Like most cities on the Eastside, Bellevue has the misfortune of funneling all its transit service into one hub– in this case, it’s the Bellevue Transit Center. Part of the work to update the City’s Transportation Plan is to address this problem by identifying potential investments in improving the mobility of various downtown modes, transit being no exception. While the update is currently in the midst of scoping, we can pinpoint major flaws in the way transit is currently structured downtown.
Take a look at a network map of current downtown routes*– nearly all routes, peak and all-day, are funneled through the transit center. During the peak, the excessive concentration of demand leads to a mish-mash of overlapping routes, which not only congests local streets but also unnecessarily complicates the network. While this approach is generally more useful with transit hubs in smaller suburbs, its effectiveness in Bellevue is tempered by the downtown street geometry and land use.
More below the jump.
With its wide streets and narrow sidewalks, downtown Bellevue has the form of a second-ring suburb but land use and geometry a bit closer to that of an urban downtown. Because it’s built on a rather expansive street grid, there’s a sufficient amount of employment, retail, and housing throughout the core to generate decent transit demand from end to end. The question is how to restructure the downtown network by capitalizing on the grid without compromising the robustness of connections available at the current transit center.
First, it’s worth noting that downtown Bellevue lies on an incomplete grid. Money notwithstanding, the practical long-term investments are capital improvements to fill the gaps, namely rebuilding the NE 6th pedestrian corridor as a ped-bike/transit mall extended to Bellevue Way NE. Buses going west currently have to travel via NE 4th or NE 8th by first turning out of the transit center onto 108th Ave NE, adding minutes to the schedules. Other long-talked about projects like the NE 6th extension across I-405 and the NE 4th extension to 120th could also facilitate long-term mobility.
To capitalize off improvements to the street grid, there are a variety of routing changes that could improve service and coverage downtown:
- Extend the B Line terminal loop west to Bellevue Way, then back east via NE 6th
- Reroute other frequent connecting routes via the new NE 6th mall, like the 271 and 550
- Route the 249 along Bellevue Way NE instead of deviating to the transit center
- Use 106th Ave NE for terminal loops and north-south through-routes to ease peak-hour congestion on 108th Ave NE (i.e., 234/235, 246, etc.)
While there are a number of ways a downtown restructure could be visioned, routing decisions would have to be principled on the idea of grid-based connections between north-south routes (via Bellevue Way, 106th, 108th, etc.) and frequent services along east-west streets, particularly a new NE 6th transit mall. Doing so could not only help manage increased transit demand, but also avoid the perils of congesting the network through the “transit center funnel.”
*The network map contains a number of route errors, but it remains a good visualization of just how much the downtown network clings to the transit center.