Sound Transit's most recent preferred alternative on the left, and Bellevue's on the right

I think I completely understand why the “Build a Better Bellevue” folks are pushing for a B7 light rail alignment through South Bellevue. They fear negative impacts of light rail on their quality of life and property values, and have little or no inclination to ride Link once it’s built. I doubt it, but their fears may even be legitimate; in any case, I think it’s essentially impossible to build any major infrastructure if you give that much weight to neighborhood micro-interests.

What I don’t understand is the argument behind a statement like this:

The public also does not understand the very extensive efforts that have been made by Sound Transit itself in seeking to:

• Direct elements of the study in such a way as to add to the costs of the B7R route, as well as to
Complicate the construction of the city’s design preferences.

Sound Transit is a public agency, composed of human beings, that responds to incentives just like any other. They certainly have every incentive to design a study so that the “no-build” alternative, for instance, looks bad, so the argument that they might have done so is at least worth consideration if there’s evidence to back it up.

In the whole B2M/B7 scuffle, however, what’s the angle that B7 proponents think that ST has? Why would they try to slant the study? It’s an honest question, and I’m interested in hearing from B7 supporters more than people who are here to slag on BBB. For someone who doesn’t live there, the alignment seems like a fairly narrow technical question and it’s not all clear to me why ST would care beyond wholly legitimate questions of cost, risk, and ridership.

53 Replies to “What’s the Angle?”

  1. Pretty obvious that the appropriate mitigation for Bellevue’s preferred route over the slough is to remove the egregious fill that is the park and ride. Solves the disconnect of that park and ride to Link at the same time…

  2. I’ve asked this very same question directly to people at BBB over the past 9 months and have never received an answer. They always cry conspiracy but never provide a motive to drive the conspiracy.

  3. “I think I completely understand why the “Build a Better Bellevue” folks are pushing for a B7 light rail alignment through South Bellevue. They fear negative impacts of light rail on their quality of life and property values, and have little or no inclination to ride Link once it’s built.”

    Lets get to brass tacks, i.e., larger numbers of Poor and or Dark skinned people coming to the bellevue square mall and driving away the Beaver Cleaver wannabe families and other upscaled suburban monied posers.

    1. Let’s leave the race card out of it, along with the preconceived notion that Bellevue is composed of affluent white bigots. When I browse for most popular titles rented on Netflix by Bellevue residents, the top 10 titles are all Hindi language films produced by India’s Bollywood film industry. So, if race plays any part of it in reality, the bigots would have already lost long before light rail has any affect.

      1. I dont think East Coast Cynic is saying Bellevue is full of affluent white bigots, he’s saying BBB is.

      2. You have to question not only the possible white bread motivations of BBB, but those of Kemper Freeway–keeping out the perceived low class rabble from his mall properties–motivations which may not necessarily be those of Bellevue residents with taste in eclectic Indian film.

    2. The “darkie” argument is odd because Kemper surely knows that the 550 stops adjacent to his properties, and that its other end is downtown and Rainier Valley. There’s also the fact that recent light rail systems including Link have attracted a more middle-class ridership than the nearby buses. The idea of poor gangbangers flocking to the trains really only applies to 100-year-old systems like NYC and Chicago, and even there it’s no longer accurate as middle-class ridership has risen since the 80s and violence has diminished.

      The argument that the train will divert Eastside shoppers to downtown rather than Bel Square is also unlikely. There’s a strong psychological separation between Seattle and the suburbs. People who live in Seattle want to shop in Seattle (an urban setting), and people who live on the Eastside want to shop on the Eastside (where the architecture is cleaner and fancier and there’s free parking). The people who do cross the bridge are going to work or visiting somebody, or going to something unique (a shop or event) that’s not available on the other side.

      Kemper is right that his target clients drive, and will drive no matter what kind of transit there is. They also insist on free parking. Those who are willing to walk to the store or park in a paid garage, already shop downtown. They’re just different kinds of people, and the presence or absence of a subway won’t change that. But Link will make it easier for mall employees to get to work, among other things.

      1. I agree, as I live in the suburbs and would rather shop somewhere on the east side or Lynnwood rather than to go to downtown, fighting traffic and paying for parking. I’ve been downtown and go there every so often. Nearly every store there is also somewhere else. Link will make it easier for me to get there for Mariner games or Seahawks games, or those occasional trips.

  4. it’s not all clear to me why ST would care beyond wholly legitimate questions of cost, risk, and ridership.

    Exactly, there doesn’t seem to be much weight put on noise impacts, parks, traffic or future development potential. And there wasn’t even much care about cost until the revenue started to shrink.

      1. Let’s see, bought a home next to the train tracks (and an Interstate highway) that’s zoned transit friendly multifamily/commercial and voted overwhelmingly (+60%) for light rail. If they’re objecting then that is the very definition of NIMBY.

      2. “If they’re objecting then that is the very definition of NIMBY.”

        Possibly, except that unlike Surrey Downs the trains would *literally* be in their back yard. Have you been in those units and seen where the trains would run? My point goes to relative impacts. Given the number of units over there and the *extremely* close proximity, their impacts are much higher than Surrey Downs.

  5. I assume they fear that urban transit advocates are trying to urbanize their quiet suburb and force them to change their way of life, just as many people believe there’s a “war on cars,” rather than ideas about reducing congestion.

  6. Does anyone know exactly how many people we’re really talking about, and what percentage they represent even of their own neighborhood, let alone of everyone affected by the LINK segment in question?

    I’m also suspicious regarding how much those signs along the route have the same deliberately-hand-lettered look of the ones the Lyndon LaRouche people- who can definitely afford better graphics- have on their card tables.

    Might be better all around if those particular anti-rail people at least invested in signage that did more credit to their neighborhood. If I were one of their neighbors, I’d have a complaint about the aspersions those signs cast on my own property values.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I won’t delve into numbers, but just take a look at the pair of stations from B2M and B7 on the map.

      B2M serves an existing park-and-ride with decent connection to lots of buses connecting to farther-east destinations, plus a not-very-dense neighborhood covering a little over a quarter of its mostly fallow walkshed. The second station is in the middle of a neighborhood, albeit a fairly low-density one.

      B7 has stations serving a small park&ride in the middle of nowhere and a station at the lower corner of the central Bellevue business district, with just strip-mall-type stores in the walkshed.

      I think B2M generates more riders because of the transfers at South Bellevue Park&Ride. Putting it another way, not having South Bellevue Station would be an ongoing operational expense for Metro and ST.

      1. I think B2M generates more riders because of the transfers at South Bellevue Park&Ride.

        South Bellevue currently has seven bus routes (really only six since the 555/556 is the same except for how it accesses Eastgate). The 240 is slated to be rerouted to Eastgate and the 550 would be replaced by Link so we’re down to four. The 211 has a long diversion to reach South Bellevue and then continues to Mercer Island where riders could transfer to Link more efficiently. The 222 is Eastgate-Factoria-DT Bellevue. There’s only a small number of people along the central portion of this route because most of it’s freeway or the Nature Preserve and there’s way better options from either end of the route if you’re trying to get into Seattle. How many people on the 555/556 (Issaquah to Northgate) are transfering at S. Bellevue to go to Seattle? You don’t get on that bus if you’re trying to go down town and if you are your options are better at Eastgate. The 560, Bellevue to Seatac has even less people than the 222 that would take it to transfer at S. Bellevue. There’s still going to have to be some sort of local bus service for South Bellevue with light rail. Local service between Bellevue Transit center and Mercer Island picks up all but a handful of 222 riders.

        In short, South Bellevue is not a Transit Center; it’s a suburban P&R lot, nothing more, nothing magic. The ridership all comes at the expense of $40k per stall of “free” parking. What was the expense of the elevated station and parking structure, $140 million? The cost of the additional fly over ramp (with footings in the peat bog) that WSDOT demanded? A lot of green for a location with nothing around it, piss poor bus connections and zero development potential.

      2. However, the South Bellevue P&R may be used as a connection point for Seattle bound buses when Link starts operating, depending on what ST and Metro decide to do.

      3. That would be silly. Eastgate to S. Bellevue is the same amount of time as Eastgate to Mercer Island. Check the schedules or use google trip planner; it’s another fantasy of those caught up in the magical spell cast by S. Bellevue that it’s some how “closer”. Eastbound bus riders going into Seattle would pay a time penalty of however long it takes the train to travel between M.I. and S. Bellevue. Plus it just adds to the peak hour congestion which is going to be worse on Bellevue Way with a Link Station at S. Bellevue. Plus, M.I. is a destination. S. Bellevue P&R isn’t and will never have the number of frequent bus connections M.I. does.

      4. South Bellevue Station’s most important connection was the 240. With the 240 re-routed to Eastgate, it has become quite smalltime.

        However, you have to assume Newcastle will grow over the next 100 years or so, and will eventually warrant a second all-day local route. The neighborhoods South of Bellevue will want a good connection to East Link. Kill SB station now, and you are basically telling everyone south of I-90 that they shouldn’t use East Link.

      5. Why would someone going from Newcastle to Seattle want transfer to Link at S. Bellevue instead of Mercer Island? The time to get to either P&R is the same but S. Bellevue is out of direction. Newcastle to downtown Bellevue it would be a couple of minutes faster but Seattle is always going to be a much larger destination.

      6. Bernie, a bus going from Newcastle to S. Bellevue Station serves two commute groups: those headed to downtown Seattle and those headed to downtown Bellevue, Overlake, or Redmond. Interlining the two destinations, should make for better headway.

      7. I know that, but far and away the largest trip generator in the region is and always will be the Seattle CBD so you optimize for that. If by interlining you mean send half the buses to M.I. and half to S. Bellevue I think that is a terrible idea. Then instead of one transit center riders don’t know which is going to be the better eastbound bus connection. And by cutting headways in half everybody loses. The travel time between the two stations is only going to be a couple of minutes on the train.

  7. If you build B7 you can’t build C11A…at least not without more study. It might just be pidgeon-holling ST into the Vision Line…

  8. The right-most alignment? It looks like it includes the downtown tunnel, with the same downtown station, as the ST preferred alignment… And gets there from I-90 without any at-grade crossings!!! Why isn’t this preferable to ST’s awful surface alignment with all those terrible at-grade crossings?

    1. Greater impacts on the Slough, greater construction risk, uncertainty over how construction through the Slough will affect the I-90 bridges, impossibility to connect to a future Issaquah alignment because of the elevation gain required to get over future 405/90 interchange improvements…

      …and it costs ~$150M more than B2M.

      Please tell us why at-grade crossings are “terrible”? I won’t buy “safety” as a valid argument; ST has had less than a couple handfuls of vehicle-train collisions in the Rainier Valley over the last two years, and two of the three pedestrian fatalities in SODO were suicides (the third was somebody who chose to walk through a closed gate while wearing headphones, ignored the warning devices, and didn’t bother to look up and see if a train was approaching).

      1. I would still prefer elevated along 112th, FTR, but overall it seems ridiculous to me so invest so much money in a system that’s mostly grade-separated, but not to go all the way. This system will be with us for decades, let’s build it right. Why can’t we learn from Central Link? Rainier Valley should have been elevated, too.

      2. Poorly designed at grade crossing are terrible and they do cause accidents. Just google “Wham Bam Tram” and you can see how well the Houston Light rail did.

        The other reason is that at grade crossings block cross street traffic making all other traffic worse. If one of the goals is “reduced congestion” which is impossible, it should at least not “increase congestion.”

      3. At-grade crossings are terrible because they force the train to go at 35 mph rather than 55 mph. That prevents the line from achieving its potential, and adds a time penalty to every trip which adds up over a year, putting a drag on the region’s commerce.

      4. Elevated is more expensive and cuts off Bellevue’s view of the park. However, there is a concept to put the crossing of 112th in a retained cut before SE 8th. It’s basically a ploy by the Bellevue Club to protect their tennis courts, but might be a good thing.

      5. What would the speed limit of the train be within a retained cut?

        Oh, and how do the two lines (B7 and B2M) compare in travel time to get to Downtown Bellevue (underground) Station?

      6. On the question of travel time through the Rainier Valley, I have to point out that half the travel penalty is due to the detour, running roughly due east/west under Beacon Hill. That’s a five-minute time penalty that was added to the line to serve Rainier Valley even if it were tunneled or elevated. The at-grade portion on MLK takes roughly 12 minutes to traverse, with three at-grade station stops. I think the time savings of elevating the MLK segment would have been 2-3 minutes tops.

        So, I suspect the travel time difference between B7 and B2M couldn’t be much more than a minute. The time saved by tunneling under downtown Bellevue is probably larger, due to the likelihood of the Bellevue City Council not granting Link signal priority. Indeed, I’m having a hard time envisioning four-car trains getting through the downtown Bellevue street grid.

        Microsoft ought to pitch in to help with the tunnel. Bellevueites won’t be the largest beneficiaries of the tunnel. Microsoft employees will.

  9. I’m sure the residents of First Hill were aghast when the first apartment building was constructed.

    Times change. It can’t be 1958 forever.

    1. No because it was a different era, with a different mindset, and the city was much younger. First Hill was in the second wave of expansion after Pioneer Square, and while the very first buildings may have been single-family houses, taller buildings followed soon after. There wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction against size; they weren’t trying to build a non-city in a city. First Hill was adjacent to downtown. If they wanted the country they’d have built in the middle of nowhere (at the time: Leschi, U-district, Greenlake, or to be really extreme: Lynnwood, Newport Hills).

  10. Actually, the key to getting Light Rail to Bellevue is to attack Kemper Freeman directly as a pro-car tyrant and an anti-transit fanatic. And to call out everyone he supports on the city council as his puppets and lapdogs. And to boycott Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square, and Bellevue Place. When you go to a movie at Lincoln Square, some of that profit goes to Tim Eyman.

    I don’t think you can be nice about this, at all. Kemper sure hasn’t been. He is systematically ruining Bellevue’s transit future out of an inordinate love of cars and profits, a hatred of transit and taxes, and a fear that carless shoppers will buy less at his mall. I guess it’s a distraction to get into how the mall sits on the strawberry fields of Japanese-Americans whose land was taken from them, but that awful fact helps you know what cloth he’s cut from.

  11. Its too bad someone from the BBB hasn’t responded. I doubt they read this blog. Maybe Martin should ask them to do a guest editorial?

  12. The question was, “what’s the angle that B7 proponents think that ST has? Why would they try to slant the study?”

    Taking it at face value, I think BBB (and some council members) just don’t trust ST at all. They point to an inconsistent record of delivering projects on time and budget, and the ST board being appointed rather than elected, limiting accountability. And I also think that they believe ST is just going for what’s cheapest rather than look at people/neighborhoods affected.

    But I think it’s moot, as Bellevue got their own take on B7 from Arup, addressing concerns BBB raised and more. It still costs a bunch more than B2M, but interestingly, the ridership numbers work.

    And they can get the money to work by abandoning C9T or C11A and advocating C14E.

    1. But that presumes that B2M is cheapest. The substance of the allegation is that ST is trying to make B7/B7R more expensive than it really is. What I don’t understand is what possible motive ST could have to do so.

      I would venture that C9T is a bigger priority for Bellevue than B7, and it should be.

      1. In the DEIS B7 cost estimates were very close (high/low overlapping) with B2M. Somehow the ST board became obsessed over segment ridership instead of system ridership which was virtually identical (within the margin of error). This lead to the fantasy that South Bellevue is a magical place. Maybe it should be renamed Camelot for Cars! Never has the ST board expressed any concern over traffic impacts on Bellevue Way which City staff has shown will be much worse than the incomplete modeling done in the DEIS. And frankly, the “out of our way we’re comin’ through” attitude expressed by representatives from other subareas has really rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

      2. If the Bellevue City Council really wanted to reduce the cost of B7, why didn’t they drop one of the stations?

      3. Bernie, I don’t think your characterization of the attitude toward Bellevue is fair. You may recall that it was the Bellevue City Council that originally preferred the B2 approach, before the majority shifted. There has to be a point at which the decision is made and the project gets built. ST has sunk a lot of money into Bellevue’s original preferred alignment.

      4. Martin, that’s the big question right now: is the Council truly behind a tunnel? Or will they stick to their guns on the Vision Line? And in so doing, line the Wallace’s pockets, put the interestes of a small handful (I’d say there are 50 people who really oppose the B2M) of neighbors ahead of those in downtown Bellevue? Only time will tell.

      5. You may recall that it was the Bellevue City Council that originally preferred the B2 approach, before the majority shifted.

        No, the compromise reached by the council was a new proposal which was essentially the B3 alignment. This served South Bellevue and Wilburton and avoided 112th and mitigated the impacts on the plans for remaking Main and Old Bellevue. The only part of the councils preferred alternative that was adopted was to change the alignment on Bellevue Way from center running to side running. If the ST board had back the compromise route developed by the council this would all be water under the bridge but the stated fall back preference was B7… before the majority shifted.

      6. Bernie,

        I appreciate the response, but it doesn’t really answer the narrow point I was making. You’re agreeing that the cost and ridership indicators (narrowly, in your view) tilt in favor of B2M, but that they should be considering other factors. I respect that opinion, but it’s quite different from suggesting that ST is somehow fudging the cost and ridership study to make B2M look better for some other, nefarious purpose.

      7. What I don’t understand is what possible motive ST could have to [make B7/B7R more expensive than it really is].

        I think the motivation is that once a preferred route has been decided on (either in one’s own mind or by a vote it’s natural to A) want to be right, and B) move that position forward as quickly as possible. I don’t believe the ST board, because of it’s appointed nature was ever going to consider anything other than a route that exited I-90 at Bellevue Way and by the time the DEIS was publish the B2 alignment was a done deal.

  13. Martin has laid out a really interesting question, because the facts have never seemed to support B7. Saying it protects neighborhoods overlooks two obvious flaws: there are neighbors along the route – in fact, more would be affected by B7 than the B2 would impact – and most of the two southern Bellevue neighborhoods (Surrey Downs and Enatai) WANT the system, want to use it, and want it proximate to our homes. Perhaps the more interesting question is what kind of leaders do we have on the City Council who would put politics so obviously ahead of the long-term interests of the city, and who would put the interests of a small but vocal group of residents ahead of the rest of the city’s neighborhoods and its economic best intersts as well?

    1. Nice try but the precinct voting was covered here. Surrey Downs split less than 40% and 45-50% approval and only passed west of 108th, farthest from the B2 alignment. In contrast, the precinct right along the B7 route voted 55-60% approval. Enatai voted 50-55% approve but Wilburton voted over 60% approve. So yes, let’s put the rail where people want it; not Surrey Downs which was the only precinct to give light rail the red light!

      1. If they want B7, let’s create Surrey Downs LID which raises $140 million!

      2. That was pretty much my comment to Sound Transit’s board, substituting “Bellevue” for “Surrey Downs”. I also added the tunnel to that.

  14. It’s pretty obvious they are simply paralleling the existing highway corridors. They thus conceive of light rail as a fast(er) way to get around by driving or busing to a station and then heading towards a destination like BelSquare or the Airport.

    They don’t want to remake their communities…in that sense they are probably the same as people in the Rainer Valley…who were not allowed to voice their opinions while they were being socially engineered.

    People have been asking and asking for parking lots around stations, not bistros. LINK is a success when it is used as a parking lot shuttle for soccer, baseball and football games from the Tukwila Station.

  15. I’m not a member of BBB, but I live in downtown Bellevue and I agree with Bellevue Council’s recommendations. Why?

    1. Sound Transit had all kinds of money when it built in Seattle, but wants to put surface trains through downtown Bellevue because they’re out of money. Give me a break. NE 8th and 116 Ave NE is the busiest intersection in the state. You want to put a surface train in downtown Bellevue traffic? (Trust me, it’s not like all the cars will disappear because there is a train.)

    2. Sound Transit isn’t trustworthy. If ridership was everything, they would have gone down Bellevue Way. If impact is everything, they should go next to the existing north-south transportation corridor that splits Bellevue (i.e., I-405). Sound Transit admitted that they moved their plan from the east to the west side of 112th to save the Bellevue Club’s tennis courts, and then claimed that all the condo owners on the west of 112th wanted to sell anyway. Of course they wanted to sell…there was going to be a train in their front yards! And why, why, why would you put a station on Main St. and another station just six blocks away???

    3. Seattle has a rabid culture of “screw everyone, I’m right”. This blog is a prime example. The hatred, contempt and bitter lies that I read in the comments on this blog are extremely discouraging. Example: Bellevue is actually one of the most diverse cities in this state, not the least. And (as I said before), Surrey Downs is actually filled with small, inexpensive homes that don’t have Range Rovers in the driveway (unlike Montlake). It appears to me that the decisions about transit in this region are made by Seattle, for Seattle, and every other city is at best a challenge to overcome. It’s disingenous that you folks scream so loudly and wonder why Bellevue residents scream back.

    Frankly, I accept that the train will be routed wherever the heck Sound Transit wants it to go. And Bellevue will cope, because it’s a well-run city and has resources and insight to figure out how to work around it’s problems. I’ll admit, I’m hoping that Sound Transit just goes bankrupt before they can build to the east. I voted for transit both times, and I believe in transit. But I would fire Sound Transit in a minute.

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