Mangan: Build a Sand Point Way Streetcar and Unlock Transit-Oriented Development in Northeast Seattle

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The Husky Stadium pedestrian bridge rendered with an elevated tram line next to it.
My proposed grade-separated streetcar line would elevate down Montlake Boulevard, delivering UW students and employees, as well as Northeast Seattle residents, to light rail and area bus routes efficiently by avoiding traffic. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/SketchUp Software).

A tram line along Sand Point Way could speed up transit connections in Northeast Seattle and loosen the apartment bans blanketing much of the area.

In the past two hundred years, industrial capitalism has altered the earth’s climate in ways only nature had previously been capable of, and at a rate significantly faster than what Earth had ever seen before. Earth now delivers us a simple message: we are not above nature. The climate crisis is at our doorstep, and it disproportionately affects communities of color. Climate justice cannot wait.

Despite the promises of the past four Seattle mayors to reduce emissions, the opposite has happened. City emissions increased 1.1% between 2016 and 2018, and Seattle is far from its goal of a 58% emissions reduction by 2035. In fact, emissions in 2018 registered at about the same level as they did in 2008, dropping by only 4.4%, according to the city’s 2018 carbon inventory. This is alarming given the warnings of the United Nations that we must slash global emissions in half by 2030 to avoid irreversible and catastrophic effects from the climate crisis. It is even more alarming in the face of estimates from Seattle Pacific University that project daily flooding in South Seattle within the next 100 years as a result of the climate crisis. Seattle has a choice: invest now, or pay later.

Unsurprisingly, Seattle’s biggest climate-killing culprits are housing and transportation. Exactly 60% of Seattle’s overall greenhouse gas emissions are the result of transportation, 81% of which stem from cars and light duty trucks. Those emissions disproportionately impact communities of color, especially those living in Seattle’s Central District and Rainier Valley. Getting the city’s residents to step out of cars is among Seattle’s most critical climate solutions, comparable only to weaning our buildings from dirty natural gas. Transit justice is not just a traffic and climate solution, it is a racial justice solution, too. 

Making the switch from cars to mass transit, bikes, or foot necessitates that the city re-evaluate its restrictive zoning laws (remnants of de jure segregation)–which ban apartments in 75% of the city, contributing to car dependency. With residents being priced out of the city center to distant suburbs in droves, affordable housing investment also becomes a critical climate and traffic solution. One thing is clear: housing justice is climate justice is racial justice is transportation justice. But most of all, the city must continue to invest in mass transit and expand its bike network, especially through key transportation corridors. Ensuring residents can access the region’s $54 billion dollar light rail infrastructure, too, is critical. This article presents one concrete step the city could take to move residents out of cars and onto mass transit, but it is first necessary to understand the current traffic situation of the area discussed.

Seattle’s light rail avoids much of Northeast Seattle, turning west from Husky Stadium to service the denser University District. While this was an excellent bang-for-the-buck investment, Seattle must now consider expansions to its transportation network that reliably connect every part of the city. On busy traffic corridors, grade-separated transportation is critical to move residents efficiently.

As a long-time resident of Northeast Seattle, I’m no stranger to the traffic backup on Montlake Boulevard, or the dangerous road conditions on Sand Point Way that have led to a slew of fatalities in recent years, such as the passing of 29-year-old resident David Allen. The reality of the current light rail system for residents of Northeast Seattle is that it’s almost entirely inaccessible. From the closest neighborhoods, the University of Washington Station, located outside of Husky Stadium, is a 30 minute walk away, has only paid parking, and taking the bus to the station often means sitting in Montlake traffic for up to thirty minutes at peak hours. This also presents challenges for employees of some of the area’s largest employers: thousands of workers at Children’s Hospital, the University of Washington Medical Center, University Village, the Federal Archives, and businesses up and down the corridor would benefit from transportation improvements that avoid the Montlake traffic mess.

Mangan’s proposal mocked up in Google Maps. It’s a three-mile line from Husky Stadium Station to the edge of Magnuson with 10 stops, if I interpreted his intent correctly. (Graphic by Doug Trumm)

My proposal? A largely grade-separated streetcar line running from the intersection of NE 65th Street and Sand Point Way–just outside of Magnuson Park and nearby affordable housing development–to the Link light rail station near Husky Stadium and the University of Washington Medical Center.

My proposed line would terminate with an elevated station adjacent to the existing pedestrian bridge that currently connects the University of Washington campus to Link light rail and Husky Stadium, facilitating fluid transfers between light rail, bus, and streetcar. The stop would also be accessible from the Burke-Gilman Trail, allowing for easy cyclist and pedestrian connections. The conglomeration of transportation options in the area would conveniently connect all over the city: South Seattle, Downtown, the University District, Roosevelt, and Northgate, plus the Eastside, via light rail; University Village, University of Washington housing (Laurel Village), businesses along and near NE 45th Street, Children’s Hospital, further businesses along Sand Point Way near Princeton Avenue, the Federal Archives, Magnuson Park, and surrounding neighborhoods via streetcar; and the greater Seattle region through our exceptional bus system. This proposal would create an unique transit hub, right on the doorstep of the University of Washington and Husky Stadium–a perfect game day traffic solution. 

Furthermore, this proposal would avoid Montlake traffic, swiftly shepherding transit riders past Montlake traffic that can sometimes take 30 minutes to get through and drastically reducing travel times for those aiming to head downtown through connections to light rail. The line would be completely grade-separated from Children’s Hospital to the intersection of Montlake Boulevard and 25th Avenue NE, where it would elevate to tracks above Montlake Boulevard paralleling the Burke-Gilman Trail. 

The elevated yellow tram makes it pass over Montlake Boulevard near the stadium.
My proposed line traveling over Montlake traffic, near the intersection of Montlake Boulevard with 25th Avenue NE. Elevates beginning at the intersection of Montlake with Walla Walla Road, on a short incline at a 5.5% grade. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/SketchUp Software).

The line would make a stop just outside the entrance to University Village, providing a fluid transit connection for shoppers traveling from Northeast Seattle neighborhoods or those who wish to travel from other neighborhoods via light rail. Continuing down the corridor, the line would make an additional stop at the large five-way intersection of Union Bay Place NE/Mary Gates Memorial Drive, NE 35th Street, and NE 45th Street, servicing the soon-to-be constructed Aegis Retirement facility, Laurel Village (University of Washington housing), nearby medical offices, area residents from nearby apartment developments and the Laurelhurst and Bryant neighborhoods, and numerous businesses. This stop would also come with improved bike connections stretching down NE 35th Street from the Burke-Gilman Trail, as well as a bike path stretching out of Laurelhurst on Mary Gates Memorial Drive that ensures the safety of cyclists crossing the streetcar tracks. At-grade boarding via the streetcar station platform makes riding the streetcar a cinch for people with mobility challenges.

Streetcar at an intersection with a green bike lane.
Pictured: streetcar stop outside of Laurel Village/the future Aegis Retirement Facility, alongside new protected bike path improvements from Laurelhurst across the intersection and up NE 35th Street to the Burke-Gilman Trail. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/SketchUp Software)
Overview rendering of the 5-way intersection of Union Bay Place NE/Mary Gates Memorial Drive, NE 35th Street, and NE 45th Street.
Overview rendering of the 5-way intersection of Union Bay Place NE/Mary Gates Memorial Drive, NE 35th Street, and NE 45th Street. (Rendering Courtesy of Joe Mangan/ Sketchup Software).

The rest of the line would travel down NE 45th Street and, later, Sand Point Way, making several stops near Children’s Hospital, Burke Gilman Place Apartments and nearby residential housing, and the short business corridor at the intersection of Princeton Avenue and Sand Point Way, by the Burke-Gilman Trail and Hawthorne Hills neighborhood. This proposal comes with necessary traffic-calming measures–specifically, curb bulbs and reduced lane widths–throughout this corridor, which currently has lanes that in many places meet federal highway standards of up to 15 feet wide. Alongside these traffic-calming measures comes bike network improvements–namely, the continuation of the short elevated bi-directional bike path currently constructed outside of Children’s Hospital all the way down Sand Point Way. This ensures the safety of cyclists traveling near the streetcar tracks from both cars and possible rail hazards.

My proposed street section for Sand Point Way, featuring a protected bi-directional raised cycle track, narrower lane widths of 11 feet (bus/freight friendly), widened sidewalks, and a streetcar line. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/SketchUp Software).
My proposed street section for Sand Point Way, featuring a protected bi-directional raised cycle track, narrower lane widths of 11 feet (bus/freight friendly), widened sidewalks, and a streetcar line. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/SketchUp Software).
Streetcar station at the intersection of Princeton Avenue with Sand Point Way. Bike crossings along the corridor should be designed to facilitate safe crossings for cyclists over the rails at every intersection..
Streetcar station at the intersection of Princeton Avenue with Sand Point Way. Bike crossings along the corridor should be designed to facilitate safe crossings for cyclists over the rails at every intersection. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/SketchUp Software).

Making only one more stop outside the Windermere neighborhood and the Federal Archive building (which must be protected) before the end of the line, this proposal ultimately connects several major employers and numerous businesses, as well as multiple neighborhoods, to light rail and the broader bus hub near Husky Stadium. The final stop, just on the edge of Magnuson Park, would connect bike lanes on 65th and the Burke-Gilman Trail to the streetcar line, while also servicing new affordable housing development within Magnuson Park, Parkpoint Condominiums, and other nearby residential housing.

Terminus station at NE 65th Street/Sand Point Way, outside Magnuson Park. (Rendering courtesy of Joe Mangan/Sketchup Software).

While many pockets of Sand Point Way and Montlake Boulevard are woefully underutilized low-density commercial and single-family zones, the city must take a hard look at the zoning changes necessary to provide current and future residents with robust car-free solutions. Seattle will continue to rapidly grow over the next 15 years: 120,000 new residents will make Seattle their home, and employers will add 115,000 new jobs within city limits. Whether we like it or not, there will be development in Seattle.

It is essential that Seattle distributes development equitably. Development has costs, and, as The Urbanist has previously noted, we cannot allow those costs to fall disproportionately on those who are least able to pay them. This transit proposal cannot be so short-sighted as to move only current residents and serve only the current housing stock of Northeast Seattle. The city must build more housing along Sand Point Way in anticipation of the population growth that we will continue to see over the next two decades, and it must build more housing along this corridor so that thousands of residents have access to the fruits of this transit proposal. Technically State Route 513, Sand Point Way, NE 45th Street, and Montlake Boulevard have an abundance of malleable space, the corridor is perfectly situated for transit-oriented development.

Unlike other corridors of the city, the streetspace is not narrowly confined, it’s capable of providing the high-quality bike, transit, and pedestrian infrastructure the city will need to accommodate future population growth. Walkable, bikeable, and transit-accessible development–development that mixes publicly-owned affordable housing with private apartment development and business space that expands the city’s bike network and creates pleasant pedestrian environments alongside a robust transit system–is unequivocally Seattle’s greatest housing, climate, and traffic solution. Sand Point Way, and NE 45th Street, are prime candidates for these changes. This transit proposal must go hand in hand with these zoning considerations, delivering new housing density right alongside local businesses, the Burke-Gilman trail, and a mass transit line that integrates with the city’s light rail network.

This proposal is the transit solution Northeast Seattle residents need to avoid the Montlake traffic mess. It would drastically lower car trips on the corridor by providing a high-capacity alternative to driving that efficiently serves the University of Washington light rail station. It would be a grade-separated blessing to transit users and would fill a significant service gap in Seattle’s newest rail lines. It would move employees and customers between some of the area’s largest employers and small businesses alike. And it all happens by taking drivers out of their cars and providing them with a clean, quick, mass transit alternative alongside critical bike network expansion. Integrating buses, the Burke-Gilman Trail, light rail, and streetcar, my proposal would tie together Northeast Seattle. In a city swimming with money and booming development, in the face of a looming climate crisis, and knowing that our cars contribute the greatest to this crisis, it is imperative that we make urgent moves to expand our bike and mass transportation infrastructure. We have no time to waste.

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Joe Mangan (Guest Contributor)

Joe Mangan is an urban studies and political science double major at Vassar College. He organized the Seattle Climate Strike, led weekly strikes outside Seattle City Hall as the founder of Fridays for Future Seattle, and was later a coordinator with the Seattle for a Green New Deal campaign. His redesign of NE 65th Street was declared “Better Than SDOT’s” by the Seattle Bike Blog. 

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Dweinus

This is the kind of discourse I wish was more common on the internet. I may agree/disagree with points, but you responded thoughtfully, openly, and respectfully. Thank you.

Eric

I-5 is back to getting backed up during rush hour and we are still not done with the pandemic and it’s shutdowns so there is still a need for expanding light rail.

Daniel Thompson

Although many hate cars, if you like to drive transit is your friend, especially during peak hours.

Some of the traffic congestion on I-5 and 405 is because employers who do allow workers to come into work don’t allow them to take transit since they can’t control exposure on transit right now, and many employees are uncomfortable taking transit. This traffic congestion is clearly work related because it occurs during peak times.

Like electricity we spend all our money meeting peak hour demand, both for transit and roads. If peak hour use ameliorates post pandemic, and folks are comfortable returning to transit, we might be able to save a lot of money on transit and road projects.

The main difference between cars and transit is “frequency”. With a car, frequency is sitting right there in your garage, whether you use it or not, and there is plenty of road capacity during non-peak times.

But transit without frequency is unbearable, waiting and waiting and waiting, especially if you have to be someplace by a time certain. Frequency will become more acute, especially with East LInk, when many commuters who once had a one seat ride on an express bus to work will now have a two seat ride and transfer, bus to train to work, three seats if you include the park and ride. (“Truncation”, a term ST loves and riders/commuters hate).

With transit, frequency is just as important during non-peak times as it is during peak times, but much more expensive because there are many more non-peak hours and fewer full fare paying riders.. However, with the loss of ridership and commuters fare revenue will permanently decline. That means less frequency or more general fund subsidies (ST’s goal is 40% farebox recovery, which had declined almost 10%, beginning even before Covid-19 although that might be due to new lines costs). ST 2 and 3 were sold on the eastside based on the commute, and a loss of commuters — either because working from home or because traffic congestion now allows them to drive to work during peak times — is going to make future transit levies tougher to sell.

Metro is estimating a 25% reduction in levels of service through 2040, and ST is now extending ST 3 projects like West Seattle and Ballard (and ST before the recent revelations over cost increases for land, construction and soft costs, also played around with lowering frequency despite “truncation”). But it really comes down to frequency, despite many articles on this blog for expensive new projects. If frequency is bad transit is unbearable, and unusable, despite the form of transit.

The critical factors post-pandemic are encouraging as many riders as possible to return to transit (and no, I don’t think upzoning will create those riders or alleviate the need for first/last mile access), and finding increased general fund revenue to maintain frequency on the current routes to offset declining ridership farebox recovery. When I see articles extolling expensive new transit projects I always ask where will the funding come from, not just for the construction but for the frequency, and not just on the new project but all transit.

Fund frequency first, even though it will require general fund subsidies, and those will likely be harder to sell in the future, especially outside Seattle. That means concentrate on where density exists, and folks need transit, not dreams of creating density where it does not exist today. Current population growth models suggest very mild population growth for both Seattle and King Co., so don’t expect population to drive density or fund transit.

S.Patula

A great article… And discussion much overdue and exposing absolute failure in coordinated transit planning. Discussion is slightly past ripe though due immanent opening of the Northlink Stations and recent COVID traffic reduction…
But to rehash the last 5 years since tunnel closure to buses and cancelling of the 71,72,73,74 express lane routing to downtown, the transit powers that be have inflicted on NE Seattle two substantially worse commute options to downtown:

A. 372 tour through camps with scenic, though slow, and wet walk through campus and across looping, indirect overpass to 4 story stair escalator trip down to light rail platform.

B. Catch one of the few remnant peak expressed to downtown that get stuck on surface streets with everyone else (and no longer have advantage of convention center direct access lanes to express lanes)

I would however echo Ross, Paul and others that much of the worst part of the transfer to Husky Stadium light railcould be mitigated with a single dedicated bus lane (reversible peak) between the station and the 45th 5-way intersection. this would also allow for feeders to enter from Sand point, 25th, and 35th.

During the UW expansion plan comment period a couple years ago there was no mention of a transit corridor on Mountlake. I inserted multiple comments suggestoin this lane could also serve for Husky Games and should be a condition of the planned campus buildout in the parking lots north of the stadium
(https://www.theurbanist.org/2016/10/27/university-of-washingtons-draft-2018-seattle-campus-master-plan/)
The plan also shows removing/replacing the two ‘newer’ ped bridges. The older bridge at Hec Ed may be a problem though.

And there’s also the logical extension of this corridor south across new Mountlake bridge to create a good transfer to Eastside-bound buses.

Daniel. Thompson

Is there an estimated cost? Also I didn’t see in the article who would pay for this project, and what other projects would be displaced to build it.

For example, would the North King Co. ST subarea pay for this project although it was not part of a ballot measure, and would this project then displace light rail to West Seattle and/or Ballard (if those lines haven’t already been “displaced”).

Or would Metro fund this project, even though Metro is reallocating transit from wealthier areas in the north (if transit riders in Lake City are considered wealthy) to “disadvantaged communities of color” in South Seattle. Not sure how an elevated tram from Laurelhurst through Sand Point would go over with other Seattle neighborhoods that are looking at a 25% reduction in Metro levels of service through 2040. Some might claim this is a white solution for a white neighborhood.

The biggest issue for me is this is a solution looking for a problem. I don’t understand these proposals to build some kind of expensive transit in undense neighborhoods with the plan to then manufacture the density through upzoning. Why not just allocate better transit to where density already exists?

I also have to question one of the predicates for this proposed project:

“With residents being priced out of the city center to distant suburbs in droves, affordable housing investment also becomes a critical climate and traffic solution”.

Sunday’s Seattle Times noted rents in downtown Seattle have fallen 22% in the last year, and a similar apartment in Tacoma now rents for the same as a apartment on Capitol Hill. The path of this tram is through some of the more expensive property in Seattle, which means an ugly zoning fight with the existing property owners claiming this project reeks of white privilege, so I don’t quite understand why you think new construction would be affordable. Why not just increase transit frequency and routes that serve the city center and encourage more citizens to live there since the housing already exists, and is becoming less expensive?

Joe Mangan

Hi! Thanks for reading my article and for your comment.

I want to start by addressing funding. I would currently propose a Local Improvement District (LID) in the area discussed to fund a good portion of this. As you note, the area is quite affluent (some of the Gates family even lives in Laurelhurst…) and residents would have the means to pay. I also think there are plenty of large corporations in Seattle that have driven the city’s housing crisis and our current traffic problems that could easily afford to pay their fair share. If the city changes zoning in the area to allow for greater density along the corridor, impact fees would be another funding option. Generally though, I disagree with the logic of scarcity, and that building transit in one place means halting transit in other places. Federal funding is always an option, and we can always look at new forms of progressive taxation to fund the projects our city needs. The incoming administration has signaled support for transit-oriented development, Seattle can tap into that. We can also tap into that to cover transportation budget shortfalls from COVID-19, meaning there is no need to view this proposal through an “either or” lens.

I also dislike the assumption that I would propose building this over building or funding existing transit in other areas of Seattle. I never called for that in the article, and I support protecting existing transit infrastructure in already underserved areas of the city over building new infrastructure in wealthy areas. I support a robust transit system, and as I note in the article this is but one corridor the city could look at to build a network that covers every corner of the city with high-quality transit service.

I also want to address the concern that this is a “white solution for a white neighborhood.” This isn’t the case. As I note in the article, “This transit proposal cannot be so short-sighted as to move only current residents and serve only the current housing stock of Northeast Seattle.” My argument is that Seattle will see development in the next 20 years, and an influx of over 100,000 new residents. We cannot allow that development to again concentrate in “already dense” areas like the Central District or the University District, which have been rapidly gentrified in recent years. It would be simply wrong for the city to continue to concentrate development in Seattle’s long-time Black neighborhoods or areas like the University District that have already been hit hard by rampant development. The city must reexamine its zoning laws so that future development is spread away from those already-hard-hit communities, and that includes allowing development in Seattle’s affluent white neighborhoods. My concern with providing transit to already-dense areas is just that — those areas are often rapidly gentrifying, and that continuing to throw more transit at those areas furthers developer interests in those areas. I would say this proposal is the opposite of a “white solution for a white neighborhood.” The goal is to move development away from already gentrifying communities of color and into long-time white neighborhoods that can afford to take on their fair share of development.

I hear your concern about a zoning battle with existing property owners. But I actually think that battle is a necessary battle. The reason Laurelhurst and Windermere are so white is precisely because of a legacy of segregated zoning and redlining. Those zoning patterns, which ban apartments in large areas of the city, must be ended. It would be wrong for the city to concentrate new development in already-dense communities while allowing the city’s legacy of racist and exclusionary single-family zoning to endure. This proposal seeks to undo the city’s racist legacy by ending racist zoning patterns, and it seeks to undo the monolith of wealth concentrated in Northeast Seattle by building affordable housing and new apartment units in what currently is a very affluent white area. With changes in zoning and with the expansion of transit options in the area, I hope that all people, regardless of race and income, can access what has been for decades a highly segregated area.

Hopefully I articulated that well. Thanks again for the comment — I’m curious to hear more of your thoughts on this.

CHRISTOPHER H BURKE

This is interesting, but overall I prefer a Ballard-UW-Sand Point light rail line. In the century or so it will take to build that, frequent buses would be as good as this “streetcar,” and much cheaper.

Also, I’m not sure this counts as grade separated. Sure, the tracks are separate from the streets they are parallel to, but they darned sure aren’t grade separated when they cross streets, as in the picture you provided. Your proposal will cross streets all the way from Mary Gates Blvd to NE 65th St, as I understand it. Most of the car-train collisions along the original light rail line in Rainer Valley have occurred where streets cross the tracks.

Joe Mangan

I actually really like Seattle Subway’s vision for an east-west light rail line from Ballard to Sand Point. Ideally, my current proposal for this corridor could be added to Seattle Subway’s proposed map as underground light rail. That would really be a beautiful and expansive light rail system!

You’re right about grade-seperation, of course this goes through intersections (albeit I will note that there are few intersections on Sand Point Way, and signal timing can keep this proposal moving swiftly). Your note about collisions at intersections with light rail is actually why I would support doing this proposed transit line as a light rail service — we could even build the Ballard to Sand Point line as proposed by Seattle Subway and build a line from Husky Stadium to Sand Point to service all the neighborhoods in the area. I’m contemplating writing a separate article discussing all the options here — light rail, streetcar, or BRT.

Joe Mangan

Oh! I forgot to discuss emissions from concrete. It’s true the concrete would have emissions, in the same way that building light rail had some emissions, or building anything else has emissions. It’s unclear how much concrete contributes to Seattle’s overall emissions (the 2018 carbon inventory I cited doesn’t provide much help), but what is clear to me is that the climate benefits of this proposal — taking thousands of cars off the road and providing a mass transit alternative surrounded by dense housing and bike network expansions — would far outweigh the short-term climate costs of concrete construction.

I’m happy to discuss ecosocialism and degrowth theory. I think the reason we are seeing a climate crisis in the first place is because we live under an economic system that mandates infinite growth to sustain itself, on a planet with finite resources. Growth and development certainly have huge climate costs. We must do more than just reuse and recycle, we must take the “reduce” concept to heart. Until we free ourselves from that economic system, we will continue to see climate-destroying development. What is critical is that, as long as we live under that economic system, we “develop” in a way that is as sustainable as possible — building dense housing alongside clean, electric mass transit lines fueled by clean electricity.

Basically, yes, there are emission from concrete construction needed for rail lines, in the same way that there are certainly emissions from producing solar panels. But we can (hopefully) all agree that they are short-term in comparison to the long-term carbon savings of installing a clean electricity grid or building out a high-quality mass transportation network.

Martin Pagel

Interesting idea, great renderings, as pointed out, a ton of concrete, huge carbon footprint. And how do you deal with the bridges along Montlake Blvd, like Hec-Ed and Wahkiakum Ln bridge?
To avoid the elevated line, I had thought about a gondola from the UDistrict station along 45th Ave to UVillage and Children’s Hospital. Talaris property provides some opportunity for TOD.
You could still run a street car along Sandpoint from there or build a 2nd gondola line to Magnuson Park.

Joe Mangan

Funny you say that, my dad has been talking about the idea of a gondola on that exact corridor for years. It’s an interesting concept and I think a gondola could be really cool somewhere in Seattle. We do have lots of hills, and it could provide a pretty stunning view of the city if built in the right area. Although I see gondolas mostly as a tourism opportunity for Seattle. I have been to Medellin where gondolas are used as a key form of transportation to extensively service the city’s various comunas. It’s really pretty cool, but I’m not convinced it’s the right option for Seattle. I would support this proposal, or BRT, over a gondola, and (ideally) would support expanding the light rail up to Sand Point to connect with Seattle Subway’s vision for an east-west Ballard to Sand Point line.

Joe Mangan

Oh! I forgot to discuss emissions from concrete. It’s true the concrete would have emissions, in the same way that building light rail had some emissions, or building anything else has emissions. It’s unclear how much concrete contributes to Seattle’s overall emissions (the 2018 carbon inventory I cited doesn’t provide much help), but what is clear to me is that the climate benefits of this proposal — taking thousands of cars off the road and providing a mass transit alternative surrounded by dense housing and bike network expansions — would far outweigh the short-term climate costs of concrete construction.

I’m happy to discuss ecosocialism and degrowth theory. I think the reason we are seeing a climate crisis in the first place is because we live under an economic system that mandates infinite growth to sustain itself, on a planet with finite resources. Growth and development certainly have huge climate costs. We must do more than just reuse and recycle, we must take the “reduce” concept to heart. Until we free ourselves from that economic system, we will continue to see climate-destroying development. What is critical is that, as long as we live under that economic system, we “develop” in a way that is as sustainable as possible — building dense housing alongside clean, electric mass transit lines fueled by clean electricity.

Basically, yes, there are emission from concrete construction needed for rail lines, in the same way that there are certainly emissions from producing solar panels. But we can (hopefully) all agree that they are short-term in comparison to the long-term carbon savings of installing a clean electricity grid or building out a high-quality mass transportation network.

RossB

I should also add that calling any development in the area “transit oriented” would be a huge stretch. The only thing keeping back development is zoning. If they changed the zoning laws, then lots of new apartments would be built. Most of the residents would be within easy walking distance of transit — whether it was buses or a fancy new elevated light rail line. It is all about the zoning, not improving the transit options. If anything, transit would improve if they changed the zoning. Ridership (on the existing buses) would increase, and Metro would run the buses more often (to get even more riders).

Joe Mangan

I definitely support zoning changes in the area. That’s a critical piece of my argument. We must reconsider our zoning laws so that thousands of residents are within easy walking distance to not just transit but the things they need — grocery stores, hair salons, restaurants, book stores, schools, etc.

AJ

Why a streetcar? Seems like this could all be done for a fraction of the cost using the same fleet of buses as Madison BRT. I wouldn’t put it high on my list of Seattle priorities, but Madison BRT treatment to Sand Point Way would be nice.

https://humantransit.org/2009/07/streetcars-an-inconvenient-truth.html

Mark K.

How about locating the Magnuson terminus at 74th instead of 65th? This would allow residents of housing units in the park, as well as park users, easier access to transit.

Joe Mangan

I’ve actually considered that and would support continuing the line up to 74th. There’s a lot of not just housing but office area — NOAA, and even the Cascade Cycle Club, for example — located up closer to 74th. The original intent of this design was actually to connect folks living in the new affordable housing development in Magnuson Park to the light rail, so continuing to 74th is very much within the boundaries of my mission with this design.

RossB

This would be extremely expensive, and the main value would be to retain the overbuilt car infrastructure. It would be much cheaper, and much better to simply take a lane of traffic. Sand Point Way is two lanes each direction (with an occasional turn lane) from Sand Point to the 5-way intersection at Mary Gates Memorial Drive (https://goo.gl/maps/qDYtoKWhC8mM2bbP7). From that 5-way intersection to the viaduct, it is 3 lanes each direction (with a turn lane). The viaduct is two lanes westbound, and one lane eastbound (https://goo.gl/maps/S2pHuh1ewjMTL7HG6). 45th widens to two lanes both directions as it gets close to 15th. That continues all the way through the U-District, until west of the freeway.

Obviously there should be bus lanes on 45th through the U-District. This is long overdue. There are at least a dozen bus lanes downtown; there should be bus lanes through the U-District at least as far west as the freeway.

Westbound, the bus lane should go from Sand Point to the U-District. This means a bus (or BAT) lane from Sand Point to the other side of the freeway. Eastbound you have a gap (on the viaduct) but it would pick up immediately after. Buses would avoid go across the viaduct, and serve the U-District. The U-District has a train station, and is every bit as big a destination as the Link Station next to Husky Stadium.

None of this would require the huge concrete structures that an elevated streetcar would require. All that concrete contributes to global warming, and the money saved could be put into running more (electric) buses. Cars wouldn’t have as many lanes of traffic, but for most, it wouldn’t make much difference. As noted, they get backed up on their way to SR 520, or the campus. This would reduce the ease with which someone can drive to campus (via the viaduct) which is similar to congestion pricing. The UW is a major urban center (not unlike downtown Seattle) and should be treated as such.

There is no reason to believe that Sand Point will become the next Ballard, let alone leapfrog it. There are other areas (Fremont, Wallingford) that could grow just as fast. Based on current development pattern, and the overall transit network (and the overall transit potential) it makes sense to eventually build a Ballard to UW Link line. If areas to the east of the UW catch up (or surpass) those to the west, then the line could be extended to Sand Point.

Joe Mangan

You might be excited to hear that I’m working on another project in the UDistrict that includes precisely what you discuss — bus-only lanes running on 45th 🙂

Hopefully I can finish soon and maybe write an article on that!

RossB

Sounds great.

Joe Mangan

Hey, just following up here. My 45th proposal came out recently, just wanted to loop you in to it, just in case you hadn’t seen it.

https://www.theurbanist.org/2021/01/27/reclaiming-ne-45th-street-from-cars/

All the best.

dave

Cool renderings! However, while I’m all for more rail, a more realistic and much more cost-effective solution would be bus-only lanes along Montlake Blvd. If you want to maintain the current general purpose traffic capacity (two lanes in each direction), then it would require UW giving up a swath of its giant parking lot and rebuilding the ped bridges. But that would be a heck of a lot cheaper than building the proposed streetcar line (particularly the grade-separated part, which is not really a thing anyone does with streetcar because of the cost).

Joe Mangan

Hey, thanks for reading my article and for the comment. I appreciate the complement for the renderings — they take hours. That might not always be apparent to the reader.

Your thoughts of having the UW give up part of the parking lot for grade-seperated transit was actually my original vision, although I had imagined running a streetcar on grass there. That would certainly function well with buses, however. I eventually abandoned that option because the city already owns the corridor along the Burke-Gilman and it would be feasible without destroying and rebuilding the bridges, although there are certainly huge (emphasis on huge) costs to way there associated with building elevated, grade-seperated rail. I noted to another response that perhaps another article discussing different transit options in the corridor could be worthwhile. I see Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), this proposal, and underground light rail expansion all as valuable options here.

Anonymous

A map would be really helpful for illustrating the alignment!

Douglas Trumm

Good point. I had intended to make one but forgot. Here’s a mockup of the proposal as I understand it also screencaptured above. -Doug https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=1EEWpthx8kl6Exl2ylX60i_hrQ9GHzzjp&usp=sharing

Anonymous

Thanks for the map, super helpful!

Jack

Why not widen the Burke Gilman trail and run this line from Magnuson to Ballard? This would replace the Ballard Spur concept with surface rail.

RossB

I forget why, but I think ST looked at that, but found that it wasn’t practical. I think it would require too much taking of land.

Paul W.

Urbanists need to shift priorities. Up until 2019 it made sense to push for TOD and light rail. Now urbanists need to push for laws and tax policies that will act as carrots and sticks to encourage employers that can use remote-working workforces to maximize WFH. Greenhouse gas emissions are WAY down in this region because people aren’t commuting daily to downtown, far fewer commercial flights are using SeaTac airport, and cruise ships aren’t using the Port’s docks in Elliot Bay. Urbanists need to push for laws and regulations to encourage those trends, not push for more transit to make daily commutes for large workforces to/from downtown cheap for employers.

RossB

Before the pandemic, the second and third most popular Link stations were the UW and Capitol Hill. Commuting is only a subset of transit use. Jobs that can be done at home are a subset of that. Even if all the jobs that can be done from home are done at home there would still be a huge need for transit, as a way to reduce automobile use or the need for a car (both of which contribute to global warming).

Paul W.

The need for transit in this region can be met by buses and the light rail stations that will be open by 2025. The ST3 expansion plans should be stopped now. Remote working is doing far more for reducing greenhouse gas emissions than subsidizing some employers’ workforces’ daily commutes by trains paid for by decades of heavy sales taxes ever could.

Doug Trumm

Work commutes are a fraction of total trips. Working from home doesn’t simply erase one’s transportation footprint since you still have all the trips outside of work. Assuming work from home trends will be same after the pandemic is over is silly. You don’t have to keep raising this debunked point on every article. -Doug