A Wish List for Seattle Transit

Mar 25th, 2010

**Map Updated to Show the S.L.U.T. (South Lake Union Tram)**

Seattle is a beautiful city burdened by an obstructionist political culture and the most auto-centric citizenry in the Pacific Northwest.  It’s transit has been built less quickly, and less extensively, than its chic neighbor to the north (Vancouver) and its scrappy neighbor to the south (Portland).  As a result, it’s a blighted aesthetic that greets you as you enter the city from north (the monstrous I-5 bifurcating the city at its core) and from the south (an industrial wasteland).  At least the eastern approach has Lake Washington and the pleasing suburban homes of Mercer Island and Leschi.

Things are changing, albeit slowly.  The transit community is working hard, and the core of people who care about transit issues is solid.  The Seattle Transit Blog has a well-educated, passionate staff and an informed base of commenters.  It’s a pleasure to read the policy-dense and (for the most part) fantasy-light material that they post.

So here’s where they stand.  A small radial light rail line just opened from downtown to the Airport.  Expansion will proceed at a snail’s pace (1 new line per decade), with the next extensions going to UW in 2016 (desperate to reduce bus crowding) and the Bellevue/Eastside area in 2020-something.  Bellevue needs better transit even if they don’t know it.  (Sound Transit, if they choose to pay for a downtown Bellevue tunnel on behalf of the city council, will be like Mary Poppins pacifying the child with a spoonful of sugar to make the medicine go down.)

But in all the high-quality policy discussion, a guy still has to dream a bit.  So what follows below is pure fantasy with a fleck or two of reality thrown in for good measure.  Here’s my drawn-up wish list for Seattle in, I don’t know, 2075, after 5 more rounds of “Sound Transit” ballot measures have passed.

(1.  COMMUTER RAIL. Sounder has been extended along the Renton Junction and existing trackage to serve Renton with 3-5 peak-hour trips per day. Eastside commuter rail has been added from Snohomish to Renton, serving commuters from Bellevue, Microsoft, and those transferring to UW or downtown Seattle.

(3.  CENTRAL LINK.  An branch has been added to Central Link that functions as an airport express, stopping in Georgetown and Boeing Field.  This would run adjacent to Sounder, Amtrak, and BNSF before rejoining Central Link near the new Boeing Access Road Station.  The line runs from Everett to Tacoma, providing end-to-end service in 2 hours or less.

(3.  EAST LINK.  Completed as planned by 2023.

(4.  BALLARD-WEST SEATTLE Line.  This new line runs from Northgate to Federal Way via Ballard, Queen Anne, a 1st Avenue tunnel in downtown Seattle, West Seattle, and SeaTac Airport.

(5.  ISSAQUAH Line.  The Issaquah Line largely parallels East Link, but as the 3rd Avenue tunnel is at capacity, it instead crosses under Pioneer Square from the east and terminates at the Ferry Terminal.

(6.  MADRONA Line.  Provides local service in east-central Seattle.

(7.  MADISON Line.  Runs from Pike Place, down Pike Street, through Capitol Hill and the Madison Valley, crosses 520, and terminates at Microsoft.  Sort of a hybrid between the #11 and #545 buses.

(8.  GOLD Line.  Replaces buses #48 and #522 and provides essential cross-town connections while serving Lake City, Bothell, and Woodinville.

(9.  LAKE UNION LINE.  Runs across town from Ballard to UW, across 520, and then along the BNSF right-of-way to Woodinville.

Comments?  What connections might be missing?  *Sigh, ’tis only a dream.

  1. Daniel
    Apr 5th, 2010 at 14:44
    Quote | #1

    When you posted this to STB most of my ideas were covered by other commenters, but… here’s my counteroffer (I’ve drawn it in Google Maps and can provide link later on request):

    Central and East Link: No controversy.
    Duwamish Line: Instead of joining Central to Federal Way, I envision it continuing into central Tukwila to the Sounder station there. At the north end, if able to thread through the NSCC- Northgate ramp-o-rama (like re-purposing the Express Lane ramp to 103rd), continue under the hill and join the Gold (I rename it Rhododendron) Line to Bothell. A branch from these would go through Maple Leaf, U-Village, past the Central District (likely under about 14th Avenue), daylights to clear I-90, back under Beacon Hill, past VA Hospital, past the edge of Georgetown and closes the loop near Federal Center South. D and R lines would have A (clockwise) and B (counter-c.w.) variants. Could also include two other lines into this loop that fill gaps in your network: the Sunset Line to Renton (the main road to Renton used to be called Sunset Highway) and an Aurora Line through western Shoreline to Lynnwood.
    Cascade Line: I thought the diverge from I90 was unworkable, and it may still be, it’s not my part of town, but if possible, instead of just ending in south downtown, proceed through a third tunnel (likely 4th or 5th Ave) to link up with a re-aligned Madison Line (this time through South Lake Union, connect with Central at Capitol Hill, surface somewhere near the “ramps to nowhere”, join 520) only this one goes to Kirkland. Lake Union Line serves Ballard-Redmond. A variant of Cascade serves Iss-Bel-Kirk-Bothell-Lynnwood.
    Eventually a line from the Southcenter area through the future Tukwila South development area should be considered (the developer thinks it’s going to be HUGE), and with Kent just a few miles past the far end, there’s an obvious end point. Probably an Interurban Line that eventually replaces the Central in Rainier Valley.
    My numbering scheme: L1- Central, express corridor… L2- East… L3- Interurban (Rainier Valley corridor)… L4,5,6,7- some combination of Duwamish, Rhododendron, Sunset, Aurora… L8- Lake Union… L9,10- Cascade (Bellevue variant is L10)… South-East CR could eventually become known as L11 and continue to Tuk. South and Kent.
    If Loop can only handle three lines, join Aurora to Interurban and run these through Cascade Line’s tunnel. (shown in my current version of the map)

  2. Chad N
    Apr 25th, 2010 at 19:37
    Quote | #2

    Think bolder on Sounder. 2075 long term, Seattle needs to develop a backbone system of high-capacity mainline rail to connect regional destinations at reasonable speeds.

    The Eastside commuter rail should be expanded north to Everett Station using existing BNRR/Amtrack track (add a third track if needed for capacity), and interlined south to Puyallup with a tee (which used to exist) at the Tukwila junction.

    In this timeframe Sounder and Cacades HSR will outgrow the BNRR mainline between Seattle and Tacoma, and new dedicated track should be laid, mostly in the I-5 right of way, between the “Boeing Field” station, Sea-Tac airport and Tacoma. This will provide “premium” high-speed service from Sea-Tac to downtown Seattle or Tacoma, to supplement the ‘cost-effective’ Link light rail.

    To summarize, 3 North-south lines, with two-direction, all day service: one from Everett to Puyallup via Bellevue, one from Everett to Tacoma via Seattle/Sea-Tac, and one from Everett to Tacoma via Seattle/Kent.

    Light rail provides the intermediate and east-west connections.

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