Agreement on Downtown Tunneling for Seattle Region’s East Link Light Rail

» City of Bellevue will get its desired underground segment through downtown thanks to an agreement from Sound Transit.

At a cost of $2.5 billion, Seattle’s planned East Link light rail extension project is one of the nation’s largest and most expensive transit expansion programs, which makes it remarkable in itself. A new connection across Lake Washington and into the cities of Bellevue and Redmond will significantly decrease transit times for intercity trips in the region and attract about 50,000 riders a day once it is completed in 2023.

The real achievement of the project, though, is its response to local demands in the form of the construction of a tunnel through Downtown Bellevue, agreed upon by the transit agency Sound Transit last week.

The passage in 2008 by Seattle region voters of the Sound Transit 2 package of bond releases guaranteed that local funding would be available to construct new lines extending the original Seattle light rail line from downtown to Sea-Tac Airport, which opened in 2009. East Link is the largest funded segment, though additional lines running north and south are also planned.

Once it became clear that light rail would be running through Bellevue, the city council made apparent its interest in tunneling the section of the line through the business district. From a point of regional equity, that might have made sense (since Seattle had its own downtown tunnel), but according to initial studies it would cost up to $1 billion more than a surface-level line. With broad streets and thus plenty of potential right-of-way, there would be little reason to spend so much.

But further engineering studies suggested that the tunnel would cost only about $320 million over the surface line, and the city agreed to chip in half of the extra costs, making it feasible to include the underground segment in the project. After Sound Transit’s agreement, the city has until November 14 to sign the accord, settling the matter once and for all. Though opposition from Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman — who has been fighting light rail expansion into the city for a decade — remains an issue, the path forward seems to be construction beginning in 2015 or 2016, including a tunnel.

What is intriguing here is that Sound Transit, which has the legal right to build the project as it wishes, is choosing to develop a project that costs more because it is interested in acquiring the support of Bellevue’s local government. The $160 million it has agreed to further contribute to the project’s costs to satisfy local demands could have been spent on another project.

And there may be an argument for putting the line underground. At the Rail~Volution conference in Washington earlier this month, Arlington County Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman argued that the long-term benefits of digging tunnels for rail projects more than make up for their higher costs. The theory goes that development is more likely to follow when the noise and visual intrusion of trains are out of sight and mind, even as stations themselves are easily accessible.

I am not particularly convinced of the necessity of a downtown tunnel through Bellevue considering that there is plenty of space on the street — nor is it clear to me that it will bring economic development to the area that would not have been possible were the line on the surface. While the Washington Metro, with its very long trains, huge ridership demands, and third-rail propulsion, cannot be installed on the street (and thus can only be placed in a reserved corridor either above or under ground), Seattle’s Link light rail is designed specifically to be able to act as a tramway on surface streets. While the question in D.C. is whether to put metro extensions underground or along a highway right-of-way, the question in Seattle is whether to place light rail underground or along far more pedestrian-accessible surface streets. So the lessons of the nation’s capital region may not apply to the Pacific Northwest.

But the broader point here is the use of democracy in the decision-making process; regional agencies like Sound Transit have a responsibility to be responsive both to metropolitan and local priorities. In this situation, while the choice of an underground route for East Link in Downtown Bellevue may not be ideal from a policy or fiscal perspective, it is a respond to local demands expressed through the city council. It would be difficult to envision how the project could be pursued if it were designed in opposition to local interests.

Of course, the decision of the City of Bellevue to contribute to the costs of the tunneling has played a significant role in making this possible. Negotiating with local interests — and responding to their demands — is always simpler when they are willing to help pay for the things they desire. The question is how to negotiate with groups or municipalities that cannot afford to do so.

Image above: Conceptual image of East Link light rail crossing Lake Washington, from Sound Transit

57 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Gordon Werner

    To be specific, the existing N-S line (Central Link) will be extended (elevated) 1 stop south of the airport with P&R opening in 2016. In addition to the northwards 2 stop underground tunnel to the University of Washington (opens in 2016) … planning has also started for the 3 additional stop extension north (2 underground stations & 1 elevated) to the Northgate Transit Center/Mall (opens in 2021).

    Beyond that, there is the desire to stretch the Central Link line north to Lynnwood and south to Federal Way and East Link to Redmond/Microsoft … but the current recession is impacting those plans right now.

    Regardless we’ll have 2 lines … Northgate to SeaTac Airport/S 200th St. & Northgate to. Bellevue / Overlake.

  • Beta Magellan

    One question—did the tunnel cost less than expected or the surface alignment more?

    • aw

      Through a long, convoluted process a series of new allignments was studied after the Draft EIS was published. There were some good refinements of the route south of downtown Bellevue and development of additional alternative allignments through downtown Bellevue. The draft EIS had two tunnelled allignments, but a third tunnelled allignment was identified that made a lot of sense and saved a bunch of money. A supplemental draft EIS was issued that included these new alternatives.

      The City of Bellevue has not been entirely helpful in getting to this point. There are a number of councilmembers that could best be described as obstructionists. This has led to an extended schedule, but on the plus side, the close examination of the route has led to several good refinements.

  • Ocean Railroader

    This tunnel makes logical sense in that the city doesn’t want have to deal with trains in general running on the surface streets where they can get run into by cars or have to worry about someone getting run over by one of them and getting sued by them. It also is good in that the trains can run much faster and can have far less train stations while on the surface streets every one will want to have a train stop no mater how close they are togetter. This is a good idea in the long run.

  • Miles Bader

    What’s Kemper Freeman’s issue anyway? Why should one guy spend vast amounts of money over a decade fighting something that will only help his downtown bellevue real-estage interests…?

    • political_incorrectness

      Most of us fail to understand his logic. My thinking is that he is stuck in the era of everyone uses a car and the only way to get more people is to get more cars there.

    • JohnS

      Seattle’s _Stranger_ has a great interview with Freeman. I think it sums up who he is, and why he keeps up with this crusade of his.

      http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/kemper-freemans-road-rage/Content?oid=10480022

      • Kylie

        Wow, what a jerk. Apparently he’s been setting back King County’s public transportation for over 40 years. Looks like he’s of the “subways are communism” mindset that we seemingly have in droves in the U.S.

      • Buckeyeman

        I just read that article on this kook a while earlier today and it did nothing to reverse, stop or even slow down the growth of my lack of respect for those who oppose any kind of passenger raill transportation. In fact reading that article caused my lack of respect for anti-rail people to mushroom that much more. In many other areas, there are developers who’d love to have more rail transit as much as anyone else but this guy embodies much that I disrespect about anti-raill people and other anti-rail entities.

    • There is additional documentation of the logic that opposes light rail, held by a substantial minority in the Seattle-Bellevue area, at http://www.effectivetransporation.org and http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/ By “substantial minority” opposed I mean on the order of 40%. The 2008 vote to double the rail agency’s taxes passed by 57% to 43% across the three county taxing district, with rejection by a slight margin in one of the counties — Pierce County where Tacoma is located. The Seattle-oriented light rail network is over a decade away from reaching beyond King County, where Seattle and Bellevue are both located.

      • Alan

        Seattle and the surrounding communities already have bus service. We want rail in addition to bus. They’re not mutually exclusive, and rail has dozens of advantages over buses that don’t show up on a balance sheet. Yep, buses are cheaper and can be deployed more quickly, I don’t think anyone denies that. That’s all well and good, but buses don’t move the crowds with the same numbers, comfort, speed, efficiency, and environmental soundness as rail does. They aren’t a permanent infrastructure fixture (and are thus easily subjected to political whims) and don’t spur economic growth or increased density.

        We’re not going to let kooks like Freeman or anyone else scuttle regional light rail for the Seattle region any longer.

        • Mike

          Wow, somebody’s a little cranky this morning.
          If I proposed building a nuclear power plant that cost 3-10 times the cost of a conventional plant, and when completed would cost 2-3 times as much as it’s nearest neighbor to operate, generating electricity at 20-30 cents per kWh, would you be so darn sure of your choice?
          If rate payers balked at your excessive folly into the electric business, and refused to subsidize you any higher than your peers, you surely would go broke.
          That’s the gamble Seattle is taking with it’s version of light rail that goes counter to nearly every other system built in modern history – except Puerto Rico, and we all know what a smashing success that was.
          The Puget Sound is dismantling a perfectly sound transit system for lack of funding at the same time it’s drilling holes all over the place for light rail at 600 million a mile for the current segment.
          It think you are a danger to the health and well being of Seattle residents. John Niles is spot on, and has had it right from the beginning.

          • Done right, rail and bus are not substitutes for each other; they’re complementary. It’s not like building a nuclear vs. a hydro plant; it’s more like building a power plant vs. building transmission lines.

            • Adirondacker12800

              The “3-10 times” is FUD. You arrive at those kind of numbers if buses don’t have any infrastructure costs.

              For instance Seattle was about to rip out it’s trolleybuses because conventional buses are “cheaper”. They are if you don’t take into account that trolley buses last much longer than conventional buses and that buying diesel is more expensive than cheap hydro….

              • Mike

                If you tag onto bus cost the prorated share of roadway cost to the bus, it’s minuscule. Add it on. It doesn’t change squat.
                Trolleys last 3 years longer than conventional buses (FTA). If that’s your definition of “last much longer”, then I’ll give you that one. They cost more too.
                Electric fuel is cheap in the NW compared to the rest of the US. When oil starts its price climb to the heavens, do you think BPA is not going to adjust hydro power prices to reflect market prices? Of course they will. Quit making false assumptions to prove a weak point.

              • Nathanael

                I don’t think you understand the nature of *regulated* electric power costs, Mike.

                No, Seattle’s hydropower prices will not increase simply because oil prices go up. The state regulators don’t allow that sort of thing. That only happens in a “deregulated” electricity market, which has been rejected since Enron manipulated California’s market for its own purposes.

              • Nathanael

                To put it clearly for those who don’t know, electric power is priced at cost plus state-set profit rate — this has been the case for about a century. It is not set at “what the market will bear”.

                If you didn’t know that, Mike, you should shut up about power costs.

          • Kylie

            No, Mike, John Niles is very wrong. He has a small and limited vision for transit for the Puget Sound area. Alan made a good point; we have good bus service here, the time has come for the next step, massive investment in our future with proven technology — light rail.

            The article in the Stranger says it all…light rail for Seattle passes all the tests for cost-effectiveness, and 40% opposed means that the opposition is in the minority, so it can’t even be claimed it isn’t the “will of the people”.

            I’m confident the nay-sayers and Freemans of the Puget Sound area will not win out this time.

            • Mike

              Mr Niles has done more for the Puget Sound than most of the politicians and glad handing consultants combined. They are pandering to a very small slice of our society with public dollars they don’t own.
              John has to my knowledge in the last 30 years spent more time trying to illuminate the truth about transportation spending and the consequences of building massive public projects that do little good, or actually make the problem worse.
              If money were unlimited, free and never had to be accounted for, then sure, let’s build everything NOW, and utopia will be completed much sooner.
              Unfortunately every society must deal with it’s own excessive behaviors. We are no different. These tunnels and grand light rail schemes will cost taxpayers double or triple the current subsidy for buses they provide to 10% of the population.
              When they wise up, the plug will get pulled on further development, but they will be on the hook to pay it off.
              Check your history channel for all the societies that didn’t learn this lesson.

              • Robert Stills

                Sounds like Tea Party type rhetoric; always going on about the ‘poor taxpayer’ (who approved this scheme, by the way). We’re not nearly as broke as you make it seem, as Adirondacker12800 pointed out, that’s mainly FUD.

                Argue about the best way to implement light rail in the Seattle area, but don’t think you’ll be able to scrap the whole plan because some disgruntled people in Kennydale, Medina, or Bothell don’t like it. We’re seeing a real shift in our political landscape, I think. In the past, most anti-light rail groups were fairly successful, now they seem to be failing (like they did in Honolulu), which is a good thing.

              • Jay

                John Niles hasn’t actually done anything for transit in the Puget Sound area besides talk.

              • Drewski

                Mike…well…

                The Seattle region has a long and well-documented history of elements which are intent on conning the other Washington into paying for all the region’s transportation infrastructure costs. Most of the maintenance costs, too.

                As far as I can see, the only reason that LINK got built was that Sound Transit did present the public with a very lowball estimate of the real cost of construction. In turn, the officials at Sound Transit seemed to have a very good understanding of the local mouthpieces who have made it their mission to get somebody else to pay for the ways that residents of Central Puget Sound get around.

                Seattle may have a street grid, but it’s not nice and flat like Chicago, or the Twin Cities, or most of Denver, or Miami. It’s hard to thread expressways through the city and its suburban hinterland–there are hills, shipping channels, and bodies of water like Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish.

                The last 20 years of transportation politics in the region are downright embarrassing: it’s been a non-stop game of trying to get something for nothing. For example, when the Nisqually quake damaged the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the first impulse was to try to get USDOT to pay for the *entire* replacement cost, even if that was a $4 bln tunnel project. There were similar gestures with widening the 405, and with reconstruction of the 520 floating bridge. No tolls, no tolls, no tolls–but there were NO other identified sources of revenue to pay for these projects, and every one of them was and is fundamentally local in its traffic volume.

                In the other Washington–the one purported to be capable of bankrolling all these local projects–the Metro system’s expansion has been delayed and impeded largely because Virginia is averse to providing (read:funding) basic transportation infrastructure. That’s the single biggest reason why the Silver Line to Dulles isn’t finished yet. The DC region has a clear understanding of the need for a LOCAL contribution.

                LINK got built due in no small part to Sound Transit lowballing the cost presented in the ballot issue. You look at the number of buses LINK has replaced, and the number it will be able to replace when extended north. Mike, you’re anti-rail, it’s no big secret, but here’s the part you miss. You, and Tim Eyman, and the whole coterie of anti-transit kooks in the Seattle region. If a three-unit LRV train has one driver, and it would take as many as six buses (even articulateds) to carry the same passenger volume, then light rail allows a major reduction in the labor cost required to provide the same level of transit service. This is something that Portland has focused on for over three decades now, and MAX’s success is validation of that focus.

                Mike, the truth is that you don’t just want to come up with arguments to block light rail to the Eastside, you would also prefer that there was no bus or HOV priority on the 90 or 520 bridges. You would prefer that those buses just weren’t there in the first place. And you’re the kind who will continue in that mindset even when it’s your house being demolished to widen the expressway again. You would rather ignore all the evidence of the benefits of transit, and persist in some 1950′s car-centric fantasy that isn’t even representative of Eastside cities like Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond.

  • cameron slick

    We’ve had two major tunnel vs. Surface alignments in the twin cities. One was just an mistake of routing that is being carried forward, without a tunnel, for the central corridor. The necessity of a tunnel for the southwest corridor doomed the urban alignment (which jonah has written about).

    I’m curious if anyone knows how much time is saved and riders gained by having a tunnel. If they add 5000 to 10000 riders throughout the system, or is twice as fast, its worthwhile.

    • Nikko P

      Do you have a link for this?

    • Beta Magellan

      Here’s the Southwest Corridor article Cameron mentioned—maybe someone can light up the Mulad-signal to get more on the Central Corridor.

    • Nathanael

      People are still fighting over the Minneapolis East Bank route for the Central Corridor? Give it a break. There were arguments for both routings but they’re both perfectly good routings, surface or tunnel, and the chosen one appears to be cheaper all things considered. (It’s hard to tell because it depends on the difficulty of various bridge construction and retrofits, and we only know the details for the one which was chosen.)

      Given the ridership situation in the Twin Cities (accelerating growth), the other routing may well get used for another line later; they aren’t redundant.

      • FG

        I think they are referring to a future corridor to the southwest.

        Wasn’t there a tunnel proposal for Ottawa?

        • Nathanael

          I believe Ottawa is going forward with an urban rail tunnel; it will take over the busways at the east and west sides of town, with a new rail tunnel in the middle of town.

  • Mike

    Infrastructure v. Operating – That is the question.
    Yonah seems to be firmly in the ‘build-it’ camp at any price. Seattle area is experiencing massive cutbacks on bus service because funding sources are looking like water holes in the desert.
    Meanwhile, another agency is gleefully spending billions on rail across a freeway that will likely double or triple the current operating cost on buses for that Bellevue-Seattle segment of $3.06 per rider. That’s the experience of the initial segment going into it’s third year of operation, replacing a bus route with light rail to SeaTac airport. The trip now takes longer and is costing area tax payer about $13 per rider, counting debt repayment and depreciation, or about $7 bucks if you choose to ignore those costs.
    The next segment to begin operating will be to the Univ. of WA, opening in 2016. Operating costs will be about $10 per rider, or about double the current bus costs for the same trip.
    It seems to this ill-informed reader that these massive investments in bigger, better, faster, shiny trains should offer some sort of paypack on the investment – like lower operating costs.
    That’s what my Board expected of me in business every time I proposed building something new.
    Meanwhile, while those trains are crossing the I-90 bridge every 10-15 minutes, all the buses that use those lanes, from all the locations not along the new line, will now be shoe-horned onto 4 lanes restriped out of 3 on the outside lanes and shoulders. That’s the Big-Squeeze.
    BTW, it’s 3.1 Bil for the line including contingency, but what the heck, what’s the chance of needing to dip into that (FEIS, pg ES-2)

    • aw

      Mike, it’s been pointed out to you before that it’s disengenuous to include capital costs for the rail solution, but not for the bus solution. And for the buses, it’s not just the depreciation of the buses, but there are also a bunch of freeway projects that were built with Sound Transit money, like the freeway direct access ramps. There is also debt service on the DSTT, which from ST’s perspective is shared by the 550 and Link now. When train frequency forces buses out of the tunnel, Metro won’t have to pay their share of the debt service, so they should have more case to put into bus service hours.

      As to the I-90 configuration, it’s exactly the same number of lanes as exist now, but with the very important addition of a reverse peak HOV lane. This should help vehicle throughput overall because we hardly have a peak direction any more. Almost as many people travel eastward from Seattle for work as go the other direction.

      • Mike

        Repeating the same thing doesn’t make it so. The $3.06 avg cost for the Bellevue-Seattle bus is a contracted service, meaning there are no other costs involved.(ST SIP 2012, RT 550 avg cost). The contractor, Metro, has figured all that into their price of service.
        Tossing out a “bunch of freeway projects” is also disingenuous flak. In total they were a drop in the capital bucket, and serve both buses, P&R’s and a ton of HOV car-poolers. Break it all out, give me the dollars and we can talk cost/benefit for total traffic movements served. I’ll gladly add that to the operating cost of buses over the light rail projects ST has plowed billions into.
        Yes, the reversible lanes will be moved to the side ROW, by narrowing the lanes, and removing breakdown lanes. There’s a price to pay for that in speed, safety and efficiency.
        The photo conveniently shows two, three car trains, a bus, and several dozen autos. In reality, the photo during the peak should show no trains and a bunch of buses, HOV’s, cars and trucks in bumper to bumper traffic along the Big Squeeze.

        • Ron

          There really shouldn;t be any buses on teh rbidge once the LRT starts running. The routes for all long haul buses should be redesigned so that they feed into the LRT line east of the bridge. That way, the buses can be turned around and run at higher frequency, feeding passengers onto the LRT.

          That’s what was done for the Canada Line in Vancouver. All direct to downtown south of Fraser (river) long haul coach routes (which operated at a high subsidy) were redirected to terminate at Bridgeport Canada Line Station.

        • Jay

          Mike, Sound Transit has spent close to a billion dollars on express bus capital projects, that’s hardly a drop in the bucket. And the price that ST pays Metro and other operators to run its express bus service doesn’t include the cost of the buses themselves.

          • Nathanael

            What Jay said.

            Metro’s pricing at incremental cost, not fully-loaded cost. (As any business which *already has the buses* would do.)

            And the express bus capital projects are really very large; that’s easy enough to look up.

            • Mike

              If it’s so easy, what’s the total cost of the Freeway Direct Access ramps AW and I were discussing? There aren’t that many, and Sound Transit has removed public access from most of their documentation on-line.
              Those ramps are actually very cost effective in bus hours saved – and have relatively short payback periods. Contrast that to Link Rail (ala Seattle style), and you can’t find a paypack. None, zip, nada,..
              And please don’t lump in all the transit centers, park and rides, and kitchen sinks to make your point. Many HOV drivers use those facilities too. That’s not what was being discussed.

              • Jay

                Park and rides and transit centers are being built along with light rail and you lump all of those in with your light rail costs.

              • SamR

                Wrong Mike, all of those facilities are very relevant. Don’t try to set the terms of the argument to your narrow definition to assure a ‘win’. Doing so looks intellectually dishonest, like I’ve found most anti Light Rail fanatics to be.

              • Nathanael

                “Sound Transit has removed public access from most of their documentation on-line.”

                Bleh. I stand corrected; it *used* to be easy to look up. I remember the direct access ramps were on the order of tens of millions each.

                The new HOV/bus lanes for the I-90 bridge (a bit redundant with Link, surely?) cost hundreds of millions so far and aren’t done yet…

      • Ocean Railroader

        This floating birdge was shown in the History Channel program Inspection Americia and on that program they went inside of it and showed that it was carrying two to three times the amount of traffic it was planned to carry. Along with that it being a floating bridge the water is also taking it’s toll on it. It would be a much safer idea to replace this bridge with a new bigger and wider one to have all these new services on it than to use the old one or at least build a new one next to the old one to carry light rail and the HOV lanes along with a few extra traffic lanes to take pressure off of the old one.

        • JohnS

          There are two floating bridges on Lake Washington, State Route 520 and Interstate 90. The program you’re thinking of was about the 520 bridge. Link light rail will use the Interstate 90 bridge(s), which is pictured in the image Yonah used for this post.

          • Drewski

            In the long term, I do seem to recall that there was at least a desire to allow for light rail on the new 520. That’s part of what got the Tim Eyman crowd so agitated. Specifically, they want to make sure that light rail is blocked from the 520 by declaring that neither tolls nor gas taxes can be used to provide even an easement for rail transit (possibly for buses too).

  • FG

    “While the Washington Metro, with its very long trains, huge ridership demands, and third-rail propulsion, cannot be installed on the street (and thus can only be placed in a reserved corridor either above or under ground), Seattle’s Link light rail is designed specifically to be able to act as a tramway on surface streets. While the question in D.C. is whether to put metro extensions underground or along a highway right-of-way, the question in Seattle is whether to place light rail underground or along far more pedestrian-accessible surface streets. So the lessons of the nation’s capital region may not apply to the Pacific Northwest.”

    If at some point in the future, if capacity was reached/ridership grew, wouldn’t it be better to have the system underground? Such as in Boston or like a lot of German (and other) cities?

    • Nathanael

      Eventually. But historically, from what I can tell, no city has ever built a subway without first having surface passenger rail. There may be some obscure exception.

      Most subway systems aren’t even underground all the way, only in the densest parts of downtown. Tunnels are expensive.

      If you’re laying out a city with a subway in advance, the thing to do is to build the rails in an open trench and put the road on top of it. If you have a consistent system of alleys like Chicago, the thing to do is to run elevated through the alleys. But neither situation is very common.

      • Adirondacker12800

        Washington DC had abandoned it’s streetcars as had Atlanta when they build their subways.

        • Nathanael

          Thanks, you’ve found the two examples worldwide. :-)

          And of course, *both of these systems are on the surface for long distances*. DC Metro mostly follows railroad routes outside the very center of downtown.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Outside of the US, Canada and the UK, the rest of the world didn’t abandon it’s streetcars and trolleybuses. No place has built subways where there weren’t streets either.

            • No place? So German cities did not replace their streetcar systems with U-Bahn systems to make more space for cars? And Toronto did not propose to do the same under Rob Ford?

              • Adirondacker12800

                If wikipedia is to be believed the Berlin Ubahn opened in 1902. There were automobile traffic jams in 1902 Berlin?
                People don’t run out and build streetcar networks in the middle of Dakota prairies. They are an artifact of dense populations along with things like central station electicity, city water, sewers etc. North America and the UK ripped out their streetcar networks. The rest of the world was less enthusiastic about the concept.
                If Wikipedia is to be believed the only streetcar still running in India is in Kolkata. So the subways in India. I suspect the same thing is going on in China.

              • Drewski

                At end of WW2, there were only two metro systems in Germany–Berlin and Hamburg (three if you want to include Wuppertal)–and nearly every major city had significant traffic problems before the war.

                Stadtbahn systems were designed as an incremental approach, many with the ultimate goal of full metro/U-Bahn service. Two cities–Munich and Nuremberg–skipped the Stadtbahn approach and went to full U-Bahn. The first goal was to get separate right of way, and in the core of many cities, the only way to do that was with tunnels. As far as dodging cars–well, we have two existing Stadtbahn systems in the US (Boston and Philly, three if you want to include Newark), and those were built decades before similar lines in Germany.

                Hamburg and Berlin both abandoned surface rail operation; Hamburg is rebuilding some of it, and Berlin regained it in the east after the Fall. Munich and Nuremberg are both looking to upgrade and expand surface rail. Although the Stadtbahn systems of the Ruhr fall short of original plans, they’re far superior to what we have. Also, when you look at the combination of Stadtbahn and S-Bahn networks, most German urban regions have existing service that we can’t even hope to attain.

                As for Toronto…there is a long history of politics upending any sane transportation planning. This happened when the Eglinton subway was shelved in favor of the Sheppard line; it also happened when the Harris Tories sold–not leased, but SOLD–both the 407 roadway AND the land beneath it to a private consortium. The closest you can come to that idiocy in the US is the mess of the Ambassador Bridge. Depending on the geometry of the design, it seems that the current proposal for the Eglinton line is to have subway-scale engineering, but to operate elevated (not surface) from northern Leaside to Kennedy station. It picks up the RT r/w there, which would be a huge improvement in transit access for the 700k residents of Scarborough (where a 2-hour one-way commute is not unusual). Rob Ford is a mistake Torontonians already regret, and I wouldn’t rule out Transit City’s resurgence. Problem is, Toronto is NOT willing to pay for the transit service it wants and will use, and that extends to proposals like a tolled tunnel to replace the Gardiner Expressway. Like Seattle, Toronto keeps looking for ways to avoid paying for things, but this is understandable in a city which sends the provincial treasury a few billion dollars more a year than it has ever gotten back.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Ah yes poor Newark. Built the subway and then promptly abandoned half the routes using it to buses or all-service-vehicles. Then the other half 15 years later leaving one line to use it. Sigh. Last I heard the tunnel entrance west of downtown is still there.

                http://flic.kr/p/6txik9

              • Adirondacker12800

                and it’s not just Newark. Cleveland has a subway, Short stubby one but a subway. Rochester ran the trolleys in the old canal bed just like Newark did, Los Angeles had a short subway for trolleys and it could be argued that rail over the Bay Bridge was Sbahn-ish but that was closer to commuter rail done with trolley cars on the streets out in the suburbs. Cincinatti had great plans, again using the canal bed but nothing, other than abandoned tunnels came of it.

          • FG

            I think several Asian cities went right to heavy rail from none (Bangkok & KL come to mind, though I don’t much about their previous transportation systems).

            I’d argue, in Germany’s case, it wasn’t just making room for cars, but also making room for pedestrian zones, in which Germany was a leader.

      • FG

        I think it’s future proofing to some degree – I’m only really referring to downtown areas anyway.

        Note; I live in Chicago and don’t have an alley behind me (however, most of the city does, but my neighborhood was platted before it was part of the city).

  • ThomasD

    Seattle is 20 years behind Vancouver and Portland in terms of transit. If it took a deal between Seattle and Bellevue to accelerate the pace of expansion for the LRT system, then so be it. Its also good to the CRT and Streetcar systems expanding into a more useful system by 2020.

    A bonus is that Amtrak service between the cities is improving as well, due to the economic recovery act funds.

  • SamR

    The amount of misinformation by the anti Light Rail folks is amazing, but don’t worry Seattleites. Light Rail is an idea that’s time has come for the Puget sound region and I’m confident that Freeman and like-minded people will LOSE in the end which will be a win for the people of the Seattle area. They can’t hold back the future.

  • Drewski

    Bellevue is the downtown of the Eastside. Not just the 405 corridor, but the east shore of Lake Sammamish too. It has the potential to be to Seattle what La Defense is to Paris. Yeah, that sounds like an exaggeration, but it’s already a major business and retail center. It’s not going to overtake Seattle proper, but it is a major regional center. I can see the logic in the tunnel, not least because it guarantees a clear path for light rail. If you look at Bellevue on Google or Bing, you see that it’s one of those funky suburban places which started as a real town, morphed into a car-centered cluster of high-rises, and now has to choose whether to be as car-choked as Tyson’s Corner, or maybe to start clawing back all that car-covered real estate and pushing the city of Bellevue to a denser, more walkable, more transit-friendly place–both in the core and in the single-family neighborhoods.

    In Bellevue, the specific concern is the traffic that comes from being at the junction of two (or three) major highways (90 and 405–or more accurately, the segment of 405 between 90 and 520). The traffic to and from Seattle across Lake Washington is the easy part; the concern is all the suburban sprawl to the north (Kirkland, Redmond, Bothell, Woodinville), east (Issaquah, current home of Costco), and south (Renton, which is the gateway to SeaTac and the 167 corridor to Auburn). If you can get people out of their cars before they reach downtown Bellevue, then you can build a transit infrastructure which builds up the suburbs too.

    Sound Transit has plans to improve bus service in the 405 corridor. This is a major employment area, and most of the cities in the 405 corridor have a clear understanding that car access alone will do more to choke them than to increase their tax revenues. Assuming that a rail line is ultimately built in the 520 corridor, this creates the opportunity for a rail loop–Bellevue via 520 brings you into downtown Seattle from the north, just south of the University and into Lake Union, and Bellevue via 90 brings you into downtown from the south via 90. There’s been noise before about rail in the 405 corridor, and a strong Bellevue core makes that more likely.

    This looks like money well spent. As long as LINK East has the capacity to operate at high frequency–like peak headways in the 2-5 min range, and off-peak in the 4-8 minute–this tunnel could be a HUGE bargain in the long run. (No, I don’t expect LINK East service to be that intense on opening.) This the point that Mike (and Tim Eyman, and all the other transit opponents in Seattle and other cities) misses–transit works for the people who use it, but it also works for those who still drive, especially for the commercial traffic which isn’t on lockdown due to all the lone drivers. You’re not getting rid of detached single-family houses, but you are adding to the mix, which means that more people have more options. People can live in a suburb they know, but they can do it without a car, and their quality of life doesn’t have to take a nosedive.

    To hear Mike tell it, you’d think transit was all part of some neo-Stalinist, central-planning conspiracy. It’s actually the opposite. Strong transit allows everybody to have mobility, and strong transit is a reason why you don’t routinely see European cities or their suburbs being eaten up by yet another road widening or new interchange. Strong transit allows everyone in a region to appreciate the forests, meadows, wetlands and shoreline which is spared from development. In this case, a stronger suburb (Bellevue) can only make for a stronger core (Seattle), and it’s sad that voices like Mike’s are so insistent on a parochialism (I should be able to do whatever I want with my land, regardless of any predictable and negative consequences) which inevitably degenerates into a form of nihilism (I’d rather write off the depreciation of my sprawl-devalued property than help anybody else).

Leave a Reply

 

 

 

Comment preview below as you type. You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

For help if you have trouble posting or your comment is marked as spam, please email:
info (at) thetransportpolitic.com | Comment Rules

The Site / The Fight

by Yonah Freemark

yfreemark (at) thetransportpolitic (dot) com

  • Le progrès ne vaut que s'il est partagé par tous.

Email newsletter

Network

rss feed
comments feed
twitter feed
email update