seattle’s roughly 9,000 per square mile) and an overall population of 2.7 million. Medellin’s busiest gondola line (Line K) manages 30,000 daily riders, but the others see middling ridership.

West Seattle’s Link expansion, which may require purchasing a few $800,000 homes for market value, is not the same type of complex, informal settlement or inequitable displacement. Nor, as activists have admitted, would it be faster service. It also certainly is not cost-prohibitive or an engineering challenge from a topographical standpoint for light rail.

Replacing light rail with a gondola will eliminate the ability to expand south to Westwood Village, White Center and Burien. (Credit: Seattle Subway)
Replacing light rail with a gondola will eliminate the ability to expand south to Westwood Village, White Center and Burien. (Credit: Seattle Subway)

The West Seattle light rail line, however, is not the end of the system. There has always been a vision to expand it further south to serve communities like High Point, Westwood, Highland Park, White Center, and Burien. Future expansions could also bring the line near the airport and reach Tukwila, Renton, and beyond. A gondola could certainly be expanded to serve those communities, but the mode would operate at slow speeds and falter from capacity limits.

Link’s system already carries 26 million passengers per year. Over the next five years, another dozen stations will open. This overall network is critical to create both the urban and suburban commuter rail network needed for sustainable travel. Abandoning it now to gamble on a low-capacity and difficult-to-expand system would be yet another shortsighted transportation mistake.  

Voters approved light rail expansion as part of Sound Transit 3, and many live in West Seattle. They did not vote for the chance to throw it all away because a few neighbors are mad about losing parking and train noise. Link is a starting point for a much broader system expansion. In fact, Link is so popular that Seattle Subway is already working to shape a fourth transit package. After a handful of stations are opened this fall in North Seattle, popularity of the network will only grow. Rather than asking for gondolas, neighborhoods along Aurora Avenue–areas currently with the highest bus ridership in the state–may be asking for their own light rail line. Hey, wait a minute, they already are.  

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Ryan DiRaimo (Guest Contributor)

Ryan DiRaimo is a resident of the Aurora Licton-Springs Urban Village and board member of the neighborhood group ALUV. He works at an architecture firm downtown and was a selected participant of the HALA focus group. He advocates for density, pedestrian safety and world class mass transit.

23 COMMENTS

  1. I like the outside-the-box thinking here. A hard-to-reach neighborhood with a fraction of the population, like Magnolia, would be perfect for a short gondola ride. Wealthy residents could pay the high ticket price, and tourists trying to reach Discovery Park would love the view.

    But, a gondola to West Seattle? West Seattle is the same population as Bronx was back when New York City started planning their subway system. Can you imagine if the 1.3 million people living in Bronx today only had a gondola to reach Manhattan? This American myopia today really frustrates me. For example, this so-called light rail system we have was designed to serve the Seattle we knew 30 years ago, when they started planning the 1996 Sound Move project. Now, the light rail trains are already overcapacity at peak hours, they’re slow due the low-floor design, and encounter monthly disruptions by Rainier Valley’s streetcar-style alignment. Now we have the light-metro alignment traveling along the freeway all the way to Everett and Tacoma to do the same thing as the Sounder: become a park-n-ride alternative to driving.

    Finally, in 2016, we voted to approve the Ballard and West Seattle extensions to be designed like a genuine subway system: underground or elevated in high urban density. But now we’re thinking of replacing it with a Whistler’s sky gondola? I’ve waited in long lines for gondolas at ski resorts, and never once did I think, “Oh, dang, if only Tokyo had built this instead of a subway system.”

    I really hope this West Seattle gondola discussion disappears quickly. It’s a distraction likely started by a handful of NIMBYs riled up by Tim Eyman.

    • ” Can you imagine if the 1.3 million people living in Bronx today only had a gondola to reach Manhattan?”

      Can you imagine if someone thought West Seattle was like the Bronx? Yeah, kind of crazy. Next thing you know, they’ll compare West Seattle to Tokyo … oh I guess you did that.

      I’m not saying that a gondola to West Seattle is the best solution, but *most* of the day, there would be no waiting. Just look at the buses, *before* the pandemic: The 21, C, 120 ran every 12 to 30 minutes. The 125 ran every 30 to 45 minutes, while buses like the 56 and 57 only ran during rush hour! That just isn’t that many riders. This means that there wouldn’t be much waiting for the gondola. It also means that ST would have a very hard time justifying anything but trains every 10 minutes in the middle of the day, and 15 minutes at night. That just means a lot more waiting for the vast majority of people who use the system. Not only do you have to transfer, but you have to transfer and then wait a really long time.

      Again, I don’t think a gondola is the best solution. But then neither is a light rail line. The best solution for West Seattle is to take advantage of that huge freeway line and bus expressway that could — for less money than a gondola, let alone a light rail line — get the vast majority of riders to downtown faster than either.

  2. Beginning this weekend SDOT will begin enforcing the restriction on the lower W. Seattle Bridge to transit and freight. From 5 am to 9 pm cars or passenger vehicles using the lower bridge will be issued a citation via camera. Up until now enforcement has been voluntary, and many W. Seattle residents have been using the lower bridge for cars according to the news report on TV last night since there has been no enforcement.

    The upper bridge used to carry 100,000 cars/day and 25,000 transit riders per day.
    https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/04/17/losing-the-west-seattle-bridge/

    This will be a good test to see if West Seattle residents switch from their cars to transit or find some other alternative, although right now total travel is down due to the pandemic. But as 2021 unfolds travel to and from West Seattle will return. It will also help determine first/last mile requirements for handling a much higher volume of transit riders.

    This information should be helpful to determine the configuration of any new bridge in the future. Right now the assumption is the completion date for light rail to West Seattle will be extended to 2035, and even then until the line to Ballard is completed — which has probably been extended from 2035 to 2040 — along with a separate transit tunnel through downtown Seattle, the W. Seattle light rail line will only be a “stub”, terminating shortly after crossing the bridge and requiring a transfer to a bus, hardly an improvement over the bus today.

    One of the demands by West Seattle residents for any new bridge (that in some ways convinced the mayor to repair the current bridge) was no loss of car capacity. Both for those who commute or travel from West Seattle, and those who travel to West Seattle businesses. On the other hand transit advocates and Urbanists argued any new bridge should reduce or even eliminate lanes for cars and focus solely on transit, mostly light rail. Some also argued for a tram, either in conjunction with light rail (although how to pay for that is not clear) or in lieu of light rail.

    Limiting access to West Seattle to transit only over the next two or three years should allow the residents of West Seattle to understand how that impacts their lives and commute/travel, and the impact on West Seattle businesses from any loss of customers from outside W. Seattle who won’t be able to drive there. Based on current business and commercial property price reductions in W. Seattle the bet is closing the lower bridge to cars will hurt business, at least when transit is limited to buses.

    This forced experiment should let West Seattle residents (and other communities served by a bridge like Ballard and Magnolia that will need replacement at some point) figure out whether they can live without car access, limited car access, or full car access compared to today in new bridge, although granted 2040 is a very long ways off and transportation could be completely different by then.

  3. Three Points:

    Gondolas are indeed cheap, but also need many station attendants, to ensure safe operation, especially in the peak hours.

    Gondolas can also suffer from acts of sabotage, as the Sea to Sky aerial tramway has been sabotaged twice.

    Seattle’s so called LRT is in fact a classic light metro, with 90% of its rights-of-way is grade separated, either on viaduct and/or in a subway. The light metro operates light rail vehicles because they are cheaper than proprietary light metro cars and do offer the advantage to operate on lesser rights-of-ways.

    Like monorail, those supporting aerial tramways do not consider the esthetic or operational problems that come with elevated transit systems.

  4. I’m confused by pigeon point on this sky link graphic. Gondola cars going going over every 30 seconds? How high? It may be physically smaller and seemingly less intrusive, but I am not convinced permitting this is so different than entitlement for an elevated light rail. Light rail is “trying” to stay within the ROW and purchasing / taking the property where it cannot. This on the other hand looks a little crazy. I guess Pigeon Point is kind of a barrio.

  5. One thing you forgot to mention is that Medellín has an extensive light rail system which handles the bulk of the horizontal displacement transportation (along with its less density aligned bus routes). Yes, gondolas serve a purpose, which is, if your route resembles that of a ski slope then implement it, otherwise drop the idea of using them. Gondola transportation is all about vertical displacement transportation . And yes the lines to board do get long thus eliminating the rapid boarding element.

  6. “There has always been an [unrealistic] vision to expand it further south to serve communities like High Point, Westwood, Highland Park, White Center, and Burien. These dreamers can’t point to any city that has done anything similar, but fantasize about running two trains lines to Woodinville, and three lines to Tukwila.”

    There, fixed it for you. Sigh. I really encourage everyone who dreams about such plans to look at what works, and what hasn’t worked, for cities like Seattle. It gets complicated, of course, but cities that build new systems in the post-war period don’t build systems like the one envisioned by Seattle Subway. Certainly not in the U. S., where constructions costs are high. The only thing close are things like BART and DART, which are often cited as what *not* to do. Even then they aren’t that big. There is a reason for this. Basically, it is very expensive to build a high quality mass transit system (light or heavy rail). You can save a lot of money by running on the street, but in most cases, that delays the trains. Rainier Valley — with very few cross streets — is exactly the place where surface rail makes sense. You lower costs dramatically, while running the trains fairly fast. It could use more stops, but it was definitely the right choice. Most cities don’t have that — they either build on the cheap (with trains not much faster than buses — e. g. Portland) or they spend the bucks making it elevated or underground. We are already in that second category.

    Cities that do this often have a spending boom, then run out of money. BART did this, after their initial expansion, a very long time ago. Since then, there have been no additional lines in San Fransisco, Oakland or Berkeley (the urban core). After ST3, we are now in that category.

    We simply don’t have the money to build an extension beyond West Seattle. We will be paying for ST3 for at least 20 years, although more likely 30. Even if we did have the money, why on earth would be build that, before any of the other projects that make more sense?

    This gets me to my other point, and this is very important: to get good ridership, you need two things: density and proximity. West Seattle has neither. It is far from the urban core, with a huge gap between it and where even moderate density picks up again. It is essentially a moderate density suburb, with destinations spread far apart. There aren’t huge numbers of people going between The Junction, High Point, Westwood, Highland Park, White Center, Burien and Sodo. This is what drives really high ridership systems — or even parts of other systems. It isn’t all those people headed downtown, it is all those people headed to those other destinations. At every stop, people are getting on and off. It is why UW to downtown is by far the highest ridership segment. You have lots of people going between UW and Capitol Hill, or Capitol Hill and downtown, or even just within downtown. This is without First Hill, and with only one UW station. As it moves north, you have the same thing. Unfortunately, greater West Seattle just doesn’t have that.

    It would either be slow, or massively expensive. Either way, it wouldn’t get the number of riders you would with a Metro 8 subway (whether it included First Hill or not) nor would you get the riders of a Metro 44 route (which would be faster than driving, most of the day).

    Which brings me to another point. One of the main reasons urban systems are so successful is because they are often faster than taking a cab. Not just at rush hour, but all day long. If you live in White Center, and are headed to any of the places along the line, would you take transit? Maybe, but unless it was rush hour, it would be much, much faster to drive. This is another way to measure the value of the system — is it faster to drive. Again, between UW and Capitol Hill? No, never. Trips along the Metro 8 or Metro 44 corridor? Nope. This in turn means that connections (involving buses) are as fast as driving. Phinney Ridge to the UW would involve the 5 followed a train. Even with the wait time, it would be faster than driving. You can’t say that for a two seat ride along the proposed West Seattle extension.

    It just doesn’t make sense to build that next. That means that it would only make sense if we had a massive expansion — which just won’t happen. We won’t have another big spending spree, like ST3 (https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/02/27/sizing-st4/). If we build anything, it will have to be small, and be a very good value. There is only one project that is like that, and that is Ballard to UW rail.

    • I think you have the wrong takeaways from BART.
      1) SF is still building urban subways, albeit under MUNI. Progress is slow because it is trying to go alone. Seattle should take the same lesson that is it better to yoke itself to the full region’s finances, as Seattle has done by getting the region to pay for a share of the first and now 2nd tunnel.
      2) I actually think the BART system design is fine, and ridership instead suffers from poor land use decision, with the density around some stations like North Berkeley almost NIMBY performance art. The lesson for Seattle is if you are going to build to the suburbs, make sure the land use is worth it. The plans in Lynnwood,Kent, etc. are solid but the jury is still out on the reality.

      Which goes to my original point – if West Seattle really wants further expansions, I’d like to see major changes in (planned) land use first.

  7. “If the desire is to bring transit solutions faster to the peninsula, perhaps advocating for a Sound Transit-ready bridge–speeding up light rail by five years–is the right strategy.”

    Let me answer that: Perhaps? No. Not at all. I don’t know why anyone thinks they are similar, or why anyone thinks this would speed up the process considerably. There are grade issues, for one. But mostly it is because getting over the Duwamish is a tiny part of the West Seattle Bridge process. Its not like the train follows the freeway for any segment. It isn’t going to run down SR 99 (taking a lane), then turn. Nor will it end follow the freeway to the end, at 35th. It will go a very different route — modifying it to take advantage of the new bridge (if it was even possible) wouldn’t save much money at all. Most of the money is going into the new track, that has to be built for miles. A lot of it going to spent in West Seattle itself, to serve the three stations. It was worth exploring and considering, but basically the engineers said it couldn’t work, for the same reason they dismissed the idea of a tunnel under the Duwamish. It wouldn’t save any money, and wouldn’t speed up the process.

  8. “As this light rail expansion is in the planning stages for West Seattle, the effort to sow discord and discredit the plan has enlisted neighbors to propose an urban gondola in its place. ”

    That is a pretty audacious claim. I’m pretty sure the folks that want the gondola always wanted the gondola. It is pretty rude and unfair to accuse them of being anti-transit. It is quite reasonable for the folks in West Seattle to have buyer’s regret, given the obvious short-comings of the rail plan. This second guessing seems even more justified given that ST can’t build what they originally promised. Suddenly they are talking about following a path that will wipe out a bunch of homes. The gondola folks are not trying to sow discord, or discredit the light rail plans — it is very easy to do that just by looking at them. No, instead they are simply reminding people that there is an alternative that would provide many of the same benefits for a lot less money, be built a lot sooner, and provide a lot less pain to the neighborhood.

    • No, there isn’t an alternative. The plan is a light rail to west seattle. It was voted on and passed. There is no alternative to that.

  9. There are many good reasons to invest in Link in West Seattle, but “opens faster” and “supports future extensions” are not two of them. The Link stub will not be an upgrade over bus service until the 2nd tunnel opens, for many of the reasons you highlight about the gondola, so working to accelerate the West Seattle segment is not a good use of funds or activism. In fact, delaying the WS segment so that it opens alongside the 2nd tunnel, if that ensures the 2nd tunnel opens earlier/on time, would be a better outcome for WS.

    As for future extensions, I chuckle every time I read that. I wonder when local transit advocates will realize the future HCT project that will connect West Seattle to Burien is going to look a lot more like Bothell’s Stride line than Link, unless there is an incredibly profound change in land use south of the Junction.

    It’s a bummer this gondola idea didn’t get traction earlier because I think it could have been a compelling alternative if studied alongside the earlier Link proposals, given that high capacity transit service to West Seattle is perhaps a “niche transit problem,” but at this point in the process it’s probably better for both WS and the region to build the best possible Link alignment, unless a major politician (i.e. Dow) gets behind an alternative.

  10. Yeah I studied a lot of gondola projects before I wrote this piece. Did you even read it? It will take more than 2 years to build it, easily. And you haven’t even begun the process for getting it greenlit. You’re looking at 2028 at the earliest. That same funding issue you mentioned would apply to a gondola as well.

    No, I didn’t attend those meetings because it’s not my neighborhood, just my money going to pay for your bridge. I don’t care what the excuse is, mentioning wanting a Link ready bridge in a few meetings is hardly the same effort that was done to create a website touting West Seattle’s Gondola plan, even naming it and providing a well made marketing video.

  11. “Seattle is well known for short-sighted skepticism towards robust transit investments, but never seem to gripe about the high cost of subsidizing automobile supremacy. ”

    Can you give me some examples, because it sure seems like folks are skeptical about expensive road projects as well. A majority opposed the SR 99 tunnel, and it was one of the big reasons Nickels lost his job. They could have spent a fortune on a new West Seattle bridge, but most supported less spending — just put a band-aid on it for now. There is little enthusiasm to rebuild the Magnolia Bridge, let alone build a new one. Seattle has trouble maintaining its existing road infrastructure — there is little effort to build anything new, or better.

    In contrast, Seattle will support just about anything that is transit related. Even when it is obvious that ST3 is full of misguided, poorly thought out projects, they support it, enthusiastically. As this publication wrote, the combination of a Metro 8 and Metro 44 subway line would have been a much better approach, but it really doesn’t matter what they proposed. Randomly throw together a line and it would have been popular.

    “Voters approved light rail expansion as part of Sound Transit 3, and many live in West Seattle.”

    Yes, and the opposition is growing because it isn’t what they voted for. The original plan was to follow Avalon and Fauntleroy, ending on Alaska. That would have been minimally disruptive, while getting riders very close to the Junction. That is gone, and now they are talking about wiping out a lot of houses AND putting in a station further away from the cultural center of the area.

    While this particular failing is unexpected, the fact that West Seattle would have “buyers regret” is predictable. The train idea was driven by a handful of people that commute from West Seattle to downtown, and are bothered when the bus encounters a slowdown (even though it averages speeds that a rider on the 44 or 8 can only dream of). The vast majority of people who ride transit off the peninsula will be worse off. In the middle of the day, they will be forced to get off the bus, and wait for a train, that at best will come by every 6 minutes, although more than likely, 10. Compared to that, this gondola sounds a lot better, and a lot cheaper.

    • Yeah.

      Short Sighted on Transit:
      Forward Thrust Part I
      Forward Thrust Part II (the funding ended up leaving Seattle and going to Atlanta to build MARTA)
      Seattle Streetcar Connector (local support for ending it)
      RapidRide Projects being eliminated, reduced, or delayed (no local complaints)

      Never Concerned about Car Stuff:
      Magnolia Bridge ($900M) – In the planning stages for SDOT
      West Seattle Bridge ($1 billion) – Will likely slap a $300M bandaid on it and let it fall down

      ST3 promised light rail to West Seattle. That’s what is being delivered. You know what wasn’t promised? A gondola that’s slower and carries half the amount of people light rail will.

      • ST3 promised to connect Tacoma, Ballard, West Seattle, Everett. The downtown connection was supposed to be done by 2035, it has been delayed by a year and ST is considering delaying all project by another 5-7 years due to covid revenue shortage. WS
        residents don’t want to wait 15-20 years to tap into Sound Transit’s growing regional transit network and Seattle shouldn’t delay ST3! Switching to gondola technology for WS could keep all these projects on schedule and connect WS in 2024 or 2025! Sound Transit had considered running another Link line South through Georgetown/South Park which would serve Burien and even Renton and would serve a lot more essential workers/equity than continuing a WS line beyond the Junction.

        • A Gondola has to go through the same EIS process, SEPA process, be studied by Sound Transit, will need to obtain rights and permits to cross the port, etc.

          Even if you got all that done in 2 years, you’re looking at 2-3 years of construction, which is extremely unlikely.

          The earliest this would be delivered is 2028, and if you wanted to speed up transit access, where were you during the West Seattle Bridge advocacy that asked for it to be merged with Light Rail so it’s delivered in 2025? Only The Urbanist called for that and locals didn’t say much.

          • Have you researched gondola projects? Construction usually takes less than 2 years, due to International District complexities, it may take a little longer.
            Did you attend West Seattle bridge Committee meetings, Ryan? Then you would know that several local officials asked the city to consider adding Link. The city looked into it, but a quick replacement option would have used the existing bridge foundation and the city pointed out that it would not support additional load and adding the Link approaches to the bridge would make it impossible but require rebuilding the existing road approaches, too.

          • Just a lowly professional planner here, but Ryan is more in the ballpark on the timing of a gondola project. There’s no way to open a project by 2025 due to the need to change course and authorise a material project change, conduct the proper federal and state studies (NEPA/SEPA), deal with project appeals, engineer a design, obtain federal, state, and local permits, authorise contracts, acquire easements and property, and then do construction. You’re probably right about the construction timeframe of two years or so which will need to be followed by testing, but these earlier actions will take substantial time.

          • Martin has a point though. The planning stage should be fairly quick. It an above ground system that requires only looking at a handful of stations. You’ve got the cables, but that isn’t much different than power lines. In contrast, if you want to demolish a bunch of houses, or dig tunnels, or put a bunch of pylons on the street, that will take a very long time (from a planning standpoint).

            But planning isn’t the main reason these projects take so long. Nor is it construction. The biggest reason these projects take so long is money. Due to bonding constraints, Sound Transit can’t spend too much money at once (https://seattletransitblog.com/2018/02/28/sound-transits-debt/). That is why a lot of the projects are put off for a very long time. It isn’t that Issaquah Link takes 25 years to plan and build (it is all above ground, and mostly in the freeway right-of-way). It is that it (like most of ST’s projects) is very expensive, and if they built it sooner, they would run into the debt limit.

            All of that means that a gondola *could* be built way sooner than a massive light rail line. Whether that is 2025 or not is a different matter. Assume the worst — assume it takes an extra five years, or 2030. That is still better than Link.

            Keep in mind, the *original* plans were to finish West Seattle Link in 2030. The general plan now is to delay everything by 5 years. So that means that West Seattle would have its light rail in 2035. But keep in mind, that is *only to SoDo*. So riders from Delridge, for example, would get off the bus on Delridge, take the train, then take another train in SoDo. If they are headed to Bellevue, there would be another train. This isn’t New York, either — all of those trains will go every 6 minutes.

            West Seattle doesn’t get their train connection to downtown until Ballard Link is finished. That was originally planned for 2035 (which again means around 2040). Oh, and all of this assume expedited planning, which suggests the kind of non-controversial expansion that happened for Lynnwood Link (where folks generally rubber stamped each station). Neither West Seattle Link nor Ballard Link is like that. In West Seattle, they can’t deliver what they promised, so now they are talking about wiping out a lot of houses, or building (far more expensive tunnels). This will go on for a while.

      • Yeah, I know about Forward Thrust. That was a while ago, and pretty much the only argument people can make for “we blew it, and should have built that”. Of course you also have the monorail, but that had all sorts of technical problems.

        But if you are going to go back as far as Forward Thrust, then you have to give the locals credit for *not* building all the freeways they could have. We could have had freeways all of over town (https://archive.seattletimes.com/archive/?date=20030824&slug=bumper24m0). Some of the freeways had strong state and federal support, but were shot down by locals. Good thing, too — they would have destroyed neighborhoods.

        In more recent times, your examples don’t hold water:

        The streetcar is a stupid project. It never should have been built, and should never be extended.

        As far as Move Seattle projects, they just ran out of money. That is the main reason we don’t have the “RapidRide+” projects we voted for. But again — we voted for it. Seattle voted to spend a bunch of money on transit, bike infrastructure and sidewalks. They won’t be built because Kubly (and Murray) lied to the public, and didn’t tell us that it would require more money. But we still want it! That’s the point. Seattle, over and over, votes and supports more money for transit, and less money for roads.

        You point to the West Seattle Bridge, and dismiss the fact that we chose the cheapest option. This is a repair. We didn’t go for a full replacement, nor did we go for anything that increase capacity. As far as the Magnolia Bridge is concerned, it is in early planning, but we sure as hell aren’t going to spend 900 million replacing it. Many Magnolia drivers will be unhappy with a smaller, cheaper bridge (or no bridge at all) but the majority of the city doesn’t want to spend that kind of money on car infrastructure, yet it doesn’t bat an eye over spending a fortune on transit projects.

        The idea that Seattle is anti-transit and pro-roads is ridiculous. So too is the idea that we have a long history of “missing our chance” when it comes to transit. There is only one case where that happened, and that was Forward Thrust (a long time ago). In more recent memory, we simply built the wrong transit projects. Rather than focus on transit projects that serve dense areas, or make critical connections, the board just arbitrarily choose West Seattle as a place to serve. It isn’t cost effective. It won’t carry that many riders. It won’t save those riders much time (in many cases, it will cost them time). But it is what we chose to build. Unfortunately, that means that other neighborhoods — neighborhoods that make way more sense for mass transit — will likely have to rely on buses that are much slower than the West Seattle buses ever were. Because, unfortunately, if you spend a bunch of money on mass transit in the wrong places, it takes an extremely long time to build it in the right places (ask San Fransisco or Oakland).

      • I’ve laid out a streetcar connector route option to replace the stupid Left Lane, median stations plan which is bad engineering. Anyway, it’s a couplet on 1st/2nd Aves with curbside stops. 1st Ave north uphill to Pike, east to 6th, north to Westlake. From Westlake west on Stewart, south on 2nd Ave to Jackson, west to 1st Ave and return.

        Celebrate Portland voters rejecting the MAX light rail SW Corridor extension. I’d be a supporter if it met important standards – physical impact, construction disruption, traffic hazards and pedestrian crossing concerns that occur with ‘widening’ state Hwy 99W, transit patronage, development potential. Metro, Tri-Met, ODOT & City Hall want the public to believe the proposal’s only flaw was the money; their only solution is how to get more money. No doubt Seattle suffers from the same absurd professional planning perspective – money, how to get more and how to deny wasting it on absurd engineering.

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