Courtesy of Sound Transit
Riders board Sound Transit's Sounder Commuter Rail in Puyallup. A Crown Hill resident is fighting for a Ballard stop for the train, which passes by Golden Gardens and Shilshole.

Ballardite pushes for better transit at Golden Gardens

When Crown Hill resident Kevin Morgan watches the Sounder trains whoosh past Golden Gardens and the Shilshole Bay Marina on their way between Edmonds and downtown Seattle, he sees missed opportunity.

"If you really want to get people out of their cars, you have to get serious about it," Morgan said.

Morgan is pushing for Sound Transit to construct a Sounder Commuter Rail stop in the Golden Gardens area to accommodate Ballard riders. In the past weeks, he has gathered 80 to 100 signatures of support on posters he put up around the neighborhood.

The Sounder trains already go by there, the track is already laid and there is already parking, Morgan said. He said all that is needed is a light to make the trains stop, a bus stop-sized shelter and a ticket puncher.

Installing the stop would be economical and have a minimal environmental impact, Morgan said. It would also be a boost to nearby businesses, he said.

When the Sound Transit 2 ballot measure passed in 2008, allotting $17.8 billion for transit expansion, it included a provisional stop near Golden Gardens if there was sufficient funding available.

After extensive discussion and environmental research for a Ballard Sounder stop, Sound Transit prioritized future implementation of light rail over the heavy Sounder Commuter Rail, said Kimberly Reason, spokesperson for Sound Transit.

Ridership projections for the Ballard stop were very low, about 200 to 240 riders daily, Reason said. The Sounder North Line gets 1,000 to 1,600 riders per day, while the South Line gets 6,000 to 7,000 per day.

In general, Sound Transit's Link Light Rail system is outperforming Sounder Commuter Rail

According to the June Sound Transit Quarterly Report, Sounder Commuter Rail had 1.2 million boardings in 2010 through June. The Central Link Light Rail Line had 3.2 million.

In the second quarter of 2010, the Sounder North Line had 82,000 boardings and the South Line had 624,000. The Central Link Line had 1.8 million in the same time period, according to the report.

"The economic downturn continues to hit Sounder harder than other modes, as ridership productivity measures have not hit targets," according to the report.

"For the dollars we have available in Sound Transit 2, we would rather take those and designate them for light rail," Reason said.

Morgan said a light rail line would be beneficial, but they cost a big chunk of money.

"[A Sounder stop] is the most simple and economical plan, to me," he said.

Sound Transit dismissed a Ballard Sounder stop based on ridership numbers before coming up with a cost estimate, but the elevation changes at potential stop sites across from the Shilshole Bay Marina would make the project difficult, Reason said.

But, she said a Ballard Sounder stop has not been completely ruled out, and Sound Transit is looking at it as a possibility for a future ballot measure.

Sound Transit 2 contains funding for further study of the stop, and it could still be part of future transit development in the area, Reason said.

Morgan said he is encouraged by the response his posters have garnered, but his method is taking too long. He is hoping to host a public rally to gather signatures in late September at Golden Gardens but does not have anything finalized.

His said his goal is to gather enough signatures to avoid a vote, get the Ballard Sounder stop in Sound Transit's budget and help Ballardites get out of their cars.

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Ballard Station

200 to 240 riders additional riders at a Ballard Station on top of the Sounder North Line ridership of 1,000 to 1,600 is a growth of 12 to 24 percent, a seemingly substantial boost for the now very poorly utilized service from Everett to Seattle. However, even this much new ridership is not enough to tip the Sounder North Line into a cost per rider figure that is reasonable.

Also, note that Burlington Northern Santa Fe RR has only provided authority for Sound Transit to run trains on its tracks southbound in the morning and northbound in the late afternoon, a limitation that is not likely to change because of the very heavy freight train use of that shoreline track. Freight and passenger service on the same track is a challenging mix.

Note also that there is no light rail to Seattle downtown in the Sound Transit plans for Ballard. The RapidRide all-day limited stop bus service from King County Metro in the 15/18 corridor is what's on the horizon for improvement of Ballard transit, a much more productive use of tax dollars than building light rail.

Fortunately, the Puget Sound Regional Council planning agency is very much focused on expanded bus service and new techniques to keep buses moving with priority on busy roads in the decades to come. This approach provides the best value for the tax dollar.

I am glad somebody is

I am glad somebody is pushing for a Ballard stop now. It's just too bad there wasn't an organized effort 10 years ago. If there had been, we would probably have a station by now.

John Niles is a prime example of why this region and state have invested in highways and roads instead of quality transit projects for the past four decades. The right wing think tanks he works for encourage public subsidies for the automobile - and discourage investment in mass transit. All because he transplanted here with a sour taste in his mouth for the DC Metro he left behind decades ago. Apparently, only John S Niles and his compatriot Emory Bundy think Washington DC's subway was a bad idea.

Similarly bizarro: Niles and his foaming anti-light rail activist friends used to promote Sounder commuter rail as a viable alternative to light rail. They even supported a bill in the legislature 7 years ago which would have re-programmed voter-approved light rail dollars to the commuter rail programme he now opposes. Same way Niles and his sugardaddy Kemper Freeman have come out AGAINST the very bus rapid transit projects they now pretend to support.

Funny how that works.

If these people were more honest, and based their arguments on science and long-term societal benefit (rather than short-term personal & ideological vendettas) they might actually be more effective. But, honesty doesn't sign GlobalTelematics' paychecks. Monied anti-transit interests sign GlobalTelematics' paychecks.

Which also explains why John Niles' commentary is often described as "petty" and "pointless."

Here's the paradigm John

Here's the paradigm John Niles is trying to defend

Ballard Station

Whoever "Rex" is, he or she seems more interested in writing a fictional biography of me than commenting on the substance of the Ballard News Tribune story.

It's Sound Transit that doesn't want to build a Ballard commuter rail station, not me. A few hundred more passengers boarding at Ballard would make Sounder's terrible efficiency numbers a bit better. The station would personally benefit me, occasionally, especially if Amtrak would stop there as well.

For those interested, what I have worked on and some of what I think is at Most of my work in the past few years has been funded by San Jose State University Foundation and U.S. Federal Transit Administration, both of which, like me, are pro-transit. From time to time I have done projects for both liberal and conservative advocacy organizations, some of which, like me, support more efficiency in transit spending. My business, unfortunately, has no "sugardaddies."

Over time, my opinions of what works for efficient transit (providing the most public value per public dollar spent) change as new facts are revealed. For example, I was more in favor of Sounder before it was eventually revealed to cost over one billion dollars to build, and then turn out to serve -- as the story reports above -- under 9,000 passengers per day. In 2009, the operating cost for each Sounder passenger was subsidized by the taxpayer to the tune of $8.81 above and beyond the $3.13 average fare collected. The numbers for the Sounder Northline to Everett are worse.

Commuter rail + better bus service ideal

Sound Transit's original proposal didn't even include a provisional station in Ballard. I chaired the District Council's Transportation Committee for a short period in the 90's and was part of the effort to first get it in the plans as a provisional station, then study potential locations.

The justification for a station in Ballard remains difficult, but it would be better if it were sited where at least some southern Sunset Hill residents could access it by foot and connected to downtown Ballard by a shuttle along the RR spur or, better yet, improved Rt. 46 service that would also connect the station west (north) to Golden Gardens and east to Fremont, S. Wallingford and UW. A station near NW 65th St. might even make bus service along that corridor, connecting to Ballard High and the commercial area between 3rd and 8th feasible at some point.

Unfortunately, immediate neighbors of potential station locations near the potential pedestrian connections to Sunset Hill (at 64th, 61st, 57th and Market) fought to push the "preferred" location further north where upland connections are very difficult.

I applaud Kevin Morgan's efforts to revive this cause, but hope he's ready for a long, hard effort. It would be worthwhile for anyone interested in this to visit the Ballard Neighborhood Service Center and see the work that has been done to date.

Examination of Ballard-Downtown commute via Sounder

A Sounder station in Ballard is a terrible idea and a huge waste of money. The BEST location for such a station would be out near the Locks where it would be accessible by bus #44. But that location is still a terrible idea: it is very far from most people who live in Ballard, and very far from the commercial district.

A Ballard Sounder station would exist almost exclusively as a commuting option for people who live in Ballard and work downtown. So, let’s look at what that commute would actually entail for people in that situation:

To reach downtown via public transit, Ballard residents utilize one of four bus lines that run south through Ballard and then to downtown Seattle. These buses run all day, and at commuting times they run every 15 minutes. The Sounder has only 4 trips in each direction each day, and only at commuting times.

From east to west, these buses are: the #28 (on 8th Ave. NW), the #15 (on 15th Ave. NW), the #18 (on 24th Ave. NW), and the #17 (on 32nd Ave. NW). Additionally, the #44 runs east/west along Market Street to the Ballard Locks.

With the exception of the few who can walk to the Locks from their homes and those who live along the #17 route (which passes close to the Locks), most people in Ballard would need to take their regular southbound bus to Market Street and then transfer to the #44 headed west just to reach the Sounder station. Including the transfer to the Sounder itself, the majority of Ballardites would have a three-seat trip to get downtown.

Then, once people from Ballard arrive downtown via Sounder, there is only one place for them to get off the train, which is at King Street Station. That means that most people would have to make yet another transfer (resulting in a FOUR-seat commute) to get to their jobs elsewhere in the downtown core. Then they would have to repeat this entire process to get home (assuming they want to go home at one of the 4 times that the train is leaving King Street).

Currently, most people in Ballard can get downtown directly on the 28, 15, 18 or 17 without ANY transfers, and then got off the bus at the stop closest to their work. Who would ever choose a three-transfer commute over a zero-transfer commute? Not me. Such a trip would be: FAR slower, less comfortable, less convenient, less flexible, and more expensive. What a great idea!

Commuter rail works for people coming into the city from the suburbs. It is worse than redundant for people who already live in the city and have a good bus connection between their neighborhood and downtown (a connection that will only improve in the next few years with the RapidRide line).

A Sounder Station in Ballard would be just about the worst use of Sound Transit North King sub-area funds I could imagine. That money should be put into studying light rail connecting Ballard to the U-District and Downtown.

Commuter rail not a substitute for bus

cch rightly points out some of the difficulties associated w/ locating a commuter rail station in Ballard, but no one is suggesting that it replace any of the existing bus routes - on the contrary it could be the impetus for better east-west service. The idea when we pushed to get it on the map as a provisional station was that as long as the trains were coming through Ballard, let's look at whether there is a logical way to let Ballardites get on the train.

With 400+ liveaboards at Shilshole, the Sunset West condos and the development of new condos along Seaview, this area is not well served by current bus routes. While the ridership is still marginal, a station serving these and new residences in that area and within walking distance of SW Sunset Hill residents could provide a good option for a number of potential transit users.

If coupled with better east-west bus service, the benefits for this area, and the viability of a Ballard station, would be increased, while providing better access to Shilshole and Golden Gardens to the rest of the community.

Ballard Trolley

What if we used the exisiting and separate railroad right of way from golden gardens,past the locks, along the ship canal, crossing the rail bridge east of the ballard bridge and continuing on down Westlake to join the SLUT (with stops at golden gardens, south shilshole, downtown ballard, queen anne, SPU, freemont bridge and westlake.

Uh oh - when did we abandon all of that? And it's used by 6 homeless guys and 4 bikers each and every day? Cool -- good decision guys.

Guess I will have to wait for the ballard monorail.

E-W Intermodality

SDOT currently proposes a streetcar that runs across the Fremont bridge up to 15th in Ballard and a separate line across the University Bridge and up to 50th.

I believe the idea is to make a radial system that is highly intermodal, but this requires that all transfers occur downtown and it will eventually lead to an overcrowded system.

We are already seeing the beginning of intermodal congestion with the buses running with light rail in the tunnel because the buses have to run from other sites throughout the city and into downtown to gain access to LRT and Commuter Rail/Amtrak.

The old Seattle Monorail Project Purple Line would have connected the LRT Husky Stadium Station to any connections that could be made for a Ballard Commuter Rail/Amtrak station near or North of the locks.

There are abandoned rail lines between the two sites and it would only need to run in-street in a few locations between Fremont and UW if opposition for water-side businesses could be negotiated.

Despite low ridership numbers on any commuter rail line at first, streetcar access to the LRT system in locations outside of the downtown tunnel/crowded streets would relieve the overall system and capture the ridership needed from North Seattle neighborhoods. This is a more economical one-line alternative to the two radial streetcar line proposals that require expensive and less reliable service due to bridge crossings at Fremont & University.

Any thoughts?