In case you were overwhelmed by the information in Sherwin’s wonderful post about remaining East Link design decisions, at the end he discussed the choices for placing Downtown Bellevue’s station. Because this is one of those 100-year decisions that may be made over relatively piddling amounts of money, I want to call further attention to last year’s (rare) unsigned STB editorial advocating for an underground station.

If anything, the difference has become even more pronounced. The latest design makes the underground station shallower and shifts the entrance west –reducing the travel time to almost everything of interest in Bellevue. Zero crossing of public streets between the Transit Center and the station is the difference between making this another Mt. Baker and a design that observes the best principles of transfers.

Downtown Bellevue is the most important station of the entire project and deserves to be done right. That costs money, of course: perhaps the Bellevue City Council is motivated to fund the right thing for future stakeholders in the city. If not, Sherwin outlined several other options for savings that are in Sound Transit’s power; other alternatives would be some delay in completion of the line, or perhaps sacrificing some park-and-ride spaces. All of these would cause pain in one way or another, but Downtown Bellevue is worth it.

61 Replies to “From the Archives: Bury Bellevue’s Station”

  1. And if the City Council isn’t interested in funding this? Perhaps they should build C11A, the two station surface option that actually offers the best mobility for Bellevue residents.

    1. And the worst conditions for operations. The probability of conflict and delays of a surface station would be much higher. Remember, this is suppose to be a reginal “S-bahn” type system, not a local tram (for which surface running and mode-mixing would be more acceptable).

      And I’m also not going to let years’ worth of efforts to grade-separate the line be ruined by a few people who can’t walk down a (now shorter) flight of stairs.

      1. In all of my vitriol against the “NE 6th & absolutely nowhere near 110th Ave” station, I just realized that I have yet to point out that the “optimized shallower 110th Ave NE station” option is about a million times better than any of the prior proposals!

        It’s amazing to me that if money were no object, we’d be guaranteed something deep, vacuously mezzanine-strewn, and laborious to access. And that if clueless small-town thinkers had their way, we’d be getting slow surface running and grade-crossing complications.

        But only as a compromise — as an accident — do we now have something on the table that approximates what every good rapid transit station should be: grade separated but quick to reach, with no superfluous levels and the primary entrance right on the (correct) street corner and inches away from transfers.

        If the “optimized shallower 110th Ave NE station” is chosen, it will be the best station in the entire Link system.

        So what is the chance of that actually happening?

      2. Despite all of my railing against d.p.’s vitriol against the “NE 6th & absolutely nowhere near 110th Ave” station, I just want to say that I would be happy if the “optimized shallower 110th Ave NE station” option were built. It actually gets me closer to one of the common destinations I go to in Bellevue. That said, I wouldn’t be put out too much by having to walk from slightly east of NE 6th and 110th NE.

        Unfortunately, we need to wait a decade for this to open, and then only as far as OTC.

      3. slightly east

        It’s 305 additional feet just to reach the escalator. 400 additional feet to where the train will stop. Entirely across empty, windswept plaza.

        Plus waiting for the walk light.

        Plus all the additional blocks that most wouldn’t be walking if the station had been at 108th.

        It’s far more than “slightly” east, and it’s far more than “slightly” unacceptable.

      4. d.p.

        I’ve glad you’ve found something you’re actually for! Write letters to your Sound Transit board members!

      5. Do I, in Seattle, have any Sound Transit board members with the slightest bit of leverage over this apparently Bellevue City Council-dominated decision?

        If so, I will gladly write in support of the “optimized 110th” option. Really.

        (I can’t imagine McGinn or Conlin hold much sway on this particular matter, and Dow is an idiot. Do the three of them, McDermott, Phillips, and von Reichbauer at least get to vote on this, or are they all effectively at the Bellevue Council’s mercy?)

      6. Having no mezzanine level is great for access in East Link’s current configuration.

        If in the future that Bellevue wanted to add another line through downtown and make the Transit Center a major transfer point, it would make transferring from one line to another a lot more difficult without a mezzanine level. The purpose of the mezzanine is to link multiple platforms, which we don’t currently have, but may very well have in the future.

        DSTT stations are overbuilt for the purpose that it currently serves, but in my opinion it is a lot more prepared to accommodate additional lines and expansions (and even underground walkways) than the shallower Bellevue station.

      7. One of the few enumerable benefits of “light” rail is that the trains are light enough to build transfer platforms right on top of one another.

        If Bellevue (miraculously) ever had enough demand for a second line, you could hollow out a space directly beneath the first platforms and provide an easy vertical transfer. The original station becomes “Bellevue Upper” and the new station becomes “Bellevue Under”. The stairs just continue downward and the elevator just adds an extra button.

        Heavy rail subways are generally loathe to try to engineer for the weight involved in doing this, which is why you generally need to move laterally in some way to transfer in New York or London (even if one line will pass beneath the other past the end of the platforms).

        TD;DR — Even with a bi-level transfer station, a mezzanine is not a necessity.

      8. d.p.,

        Link carriages are 47.6 tonnes. Taipei’s MRT heavy rail carriages are 39.5 tonnes per carriage and they’re some of the biggest carriages I’ve seen on any subway system. Our light rail trains aren’t light at all.

        Constructing a stacked transfer would require removal of the existing platform, which will lead to shutting down the line for months if not years. It’s a logistical and construction nightmare. Now throw in the fact that in the future, fare gates may be installed. Now how to you plan around that?

        Mezzanines were designed with a purpose and used all over the world as a way to connect multiple grade-separated lines at one station. We really don’t need to reinvent the wheel.

        The better way of doing this however is to make the ground floor the mezzanine level, which would expand the station footprint on street-level (not necessarily a bad thing). I think that’s the future for Bellevue if we proceed with the current shallow design.

      9. I don’t know Teipei, but something is clearly screwy with the way you’re crunching the numbers. Individual Link cars are actually quite a bit longer than most individual rapid transit cars, though with less interior capacity thanks to the low-floor layout and articulated sections; the total length of the consist is, of course, shorter.

        I have no doubt that the trains wind up being lighter on a per-square-foot-of-weight-needing-to-be-borne basis. After all, that is what allows for the flexibility of running environments, without which the whole point of building “light rail rather than heavy is lost.

        And while you’re looking cock-eyed at the numbers, you’re ignoring the many real-world precedents that abound, wherein light rail trains (similar in size and weight to Link) already do stop at platforms directly on top of connecting subway platforms in places like Boston (Park Street), Los Angeles (7th St/Metro Center), and even Vancouver (in the double-decker Skytrain tunnel; Skytrain cars, like the DLR in London, possess light-rail-like specs)… something real heavy rail never seems to attempt.

    1. “The Hindenburg project has already been delayed and re-designed ad nauseum.
      Just build it!”

      (Sometimes it’s more important to get it right than to do something just for the sake of doing something.)

      1. Quibble: The Hindenberg *design* was actually fine — it’s just that for fairly obvious reasons we didn’t let the Germans have helium to fill it, as the original design called for. So they went with hydrogen instead.

      2. Designing an airship on the basis of a vague and unlikely hope that the U.S. will do an about-face and sell you helium does, in fact, quality as a faulty design process.

        Similarly, designing an outdoor platform past the eastern horizon on the basis of a vague and unlikely hope that none of your riders value their time or convenience also, in fact, qualifies as a faulty design process.

  2. Isn’t it in Sound Transit’s power to change their mind about having an East Main Station and put that money into a better Bellevue Station? It’s a truly horrible station location. It’s an understatement to say that it will be underused. It’s not too pull the plug on this station. What’s ST worried about? Are they worried they’ll lose face if they admit that they were wrong? Or do they lack the political will to stand up to Surrey Downs and Bellevue who will decry its elimination?

    BTW, it was a bad station when I thought it was located at 112th and Main, but now that I know it’s not actually on Main St. but 400 feet south of Main at SE 2nd St., it’s even a worse idea. Also, who do they think they are kidding. Let’s call it what it is. Surrey Downs Station. That’s who it’s intended to pacify and serve.

    1. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to delete the East Main station to pay for a better BTC station. It would probably save more than $33 million.

    2. To set the record straight, a recent poll of Surrey Downs residents showed the overwhelming majority prefer the Main Street station be completely eliminated.

      1. Thank you, Scott Lampe! Forgive the shouting, but NO ONE IN SURREY DOWNS WANTS THE EAST MAIN STATION!

        I personally believe–and I might be wrong–that the East Main station still exists because Sound Transit can’t admit that it lost the battle for a SE 8th station. But I know–and I’ll gladly put money on it if anyone doubts–that no one in Surrey Downs wants the East Main station.

  3. The compromises have been very disappointing. There is too much on the line to not get it right.

    Is there any reason it isn’t just elevated through Downtown Bellevue?

    I wish we could just go back to the Bellevue Way alignment.

  4. Again, you should visit some of the Skytrain stations in Vancouver, BC. Even some of the large city stations that are below ground level have been built with what seems like cut and partially cover..avoiding the complete entombment of a fully enclosed tunnel station.

    Hence this compromise design might be more forward thinking then you let on.

  5. In my opinion, the further the station gets away from downtown bellevue the better, because that will make it more politically viable in 20 or 30 years to build a second line that has a station within walking distance of everything downtown (as opposed to the current station which is already beyond a reasonable distance for some of the highest-use parts of the area). I’m thinking NE8th and Bellevue Way.

    I would picture a north-south line that goes from totem lake-> krikland -> (real) downtown bellevue -> renton -> south center -> seatac. Could totally reuse BNSF / east link ROW, but at the end of the day, there will be real rail access in dt bellevue.

    1. This is a bad way of thinking. Consider that “Alphabet City” in New York City was bypassed by the Subway lines in the early 20th century. It still doesn’t really have service. Consider that the area south of Bricklayers Arms along the Kent Road in London has been a dense and busy district since the 19th century; when it lost its route, it never got it back.

      There is no guarantee that a bypassed district will EVER get service. Even if that district continues to be significant. It’s also quite possible that old downtown Bellevue will wither and die as all development moves towards the Link line.

      1. And building a second line just to fix the problems with the first line is bad planning in any case. (resisting temptation to mention MLK/Rainier or Interbay/Fremont-Westlake streetcar)

  6. Is the estimated cost of East Link still $2.8 billion? I figure with the delays it might have risen. Can’t find this information on

  7. The station location certainly isn’t ideal, but as Nathanael points out there will eventually be development around the Link station. There is usable land between 112th and 405 that currently has poor land use that will surely be developed within the next 10-15, if not sooner. The Meydenbauer Center across the street will eventually expand into that ugly, gaping hole north of it, perhaps even with some kind of hotel/added space on top. Sooner or later, the parking garage/sloping grass patch next door to the City Hall and the future station will be developed. The land in Downtown will simply be too valuable.

    As for distance from the BTC and exposure to the elements, it wouldn’t cost too much to invest in good glass roofing coverage over the station platforms to keep users dry, and maybe Bellevue could build rain covers along the sidewalks around the BTC with people in mind. A more nitty-gritty solution here too would be to remove push buttons from the crosswalks and have a light cycle (wishful thinking) with pedestrian priority along the 110th-6th intersection. Again, these are just small solutions to make the most out of a mediocre station location.

    1. That’s the one thing in Nathanael’s post that he’s wrong about, largely because he’s not located locally and has little familiarity with the precise location or the larger land-use and travel-demand patterns.

      The crux: East Link will command a very small mode-share for the next 50 years, even by ST’s rosiest predictions. It will NOT shift the center of gravity by one single inch. Worthwhile development is NOT going to spring up between 112th and a raging highway. The Bravern is, reportedly, on the brink of failure on account of its location.

      What he is correct about is that erroneous placement of this station WILL result in poor service and relative transit uselessness forever. There will NOT be a second Bellevue subway on the way to freaking Renton.

      At some point, someone will probably propose a streetcar to connect to peripheral past-the-garage-entrance platform to the places people might actually want to go. Like the FHSC, that will be the crappiest solution to an eminently precentable problem in the history of the universe.

      1. At some point, someone will probably propose a streetcar to connect the peripheral past-the-garage-entrance platform to places people might actually want to go. Like the FHSC, that will be the crappiest solution to an eminently preventable problem in the history of the universe.

      2. On that note we agree — there will never be a second Bellevue subway. Though your estimation for why the Bravern is failing is a bit off.

        The Bravern is failing because it is clear across downtown from Bellevue Square, which is the dominant shopping destination at the current time, and has ludicrously expensive shops. B-Square, for all its faults, has a JCP, a Macy’s, and some smaller stores people actually want to go to. The Bravern is filled with VERY expensive stores like Jimmy Choo, Louis Vuitton, Niemann Marcus, etc. My girlfriend and I walked over there one day and she commented on how it reminded her of the mall on the Vegas strip with the Prada store. I forget which resort that’s in.

        Part of Bellevue Square’s success has been free parking – at the Bravern, you have to pay a valet to shop at stores that are geared towards a very small clientele. Needless to say, the Bravern sucks, but it doesn’t such because it’s next to a freeway. It’d be interesting to know what the vacancy rates at the Su Development properties (Element and Element Too, I think?) are further north along 112th.

      3. It sounds like we largely agree, actually, that the Bravern’s problems stem from being far from the center of commercial gravity. There’s a ton of money on the Eastside; even with its excessive niche targeting, it would be doing just fine if it were right across the street from, say, Lincoln Square. It would be part of the primary circuit over there; east of downtown it’s out of the way.

        A glorified commuter train that will never push transit modeshare past the single digits LACKS THE POWER TO CHANGE THIS, especially if it is perceived as locationally irrelevant from the get-go. Yet again, ST dupes itself into believing it can induce demand, when it really needs to be following existing demand patterns.

        When I said nothing is going to spring up next to the highway, I was referring to your suggestion that 112th could become newly relevant. The Bravern is on 110th and uphill from the highway; I wasn’t trying to conflate the two. But 112th-114th is never going to be appealing, no matter how many consolation entrances ST points in that direction. The newest, eastmost station design is stupid to the core.

      4. I concur that the station should be under 110th, as one of the existing options still is. My post was more geared towards trying to pitch solutions to the bad option should that be the direction ST eventually decides to take.

        I’ve noticed a lot of discussions/arguments on STB about whether Link should have run down Bellevue Way. I don’t think it should have – ideally, it should have run down 108th. If we can get 110th with entrances on the west side of the street, that will be a victory all in itself. 108th/110th is where the office towers are, and transit should be geared more towards people commuting to work or walking from their condos, not people going to shop at Bellevue Square. That may make me sound Kemper-esque, but a BTC-area station makes more sense.

      5. The Bravern is too far away for car drivers? Now I’ve heard everything. Most of them likely passed the Bravern on their way to Bellevue Square, and think nothing of going to a big box store five miles away for coathangers.

        The Bravern’s failure has everything to do with targeting a narrow clientele with money to burn, because luxury goods are precisely the things people cut back on when times are tight or the future is uncertain. Grocery Outlet has been expanding like wildfire in the past five years.

      6. That hasn’t hurt the BMW dealerships on the Eastside one bit.

        Yes, Mike, people who are driving to downtown Bellevue for what they view as recreational shopping do not wish to make multiple stops for that recreational purpose. The Bravern is seen as an inconvenient alternative to the concentration of destinations around Bellevue/Lincoln Squares.

        Location is why the Bravern is barren. Period.

      7. I don’t know the street names/numbers in Bellevue very well, so when someone mentions 112th, or 108th, I’m not sure exactly where it is. As a Seattle-ite that takes 550 or 271 to Bellevue Square every now and then, I would love it if LINK would have an underground stop right underneath the Bellevue Transit Center. That to me, seems to be the most logical since it is within walking distance of Bellevue Square and many of the office towers in Bellevue. Then, have another stop near the hospitals if you must.

      8. I suspect a lot of the Bravern’s customers may use it as a showroom and then buy what they’re after on the web with free shipping and no sales tax.

      9. >> on the way to freaking Renton

        Hmm. Do I detect a little bit of Seattle bias here? We’ll never have good local planning when folks from the west side of the lake sneer with derision at those on the east side.

      10. Reality has an anti-“sprawl to sprawl subway” bias.

        Sorry to be the bearer of obvious news, AP.

      11. No, I don’t believe that the problems with transportation planning in this city just have to do with local sneering. There’s a stunning amount of incompetence as well–for example, the original train tracks in the downtown tunnel never saw a train or the exit ramps on 520 that never hooked up to a freeway. But you’d be a fool to deny that westside bias doesn’t have a real, material effect on transportation. As one example, Metro/Sound Transit have to deal with funding zones that guarantee service that more or less matches tax bases.

        However, my implication was simpler. I don’t appreciate a Seattle resident looking down upon Renton just because it’s less cool to live in Renton than Capitol Hill. Renton barely qualifies as sprawl. It’s next to the lake, next to the highway, next to a major regional employer, and has a fair amount of high density housing. Yes, it is a suburb, but it doesn’t deserve your derision.

      12. 1. It’s the suburbs that are always demanding sub-area equity, generally resulting in empty transit there and inadequate transit here.

        2. No derision, but yes, you’re sprawl. Downtown Renton is actually kind of cute, and I am certainly glad it is healthy and hasn’t been replaced by a mall. But it is the kind of use-segregated, 1-2 story downtown that is meant to serve miles of surrounding low-density bungalows, which it does. I think your “high-density housing” consists of all of three buildings, containing at most a few hundred residents total.

        Despite the growth of Downtown Bellevue, only the tiniest fraction of Eastside destinations are located there. That’s why even the Bellevue-Seattle Link will capture only a tiny fraction of cross-lake travel demand — despite access to comparatively comprehensive connecting transit on the Seattle side.

        You cannot justify high-capacity transit when a dominant anchor and comprehensive connections do not and cannot ever exist on either end! That is the case with the Renton-Bellevue connection that people keep pipe-dreaming about.

        It’s not snobbery or “Westside bias” that is shutting down your idea, but the reality of geometry and facts on the ground.

      13. “Worthwhile development is NOT going to spring up between 112th and a raging highway.”

        Well, THAT I can spot from thousands of miles away.

        The question was whether development would start to cluster directly west of the station rather than, say, around “Downtown Park”.

      14. No. And that was the other half of my point about your not being local.

        East Link is going to possess a tiny-minority mode-share, particularly focused around peak hours. Forever. It will not alter the center of gravity, because it simply lacks that kind of influence.

        That said, downtown Bellevue will continue to grow, and some of that growth will be infill eastward toward the station. But the center of gravity will remain a significant number of mega-blocks west of the station.


  8. Bury the entire line and build it under Bellevue Way where it belongs. That’s where people want to go no matter what Kemper or UnSound Transit say.

    1. Which is precisely why Kemper forced it to 112th. Don’t want “those people” dropping into Bellevue Square, after all. Better ghettoize them to near the freeway.

      1. Kemper says he was quoted out of context, and that what he meant was that people dress up a bit to go to Bellevue Square, not that he didn’t want Southcenter people coming. He’s smart enough to know all those bad people on Link can already take the 550, which stops at the same Rainier station and BTC as Link and also has a stop right at one of his buildings. If gangbangers haven’t come by bus, why should they come by Link, especially since if they’re up to anything they’ll need a getaway car.

      2. Kemper Freeman opposed the most logical route for the train–up Bellevue Way–and Sound Transit capitulated to the interests of big business. You might think that Sound Transit is some kind of tree-hugging granola-eating hippie populist movement but it’s history shows different. Sound Transit serves big business.

      3. @AP: Nobody thinks ST is a bunch of hippies (?!?). ST is a bureaucracy, and a government one at that — it follows the path of least political resistance.

      4. There simply wasn’t the money for a tunnel under Bellevue Way, hell there is barely money for the short and cheap tunnel currently proposed.

        Also remember the proposed stops for the Bellevue Way alignment would have been at Bellevue Way and & Main/NE 2nd with the other stop on NE 6th between 108th and 110th under the Bellevue Transit Center.

        No “stop right at the mall” like some think there should be.

      5. Al Dimond, I was merely implying that while transit advocacy often conflates with environmentalism and populism, Sound Transit acts as if it’s just another servant of big, evil corporations. I’ll grant that my point was made a bit facetiously but I still wish that government agencies paid more attention to people than businesses.

  9. Y’know, I just noticed from Google Maps that a special effort has been made to make Bellevue High School less and less acccesible on foot. Otherwise I’d suggest that the South Main station should serve it.

  10. Perhaps we should count pedestrian access in three dimensions rather than two. I can see how having a station one level down rather than two may actually be an advantage. Consider that several station entrances in Downtown Seattle have no downhill escalators to the platform!

    1. Also consider that no one likes missing their train while unnecessarily descending into the fifth circle of hell.

      No one has ever been able to offer a credible reason why overbuilt, multi-level, mezzanine- and plaza-happy stations that are the modern-era default “may actually be an advantage”. Because there is no such reason.

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