Mike Schuh's First Hill Connector Proposal

I urge Sound Transit to include planning for an eventual "First Hill Connector" as part of extending the LINK Light Rail system northward from downtown Seattle to Montlake and beyond.

The essence of my proposal is to construct a segment of light rail from the proposed Capitol Hill station (at Broadway Ave. and John St.) to the Mount Baker/S McClellan St. Station currently under construction at S McClellan St. (near the intersection of Rainier Ave. S and MLK Jr. Way S). I have a sketch (64KB) of the route the connector could take.

As part of ST's planning for future light rail service to Capitol Hill, ST staff studied alternative means to serve First Hill (the neighborhood surrounding the site of the formerly planned First Hill station). Numerous possibilities were considered.

Among the ideas rejected was that of a "rail spur", which would have connected the Capitol Hill and First Hill stations by a short tunnel. ST staff's report stated that "Staff found that the potential benefits of a rail spur appear to be limited compared to other transit options also being considered." (page 5, which is page 7 of the PDF document). Later (page 29; 31 of the PDF) the report states "A major limitation of a rail spur would be that it would only serve a portion of the First Hill ridership market." There is also concern that passengers headed to First Hill destinations most likely will take buses to downtown Seattle or an outlying light rail station, then transfer to light rail to get to the Capitol Hill station, then transfer again to ride the "rail spur" to First Hill. Not attractive (I agree with the latter part of the assessment).

Planning continues on one of the other alternatives considered, street car east on S Jackson St. from 5th Ave S to 12th Ave S and then north along Broadway.

We're missing an opportunity here. Instead of a disproportionately expensive rail spur running just a few blocks, or Yet Another Street Car, let's build something useful - a direct connection from First Hill and the eastern edge of the International District to the University District, Rainier Valley, SeaTac airport, and eventually the Eastside.

The proposed route for the Connector would be from the Capitol Hill station, where it would feature "same platform" transfers, south to a station in the vicinity of the site of the formerly proposed First Hill station (just south of Madison St.), continuing south to another station near S Jackson St. and 12th Ave. S, then merging with the future line using the current I-90 HOV lanes and a station near the current bus stop on I-90 above Rainier Ave. S. From there it would be short distance to connecting with the line being built, doing so just north of the S McClellan St. station.

One of the objections raised when ST deleted the First Hill station from further planning was that residents of Rainier Valley needed to get to either the hospitals on First Hill (aka "Pill Hill") or the colleges there. The Connector will fill that need better than the original LINK route would have.

The Connector would also provide faster service to SeaTac for passengers from Capitol Hill and any station further north, and similarly faster service to the University of Washington from Rainier Valley (and in the future from southern parts of the Eastside).

A less obvious benefit is the ability to relieve pressure on the downtown segment, which ultimately will become a choke point in the system. Having an alternative north-south route will ease congestion. Less significantly, it can help with repositioning equipment during routine operations, but this is a minor gain.

To be very clear on the proposed technology - this Connector would use the same rolling stock as is planned for LINK (that is, light rail trains). I mention this as some have assumed that I am proposing using a different technology (people movers, street cars, whatever). I'm NOT. We already have enough different systems in use or being built in Seattle, we don't need to make it worse. Let's use light rail to connect light rail stations.

But here is the key point of this proposal: Plan for the Connector now. I doubt that it could be built as part of the extension to Montlake. Most likely it would get built as an adjunct to the Eastside line across I-90. But planning for it today will ease construction later. Build the Capitol Hill station with the extra platform and track connections. Add a switch just north of the McClellan St. station now so that we don't have to shut down the system later to add it. Yeah, such planning didn't pay off in the Downtown Transit Tunnel, but we now know what vehicle technology will be used and we can plan accordingly.

I will add some sketches of how the Capitol Hill and I-90/Rainier Avenue stations might be designed to accomodate the First Hill Connector.

I also think that switches should be added to the current Central LINK at 3rd Avenue and Pine Street and at S Lander Street, with the goal of easing future expansion. These, however, are beyond the scope of this proposal, and I have discussed them elsewhere.

Please read my other thoughts on local transportation issues: http://www.farmdale.com/transit/

Last update: July 11, 2006 12:58:46 PDT To Mike Schuh's home page
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