At yesterday’s Sound Transit board meeting, the City of Bellevue presented revenue options that could help make up $104-150 million of the $285 million gap between budget and the tunnel option (C9T).

Despite attempts from Wallace and Freeman Jr. to derail East Link entirely or keep it out of town, City staff and the transit-friendly council minority seem to have prevailed in helping close the gap. Do remember that Sound Transit has been working to reduce this (and have gone from $500 to $400 to $285), so it’s nice to see the City finally stepping up with options to meet in the middle.

At the end of the joint city/ST analysis we reported on last month, we noticed an option for the north end of the B segment was presented to save $100 million more – it could reduce the gap from $285 to $185 million. At that point, $150 million from Bellevue puts a tunnel in striking distance of reality.

That’s not the only news from yesterday – a peer review panel released its report on the feasibility of surface light rail in Bellevue, and found it totally viable. This is the same conclusion we drew from the joint analysis – while Bellevue traffic will be bad in 2030, it will be just as bad with or without trains. They’re more interested in having great connectivity between light rail and the transit center, as 30-40% of light rail riders at that station will be transferring.

That seems to lend itself to C11A as a great alternative – so if a tunnel isn’t affordable, a great transfer at Bellevue Transit Center is easily within our reach.

51 Replies to “East Link Update: Tunnel Possible, Surface Viable”

  1. Dope. Hope it works out for them. Do we shave a couple minutes off trip-time by avoiding downtown surface streets?

  2. I don’t know what you’re 71 vs 72% of capacity numbers mean. Goran Sparrman presented at the Council Study session cross town traffic delay was 5-10 minutes per trip with any surface alignment. That’s 700,000 trips per day in 2010, 100,000 per hour during peak. The tons of CO2 needlessly dumped into the atmosphere should be enough to squelch any talk of a surface alignment. Officially it’s just a couple minutes of delay for the train with a surface alignment. Anyone who’s sat waiting at a light to cross NE 4th knows that’s a laugh. Think Link is going to get singal priority from the City of Bellevue if they cram a surface alignment down the throat of the Council?

    There’s a couple things about the C11A visualization that show what a dream world it presents. First thing is the pedestrians wandering around in the tracks. Second, there’s no cars in DT Bellevue. I guess that’s what they used in their model to claim there won’t be any traffic impacts from the surface alignment.

    1. Those pedestrians wandering around the tracks are in the “all walk” crosswalk next to Bellevue TC. Go that corner today and pedestrians do walk everywhere; it’s legal and safe.

      And again, go to Denver, Minneapolis, or Portland and see that light rail really does have little or no impact on traffic travel times. Seriously, it’s only Bellevue here…

      1. I’m looking at the Minneapolis line. It seems to be a success. I’ve only been there once (beautiful city) but it appears the light rail doesn’t actually go through the DT core. It’s more like if Link stopped at the Stadiums. Anyway, Bellevue did the modeling and purchased the same software ST used so that it was consistent. The delays to hundreds of thousands of trips are very real. At grade through DT Bellevue makes the no build option the clear winner. If you really want to kill Link keep pushing for at grade. It will still cost $2B but only the lawyers will see any benefit. FWIW, Minneapolis is about the same density as Seattle (~7,000/sq mil). Link at grade through DT Seattle would be a disaster so you have to look at individual choke points independently. It’s great to learn from other systems. The really great thing would be if ST could match Minneapolis on a cost per mile basis.

      2. Bernie, you’re trying to napkin-calculate in order to show a point, and your calculations are so bad it’s totally undermining your argument.

        I linked you to a report that concludes very clearly that Link won’t cause significant delays. Get over it.

      3. Well, you clearly disagree with Goran Sparrman and all the modeling that Bellevue has done. There’s nothing back of the napkin about it. Bellevue put up the money, bought the same modeling software as ST and showed the delays. They have accurate automated counting of the vehicle traffic. ST on the other hand seems to come up with a number they want and then subcontracts firms like CH2M Hill to rubber stamp it. We’re seeing that with the ridership projections on Central Link.

      4. Bernie, you’re just making things up here. The ST numbers are solid and a lot more trustworthy then the stuff coming out of the Kemper Freeman camp. And the Central Link ridership numbers are looking very good — now hitting over 18k average and 22k peak — and that is in fairly extreme economic downturn that none of the models took into account.

      5. They’re not even just ST numbers – they’re ST/City of Bellevue numbers. Both governments signed off.

      6. Lazarus, not to start a whole thing, but where are those Central Link numbers from? Last I saw were 16.75K average and 19K+ peak for February.

      7. Hundreds of thousands of trips? Somehow every resident and employee in the city of Bellevue is driving back and forth across 108th endlessly?

      8. I was amazed at the number too. I had to listen to the replay to make sure I was hearing right. How many trips are generated by Bell Square? Certainly a lot more than the number of employees and residents in DT Bellevue. Every office generates way more trips than just the employees working there. Sorry but I’m just reporting the facts as were presented. present your analysis to the Bellevue Transportation Department and prove to them why they’re wrong.

      9. The data doesn’t support your claims. We need to follow the data here, and the data (and independent reviews) indicate that the surface route is totally viable.

        I’m really beginning to lean toward the surface route — better integration with the existing P&R, and if you take the money that a tunnel would cost and spent it on expanding LR somewhere else you’d have a better system.

      10. The Minneapolis line goes through the downtown core of Minneapolis, at grade (perpendicular to and intersecting with the main streets, which are Nicollet and Hennepin), with no problems. It stops in front of City Hall.

        You clearly don’t know where the downtown core of Minneapolis is.

        Bellevue will do fine with surface running.

    2. Bernie, the traffic delay was <1 minute per trip, for a very small percentage of trips. We apparently didn't read the same study.

      The fact is, the street grid in 2030 will have lights just like it does today, and these drivers anxious to cross the train tracks will be rushing right to the stoplight at the next street.

      Did you even watch the presentation? Because it sounds like you didn't.

      1. No, it was more like 90 seconds per intersection. If you crimp a hose it doesn’t just stop the flow at the crimp. When you back up the light at the tracks it cascades upstream from there. The delay at each intersection is cumulative. Goran presented the results at the March 15th Study Session which I attended. He went through several different routes across town. It’s replayed on BTV or you can probably find it online.

      2. Everything you say is correct – but it’s just as correct for the street grid without light rail.

        Saying a light can cause 90 seconds of delay is only a few more seconds than the same light would be causing without light rail.

        And taking that 90 seconds and claiming it causes 5-10 minutes of delay for a trip is total bullshit.

      3. Well, that was weird. Last comment went to a different thread. I’m sorry if you think the analysis conducted by Bellevue is total bullshit. Might be since they chose to buy the same software as ST. At least they don’t have the track record of ST which proves their schedules, cost estimates and ridership numbers are total BS.

      4. The City of Bellevue was involved in the analysis that you said CH2M Hill “rubber stamped.” You can’t just claim there’s a conspiracy theory every time you disagree with something. I don’t know why you think the city council is so pure and virtuous but the professionals who work for ST are corrupt and unscrupulous.

      5. Maybe because the council is elected and the “professionals” aren’t? ST is in the business of collecting and spending money. They’re really good at both. The City Council is elected, represents the wishes of the residents and has to make choices on where tax dollars are spent. ST just needs to spend it and has a disincentive to actually save money.

      6. Ya, elected officials are “pure” because they are “elected”!!?? That is the funniest thing I have heard in years, and it is total nonsense.

      7. Sparrman, van de Kamp and Sarkozy are (along with their staff) the professionals that came up with the numbers. I didn’t make them up and neither did the elected City Council.

      8. So, you’re talking about a group hired by B7 supporters to push their agenda. I’m talking about the two analyses done by the City and ST.

    3. I used to work in the building at the corner of NE4th and 108th NE, there really isn’t that much traffic on 108th. Most of the time you can jaywalk to Las Margaritas quite easily. The only heavily trafficked street in Bellevue is NE 8th, and compared to any city in California even it looks under utilized. I don’t really know what the big deal is. Surely people can cope with light rail running on one street for six blocks without having an aneurysm. Dallas and Houston do it, and they’re the biggest autotopias on the planet.

      1. Exactly right. 8th and maybe 4th are the two east-west arterials. Link would turn east on 6th, meaning it avoids 8th entirely. With respect to 4th, I wonder if a short retained cut could be constructed so that Link crosses under this road. Seems like it would be a good compromise if the tunnel ends up being unaffordable.

      2. You don’t want to do that – it would make the entire intersection very pedestrian-unfriendly.

      3. Actually, I’ve seen this done in Europe and it can work quite well. Basically the rail runs predominately at grade in the street, but when it encounters a particularly busy or problematic intersection it “porpoises” under the intersection. As long as the cut starts far enough back it has no impact on pedestrian flow at the intersection. Pedestrian flow mid-block is of course impacted, but nobody should be crossing mid-block anyhow (for example, even on MLK).

        A variation on the design puts an underground station under the intersection. Pedestrians crossing the street then have the option of crossing the intersection by going down one level into the mezzanine level of the station and crossing under the street. Sometimes it is actually required that pedestrians cross in this manner.

      4. I’ve seen it done in Europe too – and it “can work quite well” when you have high storefront density in an already pedestrian-friendly area, but when you have so few people actually on the streets like Bellevue does, and so many more cars for them to compete with, it would probably kill what little pedestrian life that intersection has.

  3. Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics.
    The Bellevue CBD debate reminds me when I was trying to get the Kent Shopper Shuttle going. Kent traffic engineers diverted most of the study money to buy a consultant report showing it would never work. Mayor White called bullshit, helped get the service going, and the rest is history – a highly used local jitney service with specific goals, and one of the higher ridership routes in the Metro system for suburban service of that type.
    The point is, anyone can buy a report that justifies their position. I have no idea of the validity of any of the Bellevue data. Just a reminder to look at who’s selling what, and caution to look beyond the conclussion of any report offered up.

  4. Things are looking up with regard to the Bellevue alignment. However, both good alternatives have potential flaws that will need to be addressed appropriately.

    The tunnel routing has a station site that is not directly at the Bellevue Transit Center. This is not a problem per se, but it is extremely important that there is a station entrance at the TC, even if that means a short underground pedestrian walkway to the actual station site.

    The at-grade option doesn’t present many obstacles, with the exception of perhaps crossing NE 4th – a busy 5-lane arterial. I would propose a short cut to allow link to cross under 4th, thus avoiding potential congestion, stopped traffic, or missing the signal.

    Either way, I think we’re 75% of the way there to getting a reasonable alignment in Bellevue. However, transit supporters should still push for the above in order to maximize this big investment.

    1. That is an interesting option that hasn’t been discussed — a hybrid surface tunnel route along C11A.

      Such a hybrid could run on the surface like the current C11A, but then enter a tunnel just for the final turn onto 6th and the length of the run on 6th. It would have all the good integration with the P&R, but avoid about half the surface intersections that C11A has to cross. And I bet it would be even cheaper than the tunnel route that the BCC is pushing.

      Is it possible? Could such a hybrid route along C11 be the magic compromise AND also close the funding gap on the tunnel??? I’d say it is worth a serious look.

    2. NE 4th is a very busy street and commonly gets backed up for many blocks eastbound. But for the C9A alignment, 110th NE isn’t really a problematic intersection. The real chokepoints are on 112th NE and 108th NE. I don’t think (without the benefit of any hard data) that a light rail train passing by every three or four minutes would have a significant effect on throughput at that intersection. The bigger problem with a C9A alignment would be managing the traffic in and out of parking garages on 110th NE.

      1. Two analyses have been done of the hard data, and they agree with you – a light rail train every (actually 7 to 9) minutes won’t have much effect.

  5. Many of the fears regarding delays in DT Bellevue could easily be put to rest with a field trip to Portland.
    Bernie – seriously, if you have not been on Max through DT Portland, you should take a weekend trip down and try it out. I am sure that traffic in Portland is =/> Bellevue. You will find no problem with delays. Really, a light rail train is like a couple of buses driving through the city back to back. These fears are ill founded IMHO.

    1. That was done by the Bellevue Light Rail Best Practices Committee which visit systems around the country. Council memebers Davidson, Robertson and Balducci were all part of that committe which helped developed the Comprehensive Plan policies. With respect to downtown:

      A light rail system should add new travel capacity within its own right-of-way, rather than replace existing travel lane capacity, in order to maximize speed and reliability for light rail while minimizing impacts to other modes.

      Discussion: The intent of this policy is to ensure that the addition of a light rail system in Bellevue does not reduce the capacity of travel lanes on existing city arterials. This is especially critical in the downtown where the capacity of lanes for non-rail vehicle travel is already constrained.

      1. In other words, you’re talking about an unofficial document that predates actual traffic analysis anyway.

        For having what’s basically a few extra buses strung together crossing some streets (oh no!).

        Why didn’t you blow up like this when the 550 got more service? That crosses streets too! And, of course, removing the 550 when East Link opens will reduce congestion as well. ;)

      2. No, I’m quoting from the Comprehensive Plan policies adopted by the Council in August 2008 (amendments to city codes and standards, other city policies and procedures, city capital investments and expectations of Sound Transit). It doesn’t get much more official than amending city codes.

        Adding service to the 550 is a cost effective way to add capacity when and where it’s needed. It’s nice to note the one bright spot for ridership in this down economy is increased ridership on ST Express buses. Personally though the 550 means nothing to me since if I’m going into Seattle I catch the 255. It’s a much more direct route and drops me of right in the bus tunnel :-

    2. Great point, kent, because on the WEEKEND there is so much rush hour traffic in Portland. NOT!

      Portland is not a good example that translates to Bellevue because Eastlink will connect people who need to go both to and THROUGH Bellevue, so it must be FAST.

      The data Bernie mentions is correct. If you look at the intersection delay data, many will be more than twice as long with at-grade trains. Those trains will be getting stuck in Bellevue’s traffic causing reliability problems for the ENTIRE train and traffic system.

      1. Sheesh. The planned route simply will not have serious effects on vehicular traffic.

        Will it be disrupted *by* stop lights? Maybe. That would be a problem.

      2. Great point BSD, go on any WEEKDAY and you will see the point I am making. And if you are not aware, MAX also connects people who need to go both to and THROUGH Portland. You should go and see for yourself. Visiting successful systems is far more informative than reading Bernie’s data.

  6. aren’t there other streets in Bellevue? I would imagine that anyone who couldn’t stand to wait an extra few seconds for the LRVs to go through an intersection could easily take another street.

    1. If you watch the presentation at the study session Goran ran through the expected delays on a few routes. Even circuitous ones people don’t normally take. There really aren’t that many options through downtown Bellevue. One of the drawbacks I guess of “skipping” every other street on the county grid.

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