C11A, the best alignment for East Link through Downtown Bellevue.

In advance of the Sound Transit Board and Bellevue City Council workshop this afternoon, we decided to weigh in on which options would be best for East Link’s alignment through Bellevue. What follows is an open letter we sent to the Bellevue City Council and all ST Board members last night. The letter is a frank assessment of the options that came out of recent work from both the city and Sound Transit, and represents the collective views of Seattle Transit Blog.

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February 10, 2010

To:
Mayor Don Davidson
Executive Aaron Reardon, Sound Transit Board Chair

Dear Mayor Davidson and Executive Reardon:

When regional voters overwhelmingly approved Sound Transit 2 in 2008, they put trust in elected leaders to select the best light rail alignment. Though the alignment selection process for East Link has gone longer than some had initially hoped, we welcome extended discussion on a decision that will affect generations to come. Our children and the city’s future residents are worth the additional time to do this right. A recent Downtown Bellevue concept design report conducted jointly by Sound Transit and the City of Bellevue has brought forward some novel alignments for segment C, an encouraging sign that progress is being made.

East Link’s segment C will determine how Downtown Bellevue interacts with regional light rail. It is vital that the Bellevue City Council considers what’s best for Downtown residents, employees, and customers. The Sound Transit Board should combine regional and local concerns if they choose to change their preferred alignment. Earlier segment C options proved unsatisfactory, so we’re most interested by the recent report which brought three new options to the table: C9T, C11A, and C14E. We think the best alignment for Downtown Bellevue is C11A. If a grade-separated option is preferred for regional accessibility, C9T is the best proposed alignment. C14E is a novel and constructive attempt to save taxpayer money, but it does so at the cost of serving a major urban center; a regional investment like East Link shouldn’t cut corners.

The letter continues after the jump…

• We ask the City Council remove the C14E alignment from consideration. This alignment provides just one stop serving Bellevue’s Downtown core, serves far fewer jobs and condos, and would blight Bellevue’s beautiful Downtown with an unwelcoming elevated walkway in front of City Hall. According to the joint alternatives report, just 7% of Downtown residents and only 27% of jobs in 2030 would be within a five-minute walk of a station — and these times factor in the installation of a moving sidewalk. This reduced access deflates overall East Link ridership. For these reasons, it would be a mistake to site a light rail station next to a highway. The other alignments we discuss perform much better.

Analysis by Dan Bertolet, urban designer for GGLO and writer for Publicola, shows an alignment which serves the Bellevue Transit Center has more Transit-Oriented Development potential than the C14E alignment. Bellevue policies stipulate the most dense “development shall be located in the core of Downtown” specifically to “facilitate public transportation” (S-DT-4, 8). The C11A alignment best serves the Bellevue Transit Center and we ask the City Council make this route their preference.

The joint alternatives report estimates 76% of Downtown jobs will be within a five-minute walk of this alignment’s stations. 92% of residents would be within ten minutes, a significantly higher percentage than the other alignments. Though the effect of an at-grade alignment on traffic is an important consideration, the average Downtown driver would be delayed just three seconds compared to a tunnel (C9T) or the C14E alignment. C11A, paired with the 112th Avenue (B2A) connection alternative, is $75 million under budget and costs the same as C14E when “Vision Line” elements are included. Even with the 112th Avenue bypass, C11A is well under budget. The accessibility, increased ridership, and low cost make C11A the best alignment.

C11A has much better walkshed than C14E.

• The C9T alignment has a shorter travel time compared to the at-grade options, providing a quicker regional connection to and from Redmond. An at-grade alignment would balance regional, local, and budgetary concerns, but if the City Council and the Sound Transit Board decide a tunnel would be the best option, $185 million will have to be raised to pay for it. Sound Transit staff have worked diligently to reduce the cost of a tunnel, but the Sound Transit Board should do more. Eastside commuter rail is unlikely to find a private investor who would be awarded Sound Transit’s matching $50 million. It would be wise to take that money off the table within a reasonable time and instead invest it in a light rail tunnel that would better serve the region. The Bellevue City Council should work with Sound Transit and the Downtown business community to identify revenues to fund the rest of the tunnel.

• We would like to quickly share our thoughts on segment B. We applaud the Bellevue City Council for recognizing the original B7 alignment does not meet the important requirement of serving the South Bellevue Park & Ride. The South Bellevue P&R is a critical transit access point and must be served by East Link, since ST Express route 550 will no longer exist once light rail begins service. However, even the modified B7 has environmental concerns that leaders should consider carefully. We are confident the legal, financial, and environmental obstacles of crossing environmentally-sensitive wetlands will prove that B3S is the more practical and affordable alignment. A B3S alignment with a B2A-like connection along 112th Avenue to segment C, perhaps with a side-running at-grade or retained cut alignment, may be the most cost-effective option (see the report, page 67).

We’re glad to see progress being made on the East Link alignment selection process, but there is still work to be done and only one chance to get this right. We hope our advice is taken into consideration when making these decisions in the coming months.

Thank you,
John Jensen, Sherwin Lee, Ben Schiendelman, Adam Bejan Parast, Martin H. Duke
Writing on behalf of Seattle Transit Blog

Cc:
Bellevue City Council
Sound Transit Board

37 Replies to “An Open Letter on East Link”

  1. Looking at that diagram with the “U-bracket” design, I have to laugh! It looks like something I would have designed as a kid with my HO model railroad tracks!

    Seriously, just run the Light Rail along the highway corridors, Put giant parking garages at each stop. Then build hordes of feeder bus (and even rail) lines. How about this: make the stop at the crossroads of 405 and 520, then build a street car from downtown Bellevue to the light rail?

    1. Uh… are you serious? The reality is, this is more cost effective than building next to the freeway.

      1. I agree. And perhaps a tradition could be created whereby riders take pride in mooning the neanderthals of Hellevue as the LINK train speeds past their soon-to-be ghost town.

    2. Nah, I was thinking of looping Link around to Sammamish and then out to Snohomish before detouring south to North Bend and finally terminating on Tiger Mountain. Then we can build a moving sidewalk to Downtown Bellevue.

  2. I am also a Bellevue resident and also really appriciate your thoughtful analysis and comment. I also provided comments to the Sound Transit Board for which I will share just a few comments below:

    As a resident of the City of Bellevue, I want to ensure the Sound Transit Board is perfectly aware that I do not support the Bellevue City Council’s arbitrary promotion of a new (“Vision Line”) Eastlink alternative. This action of the Bellevue Council is independent of any true citizen support as well as inconsistent with the NEPA/SEPA public process. I strongly encourage the Sound Transit Board to reject any consideration of new Eastlink design options beyond the perimeters of the May 2009 Eastlink Preferred Alternative.

    Despite Sound Transit’s commitment to transparency and integrity of public process, certain members of the Bellevue City Council somehow believe they are not subject to past decisions, nor do they appear to be accountable to due process as they attempt to arbitrarily reverse past decisions independent of the broad interests of their constituents. The Sound Transit Board should not allow this politically motivated attempt at a ‘second-bite-of-the-apple’ to flaw the Eastlink planning process. Imagine what precedent would follow this individual attempt to influence such an important regional transportation project.

    Our region cannot afford these delays and should continue to move forward, not backwards. Trust the decisions of your past colleagues trust your analysis supporting the preferred alternative and let’s keep this region moving!

  3. “It is vital that the Bellevue City Council considers what’s best for Downtown residents, employees, and customers.” You left out business owners. It’s also vital that the City Council consider what’s best for business owners.

    1. It is impossible to meet the needs of residents, customers, and employees without de facto meeting the needs of employers.

  4. I have a couple of questions about the various alignments. What is the point of doing the stretch between the two downtown Bellevue stops on the surface in C11A? It is elevated both before and after so why put it on the surface for less than a mile?

    The second question is about the tunnel option. Both C11A and C9T have two downtown stops but C11A has better locations. Why isn’t it possible to build a tunnel with the best station locations?

    Thanks in advance.

      1. Why does Bellevue want those stops on the surface? If they elevated that stretch then it seems we would get the best of both worlds. Fast (as it is grade separated) with convenient stop locations.

      2. They nixed elevated early on because it would block out the sun on their relatively narrow avenues, especially at the station locations.

  5. Really, the easiest and best way to figure out what to do is this: do whatever that [deleted, ad-hominem] Kemper Freeman is opposing. It works like a perfect barometer, just zero in on exactly what he doesn’t want and you know you’ve got a good idea.

  6. As others have said, the Bellevue city council is who you should be contacting to voice your concerns. I have faith that ST will ultimately make the right decision, but it will be easier if their plan has the support of the council.

    82A to C11A make the most sense. Shortest routing, most riders, doesn’t go through any neighborhoods. I’m happy to see STB voicing their concerns for this important decision.

  7. I honestly think this whole Vision line concept by Wallace is to make the line appear unfeasable. If it makes it to the environmental stage, it would get so bogged down in environmental red tape that the east link line would be in danger of being dropped due to delays and cost overruns combined with low projected ridership; much to Kemper’s chagrin. While it’s a different type of issue with I-90 lawsuit, the motivation is the same.

    Say what you will about Robert Moses, but one thing that brought about his “sucess” was his business sense, he knew that as soon as ground is broken on a public works project, it will be finished, regardless of overuns and delays. The weakest point for a PW project such as East Link would be right now as it gets bogged down in politics. Realistically speaking, there’s no reason to go across Lake Washington without getting ridership in Downtown Bellevue (sorry Microsoft).

    1. Guessing motivations is hard, but the best calculus I’ve heard is that the line exists to inspire ST to pay for a tunnel. On the other hand, Wallace is spending so much money promoting this alignment he may just favor it.

      1. That’s a good point also.

        I just figure Mini-Kemper aka Wallace doesn’t want to tunnel under bellevue because it might unearth Kemper’s underground lair…

      2. I believe Wallace supported a tunnel before proposing the Vision Line. I think he’s against having Bellevue pay for a tunnel.

        You should drop the mini-Kemper stuff. Wallace has proposed an alignment that is no good, but he’s been constructive. Kemper Freeman calls us socialists. There’s a huge difference.

      3. I call being called a ‘socialist’ a proud badge of honor quite frankly! The President has also been called one. Then again, he has also been called ‘Hitler’ – he can’t be both, but I’m sure he prefers the former.

        Great letter guys and a unified ideal we can coalesce around.

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