Bellevue needs to take a second look at its station area planning. Stations similar to those in Rainier Valley are what Bellevue currently envisions for the Bel-Red corridor. However, cities like Charlotte, Copenhagen and London are where Bellevue should really be looking for inspiration.
NE 16th St ROW
I like the Rainier Valley stations, and I think that Sound Transit did its best to make a primary arterial pedestrian friendly. However, median island stations are not conducive to true transit oriented development and the associated public realm that makes them so attractive. Currently, Bellevue envisions a new NE 16th St for the Bel-Red corridor. This street would require significant ROW acquisition, running roughly halfway between Bel-Red and SR-520.
On page 20 of Bellevue’s Ordinance 5858 it says:
“Discussion: The expansion of NE 16th Street is a lynchpin project for Bel-Red. The extended corridor will be the key east-west arterial connection, tying together much of the new Bel-Red land use. It is also the City’s desired location for light rail and high capacity transit, and for major new pedestrian and bicycle access across the Bel-Red area. The vision for the corridor is ambitious, incorporating all these transportation modes, and including a “linear park” series of open spaces spanning the corridor…”
While LINK needs ~25ft ROW or ~45ft with station platforms, the envisioned NE 16th St would need a minimum of ~96 ft. At intersections this could increase to ~140 ft, including station platforms and turn lanes. Both of these widths leave no accommodation for bicycles or parking, which would add another 24-34 ft. The “linear park” would I hope add at least another 30 ft. This is isn’t chump change, we are talking about a ROW with roughly the same width as the Alaskan Way Viaduct. This is hardly appropriate for pedestrian scale development and would create an unnecessary desert-like expanse of concrete between buildings. These types of intersections are nothing unusual for Bellevue, but that doesn’t make them acceptable.
While center-running light rail and island stations were the only realistic option for MLK, Bellevue is free to imagine to its heart’s content. Yet its current vision is uninspired and painfully backwards, an exact copy of what was done downtown years ago. For a city that has done such a good job on the land use side of East LINK, this is extremely disappointing. Bellevue is missing a significant opportunity to create vibrant pedestrian oriented, or even pedestrian only station areas that are good for people, the city and developers alike.
Domestic and International Inspiration
Bellevue should take inspiration from cities like Charlotte, Copenhagen and London to name just a few. These cities are examples of how mass transit and major new development zones can be built without arterials slicing through their center. Charlotte’s new light rail line, Lynx, is a good example of how narrow, at grade, rail only ROWs can produce a very attractive urban environment directly adjacent to the station.
Copenhagen’s largest development zone, Nordhavenen (14mb), which is currently a harbor in the north of the city, is designed to have the same bicycle/transit heavy mode split as the central city. The major transportation spine of the new district will be a metro extension with a station in the center of each neighborhood. Stations will be connected to their surroundings with high quality bicycle infrastructure, and station areas will be pedestrian oriented or pedestrian only. Roads are kept away from pedestrians and bicyclists and parking will be strategically placed on the edges. From the design competition:
“An important element in the vision of a city district with sustainable mobility was that, once Nordhavnen was fully developed, cars would be a rare sight for people moving along the waterfront or in one of the central squares. Consequently, another focal point in the jury’s assessment was whether the layout of the road structure and the location of parking facilities were conducive to the objective of areas in which vehicular traffic would be very limited…”
London’s Canary Wharf was the largest commercial development zone in the world and is now the financial center of the UK. Again, this development keeps parking at the edges with only a few roads that enter the central portions of the development. Development is centered around the DLR and Jubilee Line extension and pedestrian connectivity is provided by many pedestrian only bridges and walkways.
What Bellevue Should Do
All of these developments put Bellevue’s plans in stark contrast. They show that streets in the center of TODs are not necessary when high quality mass transit and non-motorized facilities are built. Remember streets are not necessary to move people; they are only necessary to move cars. These examples prioritize people space around stations, moving cars to the fringe.
Bellevue’s plans will cut station areas in half and possibly even quarters (if cross streets such at NE 116th, 120th and 124th are built as 5 line arterials as well). Rather than creating a unified pedestrianized public realm around the station, growth will move away from Link with a outwardly looking, poorly defined center.
Bellevue should re-envision a Bel-Red corridor where the assumed mode of transportation is Link, bicycling or walking. These modes, and their associated infrastructure should define the transportation network that is built, while roads and parking are secondary. Bellevue move that street!
UPDATE 9:16 – Read this article. It articulates the same points I’m making.