Tomorrow, the Sound Transit board will make their determination of which East Link alignment options to move forward for further study.

But before we discuss that, I have a little “Overheard in Seattle” moment to share, and a response. At the Bellevue and Olive 545 stop one morning, a discussion was overheard about how this blog is too Eastside-oriented. I can see where this criticism comes from, but I think it’s misguided.

Transit in Seattle is solid. We have the political will to build more, and there’s a lot of room to grow around future stations. Link is already on its way from city limit to city limit. We have a streetcar plan. Ballard and West Seattle mass transit is just a matter of time.

The suburbs are where the problems are. Most of the region’s residents live outside the city, but a lot of our jobs are inside it. Commuting isn’t something that we can just change – you can’t just bulldoze everything low density, all you can do is stop building farther out and start filling in the gaps. Those commute trips are the ones that have no options, that we need to make reliable. As a result, that’s where a lot of the news is.

So today, some thoughts on Bellevue.

Last night, I was out for a bite to eat in Bellevue before heading home, and I went upstairs in one of the downtown towers to look out some windows. Downtown Bellevue is completely car-oriented. Bellevue Square is a giant plain of concrete. A stone’s throw away from the core – a mere superblock from 30 story buildings – are low density suburbs with giant lawns and cul-de-sacs. I hesitate to even call it a city yet – there are no pedestrians. All but the high-end shops and services seem to be dying off. It feels like a suburban office park that’s gone up instead of out, where most of the businesses are support for office workers.

That’s going to change, but it will take time. New residential towers have only been springing up for a couple of years. All this development is new, and it’s going to be sterile for a while as it’s broken in. It will be decades before any of this space becomes affordable for anyone but a slice of upper middle class – but some of it will. Right now, the income range is too narrow, the students, musicians, and vendors that make a city really come alive can’t live there.

And when it does come alive, when things start to diversify a little, it will need great transit.

I do think a tunnel is a good choice for downtown Bellevue. The downtown center is fragile enough right now that major surface construction could set it back decades – I’ve written before about our preference for C3T, the bored tunnel option, over the cut-and-cover tunnel. Frankly, at this point, I think that the Bellevue City Council has no clue how their city works if they’re really in favor of cut and cover. Who are they representing here?

A surface option will also move forward. Bellevue has to come up with the money for a tunnel themselves, Sound Transit will build surface if Bellevue can’t come up with enough. I’ve seen some options, and I think Bellevue can make it happen.

What’s been interesting about all of this is that the Seattle Times has come out cheering on the tunnel – and making it patently obvious, after their attacks on light rail as “too expensive”, that they’re entirely an eastside paper now. Their contradictions over the years are fun to watch. Don’t think that they’re an ally here – they don’t want a train on the street, it’s not about moving people more quickly.

Microsoft came out in favor of a surface option. It seems like they’re not entirely informed here – Sound Transit will move forward with both a surface and a tunnel option for further study. There’s risk involved in the tunnel option, but I think they’re underestimating the risk involved in trying to shove a surface option down Bellevue’s throat.

I’m not too worried about the B and D (both PDF) sections. B7 is obviously too expensive per passenger as it completely misses the South Bellevue park and ride, and negotiations about how to modify B3 aren’t really an issue this week. D will probably run on the surface through Bel-Red, as Bellevue would love to upzone that corridor and build transit oriented development.

What I’m concerned about most is which tunnel option moves forward. I think that will make or break downtown Bellevue’s ability to attract residents and small businesses in the next decade, and I think smaller cities in our region are watching to see how going up instead of out could work for them. I don’t think Bellevue can afford to tear up their city streets and risk destroying what little city diversity they have, and they can’t afford the additional risk and cost over a bored tunnel. I hope the Sound Transit board agrees tomorrow.

52 Replies to “Let’s Do This Right”

    1. None of us live there, so it’s very hard to have a personal look at things. Is there much change, anyway? I mean, Federal Way is a long way off, but it’s funded.

      1. Federal Way is about 30 miles from downtown Seattle (long way off?). South Link LRT is expecte to reach South 277th Street, the north edge of Federal Way is about 2023(long way off in time?). But Federal Way has plenty of ST presence today: the South 317th Street center access ramps go in both directions to the center HOV lanes of I-5; There is a ST funded transit center and garage; Route 577 is a one-way route oriented to downtown Seattle; Route 574 is a two-way route connecting with Tacoma and SeaTac. Soon, Route 578 will be added.

    2. I do my best to cover it, but there’s not as much going on down there. I think we cover Pierce and Snohomish better than South King because more is happening.

    3. For the same reason there’s not that much discussion on transit in Snohomish County.

    4. I used to live in Fed Way (easy wheelchair distance from the Transit Center) but after graduating from UW I moved to Renton then I settled on my now home of Bellevue

      At the time I liked being close to Pierce County (for my Dad) yet still in King County

      True: I hardly hear about South King or Pierce on this blog

    5. I’m a transit supporter and live in Burien. I’ll comment more if that makes you happy! :-) I think it would be cool to extend Link to Burien Town Center/Transit Center…and an eventual rail-based line (street car or link) to West Seattle to replace the Burien-based buses to downtown through West Seattle.

      But, actually, I live in Burien but commute to Thurston County so my transportation choices are limited to my vanpool (which is a pain) and SOV (which is bad for the environment, but necessary). So mostly I come here (to this blog) to lament that Thurston never joined RTA thus eliminating any chance of my taking Sounder to work.


      1. There is still a lot of talk about at the very least extending Sounder to Thurston County.

        Essentially it is up to the taxpayers in Thurston County. I believe they can cover the cost of service in their area without actually joining ST or they can opt to annex into ST.

        I for one wouldn’t mind seeing the Olympia Express buses made part of ST Express service. Hopefully including some one-seat Seattle-Olympia or Olympia-Seattle rides.

  1. I find the focus of this blog moves where the issues are, which is appropriate. I do think there’s a market for a Seattle-based transit blog, as we have the will and money for a good transit system but are stuck relying on county buses. But there hasn’t been much of a coordinated effort toward this since the monorail.

  2. I think the focus of the blog is just right. To me, a Seattle native who now lives in the suburbs, “Seattle” is the metro area and you can’t think of its pieces in isolation. Clearly, Seattle proper is the primary hub and any integrated transit solution centers around it, but moving people in and out of the city means considering the suburban and residential connections on the other side of each line in each mode serving the city. Anyone who thinks that light rail from Seattle to Overlake through Bellevue is not the proper focus of a Seattle Transit Blog doesn’t understand transit in Seattle.

    The city of Seattle does have its own transit needs, and this is a good place to talk about them, both in the context of metro regional transit and on their distinct merits. I’ve seen plenty of discussion about streetcars and the current plans are all contained wholly within the city of Seattle. If this blog dropped discussion of either Eastside transit or Seattle-only transit issues it wouldn’t accurately cover transit in Seattle. Urban archipelagists and suburban anti-urbanites both need to get over themselves.

    I would like to hear more about ideas to supplement Sound Transit light rail with in-city rail funding to accelerate service to West Seattle, Ballard, and other areas in the city (Ballard–UW, Aurora, Lake City Way all come to mind). A lot of that comes through sub-area equity but why should Seattle have to wait if there’s political will to build now? What about Seattle fronting the money for accelerated system expansion with the understanding that sub-area equity funding can be used to take over those financial obligations down the road? I doubt that’s viable until post-recession, say 2012 or later. Certainly I can see Seattleites supporting the beginning of a West Line prior to the next planned ST vote in 2016. We’d save money by starting earlier and also be able to build more than sub-area equity would allow.

    1. If you’re interested in helping with that effort, check out – email and ask how you can help!

  3. Great post, Ben and some interesting thoughts on Bellevue.

    First off, I don’t think the Blog has an Eastside bias – it just follows the action and most of us wish we could follow the money, or at least have the money follow us:)

    On the question of Bellevue, as an Eastsider from Issaquah, I have to confess, to a sense of pride about how far Bellevue has come in recent years. It has literally built a downtown central core from scratch with gleaming high rises and high end shops that all help towards increasing the tax base and more revenue, means more projects and things that we need to do getting funded. Bellevue is moving towards a very attractive downtown core – it isn’t fully there as there are still some huge city blocks that need to be filled in – and it has a nice central park that we lack in Seattle.

    I can, however, for all of this eulogizing agree with Ben that Bellevue needs some defining character to its central area and yes, it does need more folks walking around like there are in Seattle and yes, it is absurdly car oriented. Maybe more artists and musicians and students are the answer. However I am not sure that Bellevue would welcome the tendency towards concentrations of crime and other social problems such as tagging, littering, low end restaurants, ripped flyers on light poles, graffiti and drug/alcohol that seem to thrive in University districts. I walk the U-District a fair bit as I love it up there, but I think I am making some fair observations based on what I see there, however much some people may disagree with these observations from another perspective and however much students add greatly to the character of the college districts we have.

    On the question of a tunnel, I am sure that Bellevue would benefit from one just as Seattle has and it is probably a preferable to a surfact street option. The way that Bellevue’s streets are so busy, I can’t see the citizens of the city center welcoming having to stop their cars or feet for a Light Rail train.

    Just some thoughts!

    1. On parks in central Seattle, the SLOG covered Seattle Housing Authority’s potential redevelopment plans for Yesler Terrace. One of the proposals calls for a lid over I-5 connecting Kobe Terrace Park to Yesler Terrace. One person in SHA that I know says it might be used for urban agriculture, very interesting.

      I would love to see all of I-5 through downtown lidded and turned into a central park.

      1. Me too – thanks Oran! I am trying to get up to speed on the Yesler Terrace development but it sounds good and hope it goes ahead.

      2. Absolutely. Connect the neighborhoods with Downtown and hide the awful blight of the freeway. It seemed like Seattle was moving in this direction a couple of decades ago but slowed down.

      3. That’s a great idea: extend freeway park to Yesler and make the park more open.

      4. I think many of us would like to see I-5 lidded through downtown…but it’s an enormously expensive proposition. I doubt SHA could pay for it.

      5. Well, I don’t think that lidding all of I-5 through downtown would ever be feasable as one big mega-project, but it could happen piece by piece when new development is going on.

    2. What ever happened to that idea a few years ago for a Space Needle-like thing in Bellevue?

  4. Like many South King County transit commuters, I neither live nor work in Seattle city limits. If I drive to work, I don’t come within miles of Seattle. But as long as our transit system funnels me through downtown Seattle, the blog’s current focus makes sense to me.

    Not much is changing in the South King County part of my commute, just tweaks to the Sounder and bus schedules every once in a while.

    1. There are, by the way, several commuter routes for the UW that do not stop in downtown (45, 243, 586, 860, etc.) and I think similar for a few other areas.

      1. Several others from UW, 133 to Burien, 167 to Renton, 205 to First Hill, Mercer Island, 277 to Juanita, Finn Hill, 373 to Shoreline, all CT 800 routes.

        Some other commuter routes not going through downtown Seattle: 244 Kenmore-Kingsgate-Overlake, 247 Woodinville-Bellevue, 342 Shoreline-Bothell-Bellevue-Renton, 952 Boeing Everett bus, and some commuter routes serving downtown Bellevue.

      2. 31 winds up being a UW commuter route, and doesn’t go downtown. Neither does the 46 – although that route confuses the heck out of me, as I don’t understand exactly who it’s designed to serve.

      3. There’s also the 586 Tacoma/UW stays on I-5 and makes no Downtown Seattle stops

  5. Have you talked to the microsoft folks? They are indeed quite well informed! Start with the people mentioned in the SeaTimes article — it might actually make a good post to interview them. From my understanding their stance against the tunnel, is there is no funding and it adds risk to reaching redmond. Stopping at overlake p&r won’t help much (getting to that p&r is already a disaster in congestion from all directions). The biggest car traffic benefit will be if you reach redmond. Funding a tunnel makes it more likely to stop in overlake and that is what msft does not want.

    1. It’s not Overlake Park and Ride that Microsoft is interested in, it’s Overlake Transit Center (they’re two separate facilities). OTC is served by ST2, with or without a Bellevue tunnel. The Bellevue tunnel has no impact on it.

      There is NO possibility of reaching downtown Redmond. If Bellevue comes up with money, it’s for a tunnel. I think this is difficult for people to understand – this is Bellevue money that would pay for a Bellevue tunnel. That isn’t money that could go to extending to downtown Redmond, Bellevue wouldn’t choose to fund that.

      No one is going to downtown Redmond in ST2. It’s not on the table.

      That said, I work within spitting distance of Overlake Transit Center. That’s the middle of Microsoft campus. That’s the big car traffic benefit.

      1. ST2 will extend to Redmond when/if funds are available. The less ST2 funding that is spent on all of the segments the more “left over” for finishing segment E to Redmond. It has nothing to do with taking Bellevue money and building to Redmond.

        To be clear, Bellevue has proposed no funding of it’s own. It expects the line through Bellevue to be funded entirely by funds from eastside sub area equity [East Link = Bellevue Link]. Mayor Nickels mention on this blog of behind the scenes negotiations for Bellevue to kick in more funding are the only thing I’ve seen in writing from any involved party.

        Overlake Transit Center is already beyond capacity. There is very little room to add capacity here and even if you do the accessibility sucks. The logical place for a mega P&R structure is where 202, Avondale and 520 all come together. The Marymoor location is also the best choice for the eastside MF which must be part of the preferred alternative. Bellevue proposed MF location was the most expensive of all the identified locations (imagine that). It would require a tremendous amount of fill to level out a hillside. Perhaps they think that’s going to be a great place to dump what’s excavated from the tunnel? They can charge ST by the yard for disposal and use that money to pay the extra for the tunnel. Brilliant!

      2. Incorrect. ST2 budgeted enough money for Link to Overlake TC, and enough money for PE to Redmond. The only way any of that in Redmond could get built with ST2 money is if ST2 comes in at least $600 million, which it really won’t, especially because of declining revenue. I am hoping, though, that that gets funded by the feds. About $600 million for several thousand new riders might sound pretty good to USDOT, especially if we can get at least some of it funded locally.

      3. Bellevue has never said that they expect ST to pay the entire cost of the tunnel. They have said from the beginning of this year that they would help finance the additional cost and I think most people expect them to pay the entire additional cost. They stated this at the recent ST board meeting and also in the recent Times op-ed.

        “Bellevue is committed to partnering with Sound Transit to fund a tunnel segment for East Link. We look forward to creating a finance plan that includes direct investments by the city, pursues federal funding opportunities and identifies where project savings can be made.”

        I have yet to see Microsoft and the City of Redmond commit to finding additional funds to get East Link to Redmond. They should be more proactive in finding funding or reducing costs on their end instead of trying to play the blame game with Bellevue. It has been known from the outset that the extension to Redmond was unfunded.

      4. Redmond picked the lowest cost alternative and made it cheaper by eliminating the stupid right turn at the end and keeping the tracks on existing ROW (saving about a 1/4 million in property acquisition). In fact Redmond did there own HCT study in 2006 which identified this route. All of the “alternates” in the draft EIS were a complete waste of time and money. E2 was pretty much cut and paste from the City of Redmond study.

      5. I still suggest you talk to the msft folks to understand their position. You mention how overcrowded otc is. If you needed to save a few bucks its easy to see that ST might stop at overlake “village”. Really what does village serve now that the hospital is closed? Its not near a lot of housing, and its not near a lot of employment. (at least compared to otc)

      6. There is a stop planned for Overlake Village. The “Village” (low income apartments and a transit center) was an early attempt at TOD. It pretty much failed miserably so now the idea is to double down and see if they can prove it’s viable. Overlake Village P&R has a usage below 50% when everywhere else on the eastside is beyond capacity. Once again money is being gambled on future development (Group Health site, Owagimia sp?) and the existing demand, those footing the bill, is being ignored.

  6. However I am not sure that Bellevue would welcome the tendency towards concentrations of crime and other social problems such as tagging, littering, low end restaurants, ripped flyers on light poles, graffiti and drug/alcohol that seem to thrive in University districts.

    I think this gets to the heart of what Ben was saying about Bellevue being a suburban office park with high-rises. Of course, no one wants an increase of crime or other social ills, but at the same time if Bellevue wants to be a economic and cultural center there has to be some degree of tradeoff. Vibrancy can’t be closely controlled and kept sterile. I’m not saying that Bellevue would have to turn into the U-District. But if you want retail businesses to boom, you need lots of pedestrians, and if you have lots of pedestrians, you are going to get panhandlers. You’re going to get some drug use. You’ll get some minor crime. Because Bellevue is steeped in its squeaky-clean suburban image, I think many people would have a hard time accepting this. This is why people like Kemper Freeman want Bellevue to stay a sundown town. But if the people of Bellevue can’t accept the bad with the good, then Bellevue will never become more than a suburban office park with high-rises.

    1. However I am not sure that Bellevue would welcome the tendency towards concentrations of crime and other social problems such as tagging, littering, low end restaurants, ripped flyers on light poles, graffiti and drug/alcohol that seem to thrive in University districts.

      That’s the reason for transit, to get us across the moat and back again ;-)

    2. There’s no “if”, but you hit the nail on the head.

      Bellevue will have flyers and panhandlers and everything else a city has, because the buildings they’re putting up today will age. There’s no choice involved – that’s what will happen. Bellevue has a squeaky clean image because it’s brand new, and things don’t stay brand new forever. :)

  7. RK-

    Because Bellevue is steeped in its squeaky-clean suburban image, I think many people would have a hard time accepting this. This is why people like Kemper Freeman want Bellevue to stay a sundown town. But if the people of Bellevue can’t accept the bad with the good, then Bellevue will never become more than a suburban office park with high-rises.

    Great last 4 sentences – paints a perfect picture of Bellevue – a dream world, at best, that no amount of Kemper’s money will ever be able to bring to actuality.

  8. The demographics of the Eastside are in constant flux.

    The problem is Bellevue’s historical tendency to bite off more than it can chew.

    It’s gone from agricultural to blue collar to white collar, then to retirement and gold collar (what I represent to be independently wealthy), and now to techno-collar and green collar.

    Bellevue is the home of aspirationist philosophy. Tradition has held that an aspirational middle-class family desires to live on the Eastside, as Lake Washington provides a visual and semi-physical barrier to Seattle.

    There’s really no exclusivity in living on the Eastside, as there is an order of magnitude more developable land than there is west of the lake.

    Brian Bradford
    Olympia, WA

  9. I live and work in Capitol Hill, Seattle and I appreciate the breadth of transit coverage this blog supplies. Thanks for the great reporting on Seattle, Eastside, Snohomish, Pierce, ferries, Amtrak, etc!

  10. Ben can you please relink all of the PDFs of the various routes? it would be helpful

  11. That same year, Freeman began to take an interest in Japanese- American relations; i.e., Americans should understand that Japanese “yellow” clashed with red, white, and blue. Until his death in 1955, Miller Freeman avidly pursued his anti-Japanese obsession, and his Eastside real estate business grew as a direct result.

    Freeman owned several newspapers, including the Bellevue American and Town Crier, and used them as vehicles for his racist blather. “Japanese population and power in the western Unites States is increasing at a sure, accumulative rate,” he once said, “which will inevitably give the white man his choice between subjugation and retreat.” As the president of the Anti-Japanese League of Washington, and as a Washington state legislator, he led a campaign that culminated in the passage of the Alien Land Law of 1921, which forbade people of Japanese descent from owning land– or even leasing it. Shortly thereafter, Freeman began buying up cheap land on the Eastside, formerly home to thousands of successful Japanese farmers. In 1925 he bought land in Medina; three years later he moved his family into a new mansion there.

    After Pearl Harbor, Miller Freeman saw another opportunity to screw over Japanese Americans, and make a profit, too. He went to Washington, D.C, to urge the Tolan Committee to lock up people of Japanese descent. And he kept up his racist rantings in his newspapers, calling the Japanese an “insoluble race” bent on “infiltration.”

    With Japanese Americans tucked away in internment camps, Freeman was able to reap the full benefits of the new Mercer Island Floating Bridge (which he had lobbied to have built, and which opened in 1940). The Eastside, cleansed of its Asian-American population, was now safe for white businessmen, largely due to the efforts of Miller Freeman. His son, the first Kemper Freeman, built the original Bellevue Square, after convincing his father to buy a piece of land along 104th Avenue Northeast.

  12. I was just realizing that it’s kind of a ways between Overlake TC and Redmond Town Center, especially since they’re planning stops in Bel-Red less than half a mile from each other… Has anyone talked about an intermediate station along 520 between Overlake and Redmond, and has anyone talked about eliminating one of those Bel-Red stations or at least making them a little farther apart?

    1. At the ST board meeting tomorrow they will be discussing deferring one of the Bel-Red stations.

  13. I have no objection to your balance of coverage, but I do disagree with the premise that transit in Seattle (city) is a done deal and thus uninteresting. The vast majority of Seattlites still make the vast majority of their trips by car. Seattle’s streetcar plan leaves much to be desired, with significant unanswered questions.

    There remains significant disagreement and anger over transit oriented development, particularly in Southeast Seattle. Seattle does not appear prepared to put in place the kind of upzones that Light Rail can justify.

    We remain mired in 40-40-20 and subarea equity, which, absent a strong push for in-city transit funding, will prevent us from ever realizing the true transit potential of the city.

    There is also little recognition on this blog that the city has a fundamentally different relationship with transit than the suburbs ever will. The bones of Seattle are old streetcar lines. We are a streetcar city. Our urban form, not just our density, but our shape, street grid, and arrangement of land uses is ideal for bringing transit back. The city has the potential to embrace New York’s level of transit ridership, a level where people don’t just use transit to get to their jobs downtown, but for every trip, work, shopping, recreation; where 50% of households don’t own a car at all and the other 50% hardly ever drive. The suburbs will never embrace transit to that level. Transit has a place in the suburbs, primarily as an alternative to peak hour congestion for the portion of the population who works in dense employment centers like Overlake, Downtown Bellevue or Seattle. Suburbanites may also use transit to get into Seattle for shopping and recreation (e.g. sporting events), but the vast majority of their trips, from suburb to suburb will continue to be made by car. The suburbs will never drop below 90% car ownership.

    Certainly, there is a need for transit in the suburbs, but that need is fundamentally different, not only in magnitude, but in kind from the needs of the city.

    Seattle may have a pro-transit constituency, especially compared to the suburbs, but it is nowhere near its potential yet, and there is a place for this blog to keep poking the city with a stick and pushing it to fully embrace the transit oriented future that is available to us. is not a bad start, even if Ben is a card-carrying, kool-aid-drinking member of the cult of rail. :-)

    1. I definitely don’t think that anyone here thinks that Seattle is fought and won, in fact, I think our efforts recently (and our future efforts) show the opposite is true.

      Obviously Seattle has the best potential for transit ridership:

      1) Most jobs (600K of King County’s 950K jobs are in the city)
      2) Most dense (twice as dense as Bellevue, and that includes a city with an airport and those aforementioned 600K jobs)
      3) Most transit friendly (and taxing friendly) voters.

      However, I don’t agree with the 50% number, at least not in a long, long, time. Even San Francisco, fully twice as dense as Seattle with twice as many jobs, has only 40% transit use with a far more developed transit system. Still, car use is under 50% there. Bicycles and pedestrian use has to be a HUGE part of our plans here.

      But yeah, we’ve got a lot of work to do. Let’s get going.

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