The “Vision Line” route for East Link proposed by Kevin Wallace is fantastical, but in the real world of building effective mass transit, that is not a good thing.
The plan offers plenty to roll your eyes at. From the circus tents that would provide protection from rain if only they wouldn’t be the first thing to be cut when going to design, to the mile walk to Bellevue’s shopping and entertainment core that would depress ridership, to a watercolor rendering showing a dense urban forest growing under a concrete, elevated light rail station next to a somehow nearly-empty I-405.
The watercolored amenities, of course, will disappear from design shortly after a more prudent tunnel is taken off the table by the Bellevue city council, which may be point of the proposal. Not included in Wallace’s lowball cost estimate is the centerpiece walkway nor the cost of moving the Bellevue Transit Center away from the downtown core, which he has proposed. Mayor Degginger has noted that creating an expensive walkway could bring total costs in line with tunnel estimates.
Wallace’s route misses the South Bellevue Park & Ride and loses north of 3,000 daily riders, which he says can be made up with transit-oriented development. But you cannot develop around stations that are cut, you cannot develop on top of I-405 which borders most of the alignment, and you should not sacrifice serving an established downtown core. Wallace argues that that the “cost per rider” metric is more important than just looking at ridership, but compares segment cost with total ridership rather than segment ridership. Using the more accurate measure for the impact on Bellevue make the proposal’s cost numbers less impressive.
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The proposal simply tries to sex up the terrible idea of aligning a major mass transit investment next to a ridership-killing highway. The always on-point hugeasscity reminds us of the basics:
Getting the highest return on transit investments hinges on the creation of high-performing transit-oriented communities (TOC) around the stations. And the easiest way to make sure that doesn’t happen is to site stations next to large freeways. Yet this is exactly what newly elected Bellevue City Councilor Kevin Wallace has just proposed, in his “Vision Line” plan that would move the downtown Bellevue Station from the ideally located existing transit center, over to the edge of I-405, about a quarter mile to the east.
When you site a station next to a freeway, right away you’re throwing away half of your walkshed, because (1) the freeway itself obliterates a massive swath of land in the station area, and (2) few people will be willing to walk across the massive pedestrian barrier formed by a freeway like I-405. Ridership depends on pedestrians and walkable destinations, and a freeway is anethema to both.
The Vision Line proposal would also add significant inconvenience to intermodal trips, as a rider transferring from bus to train would have to make an extra five minute walk. The simplest way to kill transit ridership is to make it inconvenient. The Vision Liners’ apparent belief that the covered walkway shown in the rendering would make up for the inconvenience of distance is wishful thinking.
I think Bellevue will get it right in the end, but in the meantime we cannot afford to treat with seriousness the copyrighted watercolor paintings and alignments titled with superlatives rather than “C9T” or “B3.”
(Robert Cervero’s research on distance v. ridership can be read online. Thanks to reader Jeff Wood for the link.)