Today’s Times has a helpful reminder ($) that the fate of the Downtown Bellevue Link station will likely be decided this week. Bellevue’s Council will decide on its favored alternative tomorrow (Monday), which influences the Sound Transit Board’s decision on Thursday.

The process has placed a lot of weight on short-term construction impacts and noise issues to a few homes along the line, and little to the impact on thousands of future riders, every day, over the decades (centuries?) that may find that transit doesn’t work well for them due to a station design that doesn’t care about effective transfers and moves the station away from most of the activity centers in Bellevue.

Now is the time, especially if you’re a Bellevue resident, to let your Council know that the latter set of issues is the important one – particularly when the savings will be no more than $33m,or just over 1% of the cost of an East Link project whose primary purpose is to serve Downtown Bellevue. Do it today.

If you don’t live in Bellevue but have a stake in what’s going on there, your best bet is to contact the Sound Transit board members that happen to represent you. Everyone in King County votes for Dow Constantine, and if you’re in Seattle, Mike McGinn, Richard Conlin, and perhaps Joe McDermott or Larry Phillips represent you as well.

Commenting below on this is all well and good, but nothing works like constituent mail or phone calls. Even if you think that East Link is not the best use of resources out there, it’s in almost everyone’s interest that the line be as effective in moving people as possible.

Go write that email, then come back and read some additional thoughts after the jump.

Last week I hinted at possible tradeoffs to cover the cost. I think that deserves a little more explanation.

From a transit perspective, the best outcome would be for Bellevue to come up with the money. As usual, bringing more money into the transit account makes things better. Second best would be to weaken the noise mitigations elsewhere along the line, somewhat reducing the attractiveness of living there.

Third best would be to sacrifice some parking spaces at the South Bellevue Park & Ride. Although I think that location is a better location than most for a park-and-ride and am not a person that thinks they are never justified, we will win far more riders by enhancing service to dense areas than spending thousands of dollars per parking space — and it’s relatively easy to add the spaces back if funds are available in the future.

Finally, and least desirably, Sound Transit can typically ease project finances by delaying construction. I don’t have the figures, but say that another six months or a year of project delay earns enough money to do the right thing in downtown. In forty years, no one will care if the line opened in 2021 or 2022 — but they will care if we botch the most important station on the East Side.

As someone who lives every day with the (wildly overblown) noise impacts of surface running Link, and the (underappreciated) fiasco of botched transfers at Mt. Baker Station, I say let’s get this right.

37 Replies to “ACTION ALERT: Downtown Bellevue”

  1. If ST didn’t go out of its way to needlessly bore through hills (Capitol, Beacon), they’d have all the money they need for Bellevue. And Bellevue Station is just fine. It’s just a few dozen feet from the BTC, and a 5 minute walk to Bellevue’s downtown core. Contrast that with the “Rainier Beach” Station being a 15 minute walk from the heart of Rainier Beach.

    1. Sam,
      No they wouldn’t. How would you have trains get between downtown and the University District without a tunnel?

      Besides with sub-area equity “extra” money from not building tunnels in Seattle wouldn’t be available for building rail in Bellevue.

      The proposed NE 6th station is 200ft further from BTC than one under 110th NE. In either case that is at the East end of the nearly 500ft long BTC. Considering the bulk of the office space in downtown Bellevue is along 108th and 110th, moving the stop further east puts it further away from the majority of commuters.

      1. By my calculation (based on the diagram that shows the current driveway to the City Hall parking structure being preserved in place), it’s actually 300ft further to the escalators and ~400ft further to the platforms!

      2. Chris, you are correct. Saved money from one subarea could not be used for another subarea.

        Now, let me ask you two questions. In minutes, how long do you think it would take an East Link commuter to walk from Bellevue Station to the bulk of office space on 108th? 5 minutes? Second question, do you think a 5 minute+ station to office walk is common for most light commuters in America, or do you think in most cases it’s considerably less?

      3. 4-5 minutes minimum to the closest point on the intersection you name, including the necessity to wait for at least one traffic cycle.

        Double it if your building should happen to be a Bellevue Megablock or two further in away.

        Triple it if you’re headed further afield, such as anywhere up or down Bellevue way.

        Quadruple it for Old Bellevue, which is still very much downtown.

        Meanwhile, because you’re a troll, you insist on ignoring that a 3.5-minute unprotected transfer walk would make Bellevue one of the worst mass-transit transfer points in the developed world and would guarantee that people regularly miss connections, for which they would correctly blame faulty design.

        If we had experts in charge rather then politicians, they’d be waving giant red flags and screaming that only the dumbest agency on earth would intentionally suppress connective transit usage just to save a tiny percentage on the budget.

    2. Ok, d.p., I name the intersection of NE 6 St. and 110 Ave. NE. Is it a 4 to 5 minute walk from Bellevue Station to that intersection?

      Second question. How long does it take Link commuters to walk from the DSTT’s University and Pioneer Square Station to office buildings on 4th and 5th Ave? At least 5 minutes, right?

      The outcry over Bellevue Station being a 5+ minute walk to most of Bellevue’s office buildings is hyperbole.

      1. Obvious troll is extra obvious even dumber than usual today.

        NE 6th and 110th contains: on one corner, an empty plaza, a buried parking structure, and long path to City Hall; on another corner, a 3-level garage and nothing else; and on a third corner, the Bravern, which is failing.

        Proclaiming this the center of gravity in Bellevue is like proclaiming 6th and James the center of downtown Seattle. Are you really dumb enough to claim that?

        The walk from the downtown Seattle tunnel to buildings on 5th is not a problem. But the walk from Pioneer Square station to University and 5th would be a huge problem, if University Street station didn’t exist. That’s basically what Bellevue is facing, and what you want to make worse.

        Oh and way to address the transfer problem, you walking Achilles’ heel.

      2. There is no transfer problem. Just because STB declares there is a transfer problem, doesn’t make it so. Transferring from train to bus will be quick and easy. It will take no more than 2 minutes to walk from Bellevue Station to BTC, which is quicker and easier than making a transfer in Penn Station, I might add.

      3. Setting aside that Penn Station is universally regarded as terrible, it is also a commuter terminal, used only for meticulously scheduled trips for which early arrival is a necessity.

        Amazing that you have to dredge up that example, when New York City has hundreds and perhaps thousands of subway-subway transfers or subway-bus transfers, none of which require 3-minute walks. Even the long-feeling passageways at some stations about which New Yorkers complain never actually take more than 90 seconds to traverse.

        Spontaneous trips in urban or near-urban contexts require transfers to be quick and painless.

        No three-minute walks in the rain. No long light cycles if you can possibly avoid it. No unnecessary incidences of “oh crap, there goes my bus, and the next one isn’t for another hour”.

        But you still don’t get that the “outdoor platform” plan is three minutes or more from the current BTC. It is more than halfway down the hill. I’m sorry that facts are hard for you.

      4. The transfer distance needs to be as short as possible. This is very important for a transit center. One of BTC’s primary purposes is to transfer from Link to the B or or 235 or 240 or 340. This how we “extend” Link’s benefit to areas it doesn’t reach directly. A 1-minute-or-less transfer is more important than whether it takes 5 or 6 minutes to walk to Bellevue Square or an office building. Because only a few people are going to that building, while a lot of people are transfering between many origins and destinations. Transfer time is one of the top factors that makes people choose to take transit or not.

        Transfering to Link or between buses is equivalent to riding the 49 four stops to 3rd Avenue and transfering to the 28 to Fremont. Transfering at Penn Station is equivalent to taking the 594 from Lakewood to Seattle and waiting a bit longer for the 28 to Fremont. The former is replacing a one-seat ride and must be a quick transfer; the latter is expected to be less frequent and have a longer transfer.

      5. With regards to transfers, people like to place a lot of emphasis on the walking distance between the two routes. However, at the end of the day, the difference between a one-minute walk and a 3-minute walk is only two minutes, which is tiny if the wait for the bus is going to be in the range of 10-20 minutes.

        Frequency and reliability are key to make transfers work. A difference of two minutes of walking matters, but in terms of overall travel time, matters a lot less. If figuring out where to go to catch your bus is a problem, the simple, cheap solution is to add signage.

        The other thing about walking distance that is worth noting is that you can reduce the time to get from one station to the other, by walking faster or running if OBA indicates that doing so is necessary to catch your bus. If running means you’ll just be waiting longer for the same bus anyway, you just walk.

      6. at the end of the day, the difference between a one-minute walk and a 3-minute walk is only two minutes

        Not true. Every day I watch “my” 255 leave S. Kirkland P&R just as the 249 is pulling in. Oh, what a difference 2 minutes, or even 1 minute would make. It would shave 15-20 minutes off my commute. I would be fine with a 3 minute walk if I had any confidence at all that my connecting bus would show up when I got to it’s bay. Unfortunately that’s not the case. KC Metro just can’t bring in on themselves to publish the real schedule their buses run on and +/- 5 minutes to them is the gold standard. A 3 minute walk, when you don’t even know what you’re walking to is a non-starter in attracting people to use transit. BTC offers options but they can be a 3+ minute walk. The 6th St. aircraft landing station is bad but coupled with the $200 million upcharge for a tunnel that puts in four minimum radius turns is stupid beyond belief.

      7. Again, the problem here is buses that are unreliable or schedules that are not coordinated. The average delay resulting from a 3 minute walk is still only 3 minutes. By contrast, a 3-minute detour into South Kirkland P&R to avoid the 3 minute walk is still 3 minutes, only this time, everybody riding the bus has to pay those 3 minutes, including those who aren’t even transferring. Furthermore, it increases the cost of each trip, resulting in a slightly fewer number of trips each day, with a given budget.

      8. Bernie:

        6th St. aircraft landing station

        Thanks. I will definitely start using that.

        stupid beyond belief

        Oh, I believe they’re that stupid.


        a 3-minute detour into South Kirkland P&R to avoid the 3 minute walk is still 3 minutes

        Loop-de-loop transit centers are just as bad, and you are offering a false choice.

        Build your transfer points so that they are disastrous for neither through-travelers nor pedestrian transfers. Tukwila Link station should be right on top of International Blvd. South Kirkland and Overlake should be more like South Bellevue (easy pull-off, easy return). Northgate Transit Center probably shouldn’t exist.

        which is tiny if the wait for the bus is going to be in the range of 10-20 minutes.

        As long as you’re still thinking in terms of slow, inconvenient, otherwise crappy transit that most will electively avoid like the plague, then you probably have no business opining about a multi-billion-dollar project. This is waste incarnate.

  2. Martin, could you give a two to three sentence summary of what people should ask of their council people?

    1. This is what I wrote (still time before ST board decides):

      I’m writing to express my concern over the planned cost savings for East Link by a station design that doesn’t maximize effective transfers and moves the station away from most of the activity centers in Bellevue. The savings will be no more than $33m, or just over 1% of the cost of an East Link project whose primary purpose is to serve Downtown Bellevue. The line is a 50+ year investment, let’s do it right.

      Thanks for making it easy, Martin.

  3. Why would you take transit on the eastside when driving is cheap and easy? No need for light rail.

    1. Actually, I did an experiment on that once when some co-workers and I were traveling from Microsoft to Lincoln Square for a movie. They drove and I biked. We both left at the same time, but I arrived a good 10 minutes earlier. This in spite of the fact that 520 had no significant traffic delays at the time.

      Bottom line – parking at Lincoln Square/Bellevue Square may be free, but it is certainly not fast.

      1. That’s a 15 minute drive even allowing 2-3 minutes to park. There’s no way you do it in 5 minutes; that’s 60mph! Even if you set off on your bike while they had a 10 minute walk to the car your averaging 20+ mph; not something Joe Average on a bike can pull off.

  4. Walking is good for society – something we need to do more of, and I am glad ST and Bellevue have stepped up to the challenge.
    We should embrace the heart healthy lifestyle afforded us by transfers at Mt. Baker, SeaTac Airport, Husky Stadium and soon Bellevue.
    Another feather in the cap of Seattle – A city of Transit Oddities.

    1. I do think you’re being facetious, but the fact that others really seem to believe Seattle’s grab bag of bad ideas and incompetent executions is laudable darn near makes my head explode on a regular basis.

      Transit that works is something you’ll walk to. Transit with pointless obstacles to access and terrible transfer penalties is something you’ll avoid completely.

      When people drive everywhere — they already prefer to, and Link’s shortcomings will make it hard to change that — that’s when they become human sloths. Citing Mt. Baker station as “heart-healthy” is like lauding crack cocaine for its effective amelioration of seasonal affective disorder.

      1. Well, at least the orientation of the 6th station gives logic behind why the tunnel will require 4 hard 90 degree turns. If the station can’t be next to BTC, at least the tracks will be.
        Another oddity? Tunnels without a purpose except to compete with Seattle’s own DSTT (“Tunnel Envy”?)

      2. d.p.
        It’s what people that have given up fighting for a great system do in their old age.
        Treating serious issues with deliberately inappropriate humor; flippant.

  5. Bellevue Station is going to be so close to 112th Ave (the same avenue it turned off of back on Main street, then starts tunneling under the hill), that it makes me wonder why doesn’t it just stay on 112th from Main to NE 6th Street and save 30+ million dollars of tunneling cost?

    1. Because of the endless bickering. You’re right, Sam. It’s stupid that they’d turn to head up 110th just to head back to 112th to open the station. But it was stupid the minute they decided to run the train on 112th instead of Bellevue Way. The entirety of East Link is a failure of compromise.

      1. There have been quite a few compromises, but that’s water under the bridge now. East Link is being built and there is going to be a tunnel under 110th Avenue NE. Remember that some potentially very damaging compromises were scuttled including the Vision Line on 114th, Link going across the slough to the old BNSF right of way and moving the south Bellevue Park and Ride.

        The only remaining thing that we can potentially influence is the very short-sighted plan to move the station to NE 6th.

  6. delay earns enough money to do the right thing in downtown. In forty years, no one will care if the line opened in 2021 or 2022

    I believe the time frame was already extended from 2021 to 2023. You’re right though that building revenue and postponing operating expenses would pay the bills in short order. Unfortunately that was not on the table with the MOU. ST has no interest in delay. It’s their jobs you’re talking putting on hold. The ST board has no interest in delay since it’s just two more years in which the whole thing might get canceled. ST is also counting on Bellevue as a MF location. The only way a delay happens is if Bellevue exercises it’s option to walk away from the MOU. At this point I would say that’s a smart move. It lets ST scramble to decide if they are going to toss out years of preliminary engineering and start over with the battle for a surface route. Doubtful since that would create delay (risk) and additional expenses which make just completely funding tunnel light and the 110th underground station the path of least resistance. Bellevue OTOH gives up much of it’s control over Bellevue Way and the southern approach into DT. But, a delay coupled with an economic rebound might provide the opportunity to extend the line to Redmond and the proposed MF at Marymoor. Does the Bellevue Council have the guts to play chicken?

  7. So what did the Bellevue Council elect to “favor”?

    A need to know whether to frame my comments to the ST board as an endorsement of the now-“favored” option or as a plea for sanity in the face of parochial shortsightedness.

    1. Most of the attention is being given to the surface vs. trench cost-savings measure, with little passion shown from Bellevue residents regarding the 110th St. vs. 6th Ave station. From what I understand, most of the Bellevue council supports the 6th Ave station and I would bet a good wager that they will recommend that option (much to anyone who cares about good transit’s dismay). The real question is what ST – who is the real decision-maker here – decides on Thursday. I’m concerned that the strong political pressure on the other measure will cause ST to decide to go with the trench but save money on the station design. If they do that, it would be a complete travesty and I would frankly lose all faith in ST as an effective entity.

  8. So, has anyone heard what the result was? I can’t find anything online – any word on what the Council decided?

  9. Gomer Pyle reports “Surprise, surprise, surprise… another oddity for Seattle Transit is born”

    In historic step, Bellevue approves light-rail route
    The Bellevue City Council endorsed a final route for Link light rail through the city Monday night.

    By Mike Lindblom
    Seattle Times transportation reporter

    No comments have been posted to this article.
    Start the conversation >

    The Bellevue City Council took a historic step Monday night, endorsing a route for Link light- rail trains more than four years after voters approved higher sales taxes to build three suburban lines.

    The $2.8 billion East Link will go from the International District/Chinatown Station across Lake Washington and Mercer Island into a short downtown Bellevue tunnel and over Interstate 405 to Overlake. Service is expected in 2023, two years past the original goal.

    [copyrighted material]

    1. What a disaster. Is there any chance Sound Transit can overrule this decision? I can’t understand how they can take the most important station on the entire route – and one of the most important stations in the whole region – and make it so much less viable as a transportation option for so many people. Sound Transit wants ridership, right? They want light rail to succeed? I am at a complete loss for words.

      1. CHANCES = zero
        Look at the bright side. Peds get a $5 mil slush fund and permanent bumpershoots on the platforms. Win-Win, me thinks.

Comments are closed.