Mike Schuh's Vision For The Future Of LINK

Here is a quick sketch of how Sound Transit's LINK light rail system could be expanded. Please note that this is my presentation and does not represent official Sound Transit policy or planning.

Monorail proponents claim that no one has proposed a mass transit solution for the west side of the city. First off, the west side isn't in drastic, let's-spend-billions need of transportation fixes. Nonetheless, let me respond to this claim with a "modest" proposal.

From a passenger's perspective, it rarely makes a difference what kind of conveyence they are riding: as long as their journey is comfortable and convenient it doesn't matter whether it is monorail, light rail, bus, van pool, whatever.

So why monorail? Green Line supporters list a vast range of reasons, but none of them are unique to monorail technology. Light rail can be elevated and thus earn the benefits of grade separation (the Vancouver SkyTrain is an example of this). Trolleys can use regenerative braking. Any transportation improvement has the potential to spur economic development and any good one can be designed and built to be dependable. In short, any of the advantages that are claimed to compel us to spend billions on the Green Line can be obtained by other means as well.

For example, how might elevated light rail perform? It would "rise above it all", so any of the benefits that the monorail would gain from this feature can be achieved by elevated light rail. Like the SkyTrain, it could be automated. It'd be electric and could have flat floor entries and walk through trains. In each of these - from the passenger's perspective - an elevated light rail system would be indistinquishable from a monorail system. As such, we could build an elevated light rail line along the route of the proposed Green Line and get exactly the same benefits that are claimed from the latter.

Not so visible to the passengers, however, would be advantages for the light rail solution in things like smaller and faster operating switches, standard technology with many vendors worldwide, AND the possibility to connect the Green Line corridor DIRECTLY into the LINK line now being built. This last item is significant.

Examining a map (in this booklet, on page 3 of the 131 KB document) of the proposed (and shortened) Green Line route shows that from Lander St. in the SoDo northward to Pine St. (a distance of 2.5 miles) it parallels the route of Sound Transit's light rail line. Nearly every Green Line station will be within a few blocks of a LINK station (but never any closer than across at least one street). North of Pine St., the Green Line will replace the existing Seattle Center monorail, which runs from Pine St. to the Seattle Center. These two segments total 3.2 miles.


Why the expensive duplication? I can not think of any good reason.

SMP officials assert that the Green Line will be "integrated" with other modes, but the closest it will ever come is "next door" or across the street. Same platform transfers - easily doable with the other technologies - is impossible. So let's not waste our time and money on monorails. Simply put, monorails are incompatible with anything else. Light rail, buses, street cars, and, yes, private vehicles - all can share the same right of way. Monorails can't.

But how do we serve the west side of Seattle? How 'bout with light rail? We can put it above ground (ala Green Line), on the surface, or underground - whichever seems best in a given location.

Consider West Seattle. Start from LINK's Lander St. station, now under construction. Continue south along the bus way, cross Spokane St. and follow the existing freight railroad right of way to the southwest. Climb over the Duwamish River and then into a short tunnel. At the west end of the tunnel, build a station on Delridge Ave. From there continue westward over the north end of the West Seattle golf course (on a low level bridge) and then enter a shallow tunnel at Avalon and continue to the Junction underground.

North of downtown, branch off of the existing tunnel at Third Ave. and Pine St. and head north to the Seattle Center, perhaps with a station or two in Belltown. After a station in Uptown (which I still want to call "Lower Queen Anne"...), make a bee line for Fremont, passing under the ship canal. After the Fremont station, turn to the northwest for a final station in Ballard, siting it in downtown Ballard (perhaps near the community center now being built) instead of along 15th (more potential passengers live closer to the downtown Ballard location, and putting the station there will better serve the center of the Ballard "urban village"). map of proposed expansion of LINK (image based on Sound Transit's map)

Costs: Yes, tunneling is expensive, but the gains to be had make it worthwhile. To West Seattle, the route proposed above allows for the fastest possible speeds: only two curves, and a relatively flat grade. North from downtown, underground is really the only way to go (imagine New York City with all of the subways in Manhattan at or above the surface!). Putting our infrastructure underground enhances our quality of life, instead of imposing upon it massive amounts of concrete.

In comparing the above proposal with the Green Line, please consider this: SMP wants to build over 10 miles of new line, including tearing down the fully functional Seattle Center monorail (talk about waste!). Instead, the proposal above (to Fremont) would be about half that length. To Ballard would be more, obviously, but SMP's "New Plan" won't go to Ballard - or Fremont. There is little to be gained from a station at Dravus, given the low housing density in the area. The new bridge proposed here over the Duwamish would cost about as much as retrofitting the West Seattle freeway bridge for dual monorail guidebeams with their associated complicated approaches - so let's build a new bridge instead and get a really good design out of it instead of something of a bastardized hybrid.

The West Seattle segment would be about $300-500 million to build, and Fremont would be less than the $1.5 billion that LINK's extension to Husky stadium would cost. Total: something in the vague neighborhood of $1.5 - 1.7 billion.

In other words, I propose taking the money saved by not duplicating rail service through downtown and using it to put the northward extension to Fremont underground, keeping the rail system out of the urban landscape.

Yes, this is the same as the current Green Line price tag (or is it? no one really knows), but will provide truly integrated service and preserve the historic Seattle Center monorail.

If we choose to proceed with this concept, it behooves us to commit to it soon, as building junctions in LINK's initial segment will be much easier now than later.

Thank you for your time in reading this. Please send me any comments or suggestions that you might have.

Please see my other monorail and transportation web pages at www.farmdale.com/transit/monorail.shtml

Thank you. Go in peace.

Last update: November 16, 2005 00:16:26 PST
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