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.
February 10, 2010
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.
• 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.
John Jensen, Sherwin Lee, Ben Schiendelman, Adam Bejan Parast, Martin H. Duke
Writing on behalf of Seattle Transit Blog
Bellevue City Council
Sound Transit Board