ST 2040: A Shovel-Ready Vision for Seattle and Sound Transit

Denny Way is heavily congested which has ruined the reliability of Route 8, even with some spot improvements like queue jumps. Some have proposed a subway is the solution. (Credit: Doug Trumm)

The climate crisis is an accelerating problem–while President Joe Biden has re-entered the United States in the Paris Climate Accords, temperatures are still rising, and disasters are worsening in both frequency and impact. Much of the Pacific coast spent weeks of 2020 trapped inside, not just due to Covid-19 but due to the toxic clouds of smoke resulting from wildfires. The amber skies above San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and elsewhere are a clear sign that we are experiencing the impacts of the climate crisis right now and drive home the urgency of this crisis. We must act quickly to address this challenge–and one of the most straightforward ways we can do this is by developing sustainable, zero-emissions public transportation in high-density areas.

Leveraging federal funds for Seattle and Washington state 

Cars are the largest carbon emissions source in Washington State and account for more emissions in Washington State than all other emissions sources combined. Getting cars off the road by building sustainable, zero-emissions public transportation as part of a Washington State Green New Deal is crucial to addressing the climate crisis. With an estimated 1.8 million new residents expected to join the Puget Sound Region by 2050, the primary corridor for this transit development is the Puget Sound Region. In particular, Seattle has a massive opportunity to improve our transportation options while preparing for regional growth.

With President Biden’s election, Seattle and Washington state have an opportunity to leverage his planned Build Back Better agenda and $2 trillion plan to build modern sustainable infrastructure and an equitable clean energy future. We can build Washington State’s public transit system and create sustainable, well-paying jobs by leveraging the Biden climate plan’s commitment to investing in sustainable transportation.

Biden wants to implement federal investments with strong labor protections to help fund the development of zero-emission public transportation for every American city with 100,000 residents or more. Washington State has nine eligible cities, with a 10th (Federal Way) close behind at approximately 97,000 residents. Even with no significant growth in the 2020 census, at least nine cities in Washington meet the size requirement for these federal investments, and of those cities, six (plus Federal Way) are in Snohomish, King, or Pierce county. They are already linked or planning to be connected through the Sound Transit system.

To prepare for this potential influx of federal dollars, we need a shovel-ready plan to prepare our region for growth and create a world-class transit system. Seattle Mayoral candidate Andrew Grant Houston’s sustainable Seattle SST 2040 plan and the ST 2040 vision does just that while ensuring every Seattleite is within 10 minutes or 0.5 miles of some form of frequent transit.

Ace Houston proposed a ST 2040 plan in 2020 with a goal of every Seattle resident living within a 10-minute walk of a rapid transit stop. (Credit: Andrew Grant Houston)
Ace Houston proposed a ST 2040 plan in 2020 with a goal of every Seattle resident living within a 10-minute walk of a rapid transit stop. (Credit: Andrew Grant Houston)

What is ST 2040? 

With the approval of the $54 billion Sound Transit 3 (ST3) expansion in 2016, Sound Transit began developing the most ambitious transit expansion in the United States. The system expansion plans to include over 70 stations and 116 miles by 2041, with five lines across all three counties.  

However, the sad truth is that the Sound Transit effort is an effort to catch up to other cities, not prepare us for the future. Seattle voters rejected mass transit investment at the ballot box in 1968 and 1970. It wasn’t until 1996 that the first Sound Transit proposal was approved. This short-sightedness has left our region playing catchup on mass transit. 

We need to go further than the investments we’ve already made in ST3–by leveraging the Biden administration’s public transit funding to implement a version of the sustainable Sound Transit 2040 (ST 2040) plan. ST 2040 builds off the first three Sound Transit ballot measures’ success by creating a fully-fledged Link light rail system for the Central Puget Sound Region.

ST 2040:

  • Connects job centers and as many cities in the three counties as possible;
  • Leaves the system open outside of Seattle to allow local communities to influence the specifics of implementation;
  • Ensures every Seattleite is within one mile of a light rail station; and
  • Creates a massive transit system that can be built in 20 years while preparing us for tremendous regional growth.

To build out this world-class transit system, we can leverage federal investments in each of the six-plus cities that meet the Biden climate plans population, along with further state and local investment. Together, those six cities account for more than half of the total population of Sound Transit’s jurisdiction, and if you include Federal Way, over 60%. They also represent over 20% of Washington’s total population and the core of the state’s financial muscle home to companies such as Microsoft, Amazon, REI, and many more.

With the concentrated impact of transit investment in this vital corridor, Washington state should be part of the funding package for this investment to meet our climate goals and develop the green economy. However, even without state investment, we can use the Biden climate investments in concert with local tax capacity, including a tax on major polluters in the Puget Sound region.

  • A tax on major polluters in the Puget Sound region;
  • A property tax increase (ST3 did 25 cents for each $1,000 of assessed valuation); and
  • A motor vehicle excise tax (ST3 did $80 annually per $10,000 of vehicle value).

Sustainable Seattle Transit 2040: A Green New Vision 

Perhaps the most crucial part of the ST 2040 plan is investing in developing the transit system of the economic engine and population center of the Puget Sound Region—Seattle. Seattle is the jobs and housing center for the region, and with Andrews’ vision for a Seattle-specific ST 2040 map, we can develop the city sustainably while adding hundreds of thousands of new residents. This plan could also be primarily paid for by federal investment and a tax on major regional polluters.

Seattle Sound Transit 2040 (SST 2040): 

  • Ensures every Seattleite is within 10 minutes or 0.5 miles of some form of frequent transit;
  • Builds off of the one-mile stops provided through the broader ST 2040 plan;
  • It uses streetcars to stitch together Link stations while also serving as a way to bring the focus back on the road as a destination as opposed to one that would otherwise split neighborhoods in half; and
  • Uses and builds off of Seattle’s excellent bus system to provide unique cross-city connections and reach the city’s furthest reaches.
Map of Seattle with massive transit upgrade covering the entire city in light rail lines.
Sustainable Seattle Transit Map proposing stations within 0.5 mile of all Seattle residences.(@theurbanace)

RapidRide and Bus Service 

King County Metro has ambitions of connecting metro areas and ambitions of electrifying their bus fleet, but those ideas have mostly been unfunded. By presenting a package of ideas to the federal government, Seattle and King County Metro can be at the forefront of federal investment. Seattle RapidRide is a particular opportunity–RapidRide projects have qualified for the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts investments program. With a climate mandate helping sweep Biden into office, we need to be prepared to leverage that funding for Seattle.

Currently, the RapidRide plans are underfunded–with less than three of the promised seven lines still planned for opening before the end of the Move Seattle Levy in 2024, and all delayed from their original dates. By leveraging newly available federal funding we can treat our bus system the way it should be–adding new RapidRide lines without sacrificing crucial local lines. One example of this is the currently planned addition of RapidRide R, which would eliminate the neighborhood 7 bus; we shouldn’t have to pick between rapid regional service and local service.

To further ensure fast, frequent, and reliable transit, we also need to create more dedicated bus lanes. The bottom line is that buses move people more efficiently and less carbon intensively than cars, and prioritizing bus use opens more space for personal vehicles. In addition, when we prioritize public transit, we also enable people to choose a more sustainable option. With the right investments, our city and region can come out of the Covid-19 pandemic more resilient than ever.

Connecting the Dots

One of the significant challenges with proposing mass transit is that it can be extremely difficult for citizens (who ultimately pay for these systems) to see the full picture of something that may not be coming for years. With these maps and the activism of folks like Seattle Subway, our region has a concrete vision for what is possible. A renewed commitment to transit under the Biden administration will allow us to create the sustainable green future we all want, but we must have a clear direction for transit throughout our region. Through significant investment in sustainable public transportation in concert with enabling micromobility options, investment in sustainable housing development, and decarbonizing our ports, Seattle and the Puget Sound Region can lead the just transition to a sustainable economy and future for all.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Ace Houston (Guest Contributor)

Ace Houston is an architect and founder of House Cosmopolitan, an architecture practice focused on celebrating culture and designing places where people belong. Ace is a resident of Seattle, however as a 5th generation Texan also spends time in his adopted hometown of Austin. Ace is running for mayor of Seattle.

Conor Bronsdon (Guest Contributor)

Conor Bronsdon is a consultant at Olive & Goose specializing in applying technology to social challenges. He serves as the Legislative Action Chair of the Washington Blockchain Coalition and is a former Executive Board Member of the League of Women Voters of Washington. You can read more of his writing at conorbronsdon.com.

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Andre A

I studied city planning in college and am a transit nerd overall and have followed the development of soundtransit for decades. [ad hominenm attack removed] This spaghetti gooblygook does not even attempt to look at conditions on the ground in neighborhoods in terms of right of way, width of blocks or what the neighborhoods deem to be priorities. The real world issues with implementing any version of this are practically innumerable but I’ll just randomly pick four.

  1. Light rail stations take up room, a great deal of room. If it’s above ground, you need the equivalent of several blocks for construction staging and for the station footprint. Even if its underground quite a bit of land is needed regardless. You would practically be obliterating whole sections of neighborhoods Hausmann in Paris style which conveniently did not happen in a democratic society. The Soundtransit south line in Kent/Federal way is certainly going to be useful but you’re talking about FOOTBALL fields of land clearance.
  2. You cannot fall back on just saying “Oh golly, we’ll just put that underground and it won’t disturb people.” Underground lines are constructed and make sense only in areas with really really high density and those are the only places on earth where they’re being built. Not in single family residential areas like the majority of the lines on this map. Any underground line of sufficient diameter is hundreds of millions per mile.
  3. This plan is orders of magnitude more that the US federal government will spend on transit lines for the entire US for the next several decades even assuming that every single administration were a democratic one which made light rail priority number one (And it won’t) Neither will the state government.
  4. The huge majority of these neighborhoods are in no way shape or form asking for this! A plan that is generally not what people see as any sort of priority in their area won’t succeed.

I simply don’t buy an argument that this is a starting point for discussion. Its just pure nonsense and should be ignored.

Art Lewellan

Most existing transit systems and design proposals lack convenient transfers between routes, rail to bus and between bus lines. Without convenient transfers, no transit system can function adequately. With them, costs and impacts can be reduced and potential for transit oriented development (TOD) can increase. The simplest transfers are arranged with short line “circulators” – mostly buses (and a few select streetcar lines) – which use the least number of vehicles to run at frequent intervals to/from regional light rail and Rapid Bus route transfer points.

The standard 40′ municipal bus does not convert to EV very well, nor are they suitable for most stop-n-go circuitous routes. In these regards, the ideal bus is probably a replacement for the obsolete 1970’s paratransit lift-van (low-floor, without the lift). Their chassis and wheelbase should be in 15- 20- 30-passenger models and built (for BEV & PHEV) with battery packs in the chassis (instead of the roof) for lower center-of-gravity to improve handling, safety and ride comfort. Short line “circulator” buses can be operated by private concerns instead of by Metro and Sound Transit. The consideration of ‘circulators’ will alter regional transit route arrangements in this proposal.

RossB

Biden wants to implement federal investments with strong labor protections to help fund the development of zero-emission public transportation for every American city with 100,000 residents or more.

To prepare for this potential influx of federal dollars, we need a shovel-ready plan to prepare our region for growth and create a world-class transit system.

OK, a few things. First of all, I don’t think you understand the plan. The 2 trillion dollars is for a lot of things (e. g. lots of solar panels). The money for transit is much smaller. Here is the transit section the original website:

Provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments with strong labor protections that create good, union jobs and meet the needs of these cities – ranging from light rail networks to improving existing transit and bus lines to installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists.

Notice that last sentence. There is nothing in there to suggest a massive investment in rail. Quite the contrary. He mentions “improving existing transit and bus lines” and even “installing infrastructure for pedestrians and bicyclists”. Given the focus on smaller cities, it is quite possible, and quite reasonable that 90% of the money goes into transitioning from diesel buses to electric, and then running those buses a lot more often. Investment in rail would likely focus on areas where it is cost effective, which means big cities. Simply investing in updating the systems (so that the trains can run more often) could sap a huge part of the budget.

Then you have the political reality. The Democrats have a one vote majority in the Senate. It isn’t about what Biden wants, it is about what guys like Joe Manchin are OK with. This is why, for example, it will be a tough fight to increase the minimum wage, despite strong support from Biden and the Democratically controlled House. The point being, it is hard to see Manchin going along with anything like this proposal. Like most of Washington State, there are no cities in West Virginia where new light rail makes sense. In contrast, a city like Huntington (part of a larger metropolis) could definitely use improved bus service.
There is just no way the federal government is going to build anything like what is represented on this map. They could (and hopefully will) run the buses a lot more often and contribute to some infrastructure improvements (like funding the “RapidRide+” corridors Move Seattle was supposed to fund). They might even chip in to help fix the bloated ST3 plans. But they aren’t going to fund subway lines to Discovery Park. Nor should they (or anyone).

Last edited 1 month ago by safesler
RossB

Wow, I didn’t know the “quote” feature for the comments looked like that. Maybe next time I’ll just put it in italics.

safesler

We’ll look into this. Probably just a CSS issue we can fix quickly.

RossB

There are two goals here that are very good:

  • Ensures every Seattleite is within 10 minutes or 0.5 miles of some form of frequent transit;
  • Uses and builds off of Seattle’s excellent bus system to provide unique cross-city connections and reach the city’s furthest reaches.

No argument there. It is the other goals where it breaks down. Streetcars offer little advantage over buses, while incurring plenty of disadvantages. They just don’t make sense for our region. The “ST 2040” proposal is absurd. In both cases, you are mixing up a goal with a possible implementation. Your first two goals are great. I would add a couple more:

  • Create a grid network, so that riders can make straightforward trips from anywhere to anywhere (as opposed to the current radial system, where many trips require going downtown first).
  • Make trips as fast and frequency as we can afford.

That last bullet item is key. We can’t spend the kind of money this map suggests. Before we go off and come up with arbitrary maps, we should focus on cost effectiveness. It is quite likely that the best value (at least after Northgate Link) comes from simply running the buses more often. As part of an increase in service, there should be a restructure to enable a more cost effective network. Then we can look at which corridors could benefit the most from infrastructure improvement (e. g. the 8 and 44 are both extremely slow, yet carry lots of riders; likewise the 7 carries more riders per mile than the E, and could use improvement). At the same time, we should look at possible subways, with the understanding that they are extremely expensive, and very few will get us the ridership, or rider time savings that other changes would. My guess is a Metro 8 and Metro 44 routes are the only ones that could be justified, and even the former is made awkward by the choices Sound Transit made with ST3.

RossB

I don’t think Seattle Subway’s map is any more realistic than this one. They are both absurd. This is basically the Paris Metro, but with modern costs in a much smaller city. The Seattle Subway map is similar, although a bit smaller. It wouldn’t have as extensive coverage for Seattle, which means it wouldn’t have the ridership. Nobody in North America builds anything like this. Nobody. Not even New York, or Toronto — cities that dwarf Seattle in terms of population and density. This has streetcars in places where ridership will never need them. It has subway lines where the ridership can’t possibly justify it. I give the author credit for acknowledging the importance of bus service, but this just isn’t realistic.

To put things in perspective a little bit, check out this density map: http://luminocity3d.org/WorldPopDen/#10/48.6016/3.2190. If you hover over a city, it will show you how many people live in various density categories. Paris has about 2 million people with density over 22K (per square kilometer). Seattle has none. Paris has over 4 million over 10K. Seattle has maybe ten thousand. Altogether, Seattle only has about a quarter million people in the relatively medium density category of 4K (or more). Paris has about 8 million. We just aren’t that big, and don’t have that kind of density.

I wonder if the author has bothered to measure how big this is. My guess is it would be one of the biggest mass transit systems in the world. When you look at systems this big, they all serve mega-cities. When you look at cities roughly our size (e. g. Vancouver, which is only a bit bigger and more densely populated) you can see they have no intentions of ever building something this extensive. It is just silly.

Joe

Having lived in Madrona … I almost never had cause to travel along the “Sapphire Line” proposed. 90+% of my transit travel was to the Hill and Downtown (and from there to my office in SODO). Just an observation.

Abe rides buses

I like that this map established a major goal (fixed rail transit stops every mile! All of Seattle proper within a ten minute walk of a frequent transit stop on dedicated right of way!) and then shows the scope of what is needed to make it happen. I don’t think even New York has such an extensive transit system, but maybe this is what needs to happen if we are going to be serious about transit everywhere.

That said, this map is easy to pick apart in the details. Why is there a new stop at Ballinger but no acknowledgement of the potential future 220th stop? Won’t poor, benighted, racist hellhole Brier burn itself down in a fireworks accident before anyone can even survey track routes out there? Why do I need to go through Kenmore to get to Canyon Park? Why aren’t more of the existing and planned BRT-lite routes upgraded to rail service – wouldn’t that be a logical way to progress?

Sure, the details are easy to pick apart here and I don’t think we should be looking at them too closely. The real value of this exercise is asking what should our regional transit goals even be, and what are the logical implications of this?

If we want to truly be a place without auto dependence, having all of the urban growth area be within a mile of a fast, frequent transit stop on dedicated right of way sounds like a goal that should happen if we want equitable levels of transit and density everywhere. But when we actually map it out, the scale is huge.

Abe rides buses

Also, something that bugs me – the intro graphic for this presentation specifically mentions the 8. It’s a little tough to tell because of how dense the lines are in this area, but did they forget to replace the 8 with a new line?

Noah Gannon

I like the vision and route, but would prefer electric, autonomous buses for operation. Streetcars?!

jas

Where is the gondola from the end of the “Jet line” in West Seattle over to Smith cove, and the gondola from the Sammammish Plateau that crosses the lake and ends at the Spring District? Why make these people go the long way around? It’s madness!

AJ M

Is the idea all this will be under construction by 2040?

There’s nothing sustainable about this plan. The Turquoise line alone would either cost as much at the ST3 capital plan or would require so much at-grade operations that it would provide little benefit over basic bus service.