177 feet - this is not TOD

In (slightly) less flame-worthy East Link-related news from Bellevue, the city council is undergoing discussions on the new NE 15/16th street in the Bel-Red corridor, which will require construction of a new right-of-way for Link.  The street will become the centerpiece corridor for the city’s Bel-Red TOD plan, which has even garnered some recognition from Senator Murray.  From the Bellevue Reporter:

[Council] discussion included the type and size of features to be included on the roughly 1.5-mile long roadway, such as the number of vehicle lanes, on-street parking, whether to have bike lanes or a bike-pedestrian pathway, and landscaping options. These decisions will determine how the various elements fit together and the width of the new street.

The greatest fear I have out of this project is Bellevue’s reputation for street improvements that are notoriously car-centric— leaving the potential that this new 15/16th Street could become nothing but a major thoroughfare.  Slides from the city council’s presentation (PDF) show the various ROW cross-sections, with some designs ranging up to 170+ feet wide.

As the current NE 16th Street is only a back-road for industrial vehicles, the natural assumption is that the new street will provide capacity for drivers frequenting the corridor– completely new demand that is really unnecessary.  The development slated there is supposedly being drawn in by Link as the primary transport mode, making the purposes of a new street counterintuitive.  If new lanes are inevitable, however, I’d rather pedestrians not have to walk more than 130′ just to get to the other side of the street.

The city is hosting an open house (PDF) on the project November 9th from 4:30-7pm at Bellevue City Hall.

49 Replies to “Bel-Red Corridor Design Update”

  1. If there isn’t a way to get around the new car lanes, it seems like it would make more sense to split this into two one-way streets one block apart; one with car traffic in one direction and light rail, and the other with traffic in the opposite direction and the cycle track.

    1. Better would be to have a
      car road / buildings / light rail, cycle track, pedestrian / buildings / car road

      layout, with buildings fronting on the ‘transitway’ and loading docks and parking on the ‘car road’ sides.

    1. “Separated bikeway?”

      Yes, but typical of Bellevue, it’ll only connect to the new bike path over on NE 12th and won’t go much further. I may live to see Bellevue with something close to the comprehensive bikeway system that they put on paper, but I suspect I’ll be too old to bike – even with the assistance of an electric bike.

      The car is king over here and wont be displaced soon.

    1. North Michigan Avenue in Chicago is up to 160 feet wide, and that doesn’t deter pedestrians at all!
      it is the busiest pedestrian thoroughfare in The City!
      I don’t see why 140-175 feet is so bad.

  2. If I didn’t know better, I’d think this drawing was based on suburban Amsterdam or and outer portion of East Berlin

    1. And when I write East Berlin, I do so not to raise the S-word or the C-word or the M-word, but because it has trams, Western Berlin doesn’t, but could again some day.

  3. I almost fell out of my chair when councilman Lee even said this was too wide…

    They should make this one car lane in each direction with no tree median. Also I think this picture is outdated a bit I think the latest is a north running Link with 4 car lanes, but still is too wide IMHO

    1. It seems like one travel lane in each direction with turn pockets and on-street parking would be sufficient. There is NE 20th to the north and Bel-Red to the south that provide plenty of east-west capacity. The picture above of the first zone 4 option is the worst possible option. I like the version in slide 43 of the council presentation, although bikers can comment on whether the buffered lane is needed.

      I think it makes sense to have four travel lanes in the eastern zones where light rail is grade separated.

      They should also limit the number of north-south routes that cross the light rail tracks. Is there a good reason 132nd Ave NE doesn’t just tee into NE 16th, with a pedestrian crossing to allow access to the light rail platforms? Think of Comm. Ave. in Boston where the Green Line is running in the median.

      1. To clarify, I wasn’t thinking of Comm. Ave. in the area of BU, nor around where Harvard Ave crosses. Further to the east of there.

  4. For comparison of scale, Ravena is 150′ and Campus Pkwy is 160′.
    With all that extra space they could go for two left turning lanes every so often, just to make the car/train experience twice as exciting.

      1. So what do Parisians think those newer boulevards? Do they work? Or are they seen as sterile and pedestrian-hostile compared to inner Paris?

        (I’m pretty sure the one in your link was represented in Micmacs à tire-larigot as a nexus of corporate evil.)

    1. You do see that the road is easily 10 feet shorter in width and no on-street parking, right? It definitely feels more compact and inline with the height of the building. This proposal here is way out of scale. Perhaps better iterations through landscaping might make it approach what you have referenced. But it’s definitely nowhere near that.

  5. The problem with plans like these are the drawings, which are always misleading. They depict these wide boulevards at the only angle in which such planning looks charming, a view from a high point in the middle of the street.

    Problem is, nobody is going to be looking at the street like that, unless they have magical powers or a flying car. People are going to be down below, walking on sidewalks flanked by huge expanses of automotive exhaust and nothingness.

    If you want to know what the result of these plans will be, buy a plane ticket to Boston and walk along the dreary stretch of Commonwealth Ave that goes through the BU campus. Everything feels remote, businesses make little impression, and you feel constantly overwhelmed by cars. It’s very hard to create effective urban environments when you disconnect people from people and architecture.

    1. Funny. At the same time that you were writing that, I was posting the counterexample next door in Brookline. (See below.)

    2. Also, the part of Comm. Ave. between Kenmore Square and Packard’s Corner is cutting out one travel lane in each direction. This is expected to curtail speeding; you should notice an immediate change in the pedestrian-hostility factor.

      1. Yeah, I should clarify that all the lanes are usually the problem more than the actual width. It’s a problem when you combine large, commerce-devoid buildings with wide streets and plentiful lanes, all of which are features of this design for the Bel-Red corridor.

  6. Are those measurements property-line-to-property-line (i.e. does 170 feet include the include sidewalks)?

    Beacon Street, Brookline, Massachusetts:
    map

    That’s about 150 feet wide, sidewalks included. And since it dates from the late 1800s (you’re looking at one of the earliest streetcar suburbs), it’s not especially tall. But it works, thanks to a very, very high density of pedestrian-oriented destinations: shops, restaurants, services, schools, entertainment, a Trader Joe’s, and so on. The success of Bel-Red will have more to do with its density and diversity of the stuff there than with the specifics of its lane plotting.

    (It certainly doesn’t hurt that Link will have multiple stops along the corridor, rather than just one that could never be self-sustaining.)

    1. This is just one block away, certainly not as nice. These types of boulevards were built before the freeway, just like Aurora and have a historical reason to be wide. If we’re building something new it is a different story.

      map

      1. That seems to be shot pretty early in the day. Plenty of pedestrian critical mass there most of the time. And it’s not particularly prohibitive to cross the street — light cycles in walking cities are never as long as “traffic engineers” have made them here. So again, it’s less about the measurements of the space than about how the space gets used.

      2. Corollary: the greatest obstacle to the pedestrianization of this proposed boulevard could wind up being the light rail line itself — if the so-called “planners” and “safety advocates” wind up putting thousands of feet between legal pedestrian crossings as on MLK.

        The whole point of mass transit is to stitch together city and region. It’s not supposed to be an impenetrable wall! The trains are signalized and warnings are plentiful, so stop treating us like children and give us plenty of crossings so that the boulevard might become a place of use!

    2. I like how, in your example, the center of the intersection is rather narrow, constrained by wide pedestrian landing areas on the median. There is also a crosswalk in the middle of the intersection, connecting both sides of the median, which you would know the importance of if you’ve ever been caught at a red in the median and needed to cross both streets (I’m glaring at you Stewart/Olive and 4th).

  7. They could save a ton of space by removing parking in the vicinity of Link stations and narrowing those tremendously wide lanes.

    1. Could also save a whole platform by having middle loading stations. I forget why they aren’t considering it, but seems like the best method for any station.

      1. I believe it was covered here at some point that people really don’t like boarding light rail on island platforms. Objectively speaking, they do induce more crowding than side platforms. If I recall correctly, people *do* prefer island platforms for streetcars.

  8. That looks incredibly heartless as a space. There seems to be some right ideas in there, but, dear God….Maybe they should look at what Seattle has planned for the new streetcar?

    1. I actually agree that MLK is a bit too wide, but in the south portion it’s really the only option for N/S car traffic so I’m not sure a road diet would have flown. Compare that to this part of Bellevue where you have Bel-Red a few blocks south and Northup/20th a few blocks north. There’s really more than enough E/W capacity in the area already. I’d cut a travel lane each way and make sure things flow nicely north and south so that drivers can get to the other arterials to go east/west. 15th should be more “main street” ish to try to anchor the walkable retail going in the mixed use buildings.

    2. “Link has certainly made MLK Jr Way a lot less pedestrian friendly.”

      If you had ever spent time on MLK as a pedestrian before Link was built you would know how untrue that statement is.

    3. That was my impression, it looks exactly like MLK. The buildings on the side look like NewHolly, but more office/condo-like rather than townhouses. As for “too wide”, how else can you put rail in the middle of the street? I like the wide MLK with rail in the middle, it makes it look more European-like and less automobile-oriented.

      I agree that four lanes in addition to the existing four lanes on NE 12th Street (which connects to Bel-Red Rd) is too much. The city should choose one or the other as the thoroughfare.

      1. Maybe they could vacate 12th east of 116th to 124th and connect it to the new 15th at that point (that’s how 15th is going to be connected into the grid anyway (PDF).) Then you make 15th/16th the major thoroughfare all the way east to where 16th currently intersects with Bel-Red. Then Bel-Red from that point east can remain the thoroughfare it already is. Then Bel-Red between 124th and the east end of 16th can be downsized to a local street. I also wonder if they could extend 16th just a bit further to 140th.

        If people scream about losing that section of Bel-Red, then just rename the new 15th/16th as “Bel-Red” and call the previous section “Old Bel-Red.”

      2. You really, really, do not need roads with two travel lanes each way, what with the nearby thoroughfares. It’s just an invitation for trouble.

  9. Honestly, my first reaction is that this is atrocious.

    But thinking about it more, this is pretty much the same configuration as MLK. And what alternatives are better? If you remove a lane of travel and narrow the remaining lanes, which was my first thought, the station median gets closer and even more out of scale with the street environment. It would only really work if Link was operating as a slower-speed tram, which would kill travel times. Splitting this into parallel streets as Daniel suggests in the first comment is another idea, but that would bring trains right up next to the sidewalk. Getting rid of parking means removing a helpful pedestrian buffer (something that’s lacking in MLK in most places and is a problem.) Perhaps the cycle track could be put on a parallel street to make the crossing a little more narrow, but it’s not really the problem.

    The real answer is grade-separation, but that’s expensive. Anything running at grade is going to look a lot like this. I do wonder if this wouldn’t be a good opportunity to put Bel-Red on a road diet to limit the amount of additional capacity. It’s five lanes through that area currently, and would feel much nicer with one lane of travel in each direction, parking on both sides, and a bike track. The whole area is going to be redeveloped anyway, so it’s an opportunity to make the streets without trains more human-scale and pedestrian-friendly. Of course, the old-time residents would probably scream bloody murder.

  10. I dunno, this honestly seems pretty reasonable to me. It sounds like from the presentation online that they’re recommending the 2-lane option for zone four, the one shown above, which would be 155 feet wide. But just saying “oh my god, 155 feet!!” is disingenuous. What do you think should be cut? About a third of that is the light rail and its station, obviously not cutting that. One lane in each direction is reasonable. (Paid) street parking helps retail and provides a buffer from traffic. A cycletrack is great. The development on either side of the street will be great, providing thousands of residents and employees, and it sounds like they want retail lining 15th/16th, which would make the pedestrian environment great. And the crossing distance at the widest point in their proposed plan is around 80′, with the curb bulbs, which is not that bad. My one quibble is that they should not have 13′ wide lanes, as that encourages speeding. They should have a max width of 11′.

    1. I’d like to see it purely rail ROW, human powered vehicles and local access. As others have pointed out, there is NE 20th along the north and Bell-Red to the south. 116th, 120th, 124th, 130th, 132nd and 140th already connect north/south which is already too many crossing for a rail ROW. 130th is about 1/2 way east to west of the Bell-Red triangle. From Bell-Red Rd to NE 20th is only a 1/2 mile which means the entire area is within a 1/4 mile walkshed. Why carve through the middle of this with a 148th Ave NE type arterial that only goes a mile and a half (116th to 140th). The amount of pavement they’re talking about is a significant portion of the entire area. What happened to the promise of “daylighting the streams”?

      1. Like it or not (I don’t like it), without cars there and parking and everything, the retail along the street except within like a block of the stations would fail, and the development would be unpopular.

      2. Wow, if that’s the case then Link really is just a cover for business as usual. But why do we need to spend billions when we could just get a better result without the extra ROW and tax burden of light rail?

  11. This looks exactly like St. Kilda Road in Melbourne, Australia. And those tram lines are always at crush load during peak hours when there’s trams at as little as 1-3 min intervals, sometimes less depending on bunching. It’s more important as to what’s around the blvd than as to the design of the street itself. If there’s enough workplaces, apts, etc close to the line and it goes to where people want to go, the line will get riders. While the street itself isn’t a hive of pedestrian activity, the lines are utilized to capacity which is more important IMO than having a lively streetscape.

  12. The trains seem to be quite separated from car traffic when at grade. Will the trains still only go at road speeds?

    1. The same speed limit will prevail. 30 or 35 mph. It works pretty well on MLK: often the trains are slightly faster than the cars. The only problem on MLK is the occasional stoppages and shift-changes, not the speed limit. (Of course, 55 mph grade-separated would have been better, but given the limitations of at-grade it works fine.)

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