177 feet - this is not TOD

For anyone interested in the Bel-Red redevelopment, there’s an open house coming up that will primarily address the new NE 15/16th street arterial that will be built along the corridor.  Some of the right-of-way design options that have already been reviewed by the city council range up to 177 feet, widths that tend to be horrendously bad for successful and walkable transit-oriented development.

From the City’s press release (PDF):

The new street is being designed for a variety of transportation users, including motorists, pedestrians, bicyclists, light-rail passengers and bus and vanpool riders. Attendees can learn about, and comment upon, roadway options intended to accommodate future growth in the area and integrate with the planned East Link light rail route. Two light rail stations are proposed along the new thoroughfare – at 120th Avenue Northeast and at 130th Avenue Northeast, with a park-and-ride proposed at the 130th Avenue station.

The open house is from 5 to 7pm on the first-floor concourse at Bellevue City Hall this Wednesday, February 2nd.

38 Replies to “Open House for Bel-Red’s New Arterial”

  1. I honestly don’t care about TOD here—it’s essentially vaporware. No businesses are committed to bringing their offices here, there are no condo buyers looking for places to live. In DT Bellevue in fact, they’re having to convert condos to apartments because the market was so overinflated. I would prefer Bellevue focus on urbanizing the actual downtown, rather than sprawling up the Bel-red corridor.

    What I care about is travel times on the east link, and they will be significantly impacted by being at-grade here. I’d give up all the TOD here to avoid getting stuck in traffic here.

    1. “No businesses are committed to bringing their offices here, there are no condo buyers looking for places to live.”
      You do realize we’re talking at least ten, if not more like fifteen years out, right? By that time Downtown Bellevue will start to become maxed out, and besides, this location will be better for people who would rather live in midrises than in skyscrapers, and for people who work at Microsoft, and for all other sorts of people. Since this street is being designed with light rail in it, it will be built to make the trains go pretty fast from the start. Not to mention that a lot of the time between stations in Bel-Red it’ll be grade-separated.

      1. Sen. Murray pulling in D.C. for Bel-Red makeover

        [Senator] Murray said the Obama administration needs a shovel-ready project to become the national poster child for transit-oriented development and sustainable growth. The Bel-Red plan fits that bill, she said.

        What is it, shovel ready or more than a decade out? I was actually looking for when the commitment to start building the Spring District has to be formalized by Wright Runstad before the Federal seed money turns back into a pumpkin.

    2. So what, apartments don’t count as TOD? Apartment dwellers are more likely to prefer transit to car ownership than condo dwellers anyway.

    3. Actually, I’d love to live in a condo along this new stretch, once light rail is built. To be able to step right outside my door and be able to take light rail to SeaTac, Downtown Bellevue, Seattle, Northgate, etc. for work or entertainment without having to drive to a park & ride sounds great to me.

      Hopefully by the time this actually gets built out in 10 or 15 years, my mortgage on my house in Everett won’t be under water anymore, and I might actually be able to sell it. :)

  2. “177 feet – this is not TOD”

    So what would be good for TOD? Is there another option people need to push for? If not, what changes need to be made to this one?

      1. There must be a serious change afoot in the global political situation if I’m agreeing with Sherwin on something :=

    1. It seems like they want this one arterial to serve all modes rather than spreading it out. There’s no reason bikes couldn’t have a parallel bikeway a block over, and there’s no reason to have 2 car lanes in each direction. Why run light rail on a wide arterial at all? I think MLK is a cautionary example here–the road is so wide and intimidating that it’s very hard to imagine any sort of walkable neighborhood emerging out of it. One more reason that elevated is worth the cost for light rail.

  3. Would like to see next rendering done by someone with a little imagination.

    Just because in the past so many ugly and boring things have been built around here in decades past- an artist friend of mine calls it “beige-a-vue”- doesn’t make this a law of nature.

    Corridor could just as easily be a line of discreet, compact communites around stations, with woods and parks in between. “Streetcar suburbs” used to be pretty places.

    Mark Dublin

    1. this is a massing study with a detailed design for streetscape. it is not a rendering of what the buildings will look like just that the plan is for them to be 5-6 stories high. i think it actually could be a very nice street, its only 2 lanes in each direction and has LRT on a dedicated right of way, a cycle track, abundant street trees, on-street parking and the buildings would have decent height to enclose the street.

  4. Some on the City Council seems to view Link as an excuse to build out another whooping wide boulevard. If the Spring District is TOD and “a vision for a different type of development” then they don’t need this road at all. Keep the traffic on NE 20th and Bel-Red. If the existing arterials can’t handle the traffic then the TOD was a failure.

    1. Agreed, this shouldn’t become an excuse to add to car capacity while expanding transit.

  5. I can’t make this meeting, but my take on this is that the Bel-Red neighborhood doesn’t need more capacity for cars. If we’re creating four lanes of traffic along the Link corridor we should make the necessary adjustments so that it can be the new thoroughfare, and downsize Bel-Red Road to two lanes between 124th and 140th, possibly converting the excess pavement to a bike path, street parking, or open space.

    1. I should point out that when I first thought of this idea back in October I measured Bel-Red vs. 15th/16th via Google Maps/pedometer and discovered that the new road is 400 feet shorter than the section of Bel-Red it would replace, so even with more signalized intersections it’s not going to increase travel times significantly. If we can get both car and train traffic along the area with new development, that will increase the likelihood of success for the whole project. But if we just add lanes without downsizing Bel-Red, at best the new street will capture half the existing car traffic that currently uses Bel-Red. That means less successful TOD, and lower Link ridership.

    1. I should clarify:

      For a main corridor. This coupled with alleys and narrow side streets could be really nice.

    2. But Haussmannian boulevards tend not to be very human scale. Sure the Champs-Élysées makes for dramatic photos, but wide streets aren’t nearly as pedestrian friendly as narrower streets with slower traffic.

    3. Haussman does not belong in a supposed TOD corridor in Bellevue. We’re not laying the red carpet for military parades here.

  6. Just saying “177 feet!” is disingenuous. You have to look at the context. Obviously the width of the street taken up by light rail tracks and the platforms is necessary. The cycletrack is great. Parking, like it or not, is necessary to support the retail along the street. Two lanes in each direction is relatively reasonable. I’m a huge advocate of sustainable development and of alternative transportation, and I honestly have no problem with this.

    1. Disagree. The 177 foot design is disproportionately out of scale with what is generally considered successful pedestrian orientation. In particular, it makes crossing the street that much difficult, especially for the elderly or disabled. If you look at the other designs, you can do some mix-and-match with the elements, but the 177 foot corridor is the whole slate, which just translates into an unnecessarily wide canyon.

      Cycletrack? Cool, but it can’t do much more than what conventional bike lanes will already be doing. Plus, it just drives up the project cost. Parking for retail? Yes, but not on a so-called ‘arterial.’ They would be much more appropriate on a side street feeder.

      And this road certainly does not need four lanes. If employment density grows significantly in the next twenty years, then you might expect quite a bit of diverted traffic from Bel-Red and NE 20th. I don’t want mad drivers coming out of their workplaces to barrel through the area. Especially not with pedestrians that have to walk 180 feet just to cross a street.

      1. Great point about the parking along an arterial. They really should decide if this is a “main street” kind of retail strip (in which case it should be one lane in each direction with short-term parking) or a major arterial (in which case have 2 lanes in each direction but cut out the parking). One or the other. Otherwise you get a situation like Vancouver, BC, which despite its many fine attributes has ridiculously wide roads that ruin any chance for the retail corridors to feel human-scale at all. Their car capacity is out of control, and really limits the ability of their impressive transit system to capture more ridership.

    2. I was sitting in the Bravern looking out over NE 8th while reading this article, and imagined comparing that arterial avenue’s 7 lane width to this 177 ft. wide concept. I concluded that NE 8th’s 7 lane width is pretty significantly narrower than this concept’s double light rail tracks, 2 lanes each direction, strett parking, cycletrack and wide sidewalks. So, after putting in context, this is way overdone. It should be either 1 car lane each direction with street parking, or a two lane each direction arterial – like other commenters have posted. Not both.

  7. This represents one approach to handling at-grade light rail, vehicular traffic, pedestrians and bicycles in a corridor — the single grand street strategy. The result could be like the Grand Boulevard in Budapest, or like the Las Vegas Strip with tracks instead of palm trees, or, more likely, like a wide downtown Bellevue street with a light rail line down the middle.

    A challenge in establishing this new street as a grand pedestrian boulevard is the fact that it cannot have frequent street crossings due to the presence of light rail down the middle. MLK presents a similar challenge today, while, unfortunately, making no provisions for bicyclists. This Bellevue vision offers a separated bicycle track, which it ought to do, as it’s a blank slate, unlike MLK. (And with a street this wide with intense development and few crossings, how about another 4 feet for a bicycle lane on the other side of the street?)

    A different approach would be to put the majority of east-west vehicular traffic on parallel streets on either side of the main street as well as service entrances for the various businesses and residences. This approach could include one lane of through traffic in each direction, plus on-street parking, plus the separated bicycle track… but with all that it would only be 22-24 feet narrower than this vision.

    There needs to be at least one ped crossing on either side of both rail stations in order to provide a rich pedestrian environment. These could be a couple of blocks away from the station, with signals timed to avoid rail delays.

    Especially with a blank slate like this, it’s worth considering the full range of urban design options. There are many great examples around the world — both good and bad — with rail running at-grade. The urban design of the surrounding area may be more important than whether there are 2 or 4 through lanes down the middle of this street. What seems likely to me is that the result will feel planned, inorganic, and “forced” in character, but it’s difficult to create the pre-conditions for something more interesting to happen.

    1. Given that it’s a blank slate, and given that the two station areas don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) look the same, I think Bellevue is missing some (semi)-creative opportunities like this:

      Instead of this grand street, create a couplet of pedestrian-oriented multi-use streets, with eastbound traffic on 15th, and westbound traffic on 16th, and include generous sidewalks and a buffered (one-way) bicycle track on each street. Essentially this divides this grand boulevard in two more human-scaled pedestrian-oriented streets with no loss of functionality.

      All passengers on light rail would then see all retail on both streets. This configuration might be more appropriate for the district of the two that is more retail-oriented. On-street parking could remain the same as with the original plan.

      1. This sounds a bit like downtown Portland, which is at a very nice human scale. Sounds good to me!

      2. Neither 15th or 16th exist. East/west traffic is handled just fine by 520, NE 20th (aka Northup) and Bel-Red Road. They’re calling it 15th/16th because where the City Council wants to push through a new road would be between those two points on the county grid. Of course as wide as they’re planning this runway to be it might actually cover the whole block! The other thing to consider is what a cluster this is going to create at 140th Ave NE with three major intersections within a stones throw of each other.

  8. Ever since 1789, the people of Paris possessed a form of collective self-defense that worried authorities greatly: huge mobs of them would thread their way through an impenetrable maze of streets and alleys dating from the middle ages, and then emerge and cut the King’s head off.

    So one of Baron Haussmann’s main objectives was to be sure that a very large amount of residential Paris was thoroughly enfiladed with long, clear fields of fire for antipersonnel artillery. I believe they were even called “cannon-shot boulevards.”

    Possibly meetings involving people professionally opposed to light rail have come to the conclusion that Bellevue transit politics now require similar measures. But it’s wrong to call the effect Communist. Not one building shown has classic pillars, an eagle on top, or a buff heroic worker triumphally waving a shovel out front. Probably doesn’t work with a computer mouse anyhow.

    Mark Dublin

  9. In a facetious remark (a poem actually) in publicola I compared our highways with the “transit” waterways of old. So in the 1800s, you would not complain about the width of the Columbia River, or lament how difficult it makes it to commute from your ranch in Vancouver, WA to your general store in Portland.

    No, you simply accept that the things on “your side” of the river are where you purchase, live and find entertainment. So to with roadways. Do roadways always have to be crossed by pedestrians? How about if we build them with the idea that few pedestrians will tread anywhere near them…and instead, walk within the malls, parks and facilities on either side.

  10. Little experiment, John: for three years, stop all human intervention on pavement and structure of one, I-5, and two, the banks, bed, and water of the Columbia River. A hundred years, you probably couldn’t find I-5 at all. The river? Probably some improvement.

    Another experiment: tell the residents of Mercer Island they need to learn to live on their own side of I-90 and so you’re going to “daylight” the interstate by ripping away Luther Burbank Park. Safer to parade down every street in Surrey Downs with an “I Heart LINK” sign, no?

    God, or you could also say natural forces over eons, make a river. Theologically, you could say somebody else created freeways. If you want to see Divine, historical, and natural judgement on your theory of urban and highway planning- move to Detroit.

    Mark Dublin

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