By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor
The people who are on the front lines of filtering your feedback on West Seattle light rail got their first look last night at five possible variations of the route/stations – not a “final five” by any means, but what had emerged, Sound Transit staffers explained, as “major themes” in the feedback review so far.
This happened at the second meeting of the Stakeholder Advisory Group appointed to help determine a “preferred alignment” for the West Seattle and Ballard extensions of ST light rail
As the meeting began, 19 of the 29 advisory-group members were present, including, from West Seattle, community reps Deb Barker (who is on the board of the WS Transportation Coalition and president of the Morgan Community Association) and Brian King (who is with WS Bike Connections), as well as Hamilton Gardiner of the WS Chamber of Commerce, Greg Nickels (“former mayor and longtime transit advocate” is his self-intro), and Walter Reese from Nucor Steel.
Their seating in the Sound Transit board room at Union Station downtown was changed, notably, for this meeting – instead of sitting up in the board’s”U” as facilitator Diane Adams called it, the group members were placed around square tables in the center of the room. “This meeting is going to be much more interactive,” she explained. That was a foreshadowing of the review of the “early themes” for the line.
WHAT ST HEARD DURING ‘EARLY SCOPING’: Here’s the slide deck, featured here back on xx when it became available in advance:
ST’s project leader Cathal Ridge went through it at the meeting. He said online commenting turned out to be “very successful.” 700+ attendees at the three open houses, 5,000+ visitors to the “online open house” website, 2,800+ total comments between all modes. “We have not completely processed all the comments at this point,” he warned before summarizing, reiterating that they will all be processed and summarized in time for the official “early scoping” report expected out in “early April.”
As noted in the slides, “variations in route alignment and configuration, changes to station locations, need for good transit connections,” were among the types of comments they received, Ridge said. “Operational efficiencies” was another type, along with “build it faster,” which Ridge said is “a theme we heard throughout the planning process so far.” (2030 is the planned launch date for the West Seattle spur, which already is three years sooner than originally suggested during the Sound Transit 3 process.)
West Seattle had a significant presence in “other comments” – at which point Ridge said you can go into the “online open house” and see all the comments that were made – including suggestions for “routes outside ST3 scope – Admiral, Alki, Westwood Village, White Center, etc.”
‘EARLY THEMES’: So far in Sound Transit’s analysis of comments, five “themes” have emerged in the form of potential alignments in the West Seattle area, as shown at one of the three tables tonight (we did not sit in on the other areas’ discussions). These were described as “sketches” – not representing the entirety of comments, and there could be more such sketches. Each table was devoted to the themes/sketches from one area, and the group members rotated between them. We of course just focused on West Seattle. Here are the five (also seen in the slide deck above, along with the “themes” from other sections of the line beyond WS):
Afterward, those at tables got the chance to share what they heard. One participant said orienting the stations with a thought toward later expansion southward was important. Another thought it was interesting that there was some advocacy for fewer options. “I was surprised by the sheer number of options that were on the table,” said another. Yet another was impressed by “thoughtful(ness)” of those suggesting stations needed to be where the density is/will be.
HOW WILL THE ALTERNATIVES BE DEVELOPED? “What are we going to do with all this information?” is how Jim Parsons put it. “We’re going to carry these a little bit further and then run them through a screening process,” he answered the question. The “alternatives development process” slide showed the process in the first phase of five – the fifth being, arriving at a preferred alternative. The options that get to Level 2 will go through another screening process, and onward from there. The visualization showed something of a funnel. How are the evaluation criteria/measures developed? ST offered an example of how it would work – “level 1 is more qualitative; levels 2 and 3 are more quantitative.” If you want to know every detail of how the process will work – here’s the early online version of the slide deck. (Note that it’s described as “draft.” ST is open to comment on the criteria; one person suggested something weightier relating to climate change.)
The “purpose and need” includes “implement a system that is consistent with the ST3 Plan that established transit mode, corridor, and station locations and that is technically feasible and financialy sustainable to build, operate, and maintain.” Parsons reminded everyone that this is being handled differently than past projects – key engineering challenges have been identified earlier and they are “concentrating some engineering resources .. that would not (usually be committed) this early” to deal with those. Cost estimates will NOT be done at Level 1, he reiterated.
As they went through the draft criteria, one person said the tunnel’s effects on the freight industry should be examined for the “purpose and need” section; ST acknowledged receiving a comment to that effect and said they’re working on it. Another stakeholder pointed out that “modal integration” didn’t mention freight.
Other questions included envisioning how the lines/stations would support transit-oriented development, and how affordable housing would factor into that. About criteria relating to non-motorized transportation such as bicycling, one specific team member is working on that, Parsons said.
Measuring how underserved communities are affected is also an important factor.
NEIGHBORHOOD FORUMS: These are the next opportunities for your feedback in the process. The first ones are coming up in late April and early May, with dates to be set in the “next couple weeks,” ST says. Over the next year, there will be three rounds of six forums, with each round including one in West Seattle. the agendas will include project overview discussions on neighborhood values, future vision for light-rail integration, alternatives and screening.
One stakeholder said that SODO discussions should be scheduled “during work time” since it’s not a residential neighborhood. Another person wondered if ST might consider aligning one or more of these with existing neighborhood meetings.
In response to another question, he said the major goal of the criteria is to uncover “fatal flaws” when sorting through possibilities.
Andrea says about 3,500 people are signed up for the e-mail list. She reiterated that ST is open to attending any neighborhood meeting, gathering, etc.
Ridge reiterated that if anyone has an idea about some way of reaching the community that is not happening – PLEASE let them know.
WHAT’S NEXT: This group’s upcoming meetings are all listed now on the ST website – two meetings are scheduled in April (17th, 24th). The group may be taking a tour of the corridor. Also, watch for announcements of the “neighborhood forums.” Also ahead, the Elected Leadership Group – which in turn will review feedback from the stakeholders – has its next meeting. This is all working toward determination of a “preferred alternative” in spring of next year.