Mercer Island Station Open House Report

Screenshot 2013-06-07 at 6.33.04 PM

Thursday evening Sound Transit staff conducted an open house at the Mercer Island Community Center focused on the East Link light rail extension. Approximately 80 to 90 people, including staff, trickled in throughout the evening, which included the brief opening, presentation, and Q&A sessions. The presentation centered on the design of Mercer Island Station in particular, approximately 30% complete. Essentially, the alignment of the track is completely determined at this point; several Sound Transit engineers at the open house intimated that this was the crucial first step of the design.

“There’s a lot of work ahead of this, but we’re at a point where we have a good idea of what’ll work correctly,” said David Hewitt, founder of Hewitt, an urban planning and design firm handling the design of Mercer Island Station East Link.

As one resident put it: “They’ve done their homework.”

The Mercer Island Station (a working name) will squat firmly in the center roadway of I-90, with light rail running on either side. From 77th and 80th Avenues SE, riders can stroll into the western and eastern entrances of the station, respectively. Detailed images and layouts are available here.

mi_eastentrance

Each entrance will consist of a plaza with ticketing and seating areas, leading to an escalator, a stair, and an elevator, with surrounding lightweight steel and glass structures. The east entrance will also have a bicycle cage for secure storage. Once a rider descends 25 feet onto the central platform, she has roughly 380 feet of open space in which to frolic, with a central canopy serving as weather cover. Sound-dampening walls specially designed to absorb I-90′s acoustic assault will outline the tracks.

“It’s fairly symmetrical in nature,” Hewitt said. “The scale of the station is a very pleasant one we think.”

mi_overhead

More after the jump.

Paul Cornish, senior civil engineer project manager at Sound Transit, stated that the target opening date was 2023, and that they expected about 2,000 boardings a day from Mercer Island.

“It’s still a great challenge,” Cornish said, “since we’ll be building the first light rail on a floating bridge in the world.”*

Mercer Island residents raised concerns about several issues, most prominently additional parking at the Mercer Island Park and Ride.

“Without additional parking, I wouldn’t consider this a tool for me as I live in the south end,” one resident said. “I think I speak for a lot of busy families who aren’t within walking distance, who wouldn’t consider it to serve unless there’s additional parking.”

Several other residents of Mercer Island chimed in with similar concerns. Cornish responded: “We’re actively working with the city [of Mercer Island] to see if there’s opportunity for a joint project that makes sense for developers and commuters in the city.”

He spoke of possible additional parking spaces, but emphasized the joint nature of the project, without any concrete details.

A retiree from a community in North Mercer Island asked whether a bus unloading zone to the station for possible shuttle access was a concern.

“There’s consideration there could be a bus drop-off zone and where is yet to be determined,” Hewitt said. “We think the entire operation at the east end is undecided, so think that might work.”

ST spokesman Geoff Patrick has since clarified that the existing stops on North Mercer Way will remain, and “we are exploring the possibility of a future stop adjacent to the east station entrance.”

WSDOT needs to prepare two additional HOV lanes before the station construction begins in 2016, when the center lanes are scheduled to be closed the light rail construction can begin in 2015. These two additional lanes will run from the I-5 junction in South Seattle through the Mercer Island Station. A Mercer Island resident Resident Paul Bennett expressed concern that commuters from the East Side would simply pour into congestion at that point.

“We’ve talked with Metro and having a bus lane adjacent to the light rail tracks which would serve the PM peak buses which are the buses that get clogged down in traffic,” Cornish said, and added the matter was currently in discussion. Don Billen, East Link deputy project director, later expanded:

So we did some early service integration work with Metro route by route. For example, route 550 will be replaced by light rail, maybe route 554 will be intercepted…but those are subject to future planning. That additional bus lane may run between the Rainier ramp on westbound I-90 [titled the D-2 roadway] all the way to exit at 5th and Airport.

Billen emphasized again the matter was being discussed with the city of Seattle, and also clarified that I-90 had enough room at those points to allow for the bus lane without widening the freeway.

“In the morning buses could use the main line and get off on 4th,” Billen said, “and in the afternoon, use that additional lane.”

Sound Transit estimates 50,000 daily riders by 2030 on East Link. According to spokesman Geoff Patrick, these usage figures are based on a number of different variables, including available and possible parking spaces, population, urban density, and so on. The total budget is estimated at $2.8 billion (in 2010 dollars), although that figure doesn’t figure in recent savings that Sound Transit recently announced .

*The state legislature called for an Independent Review Team to investigate the construction of light rail on the I-90 floating bridge, among other issues. Cornish explained that weight tests were conducted with loaded trucks, along with further testing of light rail tracks at UW. Cornish added that Sound Transit is also building a test track at the national track test site in Colorado, and will ship out two test vehicles next month.

Comments

  1. John A. Bailo says

    Is there any TOD or commercial real estate near this station? A coffee shop?

    • Wes says

      Yes, there is a grocery store and several businesses nearby. There are also several midrise apartment buildings already there, and a couple more plus a hotel under construction.

    • Peter Landsman says

      The Mercer Island Town Center has a whole bunch of new mixed-use developments with more under construction and in planning. Unfortunately a lot of the commercial space is empty. Mercer Island has struggled to support many of the businesses that have opened and I’m not quite sure why. We have a surplus of services like cleaners, doctor’s offices and nail salons but very few restaurants and retail stores. Hopefully East Link will improve things.

    • Lack Thereof says

      Just south of the highway is “downtown” mercer island. There’s a Tully’s pretty much right there.

      The whole area feels artificial to me, but it’s pretty much as good as it gets on Mercer Island for walk/bike/transit accessibility.

  2. Brent says

    I realize the bus connection at Mercer Slough Station is not ideal, and having connections for eastside buses at 80th Ave SE Station would bring up the question “Why bother?”, but is there hope for either station having quick transfers?

    And even if such quick transfers were devised, would most peak riders still demand a 1-seat ride into downtown Seattle? even without a dedicated bus lane east of 23rd Ave S Station?

    Will someone end up proposing “joint use” of the train lanes at least as far as Mercer Slough Station?

    Is “frolicking” safe on the platform? I thought it was limited to the back of the bus?

    • aw says

      Even using the existing bus zones at the P&R, the transfer wouldn’t be horrible. There would be no street crossings and a walk of a couple hundred feet for an eastbound bus, and one street crossing and a little more walking for a westbound bus. It’s probably better than a transfer from a surface bus to the DSTT or BTC to NE 6th Station.

      If you want to frolick on the platform, just be sure to do it behind the yellow tactile strips.

  3. Brent says

    In all serious, are there any major engineering hurdles to having the bus drop-off at the 80th station entrance and the bus pick-up at 77th entrance? That would be for both island buses and whichever eastside buses do no connect well at at South Bellevue Station.

    • Stephen says

      If the busses are coming from Mercer island, wouldn’t you actually want it the other way? Drop off at 77th and pick up at 80th? Also if you did it that way, then you could turn the current stop into layover space.

      • Brent says

        Yes, you’re right. Of course, some of the island routes might still be coming from north of the station, if they survive the route purge. I do hope by then that plenty of signage on the platform will be available showing maps to the bus stops as well as bus schedules.

        For the off-island buses, I hope they can drop off along the station entrance (probably on 80th) before going anywhere else, and pick up along the station entrance before hitting I-90. That’s assuming any buses cross to Mercer Island, which will be a topic of circular debate on this blog for the next decade. But if the HOV entrances and exits get configured properly, buses could conceivably live-loop and head back east immediately.

  4. AledKven says

    Will all of the westbound trains on East Link turn right and go to Downtown Seattle/U-District, or will some of them turn left and go to Tukwila/SeaTac?

    • aw says

      They will all go north. Hopefully, they’ll be able to find a way to add a central transfer platform at ID Station.

      • AlexKven says

        Aw, bummer. I was hoping that once the link gets extended to Federal Way, FW would get one-seat service to Bellevue and Redmond. Also, there would be direct service to SE Seattle and Tukwila and the airport. If it gets extended to Tacoma, they would probably have to run some of them south. Since they are beginning to build a potentially complex rail network, maybe they could have light rail “routes” numbered 502-509. For example (and this is in the really long run):
        502 – Tacoma to Lynnwood via Seattle and UW
        503 – Tacoma to Redmond via Bellevue
        504 – Redmond to Lynwood via Seattle and UW

        Because of the consistent service on Link, these extremely long lines could be reliable, although I hope they can get Link trains to 60+ miles per hour on long straightaway sections.

        I find this long range plan fascinating:
        http://4.bp.blogspot.com/-J1PmdO7kMFc/UYhHZ0Vi5oI/AAAAAAAAImQ/a8BpHPJ8958/s1600/2005LRP.png

        But it’s kind of hard to imagine BRT and rail service to DuPont.

      • says

        “Fascinating”? They pretty much took all the biggest highways, where any kind of pedestrian-oriented development is permanently stunted, and drew lines on them indicating transit services, the bigger and more awful the freeway the better service. That’s the opposite of long-range planning.

      • lazarus says

        I have no trouble with Link making it to Federal Way. In fact, I do hope it makes it there.

        What I do have trouble with is their attitude that Seattle should somehow help pay for it. If Link makes it there, then it should be because the South King subarea paid for it.

      • says

        I’ma be clear: I think we should aim for frequent transit service between Seattle and Tacoma with a sensible number of stops along the way. And eventually between Seattle and Everett, and between Seattle and Issaquah. If we’re ever going to exit our status as a provisional city and enter the project of civilization, we’ve got to connect our city (meaning here a pretty wide conception of our geographically contiguous economic unit) with transit.

        But if the only fast/reliable lines are tied to freeways we’ll never build the kind of city we want and need. We’ve got to find ways to build effective transit efficiently (that is, at low enough cost we can do it lots of places quickly) outside of freeway ROW. If every significant corridor mentioned in the long-range plan is named by a freeway we’re Doing It Wrong. It ties our hands.

        To some of the destinations we don’t have a lot of great choices — the freeways are in the only good transportation corridors already. In others we have choices yet we insist on doing it wrong.

      • adam says

        It seems to me that a center transfer platform wouldn’t be all that difficult an add for ID station. I’m not certain, but I think those medians are for bus support vehicles. And when buses are (eventually, inevitably) ejected from the tunnel, it seems a no-brainer to me. The only tough part would be to add a connection to the surface, which is both obvious and necessary.

      • says

        “For journeys to the Airport and beyond, it’ll likely be faster to just take the bus down the 405 corridor.”

        At 30 minute headways on the 560 and 15 on the 550, it’s already reasonably close in time. If you’ve just missed a 560, then grabbing the next 550 and transferring to Link is usually a wash. Add in nasty traffic on 405 South, however, and the equation changes.

    • Gordon Werner says

      I asked SoundTransit at the Bellevue open house whether or not they were planning to put in a center island platform at IDS and they said no. Passengers from Bellevue who wish to take Link to SeaTac will have to go up to the surface and switch trains or go to Capitol Hill Station to make use of the island platform.

      • mic says

        What a ridiculous answer. Go to Capitol Hill? Adding 20-30 minutes to the trip to the airport? Just to avoid a couple of elevator/escalator rides.
        The center platform modification should be part East Link. It’s integral to providing smooth operations between East and Central Link. Not everyone in the world wants to go to Nordstroms or UW.
        Does anyone know how having both center and side platforms work in other places?
        Side for going to the surface and center for transfers. If you screw up just wait for the next train and walk across through both open doors.

      • William Aitken says

        .For journeys to the Airport and beyond, it’ll likely be faster to just take the bus down the 405 corridor. Barring that I suspect that there just aren’t enough passengers wanting to transfer East South to make any capital expenditure worthwhile.

        Moreover, this feels like something that can be retrofitted if and when demand arises.

      • Brent says

        I asked ST Planners if the 512 would be implemented on more than just Sunday, and they originally said No to that too. If the ST Board tells them to study a center island platform, ST will do it.

  5. Peter Landsman says

    From the drawings, it looks like the Island Crest Way ramps that currently connect to the center roadway are going to become direct access HOV ramps? Can anyone confirm this?

    As a south ender, I would love to see the 202 and 205 eliminated and the service hours put towards a frequent, all day 204 from the south end to the Link station. Right now the 204 is every half hour and ends around 6 pm. if it ran every 15-20 minutes including evenings more people would ride it and transfer to Link. There’s plenty of parking on the south end and many islanders can walk to 204 stops.

    • asdf says

      Maybe things are better on weekdays, but of the two times I have ridden the 204 on weekends, the bus was practically empty. In fact, if the 17% cuts are forced to go into effect, I would not be terribly surprised to see the 204 cut back to Monday-Friday, or at least Monday-Saturday.

      My understanding, though, is that, with respect to parking, there isn’t a real shortage of parking at Mercer Island P&R – it just appears that way because people who live further back, who should be parking at Eastgate or Issaquah P&R’s, are choosing to drive to more frequent service, and are clogging up the spaces there as a result.

      This is only going to get worse when the 550 gets replaced with Link, especially if the 554 is going to either get stuck in general-purpose traffic during the approach into Seattle, or truncated to Mercer Island outright.

      The natural instinct to deal with this, of course, is to build more parking. But you can’t possible hope to build enough parking at Mercer Island and South Bellevue to accommodate anywhere close to everyone who parks their car at Eastgate or Issaquah P&R’s today – there simply isn’t room or money to build such gargantuan parking facilities, nor is there space on the roads to handle all that extra traffic of cars going in and out of them.

      Instead, we need to design the system so that people who live near Eastgate should been incentive to leave their car at Eastgate, rather than drive to Link. Charging money to park at Link stations, while keeping Eastgate and Issaquah free, would be a place to start. Making the connecting shuttles to Eastgate and Issaquah super-frequent AND go straight to Mercer Island, rather than meandering in the South Bellevue swamp-and-ride mess, would go along way.

      • Mike Orr says

        I thought the problem was the P&Rs were full so people try the next one and the next one until they find a space.

      • says

        Well if we tolled I90 between Bellevue and Mercer Island this would make it quite a bit more expensive for Eastsiders to use the MI park and ride.

      • William Aitken says

        You’re right, there isn’t a real shortage of parking at the MI P&R, there just aren’t enough spaces to allow people to park there :-)

        I know that there’s a perception that it’s not Islanders that use the lot, but I’m not aware of a systematic survey to really measure this. I do know there’s at least one Islander who parks at Eastgate because the lot fills up by 8am — it seems to me that this got even worse (the cutoff was closer to 7:45 last fall) when the 212 moved upstairs, but it’s hard to be entirely certain.

        It seems to me that turning the 21x’s (and perhaps the 554) at the MI P&R makes a lot of sense. Have them get off at 80th using the (already existing) HOV ramps (they already access the center lanes of the main roadway, not the center roadway) , drop passengers off by the park and ride on North Mercer Way, and then return to the east via 77th SE and SE 27th. The biggest problem is all those left turns, and the fact that people have to cross NMW to get to the trains. Better would be to use much the same routing, but punch Sunset through to 80th, make it 1 way bus only, and drop pasengers off there, and provide signal priority for the three left turns needed to get there, and for the the crossing of 80th NE.

        South Bellevue is worse because of its lack of east facing center lane access, while requiring at least as much travel on surface streets.

        I’m not really convinced that cutting the 202 comes anywhere close to getting enough hours to make the 204 more useful. On frequency, half hourly is pretty close to the maximum frequency you can do with one bus, so improving the frequency is likely to double the required service hours. Second, the 204 is currently an off peak daytime only bus during the week. The 202 covers the route south of 40th in the peak, so if you cut the 202, you need to add 204 hours just to get back to where you started.

      • says

        “there just aren’t enough spaces to allow people to park there”

        To be clear, there aren’t enough spaces to allow people to park there M-F from about 8am until about 2pm (give or take 30 minutes on either end, depending on the day). Like anything, if it’s “free” people will overuse it. A modest fee for parking will free up spaces. In other words: People may not be willing to walk a mile to the P&R if they have “free” parking, but may decide to walk (or ride a bike) if they have to pay $3 to park all day. If the parking fee were introduced along with other measures to provide access to Link (shuttle buses, bike facility improvements, ???) it may even be politically possible.

    • VeloBusDriver says

      +1 – This is MI’s best hope for any reasonable level of transit service

  6. Gordon Werner says

    Did they mention if there would be walls on the outsides of the tracks to help muffle car noise in I90?

    • jory says

      I was thinking the same thing Gordon. That station is going to be VERY noisy. Plus I’d think there might even be some issues with air pollution down there. Trucks, Busses, & any diesel vehicle will really stink up the place. Let’s hope for a good permanent breeze.

    • Gordon Werner says

      Checked on my computer when I got home and it looks like concrete acoustic sound walls ARE part of the design.

  7. Mike Orr says

    If Islanders want additional parking, Mercer Island should step up to pay for it.

    • Peter Landsman says

      There is really only one lot close to the station that is yet to be redeveloped – where Walgreens is currently on 77th Ave. One idea I have heard is for the City of Mercer Island to build a new combined City Hall/Park and Ride development on that lot. (The current City Hall is in a terrible location at the other I-90 exit on land that could be used for a new school.)

      It’s true that many (most?) of the users of the MI Park & Ride aren’t Mercer Islanders. There’s a lot of bad blood on the Island towards Sound Transit over that. The question I have is, if MI builds its own Park & Ride, can it restrict access to non-residents?

      • asdf says

        It the city is willing to pay for the land and construction cost, I don’t see why not – it would not be much different than residential parking zones on city streets.

      • Paul says

        Maybe they should consider having WSDOT implement a toll on I-90 to keep the off-island riffraff out of their park and ride?

      • asdf says

        That would only work if the toll were on the Mercer Island->Bellevue segment, and Mercer Island residents who drive to Bellevue for work every day do not want to pay that toll.

      • Mike Orr says

        An eastbound toll at Seattle, and a westbound toll at Bellevue. Then people who run out of money can still get off the island, and people who live on Mercer Island get an automatic 50% discount on all their round trips.

    • Bernie says

      MI had the option of a much larger P&R lot but they pushed ST into putting in underground at much greater expense with the trade off being fewer spaces. Oops!

      • asdf says

        Pleasantness and character of the neighborhood is worth something too. The actual design led to the vicinity of the P&R being far more walkable than it would have been if ST simply opted to build the largest possible parking lot at the cheapest possible cost per space. Also, residents who are currently able to walk to the bus stop probably didn’t want their houses demolished to make room for a larger parking lot.

  8. Gordon Werner says

    Has anyone asked SoundTransit whether or not they’ll have to halt train service across the bridge if/when the Blue Angels return?

    • AlexKven says

      I doubt that the Blue Angels will even be around anymore when they open the East Link. If they are, they might cancel service, but they might not. It is much more likely for a plane to hit cars that are constantly on I-90 than it is to hit a train that only comes once every 5-10 minutes.

      • asdf says

        True, but if a train were to be hit, you would have a lot more injuries and deaths than if a car were to be hit. Unless, of course, the ridership that East Link is supposed to bring fails to materialize.

      • AlexKven says

        Maybe they will run an Eastbound/Westbound pair of trains across the bridge at the points where the planes are least likely to crash, and drive through the Mercer Island station without stopping to get through faster. They could arrange to have all other East Link trains go between Bellevue and Redmond only, and have a special waiting area for Seattle-bound passengers.

      • Gordon Werner says

        The reason they stop traffic for the Blue Angels was never a plane crash safety issue. They stop traffic because people stop to watch and/or get into accidents due to the distraction. Trains shouldn’t have this problem.

      • Peter Landsman says

        From the WSDOT website:

        “What specific regulation forces the closure of I-90?
        Horizontal and vertical restrictions are in place to protect motorists from planes, jets, and other aircraft. Teams like the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds routinely violate these restrictions. To perform, they must acquire a special waiver. This waiver carries safety stipulations. These stipulations require a large three-dimensional aerobatic box to protect people and property. This rule establishes a so-called “clear zone” that WSDOT must respect. As a result, we must close I-90 during the annual Blue Angels SEAFAIR airshow performances. Additionally, keeping drivers off the bridge while the Blue Angels are in the air keeps drivers from being distracted and prevents collisions on the bridge. ”

        So it sounds like trains would also be stopped.

  9. Mike Orr says

    Has ST given any indication of where it would truncate the 554 if it does? I can see Mercer Island as potentially better, since there is some overhead in getting off the freeway and going north just to go south again. It’s not that much longer distance. On the other hand, South Bellevue may give a clearer, “This is a shuttle going the shortest distance” message.

    • Brent says

      Travel time for the 554, and how more frequently it could run if truncated at SBS, may enter into the calculation. Consider also those who would be going from Issaquah and Eastgate to downtown Bellevue, Microsoft, and Real Redmond. From their point of view, skipping SBS and going all the way to MIS is an exercise in going a couple miles west in order to head back east. (This would be primarily for former 555 and 556 riders when those routes go away.)

      Or, the 554 might take over BRT service on Bellevue Way from the 550.

      Or, the 554 could continue as the 560, but that would be backtracking a little.

      • Bernie says

        Anyone going from Microsoft, and Real Redmond to DT Bellevue is going WTF out of their way if they had to transfer at SBS. If you were going to force a transfer to Link to bump up it’s ridership you’d kick them off the bus at Overlake. Likewise Issaquah and Eastgate to downtown Bellevue should be direct. But, it’s the same time to reach MIS as SBS (really, look at driving directions on Google or the existing bus schedules). Since more riders are likely heading DT Seattle than Bellevue it still makes more sense to have the transfer at MIS. Plus it’s a much easier job to provide direct access flyer type stops at MIS vs impossible with Swamp & Ride. In fact, it would make sense to incorporate the direct access HOV lanes into the station construction.

      • Jason says

        I think everyone underestimates the griping that current 554 users (i.e. Issaquah commuters) will shower ST with when they are faced with losing their 1 seat ride to DT Seattle. And I say that as an occasional 554 user. It may be the right choice money and frequency wise, but good luck convincing regular users.

        Perhaps the way to solve it is to give two choices for 554: either keep current service and keep the 1 seat ride, or up service to every 15 min off-peak and terminate at SBS. Of course, this is all silly as this conversation is at least 10 years off.

    • David Seater says

      Well, there are an awful lot of new bus layover bays at S Bellevue in the new design…

      • asdf says

        But there really doesn’t need to be. One thing transit agencies need to understand is that next to nobody is going to park their cars in a P&R to ride a local bus. Which means the purpose of a local bus serving a P&R is, not to connect with cars, but to connect with the express bus or train serving that same P&R. As long as there is a more efficient place to provide that connection (which may have less or no parking attached, but who cares), that should suffice.

        In a sensible network, I can see maybe one bus route using South Bellevue P&R, which would provide local service to the Enatai neighborhood and the portions of Bellevue Way not served by Link. All other bus routes, which would be on I-90 to begin with, would save most of the riders time by simply continuing along I-90 to Mercer Island.

  10. R2 says

    Thanks for the female pronouns. That’s refreshing, especially in the world of transit geekdom.

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