Seattle Needs to Leverage Its Bus Network


When it comes to the spotlight for transportation projects and upgrades, buses never get the publicity. To most, a bus is boring. It is a system that is simply there and goes rather unnoticed. Flying cars, autonomous vehicles, drones, hyperloops, and electric vehicle tunnels are all the rage. In Seattle, with so much attention rightfully paid to the expansion of light rail, sometimes we forget about the network we already have and do not realize what it can become.

One of the unique things about transportation expansion in America is it tries to do too much. Link is in a complex situation as it connects suburban commuters along a 75 mile spine and operates as the urban system all at once. In Paris, they have two separate transportation systems: the urban rail network of the Métro and the suburban commuter rail network known as the Réseau Express Régional (RER). So many cities in the United States–Seattle included–are not set up to justify the expense it would take to build an urban only subway system. It would lack funding, political will, and ridership. That is why the Greater Seattle Metro area had to build a light rail network from Tacoma to Everett, to get the funding and the votes. King County Metro runs buses across the region as well, with over 100 lines in Seattle itself. This system covers 90% of the city already with frequent walksheds and hasn’t even begun to reach its full ridership potential.

Looking at the streetcar network and the bus network side by side paints a picture that we never lost a system, but rather, replaced it. (Streetcar image source: Seattle C.J. Bus network source: Seattle Transit Map.)
Looking at the streetcar network and the bus network side by side paints a picture that we never lost a system, but rather, replaced it. (Streetcar image source: Seattle C.J. Bus network source: Seattle Transit Map.)

When we look at our transit history, a lot of commentary is made about Seattle’s lost streetcar network, a network that connected nearly every neighborhood with a permanent rail system. We romanticize over photos of what once was and look back on the mistake of ripping up lines so we could pave the way for car commuting. But when we study the old streetcar map and our current bus map side by side, did we really lose the network or did we simply replace it? One benefit with buses is how quickly they can be planned. We can create new routes or modify existing routes with ease, and supply newer parts of our city in a short period of time. Plus, we have already seen how painful it is to connect our two downtown streetcar lines with gripes over cost and ridership, so why wage those battles with our basic urban network? Buses are quick to deliver and cheap to upgrade.

Metro’s RapidRide bus lines each carry daily ridership figures over 10,000. Among them the D Line carried 15,000 a day and the E Line carried 18,000 a day. These buses prove how powerful small upgrades are when we prioritize buses. With more than 100 bus lines in the city already, Metro’s system could carry over 1.5 million riders a day in Seattle alone if they all operated like the RapidRide system. The RapidRide system uses its own bus-only lane, allowing them to bypass suburban commuters stuck in traffic. With off-board payment, there is no more queueing lines and buses stop and go in a blink of an eye. When Route 358 was upgraded to bus-only lanes, higher frequencies, and a off-board payment system to become the E Line, ridership grew from 11,000 a day to 18,000 a day in five years. With higher frequencies, more people get on buses or can simply wait another minute for the next one to come. If Seattle chose to grow up and grow out of its suburban land use constraints, and become a denser city of two million people, our bus network could easily carry 15,000 a day per route and grow the system’s ridership by 300%.

Paris Métro subway system (left) and Paris RER system (right) overlaid to scale on Seattle and the Greater Seattle Metro area really give a sense of scale that our city is clearly not out of space. The RER acts as a larger regional network that Link light rail serves while our bus network can be an urban workhorse like the Paris Métro. (images by the author)
Paris Métro subway system (left) and Paris RER system (right) overlaid to scale on Seattle and the Greater Seattle Metro area really give a sense of scale that our city is clearly not out of space. The RER acts as a larger regional network that Link light rail serves while our bus network can be an urban workhorse like the Paris Métro. (Images by the author)

Former Governor Christine Gregoire expects one million new residents in the state of Washington over the next 20 years. Stuck in her ways, she feels we need to build more cities and more networks to move these people around. I disagree with that. Seattle is 84 square miles and has more than plenty of land to house every single one of the expected newcomers. Land use problems aside, the city’s systems can easily handle growing by one million more people and doing so would allow these new Washingtonians the opportunity to use the systems we have and not worry about bulldozing more forests to build new cities or neighborhoods. 

Leveraging our bus system locally frees up the light rail to operate more like a regional transit system, moving suburban commuters sustainably and much faster than by means of the car. The bus system should not be in competition with the light rail, but rather, supplement the network so we can rely on both systems, instead of one. 

Upgrading bus routes is easy. Painting bus-only lanes is cheap. Adding buses to increase frequency provides flexibility as the rest of our neighborhoods begin to grow and densify. Bus system upgrades may not turn any heads like a new train will, and it may not garner the attention by adding more buses and throwing down some paint. But those cheap upgrades can go the extra mile.

Now, we just need to be a city of two million people. How we get there is for another day, another post. But for now, let us look at the assets we have and not try and reinvent the wheel. 

Correction: This article was updated to replace a 1941 bus and streetcar map with a 1939 map that provides more clarity on historic streetcar lines.

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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.

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By what standard are we “not leveraging our bus network enough”? The last I checked, we couldn’t hire drivers fast enough for the service hours we wanted to pay for, so we started diverting TBD money to things like ORCA Lift. (Which is a use of the money I support.)

If we literally cannot spend all the money we want to on bus service, that would indicate that we have maxed out buses.

Ryan DiRaimo

It’s not to say we aren’t leveraging the bus network already, it’s simply a celebration of it and an opportunity to improve the system citywide. It also puts to rest this notion that Seattle “doesn’t have the services” to grow, something that the anti-growth folk like to bring up. Between this bus network as is, with upgrades, and our storm water on-site mitigation, Seattle can totally become a city of 2 million and saves us on not having to create new neighborhoods or cities out of nowhere. That is expensive to plan, to build and to manage. Leveraging what we have is justification for internal growth.


Better leveraging the network would be to make investments in bus priority (e.g. bus lanes) that unlock more bus service for the same amount of service hours. Even with a fixed total budget on bus service hours (for example, an upper limit on the driver labor pool), there is significant work to be done to better leverage the existing network; running buses more efficiently will provide more bus trips using the same amount of drivers.

In terms of overall capacity, Northgate and East Link will displace significant KCM bus service hours, and Lynnwood and Federal Way Link will displace significant ST, CT, and PT bus service hours. With those changes, the same amount of peak bus service can be investment in dramatically different ways. Yes, long term there is need for additional bus bases to provide more regional bus base capacity. ST is building a new base in Bothell and KCM is expanding South Base, and long term there is a need for at least one more bus base in King and like similar investments in Snohomish & Pierce. When our economy is strong, yes labor will be a constraint, and there are likely ways in which we can better leverage a scarce, skilled workforce.


this is perhaps my ignorance speaking, but I’m a little confused why we built low-capacity light rail to serve as regional transit. The RER trains in paris are heavy, high capacity rail – super long and packed with people.

Granted, seattle metro’s population is a third of Paris; but I have to wonder how link will scale if it’s successful.


Link trains aren’t that small; a 4-car train is nearly equivalent to a 5-car subway train in NYC. (Subway trains in NYC run in 8 or 10-car consists, but we’re not anywhere near NYC levels of crowding and density.)

Ryan DiRaimo

I believe the longer cars that are being used right now carry 800 passengers every 6 minutes. That’s pretty awesome. But yes, the trick with ridership is getting Seattle (and it’s surrounding metro sub-cities) to grow up and grow out of single family dominant land use. That’s really what constrains ridership.

King County has 270 square miles of Single Family zoning, and only 90 square miles of multi-family. Much of that multi-family is downtown centers that can either build housing or offices (sometimes both), but comes as no guarantee and it costs a lot more to build a high rise tower. So really, we only have 60 square miles of “missing middle” zoning. So if you discount the farms, forests and industrial lands, that’s only 16% of the land we can build housing on. Single family zoning has 70% of it.

Martin Pagel

I agree that our bus system is very important as bus routes can be changed quickly and serve as important feeders to Link, but I think the article oversimplifies the challenges, it’s not just a matter of paint to get to a BRT system. RapidRide G (Madison) has a budget of $133 million and this doesn’t include electrification. Operation of BRT can get quite expensive as ridership grows as you keep adding buses and drivers. Even with separate dedicated lanes, there are accidents, traffic lights, intersection blockings… which can cause slowdowns and bunching. Often dedicated bus lanes also compete with bike lanes and widening of sidewalks; they make it more challenging to cross a street. Systems with separate right of way and higher capacity may actually be more efficient. That doesn’t always mean Link, but SkyLink gondolas can handle the capacity of 40 buses at about tenth the cost of a light rail system and operate continuously, no head way! Modern gondola systems are fully automated and run on clean energy, they usually operate at a profit and initial investment is often comparable to BRT upgrades.

Ryan DiRaimo

The most important thing about transit is there is a return on investment. We are about to give the West Seattle Bridge a repair of similar cost you mentioned for RapidRide G, and it has no ROI what-so-ever, and will eventually need a full replacement (at 10X that cost). It also creates permanent jobs, unlike construction of a freeway (because that’s what the bridge is, anyway)

Bus lanes shouldn’t compete with bike lanes, they should compete with general purpose lanes. Aurora Avenue took a 6 lane road (3 general purpose lanes each way) and made it a 4 lane road (2 general purpose lanes each way) with 2 bus only lanes (1 each way). It proved taking space away from cars works. And also, that just took paint. It’s cheap, it’s just as cheap as striping a road.

I am not going to really address the gondola thing–again–since I wrote the reasons why it doesn’t make sense for the ST3 corridor (or any replacement of Link).

What this comment illustrates is the same issue I have with Seattle in general. We simply brush off any car related infrastructure plans (we built a $100M+ bridge on Lander Street to get mostly Starbucks commuters out of town without delay) and the project got little to no publicity. We are building the West Seattle repair and–while that got attention–nobody ever line item reviewed it the way you are with bus projects or others have with the streetcar project.

Why are we like this?

Martin Westerman

It’s amusing to see the comment that the $100M+ Lander bridge was built “to get mostly Starbucks commuters out of town.” It was built primarily to keep buses and freight from getting stopped by trains, and move bicycles, pedestrians & commuters, too. I agree that the city & West Seattle (WS) should have bitten the bullet, spent the extra time & money to rebuild the WS high bridge rather than kick the can down the road w/ repair now, replace later — at much higher aggregate cost. But the WS gondola pencils out, unlike Mr. DiRaimo’s flawed critique of it in The Urbanist. Anytime Sound Transit can save $2 billion on one project, get more capacity than they need, not hamper maritime, Port of Seattle and Nucor operations, save years of construction time, not displace businesses & up to 200 homes, and create the option of cheap mass transit extensions to WS places light rail will never serve, it’s worth al look.

Last edited 2 months ago by Martin Westerman

I agree with the goal of the article. Improving our bus system is essential if the goal is to improve the transit system. Most cities — even cities with really good train systems like Vancouver — are highly reliant on their bus system comment image).

But I think you have it backwards. What Paris built is typical — A Metro serving the inner city, first and foremost. Regional rail came later, and is largely the result of leveraging existing rail lines. Most of the ridership is close to the city (on the Metro, or the parts of the RER that are close to the city). It is that way all over the world. Regional rail is nice, but it carries only a tiny part of the overall transit ridership.

We did it backwards. We spent a fortune on regional rail (France didn’t) and spent too little serving the urban core. When you write that a Seattle only system “would lack funding, political will, and ridership”, you are only partly right. Seattle is willing to pay for a system, and if done right, it would have much higher ridership than any of the parts built outside it. But politically, it was never possible. The state didn’t allow it, so we are building this ridiculous mess instead.

There aren’t many systems like it in the world, but San Fransisco did the same thing. They spent a fortune on a regional system, while neglecting to invest in the urban core. Despite the suburban focus, most of the ridership in BART is for nine stations between San Francisco and Berkeley. Imagine if they had built several subway lines (and a lot more stops) in San Fransisco, Berkeley and Oakland. Likewise, most ridership on Link will be based in Seattle ( Imagine if they had built the system like the DC Metro, instead of like BART ( Obviously it would never be as nice as that found in DC (we aren’t anywhere near as big) but a system designed for maximum ridership per mile, as well as one designed to complement the bus system would have been far more cost effective than what we will end up with.

But I agree that we need to make the bus system better, since just like the Bay Area, *most* transit trips will depend on it. Despite having the slowest bus system in the country, and BART being one of the fastest regional rail systems in the world, bus ridership is much higher than train ridership. The least we can do is improve the bus system, as it is pretty much the only way we will ever have a good transit system. Like San Fransisco, we could move towards a full proof-of-payment system. Throw in more bus lanes, and most of all, better frequency, and we could have a decent system. Not as good as Vancouver, but still pretty good. For the foreseeable future, buses will carry most of the transit riders in the region. The only question is whether they have a decent system or not.

Ryan DiRaimo

Ross, I completely agree with the premise that the hypothetical all Seattle ST4 should have gone first, then ST3, then ST2 and finally ST1, because it makes logical sense to build urban first then outward. This is one of the points I make in the article, stating that Link has to build a 75 mile spine to appease Pierce and Snohomish Counties first, since we asked for their money and their votes, and then addressed how to build urban lines next. That is backwards. And that is because our city and state operate politically backwards. We pool all gas tax money into one bucket then spend it wherever across the state without pointing out that most of the revenue is created in the Seattle metro. Nobody ever tells us that money has to be spent here. We only do this with transit, which frustrates me too. Additionally, the state does not contribute a cent to transit, instead leaving these organizations on their own financially. All things considered, we’ve done a pretty good job at building this up, which is why I point out the potential sleeping giant with our bus network.

Studying our bus network, it looks a lot like the Paris Metro, with so many routes spreading radially, connecting to 90% of the city via 10 minute walk shed, and connects our city in urban lines. That’s why I’m making the case to treat it as so. Let Link handle the ridership for suburban commuters with urban riders hoping on board (like your RER example) and let the bus system carry our urban load.

Just like Vancouver, when it comes time to review high capacity corridors, like their 99-B Line bus (which carries 55,000 a day), we can upgrade them to rail (just like they did building the subway in the 99-B’s place). We can flip the E line to a light rail line as part of ST4, and throw that RapidRide infrastructure into another line that could sure use it.

All this leads to the biggest problem of all: population. With a city of 2 million, we can make all this happen, at a quicker and cheaper rate. Some paint, some new bus line drawings, done. I know that sounds simple, but it’s a lot simpler than campaigning for a multi-billion dollar light rail connection with new routes, which have to be voted on, funded, and planned.


“E line to a light rail line as part of ST4”

Yeah, except the E Line is nothing special. It lags behind the 7, 44, 3/4 and 70 (and perhaps others) when it comes to ridership per mile. Worth noting is that all of these other buses are much slower. That means that those other routes would dwarf the E if converted to rail. The main reason the E carries a relatively large number of people is because it is long and fast. It is way down on the list for conversion to rail.


And the E is uniquely positioned to be excellent BRT, unlike many other high preforming routes in Seattle.


In retrospect, I think there’s a good argument that we should have built to UW first and to the airport later, perhaps after East Link. But much like the decision to skip First Hill, it is very frustrating in retrospect but I emphasize with the context in which the decision was made.

But those those two ‘mistakes’ aside, I’m very confusing on why you think we are not building urban first? The Link network is literally starting in Seattle and steadily building outward. Only with ST3 have we created the financial capacity to construct a 2nd urban subway, and yet that is the specific investment that Ross has spent so much energy trying to oppose.


I think you are on the right page in terms of focusing on buses, but it is silly to compare the Paris Metro to our bus system. The Paris Metro is, well, a metro. It is a subway. The trains run unencumbered by both traffic and intersections. Our bus system is like most bus systems around the world. It can be improved, but it will never be like the Paris Metro. To build the bus equivalent you would need miles and miles of bus tunnels.

If anything, we are more likely to build the bus equivalent to the RER. This is common in many cities, especially North American ones, where they have better freeways than existing railroads. It is similar, in that you take advantage of the existing infrastructure to build something affordable for suburban commuters. Our old bus tunnel system had strong similarities. We invested in expensive infrastructure in the middle of the city, while leveraging the existing freeways to connect to the suburbs. The biggest difference is that it wasn’t that big in the city. The RER has lots of stops inside Paris, while the tunnel is relatively small.

There are really very few systems similar to what we are building. San Fransisco, Dallas maybe — Denver. Not Vancouver, I’m afraid. While they have taken way too long to build the UBC/Broadway section but they are definitely building it. Meanwhile, we have no commitment to build the equivalent — Ballard to UW. More than anything though, the big difference is that they aren’t building anything like West Seattle Link, or Issaquah Link, or the line to Tacoma or Everett. Very few cities (all American) have done anything like that (and no, the RER doesn’t count, because the RER is dependent on the Paris Metro).


I would consider Northgate, Bellevue, and Redmond within our regional urban core, so ST has overwhelmingly invested in the urban core, and proper subways have only been built in Seattle and Bellevue. Really only with Lynnwood & Federal Way Link have we begun extending into “RER” service territory, and for ‘non-urban’ those projects the ‘spine’ is explicitly about 1) displacing and upgrading our express bus network and 2) providing high quality frequency to support non-Seattle oriented job markets. 
With #2, we are simply leapfrogging most regional rail networks’ investment & service goals in trying to get high quality service in the suburbs to encourage rail trips within region and not simply into Seattle.   I think that’s a commendable goal, and importantly it is *not* a goal that constrains Seattle’s ability to invest further in bus or rail. The fact that we are using the same technology to deploy address “metro” and “RER” service territory has advantages & disadvantages; the suburbs gain from high frequency but lose on slower trips into downtown; Seattle gained from a technology that facilitated a cheap proof-of-concept in Ranier Valley but is now likely facing higher costs for a rail-only tunnel (I think it’s plausible that Ballard-UW will be done using not-Link to optimize vehicle size & length for urban service frequency). If we categorically refuse to run Link at-grade, we will have sacrificed one of the great advantages of our unique hybrid approach.

For ST3, the *region* is investing in a second downtown tunnel.  That’s it.   Separately, Seattle is investing in additional rail while the suburbs are investing in suburban rail, together using ST as a shared resourced to realize economies of scale, pool financial risk, and manage long term cash flow.

If you think urban rail should only be reserved for an Ballard/UW/Mt Baker inner Seattle triangle AND the suburbs should pay for Seattle’s urban rail system while being happy with Sounder and Express buses, then, um, OK? That’s so disconnected from the political, technical, and financial constraints facing Seattle that I don’t really have a specific counterargument.   It is a position that is as silly as Seattle Subway’s map.

If you want to point to a specific project like TDLE or Issaquah Link and say, “this alignment is better served by X”, then yes there is a rich debate to be had.  But to point to the three ST levies and say, “the region is underinvesting in our urban core” is inaccurate.  It’s either inaccurate reflection of where the bulk of Link service is being deployed in ST1 & 2 and/or a pedantic framing of the ‘urban core’ to handwave away important rail projects like East Link & the role of bus truncations in unlocking a better leveraged bus network (see my comment above).   Additionally, it’s a deep misunderstanding of ST’s finances and how, at its core, ST is a mechanism for the three counties to separately plan, build, and operate high capacity transit systems while still gaining the advantages of a cohesive region. 


When ST3 is complete, it will be on of the biggest subway systems in North America. It will be larger than the Chicago ‘L’, a systems that carries about 700,000 people a day. It will rival the DC Metro in cost and size (a system that carries 800,000). It will be huge, and expensive.

Yet it won’t cover First Hill, Belltown, the Central Area (unless you count the one stop in Capitol Hill). It will make a passing glance at South Lake Union and Ballard, awkwardly “covering” both. The UW will have only two stops and only one line. No crossing lines in the vast urban swath north of the ship canal, or the smaller (but relatively dense) area east of I-5.

The vast majority of transit riders will still ride the bus. That’s because the vast majority of transit riders live in that urban core, which will have only a smattering of rail.

There is nothing fundamentally wrong with that. We are not a big city. We are not a big region. It is quite reasonable to build only a tiny amount of rail, while running lots of buses.

But that’s not what we are doing. Investing in a massive system that ignores the fact that the overwhelming majority of ridership is in the city — and will always be in the city — is foolish. It is born out of ignorance. There is no economic or technical case for it. ST3 is transit theater. It is was designed by people who know nothing about transit, but champion the cause, while trying to win votes by focusing on traffic. The biggest example of this, of course, is “The Spine”.

As people have repeatedly pointed out, we are building BART. We should have built DC Metro. The differences are pretty large, despite both being built around the same time, about the same length, and serving cities roughly the same size, with similar characteristics. Yet the DC Metro just works much better (

It is worth looking at the DC Metro, and comparing it to what we will build, since they will be of a similar length (and probably cost). This comparison was done quite elegantly a while ago, here: To quote just one paragraph about the DC Metro:

The lines criss-cross the District, stopping every 1/2-mile to every mile as needed, thereby providing some of the most comprehensive urban coverage of any subway this side of Paris. They then stretch outward to provide connections to the primary inner-suburban nodes, and further to provide access from the outer suburbs. But make no mistake: this is not intercity transit. This is about giving the core of the region the key to the city, by making it easier to get in and then effortless to get around.

Seattle just isn’t building that. Instead we are focused on The Spine, and Spine like service (e. g. West Seattle Link). We aren’t building what DC built. Nor are we even building what Vancouver is building (a smaller, but more centrally located, vital subway with excellent, complementary bus service). We are essentially replicating the failures of BART, fifty years after their failed experiment. We will have blazing fast service to various low density suburbs. We will have a good connection or two across a significant natural barrier. But the vast majority of transit riders will have to make do with buses that are stuck at traffic lights, if not traffic itself.


But Link isn’t a subway system; it is a hybrid system. A more accurate comparison would be Sounder+Link to Chicago’s L+Metra, where Chicago clearly has a much longer & sprawling system. Metra’s goal on some of its electric lines (no freight conflicts) is to provide the same fare & service frequency as the L (simillar to Caltrain’s hoped for transformation), which will end up looking very much like Link’s suburban service (albeit with the key advantage of express bypass)

And unlike BART, Link is a far more flexible technology. If 1) we require that all future Link extensions to be 100% grade separated, and 2) we fail to robust upzone the vast majority of Link stations, then yes we shall repeat much of BART’s failures. I actually think BART is a pretty good regional rail system and its failure are mostly a function of a near complete failure to deliver suburban TOD, and I remain optimistic that there remain several Link segments where at-grade operations will unlock significantly cheaper capital & operating cost (Kirkland ERC, Paine MIC, Ballard post-ST3).

But I think the real disconnect is this turn of phrase, “further to provide access from the outer suburbs.” Your italic emphasis is spot on. Unlike Sounder or ST Express, nor BART or DC Metro, Link is not solely about providing access *from* the outer suburbs but also access *to*. Nearly all the projects you object to – Everett, Tacoma, Kirkland, and Issaquah Link extension – have little to do with service to Seattle. You see this as a flaw, but that’s because you are trying to pursue a goal that is completely distinct that the goals those projects are trying to accomplish. Link is very different than DC Metro in that the ends of the lines – Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, Kirkland, and Issaquah – are all intended to be destinations themselves. Here, the comparison with DC Metro would be the Silver line, which was as much about connections to Tysons Corner and Dulles as connections form.

Will Link in Seattle have better ridership metrics than Link elsewhere? Definitely. But you could say the same about a bus base in Seattle versus a bus base in Pierce. Madison BRT will have better ridership metrics than any PT route. Are we outraged that ST bankrolls ~40% of bus service in Pierce rather than expediting Madison BRT? No, we understand to do both, even though the investments in Pierce will yield far less ridership.

The project sequencing in ST1, 2, and 3 all prioritized rail in Seattle before rail elsewhere. It’s very frustrating that you cannot see this.


I hope Tacoma and Bellevue as destinations is self evident. South Kirkland is an investment on ultimately service central Kirkland.

For Redmond and Everett, it’s mostly about getting Link service to a key job center (Overlake & Paine Field respectively) and then service to the traditional downtown is a secondary goal. For Redmond, this was evident in that ST2 served Overlake while the Redmond extension was deferred & ultimately delivered under ST3; Everett Link will likely have a simillar project phasing.

And remember that Issaquah has a higher daytime than nighttime population; it is not a bedroom community. The proposed Link station adjacent to the large & growing HQ for the #14 company on the Fortune 500. It’s appropriately at the end of the ST3 timeline, but it is still a destination *to*, not just a destination from.


The project sequencing in ST1, 2, and 3 all prioritized rail in Seattle before rail elsewhere.

Nonsense. The first rail project went from downtown to SeaTac. SeaTac! Its very name means it is roughly half way to Tacoma. In Seattle it mostly just leveraged the existing bus tunnel in the city. It was clearly designed, from the very beginning, to go as far from the city as possible. There was no effort, as d. p. put it, to give the core of the region the key to the city, by making it easier to get in and then effortless to get around.

Your defense of BART misses the point. It isn’t that BART is useless, it is what they should have built instead of BART. Here is an example: Here is a trip from a neighborhood in Oakland to San Fransisco University (where there is also a hospital). The neighborhood is pretty typical, maybe a little more dense than average for Oakland. Now look at the transit times. An hour and 15 minutes to get there. This is for a trip that takes a little over 20 minutes if you are driving at noon. This is not a weird trip. This is not a low density, distant suburb. This is from a high density neighborhood in Oakland to a major destination (a hospital and a university). Yet this is typical.

No one is arguing against BART’s essential function — a connection from East Bay to San Fransisco. That is, after all, what dominates ridership. But it should have done more. There should have been a lot more stops, and way more lines, so that a trip like this would take half the time. In short, it should have been more like DC Metro.

The same is true for Link. No one is arguing against East Link. That is similar to serving Arlington County, Virginia. But just as the DC Metro did more, Link should do more. Not “more” in the way of farther and farther out to the suburbs, or to other cities, but in serving the urban core. Otherwise, you end up with trips very similar to that one in the Bay area.

Will Link in Seattle have better ridership metrics than Link elsewhere? Definitely. But you could say the same about a bus base in Seattle versus a bus base in Pierce. Madison BRT will have better ridership metrics than any PT route

Now you are getting it! This is why it would be nuts for Pierce County to invest the same amount of money on any bus or rail line. It only makes sense to spend a bundle (and Madison BRT will cost a bundle) if you get lots and lots of riders. You just can’t do that with the BART model.

It is no different than any city, anywhere. You bring up Metra, which is an outstanding commuter rail system. It covers an entire region, with over 500 miles of track, and a relatively fast and frequent schedule. Yet the “L” carries over twice as many riders. That doesn’t count the urban bus system, which carries about as many as the “L”. It is this way everywhere. You won’t find a situation where commuter rail or express buses carry more riders than the transit system in the city, even in cases like San Fransisco, where the biggest investment (by far) was in the suburbs.

That is the problem with your idea. It never works. It never has, anywhere. It isn’t about lack of development around the stations (many of the suburban BART stations have lots of development). It is about transportation patterns.

Consider the example you cited — Paine Field. OK, to begin with, it has nowhere near the employment density of First Hill, let alone downtown Seattle. It ranks well below downtown Bellevue or the UW. But put that aside for a second. We are talking about an area that barely has decent bus service from the south. So you are saying that we need to spend billions on train service, even though we don’t have good bus service. But more to the point — who will ride the train? Most of the people in the region live to the south. There is no reverse commute. You could get people who would walk to the station, except for the fact that Link doesn’t serve them very well. From Ballard to Belltown, you are better off just driving.

Now imagine if they had done what most cities around the world would have done. Someone from Ballard takes the train to the UW. Then they take the train north, to its terminus (for sake of argument, assume Lynnwood). Then they take a bus from Lynnwood right to their work. Their trip is much faster, overall. It really doesn’t matter what direction you are going. Unless travel within the urban core is made faster, everyone suffers. Suburbanites trying to get to the city, as well as city folk trying to get to the suburbs.

Which is the point. Investing in the suburbs in this manner was a mistake. Places like Paine Field can be served quite well with improved bus service. Most of the large investments in transit infrastructure should occur in areas where regular bus service is incapable of providing fast service, and when fast, would have a huge number of riders. That does not mean Everett (or Tacoma, or Issaquah, or the South Kirkland Park and Ride).


In that comment I referenced, the author wrote about a system being “transformational”. It is worth considering that for a second. Compare, for example, West Seattle Link and Northgate Link. Both are within Seattle. Both have three stations. Both cost a lot of money.

But Northgate Link is transformational, while West Seattle Link is not. Just the other day, my wife, unprompted, mentioned that she is really looking forward to Northgate Link being built, so we can visit Capitol Hill. This is a huge transformation. It isn’t limited to Capitol Hill, either. We occasionally visit the UW. We usually drive. Last time we went downtown we took transit, and it took forever (it was an evening trip). Northgate Link will dramatically improve lots of trips — to the point where driving seems silly, and trips that would otherwise not be taken become common.

Will West Seattle Link do that? Of course not. What trips are suddenly much easier? The Junction to some stop on Delridge, close to the freeway? Sorry, there just aren’t that many people making that trip. Almost all of the people who take Link will be those headed downtown. Some will get a faster ride — a lot more will get a slower one. But there will be no popular stops prior to downtown that are suddenly made easier. It just isn’t that kind of system.

The first is transformational, the second isn’t. Furthermore, you couldn’t do the second any other way. You could try, by sending lots of express buses to those locations (UW and Capitol Hill) or maybe just the UW. But there would be lots of different routes, and the trips would be dramatically slower, even if they used the freeway for part of the journey.

West Seattle Link is a series of feeder stations, without a core. It isn’t that different than sending all the buses to SoDo. The value added comes from the extra service you get by truncating the routes — not from new trips that are suddenly a lot faster.

And this is within the city! This is probably the second best rail project in ST3. You could make the argument that this is “serving the urban core”, but it is being served so poorly, and so out of order that no one really gets anything out of it. We would be much better just investing in bus service — they type we will get with the truncations — while also increasing the existing bus service to downtown. I’m not saying that is ideal — I would probably make some capital improvements to speed up the buses — but it would be a much better investment than West Seattle Link.

So yeah, it isn’t just that we haven’t invested enough in the urban core, it is also that when we have, we haven’t invested wisely. Northgate Link — as transformational as it is — would be much better if there were more stops (the Paris Metro it ain’t). West Seattle Link should not be built before a Metro 8 subway, or the Metro 44 subway. If we do build a second subway line in downtown Seattle, it shouldn’t have the exact same stops as the first one! At least run it to First Hill.

It is just bad transit planning all around, by an organization that clearly doesn’t know how to build transit.


Long term bus service from West Seattle only pencils out as more cost effective than the Link extension if you exclude the rehab and eventual replacement of the freeway bridge & on ramps from your calculus.

Building WS Link decades before the end of life of the freeway high bridge is indeed poor sequencing.


The bridge is going to be fixed and replaced regardless of what happens with transit. Look at the situation now. No one argued for tearing down the bridge despite the fact the buses are reasonably fast (over the lower bridge). They wanted automobile service, and will continue to want automobile service. Running the buses there is similar to running buses on any freeway or any road. You simply leverage the work that will inevitably be done anyway.

When the ship canal bridge needs replacing, do you think they will just get rid of it, since folks can just take Link, or drive across one of the lower bridges? Of course not.


By the way, I didn’t mean for that image to show up inline. It was supposed to just be a link. (I’m not sure why it did that).