Last night I attended the University Link open house at the Museum of History and Industry. Construction is about to start on UW Station at Montlake, so there was a presentation explaining exactly where construction will take place, what sort of mitigation there will be, and what will go on. I’m not the first to post about this – Alper of Alpertopia covered it today as well.
The big takeaway from the Sound Transit presentation was that they’ll be using largely the same (very successful) noise mitigations they used for Beacon Hill, and they’ve provided for bicycle, pedestrian and vehicle access to UW facilities while construction takes place. They had conclusive answers to each question asked.
The end of the meeting was much more interesting. Prior to the presentations, I had a moment to speak with Andy Casillas, the UW’s project manager on their Rainier Vista project. He explained that contrary to their latest published design, the university has indeed dropped pedestrian bridges from their plans (not the one pictured above). The hospital side bridge was dropped because it would require expensive support structure construction in the basement of the hospital – he suggested transit users could use the existing underpass, but users are already cautioned against using that underpass at night without an escort.
The station side bridge reasoning was less clear. At some future date, he suggested a project might be undertaken to grade separate Montlake Boulevard, dropping it below pedestrian level, but this project is unfunded and unmentioned in any of the documents he presented.
During his presentation, he offered no quantifiable benefits to the land bridge design past the slightly shorter walking distance and additional layover space for Metro buses – but Metro isn’t being asked to help fund the project. He said the land bridge required an additional year of design time, but didn’t say how that might impact University Link’s schedule. He was unable to quantify impacts to pedestrian mobility or traffic – despite the walking distance decrease, this adds wait time at a new Montlake crossing light, apparently planned for 30 second intervals.
Most of the questions asked at that point were about the safety of a crossing for thousands of new users. Yesterday, I was willing to accept this with the assumption that the plan would be to build pedestrian bridges later. With those bridges apparently off the table, I see little benefit to the new plan and significant drawbacks, and no reason to support the additional expense to SDOT or Sound Transit. The existing Sound Transit station and pedestrian bridge design has already been approved by the UW Board of Regents as well as the Sound Transit Board – opening this agreement up for debate again would be foolhardy.