From Seattle – A light-rail tunnel is best solution for Bellevue and region – NOT!

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I see that the city of Bellevue, located directly East of Seattle across Lake Washington, wants to put the proposed LRT in a tunnel under the city. This extremely expensive bit of transit planning reflects the power of the auto lobby to push public transit underground, thus greatly increasing costs, while at the same time deterring ridership. This blinkered attitude reflects that in North America, the car is king and light rail or LRT is a metro/subway by another name.

What transit planners in Seattle forgets is that LRT operating on a “reserved rights-of-ways” (RRoW) doesn’t have the conflicts with auto traffic as many would have them believe. The very nature of a RRoW prevents interaction with auto traffic except at light controlled intersections. It is the RRoW that has made light metro, such as VAL and SkyTrain/ART obsolete.

A LRT service will be just as predictable and fast as a subway and contrary to the subway/metro crowd, surface LRT is actually safer than subway operation. The claim that there are many accidents on a surface LRT ignores the fact that over twice as many people are killed on SkyTrain (with associated 2 to 3 hour train stoppage) than LRT operations about the same size, such as Calgary!

What is ignored is that the vast majority of tram/light rail accidents with autos are caused by auto drivers ignoring light and or street signals. The fact is a tram/LRT – car intersection is about ten times safer than a car – car intersection. Also ignored is the high cost of tunnel/subway maintenance and protection, where a recent Seattle transit tunnel incident highlighted the problem of teen gangs taking over the tunnel, fighting, etc., requiring expensive security to be maintained during hours of operation!

Rail for the Valley would think it prudent that transit planners in the Seattle region start looking at cheaper ‘rail’ alternatives such as disused (East Side Line?) or seldom used freight lines with TramTrain service, rather than squander hundreds of millions of dollars on needless, expensive, and prestigious subway construction that will ensure limited or no future expansion.

A light-rail tunnel is best solution for Bellevue and region

The city of Bellevue and Sound Transit must keep pressing forward on an agreement to bring light rail into Bellevue, write guest writers Ron Rauch and Sue Baugh. A short tunnel bringing passengers near the transit center is a costlier but better long-term option for the city and the region.

By Ron Rauch and Sue Baugh

Special to The Times

LIGHT rail to the Eastside must serve the heart of downtown Bellevue near the transit center, where the most riders will be. On that much, Bellevue and Sound Transit agree.

It’s down to how we get there: on the surface — or in a tunnel? Thursday, the Sound Transit Capital Committee will make its recommendation to its board.

Bellevue leaders have coalesced behind a shorter tunnel, known as C9T, under our busy downtown streets. Sound Transit studies say that will serve more riders than a surface route and avoid downtown traffic. But the tunnel is about $300 million beyond the project’s budget, and the agency is asking Bellevue to share in the cost.

The city is currently offering up to $150 million, and can commit that without raising taxes. Sound Transit’s choice is to meet Bellevue’s good-faith efforts on the tunnel or choose a problematic surface route for downtown.

The tunnel is worth it.

Predictable and fast service will draw more riders to the system. The less light rail competes with cars, buses, bikes and pedestrians in limited right of way, the more attractive it becomes.

Our region’s land-use plans put downtown Bellevue at the epicenter of growth on the Eastside. Downtown 2030 targets call for jobs to double to 79,000 and residents to triple to 19,000.

Downtown Bellevue, on less than 2 percent of the city’s land area, can absorb the growth with the right blend of transportation investments. Even then, the traffic forecasts look nasty. We know that half of all commuters in 2020 must come either by bus or by something other than driving alone, or the network will become dysfunctional.

Built to serve this growth, light rail will be a long-term asset for Bellevue and the region. We need to connect the dots, to put stations in the major employment and population centers. That means a link to centers like Seattle and Bellevue with the best possible routing.

Voters backed a light-rail system that would offer easier connections to more places, not one stuck in traffic, causing delays and creating safety risks. A surface route through downtown would cross three major arterials, including Northeast Fourth Street with some 20,000 vehicles per day.

Light-rail systems in other cities traverse downtown streets and serve thousands of riders daily. Each system also bears a record of accidents, mostly minor and some fatal, with other forms of travel. News archives from those cities tell those stories.

However, the crash rate in Bellevue’s growing downtown would be zero with a tunnel.

All told, light rail is a safe mode of travel. But we can’t ignore the odds: Mixing trains with traffic will cause accidents and system delay. Sound Transit and Bellevue have a chance now to avoid both. Just because an at-grade system can work doesn’t mean it’s the best solution.

While there’s no easy way to thread light rail through downtown, the shorter tunnel option is closest to getting it right for the future of our city and region.

Fortunately, Sound Transit rebounded from early missteps on Central Link to win voter confidence for a major expansion. The agency’s leadership today is focused on the best outcome for East Link and the region.

So what is it worth to Sound Transit and Bellevue to provide the safest, most effective light-rail service? The stakes are high as we plan for 2030 and well beyond.

Sound Transit and the city must keep their negotiation alive and reach a deal. If we’re truly buying light rail for our future — with riders, access and our economy in mind — the tunnel is the way to go.

Ron Rauch, left, is a shareholder with Clark Nuber, P.S., and current chair for the Bellevue Downtown Association Board of Directors. Sue Baugh is a director with Commerce Real Estate Solutions/Cushman & Wakefield Inc. and chair of the BDA’s Light Rail Committee

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15 Responses to “From Seattle – A light-rail tunnel is best solution for Bellevue and region – NOT!”

  1. Marv Says:

    I think its a little disingenuous to say Skytrain kills more people than LRT. Most of those deaths are suicides, it’s unfortunate but it happens. Just having a human operator doesn’t solve that problem. Whats stopping someone from trying it with surface LRT?

    Zweisystem replies: Excuse me, a death is a death and the vast majority of people killed on LRT are also suicides. The fact is, over twice as many people are killed on SkyTrain than the Calgary light rail system. It is you sir who is disingenuous trying to pretend only those killed on SkyTrain are suicides and those killed on LRT are not!

  2. Anonymous Says:

    Remind me the last time the Skytrain hit a car at an intersection.

    Zweisystem replies: So? More people die on SkyTrain than light rail. When was the last time a driverless SkyTrain stopped for someone on the track?

  3. David Says:

    It costs 4 times as much to stick trains in the sky where idiots in SUVs can’t hit them.

    A far better use of our tax dollars would be getting the idiots off the roads so all of us (drivers, transit passengers, cyclists and pedestrians) could be safer.

  4. mezzanine Says:

    ^ Voony’s Blog has a well-researched post about this. In France, the majority of severe injuries in LRT accidents occur with pedestrian/LRT accidents (versus LRT/car), and a fair number of injuries also happen when an LRV emergency brakes and passengers may fall.

    Overall, in Nantes, France their LRT system there has one accident every 2 days and one accident in 4 involves injuries.

    http://voony.wordpress.com/2010/03/12/subway-and-lrt-safety-in-france/

    Zweisystem replies: And when SkyTrain’s emergency brakes are put on, passengers fall and are injured, the only difference TransLink doesn’t recognize these accidents. In fact many accidents on SkyTrain are not recorded unless there is an ambulance call. I would doubt that ambulances are called every two days for the LRT system. Unless recording accidents are done in the same way in Nantes and Vancouver it is really an “apples and oranges” comparison and Voony should know better.

    By the way, has Voony accessed SkyTrain’s injury logs? No? I wonder why?

  5. mezzanine Says:

    I have no data on emergency braking episodes on skytrain, but I wonder how many emergency situations arise from LRT with minimal ROW protections, and of course, human error.

    This is an interesting paper from 2007 that studied tram accidents in the Netherlands:

    “ACCIDENT ANALYSIS INTO THE PRIMARY AND SECONDARY SAFETY
    OF CITY TRAMS IN THE NETHERLANDS ”
    http://www.etcproceedings.org/paper/download/3208

    “In 1999 the Dutch Transport Safety Board [Raad voor de Transport Veiligheid, (RvTV)] let perform a study regarding traffic accidents of trams in the big cities in The Netherlands. In the period 1990-1998, 70 people died in tram accidents. Most victims were vulnerable road users (pedestrians, cyclist and motorized two-wheeler riders). RvTV estimated that per billion tram kilometres in cities, 30 times more pedestrians and 40 times more cyclists died in tram accidents than in accidents with other motor vehicles (per billion kilometres).

    In all accident types the human factor plays a major role in the accident
    scenario. Mistakes or wrong interpretations from the tram driver or the other incident partners can lead to an accident.

    In 11 from the 12 cases the tram driver had not enough anticipated the
    danger. In 7 case, he could likely have avoided the accident or reduce its severity. In most cases (10 out 11) the tram speed was too high for the situation. Due to the low brake capacity, the tram driver could never have stopped the tram in time, taking into account the maximum sight lines. Even though the tram drivers were aware of the deceleration capacity of the tram, they acted less carefully as they should have.

    In 9 out of 11 cases where an impact partner was involved, the impact partner had not reacted properly. His/her actions were possibly derived from an unclear warning light, which in 6 out of 12 accidents was neglected. ”

    I do think surface rail is safe, buth the more interactions it has with surface traffic it has, the slower it has to run. Speed and human error seem to be the biggest factors in this study.

    Zweisystem replies: It is so easy to cherrypick 100’s of incidents on 100’s of LRT systems comparing with SkyTrain, yet you fail to produce like statistics for Skytrain. SHAME ON YOU! What I see is desperation with the SkyTrain lobby; such desperation that clouds the real debate. I know of at least 5 incidents where injuries \occurred on SkyTrain where TransLink ignored the results and only paid compensation when faced with lawsuit – WITH THE STIPULATION FOR THE RECIPIENTS OF COMPENSATION WILL FORFEIT SUCH COMPENSATION IF THE GO TO THE MEDIA.

    SHAME ON ON YOU MEZZ – SHAME ON YOU VOONY!

  6. mezzanine Says:

    As I’ve said before, I would want people to make their own minds. That’s why I always try to provide a link to a good article for people to review.

    “And when SkyTrain’s emergency brakes are put on, passengers fall and are injured, the only difference TransLink doesn’t recognize these accidents.
    ….
    I know of at least 5 incidents where injuries \occurred on SkyTrain where TransLink ignored the results and only paid compensation when faced with lawsuit – WITH THE STIPULATION FOR THE RECIPIENTS OF COMPENSATION WILL FORFEIT SUCH COMPENSATION IF THE GO TO THE MEDIA.”

    Do you have a link to anything that mentions this, or how freqently this happens?

    Zweisystem replies: I was only involved to provide information about automatic railways. As I stated before, the condition with compensation payment was not going public. I am sure if you are willing to go the FOI route you can, but don’t hold your breathe.

    Unlike European transit systems, minor injuries are not recorded by TransLink, thus any comparison is next to useless.

  7. Other David Says:

    I’m somewhat loath to enter this debate again (and Zwei, unless you’ve been personally affected by someone who has chosen to end their life I’d choose your words carefully), I’d challenge the statement that ” the vast majority of people killed on LRT are also suicides.” i have a hard time believing that the motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians killed by LRT were all suicidal. Yes, a death is a death, but most of the 55 (ish) skytrain deaths since have been suicides… and can’t be put in the same category as “accidents”.

    (and I’ve been in several emergency stops… which is why I heed the warnings and always “hold on”… and have seen someone who somehow was struck by a train while on the platform at Burrard… the only time I’ve ever had reason to use the emergency phones)

    Zweisystem replies: In a conversation with a Calgary Transit Official some years ago, he stated that almost all deaths on the C-Train were suicides. There was an unfortunate incidence when in early operation a woman was caught in a door and dragged by the C-Train (an investigation rectified the situation). When a car passes barriers and seems to wit for a train to hit it, smells of suicide. In many cases, to prevent further distress of family, the suicide is not motioned.

    Here is the real problem: There are a lot of deaths on SkyTrain. The vast majority of deaths are suicides. There are fewer deaths on LRT. Many of those deaths are suicides. Simple. Isn’t it funny that LRT is still regarded as one of the safest forms of public transit in the world. Strange that, when the SkyTrain lobby screams death and mayhem on LRT lines on a daily basis..

  8. Anonymous Says:

    SHAME ON YOU ZWEI!

    Stop cherrypicking info to support your cause! Most of them aren’t real anyway, just made up by other diehard LRT freaks like you.

    SHAME ON YOU ZWEI! LIES LIES LIES!!!

    Zweisystem replies: Funny, I get my information from transit experts – are they all lying? According to you they are!

  9. Anonymous Says:

    btw, talk about desperation… HA!! can anyone get more desperate than you? every post you bash skytrain in desperation because you know how successful and popular the skytrain is, and it’s just going to be more so with increasing popularity with the canada line. too bad. and guess what? canada line’s success will largely affect the planning for ubc rapid transit… and you know that means skytrain!

    oh i can imagine how crazy you’re getting! mad man zwei, stay away from vancouver and keep your ass back in the burbs no one gives a (Edited for legal reasons) about!

  10. Jim Says:

    Anon, you’re cool with those “burbs” you don’t care about paying the bill for your skytrain though right?

    Skytrain is “popular” because it is the option available. It doesn’t matter that Translink is in terrible financial shape to you though? I guess as long as Translink has the “burbs” to raise property tax on to pay for your skytrain all is well? If there was an abundance of light rail available instead of the few skytrain choices, as seen in the other post with the 2 maps, that would probably be “popular” too. The Oympic line was also popular.

  11. lol Says:

    you get info from transit experts??? please… SHAME ON YOU!! you base all your trash on lrt-diehards such as landscape architech patrick condon… a “real” transit …..(Edited for legal reasons)…….

    prove how the successful canada line needs 400,000 riders a day to justify itself. you’d believe anything any lrt-diehards babbles out.

    Zweisystem replies: it is obvious you have not read a book on the subject, nor have done any research. Due to their cost, subways and/or metros need high ridership levels to justify construction. In the real world, the ridership needed to sustain a subway/metro has been pegged at between 300,000 to 400,000 customers a day. You can build metro/subway on routes with less ridership but expect to pay higher subsidies; the fewer transit customers, the higher the subsidy.

    I find it strange that you sneer at “LRT die hards”, yet you seem to be a “metro/subway” die hard and reject everything that doesn’t suit your needs.

    Your snide remarks about Prof. patrick Condon are uncalled for and further shows that you have no basis for debate.

    What we have done in the region is to overbuild “rail” transit in it’s most expensive mode, thereby creating a rather small ‘metro’ network that 80% (90% for RAV) of its riders first take a bus to the metro. Instead of designing a transit system to provide an attractive alternative to the car, we have now spent over $8 billion on a fancy metro/subway system that has given bus riders an inconvenient, locally faster trip, metro trip as part of their journey. This is the antithesis of 21st century transit philosophy.

  12. lol Says:

    yes jim, i’m cool with the burbs not subsidizing the skytrain as long as vancouver doesnt have to subsidize your highways and roads. the burbs can get lost and stop stealing vancouver’s transportation dollars.

    Zweisystem replies: I am sure Jim & David will reply, but really, the population of the ‘burbs’ is far higher than the population of the city of Vancouver. We pay a lot more in taxes and receive a lot less for it. I have always said, “If Vancouver wants to go it alone with SkyTrain, let their taxpayers pay for it and let the Valley taxpayers pay for their own transportation.”

  13. Anonymous Says:

    To an extent, the burbs will be paying for the PMB/Gateway project with tolls on the bridge itself.

    Vancouver may have the largest single chunk of rapid transit, but there are many kms through Richmond, Burnaby, New West and Surrey.

    Should we also now impose a fee for all vehicles not from Vancouver when they enter the city?

    This squabbling solves nothing. The region operates as a whole. I’d much rather see it amalgamated instead.

    Zweisystem replies: I predict that for transit operation, the region will be split along who has SkyTrain & RAV and who has not.

  14. Jim Says:

    @lol, I think the idea that Rail for the Valley wants is to expand transit options so we don’t have to constantly expand the road network. As far as the burbs stealing Vancouver’s transit dollars, I am not an expert, but with that statement you should provide some evidence to back it up… Isn’t Vancouvers transit not only funded by the region (GVRD/MetroVan), but also by the PROVINCE and the Federal government?

  15. anon Says:

    zwei you need to prove patrick condon’s 400,000 riders a day. he in fact is not a transit expert. don’t dodge the question and verify condon’s statement. you shouldn’t be so quick to use random data that supports your cause. you clearly have no credibility.

    Zweisystem replies: And you are questioning a professor’s credibility? I would think Condon has way more credibility than you, especially as you hide behind the cloak of anonymity.!

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