Sound Transit, the agency responsible for regional rail and bus transit in Seattle’s Puget Sound region, has issued a request for comments on the scope of an upcoming Alternatives Analysis for the North Corridor. The ST2 funding package included an extension of Link light rail through this corridor, from Northgate to the Lynnwood Transit Center. However, to apply for federal funding, ST must perform an Alternative Analysis. I submitted the following comment to Sound Transit, and I recommend that you also make your opinions heard.
The Alternatives Analysis should include evaluation of an elevated Light Rail route primarily in the SR 99 alignment. In particular, I recommend an evaluation of an all elevated alignment turning westbound onto Northgate Way NE, curving across the Washelli Cemetery, northbound in the SR 99 alignment to approximately 220th Av SW, and following the Interurban Trail alignment to the Lynnwood TC.
Design of high capacity transit in the Puget Sound region must balance between two conflicting objectives: fast regional service, and providing access to neighborhoods.
In an analysis of urban rail systems in North America (written up here and accessible here) , I found that highest ridership density was correlated with shorter station spacings, even with lower speeds. Providing users with more places to access the system, particularly on foot, resulted in higher ridership. In light of this, a SR 99 alignment will bring light rail stations within walking distance of more people and destinations than an I-5 alignment through this corridor, and thereby provides a more useful and well-used system. Additionally, an I-5 alignment will result in stations in which a large portion of the walkshed is consumed with freeways, reducing ridership potential. The problems with this arrangement are found here: http://www.publicola.net/2010/01/25/rule-1-dont-put-a-light-rail-station-next-to-a-freeway.
However, the north corridor is a segment of an envisioned transit route between Everett and Seattle. The route’s usefulness for longer regional connections depends on its speed. If the corridor is built in an SR 99 alignment, the speed must nearly match the proposed speed of the I-5 alignment. I would consider Lynnwood TC to Westlake travel times of 25 minutes optimal, 30 minutes reasonable.
The Alternatives Analysis should include a thorough evaluation and comparison of this SR 99 alignment with the conceptual I-5 alignment in the ST2 proposal, in regards to station locations, ridership, TOD potential, travel times and environmental impacts.