downtownbellevueandbel-red
DT Bellevue and Bel Red, Photo from everythingeastside.com

We’ve been talking a lot about transit oriented development over the past weeks, and the Seattle Times has picked up the story of a Bel-Red area upzoning around the future light rail stations there. In a 1.5 square mile stretch of land between Bel-Red road and SR 520, Bellevue will upzone to allow 12-15 story buildings in exchange for developers paying to day-light buried creeks and building parks, part of a practice of exchanging building rights for public amenities nicknamed “incentive zoning”. Bellevue thinks this plan could bring 4.5 million square feet of office space and 5,000 units of housing by 2030, plus some unspecified amount of parks space. If it works out, it’ll be a great example of applying recent lessons of New Urbanism in our area, and even the Seattle Times editorial board is oh so slightly impressed.

I think Seattle needs to do the same thing around the two stations in Sodo and the two U-District stations. The land around Sodo isn’t perfect for development since it’s in a soil liquefaction zone where the cost of building large structures is significantly more expensive. However, recently remarkable progress has been made in construction technologies for liquefaction zones, and the University of California system is building a massive research campus in a similar industrial soil liquefaction zone in San Francisco, next to their new T-Third Street light rail line. If it can happen there, it can happen here.

The University District has extremely unimpressive zoning currently. The neighborhood is capped at the normal NC-65 or NC-85 zoning for most of the area, which allow for 65 or 85 foot tall buildings, while there are already several high-rises, and many old brick buildings taller than that. A couple 12-15 story buildings there won’t hurt anyone, especially if they come with nice amenities like green space or affordable housing.

TOD seems to be an area where Bellevue is moving ahead of Seattle.

77 Replies to “Bel-Red TOD”

  1. I agree about the U District.

    But just let more industrial area convert to housing in SoDo? Why? Won’t that send even more blue-collar work out of Seattle?

    1. Yeah, pretty much re: jobs. It’s not like SoDo seems to be at the point of Granville Island/False Creek in Vancouver or the Pearl in Portland when their redevelopments began. I could be wrong but I think industrial vacancies in both cities in those districts was some enormous percentage while SoDo is so-so.

      Regarding the U-District, while some towers would be nice it probably makes even MORE sense to extend the NC-65 and NC-85 zones outward into L3. Or simplify the UD anyhow ( http://www.seattle.gov/dpd/Research/gis/webplots/k14e.pdf )- islands of L1/2/3 that are mostly subdivided houses or rentals (s’truth!).

    2. I believe the city has passed regulations to protect both the Duwamish and the Ballard/Interbay industrial zones from residential development.

      There is a real fear industrial and commercial tenants would be forced out by rising property values, higher rents, and complaints about odor, noise, and traffic.

      I think the zoning around Lander needs to continue to encourage commercial and industrial use. The Stadium Station has a few more possibilities, but is somewhat hampered by a fair chunk of the 1/2 mile circle around the station being mostly unavailable for redevelopment. Still there is an opportunity to upzone in the South end of the ID. Another idea would be to sell air rights over the Metro Base properties in the area. Give metro nice shiny indoor bases with plenty of space located inside a mixed use development.

    3. Sodo is already protected from residential development on a large scale. The city knows that residents there would start complaining about noise, and the issue would snowball.

  2. I don’t see any reason to allow 12-15 story towers in the U-District. I understand the appeal for more people but the U-Distirct is a great example of how we don’t need Skyscrapers to achieve dense neighborhoods. It’s already vibrant, dense, and walkable. Also, the skyscraper comes with many of its own problems, including energy inefficiency and vertical segregation. 12-15 stories are not pedestrian scale, and really aren’t necessary there.

    1. But the U-District already has 12-15 story towers. Not very many but it does. One is smack in the middle of single-family housing as a matter of fact!

      It wouldn’t simplify the zoning map but what if the largely empty or underutilized parcels near Brooklyn and 45th (such as those along 11th and 12th and Roosevelt) were upzoned to allow 15-20 story towers? They’re already NC3-85 as part of the rail overlay, would it end the world to have four or five blocks of NC3-160 that is, today, parking lots, a shuttered organic grocery store and car dealerships?

      1. That’s kind of what I was thinking. You just put in a little section of high-rises right around where there are already two, and you make the station more valuable via TOD.

      2. Absolutely. I’ve been thinking along these lines for quite a while actually. There are actually 5 buildings of at least 11 stories within about 5 blocks of the light rail station: UW Tower (Safeco), Hotel Deca, University Plaza condos (behind Trader Joe’s), and the two Seattle Housing Authority buildings University West and University House. In my opinion only the Deca has much architectural merit–maybe the lower part of Safeco. I don’t want any more high-rises that look like “projects.” (By the way, UW also has several more high-rises whose size is somewhat hidden by geography: Terry Hall, McMahon Hall, the UWMC Aagard and Muilenberg Towers.)

        In my U-District High-rise Dream vision it should be mixed income (and mixed resident age), include a neighborhood school, and be designed by a world-class architect. None of these things require a huge building, of course. However, the margins on NC65 or NC85 are apparently small because the 10 or so new buildings of that type in the U-District are completely unoriginal: Helix, Ellipse, TraVigne, Lee Plaza, the one on 47th with Cafe Luce and Waking Life on the ground level, Lothlorian, the 2 going up on Roosevelt, the one on 8th, and even GGLO’s upcoming Russell Hall. On the other hand, I’d much prefer more of those than the Lx townhomes north of 50th!

      3. Russell Hall should be interesting, in spite of its rather unexciting design. When I was at Cafe Allegro earlier today it looked like the building has a number of windows/doors facing out towards the alley between 15th and the Ave. If some retail ends up in there it could turn that alley into a lively place, similar to Post Alley downtown.

    2. A 15 story building in a neighborhood like the U District that would embrace it is another medium sized building we don’t have to fight for in Beacon Hill or the Rainer Valley, or is another hundred houses not built in sprawl. That is the “reason” for allowing some taller buildings.

      What do the terms “vertical segregation” and “pedestrian scale” even mean? It seems like you can use that sort of verbal kung fu the exact opposite way. Smaller buildings create “horizontal segregation” that require longer distances to walk, and those distances are not to “pedestrian scale.” I argue that the footprint of a building more than its height makes something feel more welcoming for pedestrians, as well as any storefronts at the bottom. In terms of “vertical segregation,” I frankly think that is a meaningless term since if someone is 300ft above you or 300ft down the road from you, it’s still 300ft.

      Density, and sometimes that means tall buildings, is the best way to ensure a green and transit-friendly future.

      1. Actually, his point is pretty reasonable. There is a balancing act between horizontal segregation and vertical segregation. Too much of the latter and you start to lose businesses from store fronts as they retreat into offices in towers – basically they no longer show their “face” to the pedestrian, to the individual. You also lose connection to your neighbors and so forth. Too much of the former accomplishes much the same. At least if you want a dense neighborhood that is also humane.

        Some of the densest and most walkable neighborhoods in the world are made up of 8-10 story buildings. I don’t particularly like Paris (heresy!) because of its sheer bourgeois 19th century monotony but it is very dense throughout and, inside the Boulevard Peripherique, 8 story buildings are just about the max. Even the densest parts of Manila (the densest city in the world) aren’t the bits with the gleaming towers but the area east of that in the middle class districts of Pandacan and San Miguel that are largely… 8-story apartment blocks.

      2. Sure, but I don’t think you get the business retreating into the towers until you’re well past 15 stories.

      3. Thanks for your comment cjh. But I don’t think we’re anywhere near that balance. If we were talking about 15 story buildings on every corner that’d be one thing, but we’re talking about a handful near a transit station.

      4. Oh, I agree that a couple 15ish story towers next to a couple other 15+ towers would be just fine. Just pointing out that upzoning isn’t everything for residential density.

      5. Well… if you start comparing to Paris, note that other than the Haussmann boulevards, they have VERY narrow streets. They were also limited more by construction materials than anything else – you can only stack stone so high before it gets very expensive.

      6. Now this is just silly. I worked in NYC and our 54 story building did not have delis at the 34th story level. The whole building ordered out to streetfront delis, as did the rest of the block. and guess what, those delis did a land-office business.

        The same thing was true of haberdasheries, bookstores, bars, etc. And conversely, Sam Meyer’s Agency representing singers and dancers didn’t need or want a streetfront, they did just fine at the 22nd or 36th story of the building they were in. Our own clients flew in from Milwaukee and Chicago to buy national ad campaigns, they didn’t come in off the street because they liked our display or location.

        Skyscrapers provide huge numbers of customers for streetlevel businesses selling sandwiches, shirts, and liquor by the drink. The Top of the Mark does nothing to change this basic equation.

      7. Well there is a starbucks on the 50th floor of the columbia center, but there’s also a dozen or so business on the ground level.

      8. I’m not talking about those sorts of businesses that more or less require street frontage, you decrepit hobbyist. You do seem to finally get that decaying mind of yours around what I’m saying later but then dismiss it as unimportant. I take it that you never noticed that the densest “residential” parts of Manhattan, by the by, tend toward that 8-12 story mark.

        Also, it’s nice that your high power clients were flying in from across the country, honey; destroying the ozone layer and belching CO2 into the air just so they could take the elevator to your office so you could pay for your new HO set.

    3. I see no reason not to allow high-rise development in the U-District particularly in the area from University Way on the West, I-5 on the East, 50th on the North, and 41st on the South. Perhaps with step downs on the North, West, and South edges.

      The U-District is already the densest neighborhood North of the ship canal, it is also the largest employment center outside downtown Seattle in King County. Given the existing density and the high accessibility of transit it makes sense to concentrate both housing and employment here.

      Given the scale of the exsisting built environment I don’t think allowing more tall towers would be out of scale. The developments behind the 76 gas station and on the former University Ford site are much more out of scale because they are built out to the lot lines and up to the height limits. Taller towers keeping the same FAR as what was built would have been less out of scale.

      1. Agreed! Fill in the parking lots (well, save University Heights for the farmer’s market, but that’s in no danger), and tear down some decrepit apartment buildings from the 60s to be replaced with newer ones.

  3. Guess where all those warehouses and “gritty truck traffic” is going to move to? Same place Safeway did, the Kent/Auburn valley. That’s right folks, all those eco-friendly 12-15 story condos are going to result in more sprawl covering what was once farmland and all of the trucks bring food and goods to the big box stores are going to be idling their way up I-405. All of the small contractors that fix your plumbing, replace your roof, repair your car are all going be shoved out to new industrial parks in South Snohomish County and the Issaquah plateau.

    There’s acres of retail sprawl already covering the Bell-Red corridor that are the reason the creeks are buried. This Master Plan is all about enriching developers like Wright Runstad & Co. that make a fortune on large new development. If it were about saving the environment the zoning would be replacing existing big box stores like Fred Meyer and Sears and all of the single story strip malls surrounding them with mixed use retail/residential towers. Or how about the old KMarche on 148th that’s been empty for the last seven years? Wake up and smell the coffee!

    1. Quite, this is why Bellevue is going to go along with it – it makes the city a lot more money than low density industrial. But a lot of the stuff being upzoned are those single story strip malls. The Safeway parcel in particular is going to put a lot of money in the pockets of Wright Runstad & Co but the rezoning is a lot bigger than that. ( http://www.ci.bellevue.wa.us/pdf/PCD/Bel-Red_Brochure_2.pdf ) – especially around the second station.

      The K-mart thing is a bit of a red herring – there is no substantial transit service upgrade planned for that corridor. I’ve been to that location, it is in the middle of nowhere (comparatively speaking) and the best that you could hope for would be some mixed-use “new urbanist” stuff like the Landing in Renton… but smaller!

      1. You’re right. The KMart was built on a bog in the middle of nowhere. Maybe why it’s failed as a retail location? I point it out only as a glaring example of how Bellevue needs to get it’s house in order and that there’s plenty of existing retail space now that can be put to better use. Replacing the crater left by the old KMart with something like the Landing in Renton would be a big improvement over something like a Costco moving in. 148th is a major transit corridor (by meager eastside standards) and the location is close to Bellevue Community College (University?) as well as all the office space along both sides of I-90 and in Factoria. As far as adding cars, unavoidable when you add housing and increase population, at least it’s on a major arterial and close to good freeway access and P&R lot.

      2. Well, yeah, I agree but it is much more marginal site than Bel-Red for TOD.

        Even without Link, Bel-Red is better served by roads and transit and closer to other non-industrial uses (mostly commercial but also some residential).

        Anyhow, this is a competition between goods.

      3. Actually, the only non-peak bus that goes down that section of 148th is route 221. The K-Mart is one megablock away from RapidRide on NE 8th, but that’s too far away for TOD. I guess my point is that there’s a chicken-and-egg problem there where TOD can’t get built without transit to support it, and transit isn’t feasible without density. In the case of Bel-Red transit is breaking the cycle by creating its own density.

    2. Wouldn’t developers get rich re-developing either the Bel-Red corridor or the area around 148th & 24th, that have your Sears and Fred Meyer?

    3. Although I agree with the general idea that you should not push industrial uses out of areas, the Bel-Red corridor is definately ripe for something different. Unlike South Seattle, this is an area that is immediately surrounded by other uses, and is slated to have better transit connections. Also, I would like to second the comment by cjh that many re-development sites are mostly the retail ones.

      As for developers making money on upzoning, that is just part of being a developer. These companies and individuals take vegas-style risks to complete projects, and sometimes they get very lucky, but far more often they lose their shirt. The big guys may take more calculated risks and be more buffered from failure, but they can still go down. Whenever you change the zoning on a property, you can elevate or diminish what the property is worth on the open market. Developers often pay a premium for property that is likely to be re-zoned, just like stocks are pushed up when a company is expected to release good news. Thus, part of the money has already gone to the previous owners, and the value change is rarely pure “profit.”

      1. It always makes me happy when you comment here. That’s the thing about Rainier Valley as well – people who already own their homes will be insulated from the downturn if they sell for more dense uses. The developer isn’t getting it for free.

  4. Rich yes, filthy rich no. To get filthy rich you have to buy up large tracts like the 36 acre Safeway plant and then get it rezoned commercial for your mega project. There’s a good reason retail hasn’t been permitted in this area and that’s because of traffic access. The Lowes (originally Eagle) weaseled their way in by claiming they were primarily a contractors supply warehouse, yeah right. Even if half the people in the new condos don’t have cars, unlikely in Bellevue, that’s still a huge traffic mess that light rail does little to mitigate. Plus all the retail of that mixed retail/residential development isn’t only going to attract shoppers that come by rail.

    It’s completely disingenuous of the City Council to try and pawn this off as being “good for the environment”. It’s all about maximizing property tax revenue and lining the pockets of influential developers. If they wanted to improve the environment zoning would be targeted at fixing the sprawl that’s already there; not enabling new development. The Overlake area is ripe for this type of makeover and much of it is within walking distance of Microsoft.

    1. Much of Overlake (the area with the Fred Meyer and Sears) is actually in Redmond. Redmond has its own plans for Overlake which are similar to what Bellevue has planned for Bel-Red. You can see the beginning of this with what happened to the Overlake Village P&R.

      Development in the Bel-Red corridor is development that doesn’t happen in greenfield areas or areas that are currently mostly single family. The transportation infrastructure in the area is much more able to handle increased density than say Duvall, Woodinville, or the Sammamish Plateau. Especially once East Link comes through.

      1. You’re wrong about this development not affecting greenfield areas. It already has as Safeway relocated to Auburn. All of the other light industrial pushed out will end up exactly in the outlying areas you think it’s protecting. The shame is that there are already plenty of acres currently retail on established corridors which can absorb all of this. Malls are hurting. What’s going to replace Circuit City at Crossroads? As more and more sales are moving to online rather than brick and mortar the existing excess capacity will support much higher population densities.

        The Overlake area is a checkerboard as Redmond and Bellevue grabbed up whatever they could. Redmond has done a nice job in the old downtown area of building mixed residential and retail. The area around the Overlake P&R and old Group Health is a move in the right direction but I’d say this would be a much better candidate for 12-15 story condos than the industrial area targeted and it could use light rail now!

        The transportation infrastructure in “The Spring District”, as Wright Runstad calls it is woefully inadequate to handle increased traffic. It’s been held back from attempts to rezone it retail for this very reason. More traffic, and there’s no way light rail or not that this won’t vastly increase traffic at the I-405/SR-520 interchange is the very last thing the area needs.

      2. I remember reading somewhere that Crossroads is getting more housing in the near future. Surely RapidRide couldn’t have hurt that endeavor.

        Also, regarding traffic in Bel-Red, the most recent City of Bellevue newsletter my parents got in the mail had an article on the new development. The attached map noted both street and 520 ramp improvements, so traffic won’t be too much worse. As far as the 405/520 merge goes, take a look at WSDOT’s 405-to-520 interchange project.

      3. Somewhere I remember hearing that one of the reasons for not using the south side of the SR520 corridor for East Link was that it would limit lane expansion on SR520. Limiting (eliminating) lane expansion on 520 is a feature! What higher purpose can light rail have than to stifle adding GP traffic lanes? What greater incentive can people have for getting out of their cars than to sit there watching train loads of people zip past them.

      4. I wish I could remember exactly where I heard this. I believe it was at the Bellevue City Council meeting. I know that the other side of SR520 from 51st to I405 is pushed out to it’s limit and unless they use eminent domain to take more land and eliminate the bike path there’s no room for expansion. On the south side it would depend on how close they build the tracks to the roadway but it already looks like a tight squeeze just to fit it inside the currently fenced off area. Of course the true easement may extend well beyond what is currently fenced.

      5. Bernie… the point of Bel-Red upzoning is to support the transit. Want to avoid creating more traffic? Allow – or even require – construction without parking.

    2. The area was rezoned mostly because of light rail, not because of developers. But certainly, developers are hopefully going to make money. I think that’s okay, because they’re making money from dense development around transit. If the developers couldn’t make a good amount of money, then there wouldn’t be a free market incentive to have transit-oriented development.

      Many of the industries will move, sure. That happens naturally when you develop an area. The Pike/Pine corridor used to be warehouses, and it still has that aesthetic. Decades after the transformation of that area, Seattle still has a relatively strong industrial sector. Some things will be displaced in the Bel-Red corridor, but that’s because the former property owners have agreed to sell — not because they’re being kicked off.

      The Safeway/Sears/Fred Meyer area is going to get its own light rail stop, and dense development around that area would be a great change as well. But I reject the notion that we can’t fix one issue (Bel-Red not having the appropriate development given its location thus contributing to sprawl), because other problems exist on the Eastside (K-Mart, Fred Meyer, Safeway).

      Is it green? I think that transit-oriented development is a serious green gesture, combining many parts of “new urbanism” with the necessity to move away from single occupancy vehicle travel. So while the Eastside is making some tough choices and opening itself to criticism regarding “developers, developers, developers,” Seattle is taking its time to appropriately zone around future light rail connections.

      1. > The area was rezoned mostly because of light rail,

        That pretty much sums it up. The only reason for the jerry mandered route for high capacity rail through Bel-Red was as a smoke screen to push through the rezone to retail that various property owners have been pushing for years and has been consistently and for good reason rejected. There is nothing free market about rezoning speculative investment. If you want to build a mixed use retail/condo complex bordering on the downtown core start with Auto Row. What?! Pay market rate for the property you want zoned retail. Where’s the windfall profit in that?

      2. Is that really why you have the issue with Bel-Red development? Is it about light rail not being your mode of choice? Then why green-wash? Are you saying that new development around the suggested BNSF route would be totally fine and green?

        Your accusation of jerry-mandering is absurd. Bel-Red is cheaper land to develop on: cheaper to develop light rail transit and cheaper to develop mixed-used buildings. A lot cheaper than cutting through a bunch of suburban houses to reach Overlake from Bellevue.

        Or is the routing you’d prefer along SR-520? Is that greener because the Safeway Warehouse wouldn’t move to Auburn? No, of course not. Transit-oriented develop and walkable neighborhoods are the best answers to the serious problems of climate change and congestion. If you’re going to have 2,000 residential units, it’s better that they’re in mix-use buildings than in hundreds of cul de sacs. And you can’t have transit-oriented development when your rail line is next to a highway.

        Regarding your prescriptions to “start” somewhere else, or do something else somewhere else… It doesn’t matter where we start. Just because things can be done somewhere else, doesn’t mean that Bel-Red isn’t ripe for re-development. If developers are willing to pay for it, then that is certainly a big hint that it’s more feasible than some of the other plans you’ve laid out. It matters that walkable development happens, not necessarily which bad lots are developed first. You’re making a very easy argument: there are other plots of land that have been developed poorly on the Eastside. But it’s a giant red herring and that fact doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on Bel-Red’s plans.

        Finally, the focus must be on residential zoning. Homes take up far more land than industry or commercial areas, to reduce the amount of residential sprawl is to reduce the impact on greenlands. Yes, The Safeway warehouse and parking lot moved to Auburn. But that is much better than 200-300 houses moving down there, requiring new roads and highways and a stronger dependence on fossil fuels.

      3. I’m all for light rail but when I voted for it, silly me, I thought it was to serve the existing demand for fast efficient transportation connecting the commercial centers on the eastside with downtown Seattle. Instead I find that it’s more about enabling new development where ever cheap land can still be found. This is the exact build it and they will come speculative development that has sunk areas like Phoenix and Las Vegas.

        Transit oriented development along say Auto Row isn’t new retail space; it’s upzoning existing retail space that’s being under utilized and is in much closer proximity to downtown than the areas to the north that are zoned industrial. The industrial land’s not going anywhere. It’s not going to be turned into cul de sacs of McMansions so if there’s a pressing need for new retail in the future it’ll be there. In the mean time it’s one of the last remaining spots where blue collar jobs and essential services (that “gritty truck traffic”) can remain close to where they’re needed. Make no mistake, all of that demand will be relocated into the areas you think are being saved. The push here is for new development on cheap land being dressed up as “save the salmon”.

        I’m all for mixed retail/residential and there’s no shortage of existing retail space in Bellevue where this can and should happen. Snaking an 800 person train through newly minted neighborhoods is silly. All of the existing homes in Bellevue aren’t going anywhere and in fact all of those neighborhoods are increasing in density. Routing along the SR-520 corridor and 405 corridor offer the best solution to get the most people on the train through P&R lots or better, improved connector service. Expecting the train to go within walking distance of it’s ridership makes no sense at all.

        There’s a need for light rail between Redmond, Bellevue and Seattle now. We don’t need to fabricate demand. If that’s not true then we shouldn’t be spending the billions of dollars on the project.

      4. Bernie,
        Why do you think the light rail route was gerrymandered? What alignment do you think it should have followed?

        As for the zoning and speculation issues, that always happens. Zoning is always a feedback between land owners and city planner types. South Lake Union didn’t have the zoning it currently does. The zoning changes are at least partially a result of requests from Vulcan and The Seattle Times (both large land owners in the area).

        You could attempt to prevent zoning related speculation by making zoning only reflect the current land use then lock it in stone, but you either risk making the area stagnant or pushing property values even higher.

      5. Like the majority of eastside residents that testified at the Bellevue City Council hearing on the matter I want to see eastlink follow existing transportation corridors as much as possible. We, meaning the consensus opinion of current Bellevue residents that showed up for this hearing feel that’s what serves the 130,000 that live here the best.

        Zoning is not about feedback between the property owners and city planner types. It’s about the citizens of Bellevue and what serves the needs of those citizens. There have been numerous attempts by different property owners to rezone this area retail and they’ve always been shot down because the infrastructure doesn’t support it. The idea that rail will make this all disappear is the red herring here.

        Of the 70 or so people that spoke only one south Bellevue resident spoke in favor of that alignment. The only people that were against the BNSF routing (about 7) were the folks that currently live along that route. It seems that despite the ideal of TOD nobody actually wants the train going past their front door. So I really don’t see how running this through Bel-Red is going to create a nirvana that people are going to flock to live in.

        I understand why the line “to the airport” was routed up Ranier instead of connecting Seatac and Boeing Field. I’m not sure how people along the route feel about it but from the outside looking in it seems to be having a positive effect. The eastside is very different. There are no old neighborhoods that need to be revitalized. There are no alignments that even remotely resemble Ranier Ave. and there’s nothing analogous to South Lake Union. Converting the old power station to office space was, in my opinion a stroke of genius in terms of urban planning. What needs to be recycled on the eastside are parking lots and strip malls.

        The game here is getting cars off of SR520, I-405 and I-90. Just like most of the people coming from Seattle to the eastside will rely on some form of transport besides their feet to get them to the train the vast bulk of people who currently live on the eastside will need to bus bike or drive to the train. Overlake and downtown Bellevue are the exceptions. Yes, the train will drive higher density housing near stations but there’s no need to place stations to drive density where it’s never existed before and that’s what I consider jerry mandering. Catering the route to enrich a few high roller developers.

      6. Bernie, the entire point of this transit-oriented development is to get some people — hopefully a lot of people — do not have to drive or bus to a train station to get access to it. If you walk in with the flawed assumption Eastside light rail needs to match car commutes, then you’re going to reach flawed conclusions.

        Developing transit along highways does not make sense. How would you feel if a bus dropped you off near a highway offramp: “Well, gee thanks, but I still have a mile walk!” The highway does not define the corridor, the destinations do. Light rail will define its own corridor — it does not need to sit in the shadow of SR-520, the ancient BNSF corridor, or I-405.

        Light rail can serve an existing need to providing an alternative cross-lake or cross-town commute while also allowing for future commutes to be more oriented along transit corridors rather than highway corridors. Those goals do not contradict each other. Similarly, re-visiting strip malls and big box stores does not contradict with transit oriented development.

        I think your argument about industry being pushed out hurts the environment is just dead wrong. Residential spaces take up far more space on the eastside than any other type of zoning. We need to contain residential sprawl, and in-fill and re-development is the appropriate tool for that job.

        Transit-oriented development reduces our overall dependence on oil and single occupancy vehicles. Why shouldn’t we capitalize on our transit investment by maximizing its returns? Developers aren’t the only ones making the money: our economic engine whenever new development occurs.
        The incredulous gerrymandering argument: Why will the developers make money? Because people will want to live in walkable communities like this, developed near transit.

        So, let’s make everyone a little better off. Let’s let people buy the condos they want to buy. Let’s let people who want to live in dense, walkable neighborhoods in Bellevue and Redmond do so. Let’s stop depending on oil and stop equating the word “commute” with “State Route” or “Interstate” by default.

      7. It’s no surprise you heard the opinions you did at the meeting; presumably these people moved to Bellevue because easy transit access isn’t important to them. I’m sure there are plenty of others who do want to live next to the train, and we’ll see in the coming years if they move to Bel-Red.

        Also, for the record, I am a resident of South Bellevue who thinks the BNSF alignment is a horrible idea in terms of travel time, station placement, and transit connections. I’ll be sure to send my comments to both ST and Bellevue, since apparently there weren’t any actual transit users at the City Council meeting.

      8. I reject the premise that serving the current eastside residents is flawed. The eastside has developed around the car so it’s no surprise the destinations are adjacent to SR520 (Microsoft) and I405 (Bellevue/Overlake Medical Center). If you don’t make it easy for people to replace their car commute then you’re not taking any cars off the road. More over, even if Bell-Red were developed as this new Camelot where nobody owns cars and nobody drives to all the new retail you still haven’t served the bulk of the new housing that’s going to get built on the eastside.

        Sorry, I’m not in step with the reason for building this $3 billion dollar system is to create TOD. I think it’s supposed to serve the tax payers that are footing the bill not line the pockets of developers building new housing for people that might move here 10-20 years from now. Your entire argument is contradictory because your not connecting a destination; your trying to create one where none has ever existed. If there wasn’t an abundance of existing retail zoning within walking distance of stops that serve destinations (Overlake Village/Hospital Station/South Main) then there would be some validity to creating more. The reality is that there is more than ample space where TOD can fulfill it’s promise of improving neighborhoods.

        As for getting dropped off at a freeway on ramp, those are called flyer stations. For the most part that is transit on the eastside. All of those cars at the P&R are cars that have significantly reduce their distance traveled.

      9. A small comment: the light rail is a community investment for current and future residents (who will also pay the sales tax for 10-20 years). It is possible to decide on something that doesn’t benefit you personally when it’s good for the region (I’m not saying Bel-Red development is or isn’t).

      10. True and as our property in Bellevue is already 2nd generation I do want to see this done right. Future residents will be footing the bill for 10-20 years but they’ll still only be paying half as much as those paying from day one. I just don’t see any huge opportunity lost (except for the real estate speculators) in favoring the most cost effective, most efficient least intrusive alignment. There’s no shortage of TOD that can flourish without the grand Bel-Red scheme and there’s no shortage of projects on which the money saved can be put to better use.

        The only reason this “cheap land” still exists is because of steadfast opposition from neighborhood groups to prior attempts to rezone industrial as commercial. Preserving these large contiguous blocks, the last in Bellevue is perhaps even more valuable than the money saved on East Link. The Bel-Red Master Scheme would undoubtedly raise the already inflated value of my property so personally I stand to gain. But it’s just not responsible stewardship.

      11. There’s nothing contradictory about both serving current destinations as well as creating new sources of ridership (TOD). The alternative to TOD is either relatively low ridership or very large P&R’s. A park and ride is better than driving end-to-end, sure, but TOD is better than a large P&R. (Both TOD and P&R’s can have stops well-served by bus transit.) The Eastside should have P&R stations, but they don’t neccessarily have to exist between the already-heavily developed cities of Bellevue and Redmond.

        It doesn’t take “Camelot” to have people walk to transit. How many of the stops in Seattle are going to have P&R’s? Capitol Hill and the U District aren’t Camelot. Neither is Downtown Redmond or the current Overlake Transit Center that serves Microsoft. A lot of the Eastside may be tied to their cars to get to work, but sometimes that’s because the alternative doesn’t exist. TOD provides that alternative. Or, even if one drives to work it creates a natural focal point of density and walkability, unlike the unjustified decision to develop on auto row.

        “As for getting dropped off at a freeway on ramp, those are called flyer stations. For the most part that is transit on the eastside.” Yes, and it’s not good because most things we care about (jobs, homes) aren’t right off of a freeway. Buses are confined to our roads infrastructure though. Light rail is not, unless we build it there.

      12. So basically your argument is that since we could build TOD elsewhere, we shouldn’t build it in Bel-Red? That doesn’t make much sense to me, since the line will be going through that area regardless.

        In any case the rest of Bellevue is way ahead of you, considering that yesterday the City Council unanimously approved the Bel-Red redevelopment plan (news release link). According to the Council it’s not just about TOD; it’s also about adding parks, uncovering streams, building bike trails, and adding jobs. There are more people with a stake in this than just ‘real estate speculators.’

      13. > So basically your argument is that since we could build TOD
        > elsewhere, we shouldn’t build it in Bel-Red?
        Yep, pretty much. I would slant it as “should” build TOD elsewhere (e.g. on already zoned and developed retail areas) and have no reason to fund building it in Bel-Red.

        Thanks for the heads up on the COB update. I’ve been watching for news. Nothing new that they’re billing this new density as saving the salmon and building new parks (never mind that these parks aren’t where any current residents live).

        I always love the parts about ped-bike improvements (I’m on the email list). Wide concrete sidewalks make the city bike friendly right? Ride down West Lake Sammamish (safety tip, ride southbound) and it’s apocalyptic when you cross the Redmond/Bellevue City limits. That new urban village will be bike friendly… all the elevators will be big enough to take your bike all the way up to your penthouse suite.

  5. One question I have is, why do they have those two stations about 5 blocks away from each other in the Bel-Red corridor Link maps? If they are going to choose that corridor, having those stations will dramatically drive up the cost, slow it down, and probably not affect the ridership much at all.

    1. It’s even sillier than that as the 124th Station would only be about five blocks from Hospital Station and even closer if they use the Ashwood Station alignment. Both of these stations in segment D serve a non-existent demand and will delay extending the line to Redmond where stations at Marymoor and Redmond Town Center have hoards of people waiting today. And in the case of Town Center much of the ridership is already walk on distance from the station.

      A future station at the proposed MF3 location would serve Bel-Red, tie in with bus transit on SR520 and be a prime location for TOD along the lines of Overlake Village. The really puzzling thing is even without the two additional stations shown for D2 & D3 segment boardings and system ridership for D5 are the same as D2 & D3. The only projected differences are decreased travel time and 25% better Comparative Cost-Effectiveness (ref: East Link DEIS pg 30)… Go figure.

      1. As far as I know, federal law prevents [federal] ridership estimates from including the effects of transit oriented development. The EIS is prepared for the Federal Transit Administration.

      2. Regarding ridership, I believe that’s due to federal regulations which prevent ST from considering future development in ridership projections, only going off current trends. Someone who has more familiarity with the federal regulations can say for sure if that applies in this case. Since there’s nothing along the route now, obviously ridership is going to be the same with stations or without.

        Also, will building stations really delay segment D construction? Given that they have to build the route between downtown Bellevue and Overlake one way or another, it can’t be particularly time-consuming to add platforms on either side of the track.

      3. Oh, and how did I not catch this: there is no money to extend to Redmond. Any cash savings would be spent on a Bellevue tunnel, in all likelihood. ST3 will extend to Redmond certainly, but it cannot happen before then. It costs about $600-800 million to get to Redmond, you only save $200-300 by skipping Bel-Red stops. Skipping those stops means there would be no stops for about three miles between Overlake Hospital and Overlake Village P&R. Why would we skip one of the biggest residential areas of Bellevue?

    2. Take a look at this artist’s rendering of the redeveloped Bel-Red corridor. It looks like the plan is to create clusters of buildings around each station. Although the picture is small, the scale of buildings in each cluster look about right for a small walkable neighborhood.

    3. These are Bellevue blocks, so they’re about 0.6 miles apart which isn’t ridiculously close (Think a circle about 0.5 mile in diameter, then create a copy of it over 0.6 miles — there’s no overlap of the convenient walkable distance [0.25 mi] to the stations). The additional cost for the alignments with Bel-Red stations is $160 – 340 million. The additional travel time is 2-3 minutes.

      Ridership is actually projected to be only slightly with or without the stops 6,500 vs 6,000). I believe that’s because ridership projections cannot factor in TOD or land-use changes (see my above comment). Adding 5,000 units of housing and 1,000 jobs right near those stops should affect the projected daily ridership of 6,000-6,500.

      So while it might seem fine today to completely skip the Bel-Red stops, we must plan for the future. Bellevue is doing the right thing by planning for a future where some of its residents aren’t tied to their cars.

  6. So, pay no attention to the numbers in the DEIS because they’re all skewed due to incomprehensible federal regulations. Saving half of the total cost of extending rail to Redmond is likewise meaningless because regulations will prevent any of that sub area equity money from advancing that segment even though all of the total system ridership numbers are based on the system being built out through segment E. Got it, thanks.

    1. So, pay no attention to the numbers in the DEIS because they’re all skewed due to incomprehensible federal regulations.

      No one said “pay no attention.” You just have to analyze with a little more nuance and depth than you are illustrating. These “incomprehensible federal regulations” are widely disliked in the transit community.

      http://www.soundtransit.org/Documents/pdf/projects/eastlink/deis/ExecSummary.pdf

      Page ES-7, after the ridership table: “[Ridership numbers] based on approved Puget Sound Regional Council land use forecasts. Higher ridership is likely with proposed land use plans in the Bel-Red and Overlake areas.” TOD is not considered in these ridership estimates. So the cost-effectiveness number cannot be compared as if it were apples-to-apples. .

      Saving half of the total cost of extending rail to Redmond is likewise meaningless because regulations will prevent any of that sub area equity money from advancing that segment even though all of the total system ridership numbers are based on the system being built out through segment E.

      No regulations prevent the line being extended to downtown Redmond, but the reality on the ground likely does. We will almost certainly not get to Redmond before ST3, with or without a TOD-friendly alignment in the Bel-Red corridor. However, voters approved light rail to the Overlake TC and we should deliver the best route along that corridor.

      I’m not sure why you’re so anxious to make as few stops as possible along Eastlink. I looked at one of your earlier posts, and this is what you said about Eastlink: “None of the East Link routes fill that need but all promise disruption and sky high costs for at least ten years. At best they’ll create nodes which will have to be serviced by other means.” Well, that bolded part is what Bellevue is trying to prevent and you’re trying your hardest to make your predictions become reality.

      For the record, the ridership projections of the Bel-Red segment even without TOD handily beat the projected ridership of the BNSF corridor you staunchly support. While serving less people, the BNSF corridor would also be hundreds of millions more expensive than even the most expensive Bel-Red alignment. So is your kitchen sink argument the product of what’s better for the region and the Eastside, or something else entirely?

  7. Having grown up in Bellevue, it constantly amazes me to say they have done a great job in growing their city, and that I have complete confidence in their plans for the Bel-Red corridor.

    As for the idea that there is “light manufacturing” that will be displaced, get a grip. What was the last product you bought that was labeled “Made in Bellevue”? Thats right- blueberries. (For the benefit of younger readers, a blueberry is not some kind of telephone, it is a fruit you eat.) And no, the Safeway plant was not a manufacturing facility- they might have made some corn syrup into soda pop, but mainly they unloaded freight cars onto trucks.

    I was out there a few years ago and, as for most of my life, the area remained a mish-mash of failing and failed one and two-story sprawl development, with some “anchor” retail like Trader Joe’s and increasing amounts of white-collar offices. As a manufacturing district, which it never was, it’s a slum, as a gentrifying area it’s up-and-coming, which is as it should be, considering the location.

    TOD in the Bel-Red Corridor is, in short, an idea whose time has come.

    1. Light industrial. You are the only person who is using “light manufacturing.” I know it will totally blow your mind, dude, but most light industrial areas are warehouses and other commercial enterprises that our zoning codes have deemed too noisy to co-exist with residential. Also, there are plenty of active light industrial businesses in the Bel-Red corridor but you seem to want to write them out of history as much as Bernie wants to overplay their importance. Bad faith argument against bad faith argument, I wish you’d find some way of destroying one another… like matter and anti-matter.

      1. No, it does not “totally blow my mind”, in fact, that was my point– trailer hitch welding, dump-truck parking, light distribution, and occasional fly-by-night assembly are all the area has ever been. Baking a loaf of bread or filling a Coke bottle are veritable Everests of productivity compared with what has been done out there. I don’t need to “write them out of history”, they all, including the Safeway, write themselves out before you can even turn the page.

        These are, in short, sprawl-dependent businesses that migrate on a seven-year cycle to sprawly areas. Am I concerned if the value of the land use rises and these sprawl industries can no longer pay a fair rent? NO! Considering that the area has already experienced all the downsides of sprawl for the past 40 years, I think it’s a good thing.

        Oh gracious me! What will people do if they can’t get their muffler fixed on the Bel-Red Road? Well, I suppose they will go somewhere else. There used to be a big cement plant out there which I kinda doubt is still there, but we still seem to have plenty of cement. There used to be a big candy company on Westlake that’s gone now, but Seattle still has plenty of candy.

        If the sprawl-development on Bel-Red led to anything productive, it would have done so by now. In reality, the only thing it’s led to is a desire by Bellevue to replace it with a higher use. That’s a feature, not a bug.

    2. Light industrial is not necessarily manufacturing but the Safeway Bread Plant is an example of something still “made in Belleuve”. There’s a good chance you’ve owned electronics where the PCB was built at Circuit Services. There’s still the Coca-Cola bottling plant but I think it’s mostly a distribution center now. I don’t remember when the candy factory closed down (the site of the current Lowes) but it was recent history compared to blueberry farming. There’s a lot of small light industrial like HVAC contractors and where do you go if you want a trailer hitch actually welded. In the City redevelopment plans they refer to the area as a major source of employment. It’s about the only area where traditional blue collar jobs predominate. It’s not pretty. In large part it’s the dirty under belly that all cities require to function.

      I’m OK with change. I’d like to see the city advocate for more light industry; green collar jobs, high tech manufacturing, heavy maintenance facility for light rail and buses, etc. What I’m against is footing the bill for large scale development. If the developers were fronting the quarter billion dollars extra it’s going to cost for the D2 D3 options I’d be a little more receptive to it.

      1. Tax payers voted to fund the quarter billion dollars it’ll take to fun the rail down the right corridor.

      2. Bernie, what you’re choosing not to understand is that the sprawl development of the Bel-Red corridor has been subsidized by zoning for almost half a century. Without those zoning restrictions the high-rise development of Bellevue would have expanded eastward as middle rise development.

        As for the area being a “major” source of employment, pull-eeze. Overlake Hospital undoubtedly has three times the payroll, five times the customers, and ten times the gross revenues of the Bel-Red area under discussion.

        And, “traditional blue-collar employment”? Earth to Bernie- Bellevue never had any. Oh, sure, McDonough used to fix gas motors, and Norm and his brother cut hair, but in general, blue-collar employment in Bellevue was high-school kids picking blueberries in the summer. Damn, I’m so old that when I was in school there, we would have considered it extremely low class to actually win a football game against Renton. It just wasn’t done.

        Bellevue very cleverly used zoning to force high-rise development where they wanted it, but don’t get confused about who was subsidized and who paid. For almost half a century, low-rise sprawl development in the Bel-Red Corridor has been protected against market level rents by zoning restrictions, and the other taxpayers in Bellevue have paid higher taxes as a result. The big change that is coming is not the beginning of a subsidy, but the ending of a subsidy. And I would say, it’s about time.

      3. According to the City of Bellevue Newsletter “It’s Your City” (Sept 2005) employment in the Bel-Red cooridor was about 20% of the cities total employment. The Safeway and Coke-a-Cola plants were there before microcomputers were invented and long before Bellevue had a skyline.

        So, SC you’re memory seems to be failing you. There has been and still are things made in Bellevue, the businesses don’t move every seven years and it is still a significant number of jobs. And you might want to actual know something about Circuit Services before you categorize them as “fly-by-night assembly”.

      4. Well, Bernie, what I call ‘memory’ you call ‘history’, some of which you haven’t read, and I can assure you that nobody was jumping up and down and saying “Thank god they finally brought some good blue-collar jobs to Bellevue!” when the Safeway plant opened.

        You see, in those days a good blue-collar job meant making things like cars or airliners. The “gritty blue-collar underside” the city depended on was literally gritty, because that was where iron ore became steel and steel became castings and castings were machined into parts. The only blue-collar workers in all of this who had any interest in putting effervescent fluids into bottles were brewers.

        I’m just indulging you here because I delivered mail out there for nine months in 1968 and you’ve sparked some wacky memories. This was mainly rural with a big cement plant and some contractor’s single-story sprawl, and there was a dog who chased my truck every day. After about a month another carrier asked if I’d noticed the dog only had three legs. Well, sure enough, he only had three legs but he could run like a dog with four. Kinda like some of your arguments, now that I think of it.

        Another “industry” out there was some kind of a scam involving an old farmhouse, a fake windmill about 15 feet high, housewives, some kind of cosmetics, prizes, and a genuine “Professor”. I never did figure that one out, but it always amazed me that anyone could be dazzled in a landscape filled with cement trucks on dirt roads.

        Anyway, you’re just cracking me up with your ideas that industry located in Bellevue and then a might city grew. Something you don’t understand though- if 20% of the jobs are in the corridor, it means that many many low-paid jobs are clustered there. The most likely reason for this is that the corridor is protected by zoning from “highest and best use” market pressures. If low-paid workers are replaced by more and better-paid residents, the City of Bellevue will benefit, and less “subsidy” will be paid.

      5. FYI, the cement plant on 130th is still there, just drove by it. Might want to update your history from the your truck driving days back in ’68.

        Zoning is all about stability. Nobody will pay big bucks for a McMansion if they think the zoning changes will suddenly allow condos to be built next door. Companies won’t invest in a factory (or any business) if they don’t have faith in local government to maintain zoning.

        Back to the point with respect to transit; the choices presented in the DIES are either the D2/D3 alignments which wander through the core of Bel-Red (light industrial) or D5 which more closely follows existing transportation corridors. D5 is the clear winner (according to ST) on cost effectiveness and efficiency. The only reasons advanced for D2/D3 are based on the social engineering promoting redevelopment based mostly on factually incorrect stereotypes.

        The financial support advocating for D2/3 is from companies which will receive windfall profits from this growth. Follow the money. Eastside tax payers voted for this latest measure on the good faith that light rail would improve transportation problems faced by the eastside; not that it would be the key impetuous to more growth in areas where large tracts of land can be had relatively cheap compared to the existing retail zoning.

  8. Using the 2007 PSRC study ridership for ESR would be equal to the segment boardings for the Bel-Red segment and total cost Renton to Snohomish including the Woodinville to Redmond spur for passenger rail, increased freight capacity and a regional trail system would be half the cost of the Bel-Red light rail segment. 40 miles of rail going through every major city on the eastside serves many more people than 3.5 miles of track through Bel-Red.

    Nobody really knows what the total cost and ridership would end up being for East Link but the DEIS and the 2007 PSRC study are the play book sound transit is reading from. There could be huge differences in cost and ridership for both projects but here’s a few key differences. The PRSR study is titled “BNSF Corridor Preservation”. Preserving an existing asset is completely different than creating something entirely new. If ESR fails as viable passenger service we’re left with a regional trail system which would have been built anyway. The bike path is about a quarter of the budget. We’re left with tracks that are repaired and continued affirmation that this is a rail corridor now and can be put back into service at any time in the future. If the rails are pulled up it’s going to double the cost of the conversion to trail and once those rails are gone, rail bank or no, they’re never coming back. The political fight would be akin to restoring rails on the Burke Gilman or East Lake Sammamish.

    So, for an increment investment of around $100-150M (the amount over and above tearing up the rails and building the bike path) the Port of Seattle would be left with usable short line freight RR and the region would still have it’s bike path and the option to revisit commuter rail in the future.

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