South Bellevue neighborhood context plan.
South Bellevue neighborhood context plan (click to enlarge).

The public got a chance to see the long-awaited first renderings of the South Bellevue and East Main Link stations at Sound Transit’s third final design open house last week.  With the alignment decision settled, planners are considering a series of design improvements– bicycle/pedestrian access, station architecture, site planning, etc.  As with the other East Link stations, station naming will also be a part of this process.

Although no one expects South Bellevue to transform into some greenfield TOD hub, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to station access.  ST is meeting basic expectations by rebuilding sidewalks and preserving the multi-use trail along Bellevue Way.  One opportunity far too potent to pass up, however, is greatly expanding the station walkshed by improving neighborhood connections, something that’s been a pet cause of mine for some time now.

So far, Sound Transit’s ‘Neighborhood Context Plan’ map (.pdf) shows just one ‘neighborhood connection’ which veers off south into the Enatai neighborhood via 112th Ave SE.  Further north, however, are multiple cul-de-sacs that jut out to the edge of Bellevue Way, but have no access to the street whatsoever.  Given that these potential improvements might be out of ST’s geographic scope for station planning, this might be a good opportunity for the City of Bellevue to step up and take the initiative.

South Bellevue circulation diagram.
South Bellevue circulation diagram (click to enlarge).

As far as transit access goes, the station isn’t without its flaws.  Because the Link guideway bisects the station footprint lengthwise through its center, the parking garage is set back from Bellevue Way, which effectively pulls the bus bays back as well (see above).  That means a longer deviation, longer travel times, and less efficient operations.  According to a tweet by VeloBusDriver, exiting buses won’t get signal priority either.  I’d much prefer an alternative where buses stay on Bellevue Way by making on-street stops in both directions, and the pedestrian crossing is greatly improved*.

At any rate, you’ll be able to submit comments of your own via two online comment forms: one for general design input, and the other for station naming suggestions.  The comment period closes today tomorrow, so if you want your input to be bundled into the public comment summary, be sure to fill out those forms ASAP.  There’s also one more upcoming final design open house this evening from 5 to 7pm at Mercer Island Community & Event Center, where you can presumably learn more about the Mercer Island station design.

*As Martin points out, there’s invariably  a trade-off with keeping the bus stops on-street, but this is one case where I’m probably more willing to accept a slight reduction in transfer quality.  Of course, great pedestrian access is paramount to making this work.

65 Replies to “A First Look at South Bellevue East Link Stations”

  1. I have to say I disagree with Sherwin. I applaud Sound Transit for once placing the bus stop directly next to the station, prioritizing what is likely to be large number of transfer riders over what I suspect is a smaller population of through riders.

    Although signal priority would always be nice…

    1. the weird dogleg in pedestrian flow out of the north garage lobby seems weird. why isn’t it aligned with the north escalators like the south lobby/escalators are. it might seem trivial, but everybody who parks in the center is encouraged to go south to minimize step count into the station which makes the flow unbalanced. also looks like the stairs in the north part of the garage are similarly misaligned.

      1. Maybe it’s to prevent people from walking out in front of a bus. If so, it seems like it would be better if the garage exit were south of the crosswalk.

    2. As David Seater points out below, this is not optimized for anyone. Buses will take so long circling into and out of the bays that you stand a pretty good chance of missing a train while executing your excessive looping maneuvers. In the other direction, the hassle of getting out of the station will psychologically erase some of the time savings of having built the train in the first place.

      The current on-street northbound stops are about 200 feet from the future station box, and today’s easy pull-off-pull-out southbound stops are barely 150 feet away. That is, I remind you, less than the 220 feet from tops of the daylighted downtown Bellevue escalators to the closest corner of 110th Ave. Never mind the 750-foot FHSC transfer.

      “Placing the bus stop directly next to the station” is no improvement at all when the transfer still enforces slowness. Transfer time = “ease” far more than sheer distance does.

      This is Tukwila International Boulevard all over again.

      1. Sound Transit long range planning documents show about 60% of all riders will transfer to/from Link after build-out. I can’t tell from the sketch how many bus bays there are, and where the layover spaces are. It looks like a total of 4 bays and no layover. I tried in vane to download the drawings from the June 4 open house, but Chrome just hangs up. The June 5 sketches are little help.
        Does anyone know what the game plan is for intercepting buses off I-90 is? To me, that should be driving the design of the bus/rail interface much more so than the pretty little pedestrian and bicycle pathways.
        I fear this is another Husky Stadium, Tukwila, MBS clusterf*ck in the making.

      2. Mic, enlarge the South Bellevue circulation diagram above. It shows that there are 8 layover spaces to the west of the bus loop. And yes, four bus bays.

      3. Wow. Thanks aw, I completely missed the bus bays. I guess the font was too big.

      4. What is wrong with Tukwila International Boulevard?

        Umm… Perhaps that fact that buses with the word “rapid” on the side spend 5 minutes negotiating two signalized intersections and no fewer than four 90° turns just to get to or from the transfer point…

        Whereas if the station had been built just 200 feet to the west (over International Blvd), buses could simply have stopped right below the platform and continued on their merry way.

      5. I never understood why TIBS did not have an entry from TIB. The street is basically the same level as the mezzanine, Then you could have the RR stops right on TIB and walk directly into the station. Just dont get it.

      6. The 140 and future F would have a faster travel time between Burien and Southcenter/Renton if it stopped on the street rather than going into the P&R. The walk from the street to the station is short, less than 30 seconds. Many South King County trips are 2- or 3-seat rides, and people’s total travel time has a significant impact on ridership and their willingness to take transit. A lot more people travel from Burien to Southcenter/Renton than transfer to the 124 or 128, and the A could hopefully share the F’s station or add an adjacent on-street station for a convenient transfer.

    3. Couldn’t you allow NB buses to stop in-lane and have SB buses pull in? Seems like you get the best of both worlds.

      1. The geometry of situations like this always dictates that the direction that requires pulling in to avoid people having to cross the street is also the direction where the buses have to make left turns to pull in. That said, the Linden Deviation (same essential geometry) and the future Northgate TC are both planned this way.

  2. It’s been a very long time since I drove the 550, but I don’t think anything’s changed. The deviation into the P&R wouldn’t be bad except that the lack of TSP exiting the P&R southbound can cost up to 2 minutes per trip by itself. Disappointing to hear that won’t be fixed.

    1. I disagree, check out how tortuously winding the path is for northbound buses. 6 turns, two of which are U-turns. The bus has to cross underneath the station/guideway 4 times.

      1. During afternoon rush hour, how many light cycles is it going to take for the bus to get out of the P&R and onto the street? Remember, it’s going to be waiting in the same line as all the cars coming out of the garage.

      2. Bingo. Issaquah Transit Center illustrates this issue well. Despite alternative entrances, Metro routes all buses through the entrances and exits off of 17th Ave NW. Many buses have to do a complete lap around the transit center, plus the distance between the exit and the entrance. Add in Metro safety’s annoying tendency to scatter stop bars everywhere, each of which requires a full stop, and you have a recipe for delay and frustration. (They trust me not to run people down in the chaos of the Ave, UW, or downtown Seattle, but put me into a park & ride on the Eastside? Stop bar palooza)

        From what I can tell, buses exiting South Bellevue to the south will have to mix in with general car traffic exiting the parking structure. The current South Bellevue P&R has this same issue, although the buses are closer to the street and the roadway has “Keep Clear” painted on it which implies we have priority – *implies* being the key word. All that said, we’re talking about tripling the numbers of cars and routing even more buses through the P&R than we do today. One need only visit South Bellevue P&R during the afternoon rush hour to see the potential for delay.

      3. Most irritating is that after a major investment in S. Kirkland P&R it will have no net increase in capacity and the stupid routing that sends all buses through in the same direction will remain. All that’s gained is some horrendously expensive low income housing. Maybe someday they’ll get the traffic light on 108th working again. Talk about a PIA, try turning left up the hill during peak commute. I’m amazed there hasn’t been a slew of accidents. Or people squished because they walked in front of a bus that had the only crosswalk to the parking blocked or blindsided by a confused driver going the wrong way through the loading area.

  3. multiple cul-de-sacs that jut out to the edge of Bellevue Way, but have no access to the street whatsoever.

    And never will. Bellevue plans are to dig into the hillside to widen Bellevue Way by building a two story retaining wall. The number of additional riders building stairs might generate could be counted on your fingers and toes. Anyone using a bike would still have to take the road anyway. No amount of lipstick can transform this into an intelligent sight for a light rail station. Nothing there pub a parking lot and all Link does is provide an excuse to make it bigger.

    1. Yep. I count around 150 homes in that circle. Unless someone comes in with plans for a few massive commuter condo projects, this is a pure park-and-ride station. In effect: free parking for Bellevue workers, using employer-paid-for Orca cards, and saving almost zero car miles (and probably generating more, depending on where they commute in from).

      1. I know it’s 10 years away, but it’ll be deliciously ironic if Kemper suggests his employees park at SBP&R and take Link during the holidays when employee parking if prohibited. Currently they lease daytime spaces on Bellevue Way’s church row and take a shuttle in.

      2. Seems unlikely. Would KF supply transit passes for all the retail employees? Also, the employees would end up a few blocks from Bellevue Square, in part due to opposition to the sensible tunnel route through downtown way back when the DEIS was published.

      3. Don’t you understand? Bus passes are for Seattle sissies. He’d expect the workers either to pay their own fares or, better, to skip paying fares and if there was any fare enforcement between South Bellevue and downtown, scream how “business unfriendly” it is.

      4. opposition to the sensible tunnel route

        ST was just blowing smoke with all of the tunnel proposals in the DEIS. They couldn’t even afford “tunnel light” without Bellevue kicking in $130 million. And now they’re going to build the tunnel but omit the station in the name of cost savings. Sort of like buying an airplane and passing on the wings ’cause they cost too much.

      5. Bernie, please define ‘kickng in.’ I don’t believe Bellevue actually paid any money to ST did they?

      6. $100 million is “in kind” meaning the City isn’t charging ST for ROW easements, permit fees, etc. that it would otherwise have had to pay. There’s another $30 million cash contribution from the City contingent on projected costs following final design. The way it’s looking right now the City will have to cough up ~$15 million in exchange for ST building the White Elephant alignment. Most irritating is that the money wasted would have covered the cost of elevating the line prior to crossing NE 20th and removing the only other planned crossing in Bel-Red making the entire line grade separated.

      7. Bellevue workers already have free parking at their work sites. The advantage of this station is it keeps the P&R away from Bellevue TC. Contrast Renton, Burien, and Lynnwood, which have large garages or surface parking next to their downtown TCs, interfering with their walksheds and TOD. (I’m not counting Kent Station because its garage doesn’t interfere that much, compared to the bigger interference of having to use the ped bridge over the RR tracks.)

      8. “Bellevue workers already have free parking at their work sites.”

        When was the last time you were in Bellevue, Mike? There may still be a lot of “free” parking around the city but in the downtown core, that’s definitely changing.

  4. Does Metro plan any bus routes to terminate here?
    Like Eastgate or even Issaquah routes?
    Then the short bus access is great and a great transfer station.
    Otherwise the whole station doesn’t make sense as it would only serve P&R…

    1. ST staff don’t let many comments on this site go unread, so could someone please post the answer in a definitive way.
      Like which routes, during which time periods (peak/off peak) of the day and total riders per weekday shortly after startup. An answer will alleviate a lot of speculation about the utility of this station and should be considered part of their public outreach.
      If they don’t know or decline to comment, say so, as that would be telling also.

    2. Interesting to me that a conceptual future Link extension to Issaquah probably can’t use this station; too far north. No stop between Factoria and Mercer Island? Probably an additional S Bellevue station, but transfers will be tricky.

      1. Who said that? It’s likely that a line from Issaquah would share East Link’s track from South Bellevue to Hospital (and later to Kirkland). The cost-saving of sharing track would be too compelling to ignore. An Issaquah-Seattle line is unlikely because of downtown capacity, although if it came out at Convention Place and was through-routed with the Ballard line (rather than being an additional set of trains) it would be feasible. But I suspect Eastside intra-connectivity will trump downtown commuters when it comes down to a decision, as Issaquahites get increasingly attracted to Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond destinations and jobs.

  5. I hope the Mercer Slough Nature Park is untouchable in terms of never being able to be built on. I can see train and TOD fans looking at that green space and salivating at the opportunity of paving it over and putting tall residential buildings next to the station.

    1. It’s a marsh that floods seasonally. All of the businesses nearby were built on stilts because of this back in the ’80’s, and I can’t imagine how tough it would be to make it through environmental regulations these days even if you could afford to build a tall building on stilts.

      If development happens, it will be across the road.

      1. Are you referring to the Bellefield office park in the northwest corner of the Slough? The one that has a freaking moat.

        Sometimes, I can’t even believe that place exists.

  6. The East Main station location depicted in the first link’s documents is also simply awful.

  7. The problem of delays on through buses is pretty minimal. The 550 will be eliminated, and the 240 has already been rerouted to Eastgate. I think the only remaining routes are single-family milk runs. Those going from Bellevue to Factoria can take the 240 rather than the 241 to bypass the delay. So who is left who is not going to their low-density low-ridership house?

    We have not gotten any indication that ST/Metro is considering sending Eastgate or Newcastle/Renton routes to this station, or any indication that the station is being designed for that.

    1. Like at Tukwila, the multi-loop access penalty is terrible even for passengers on routes that terminate there.

      This includes any forced transfer from the east or south, not to mention whatever route replaces the 550 on the surprisingly well-patronized section of Bellevue Way between the station and Old Bellevue (which also might turn out to be a faster and least-worst way to access Link from Old Bellevue than walking the full mile to one of the “downtown” stations).

    2. Yeah… saying circuitous routes around South Bellevue and TIBS don’t matter because anyone going through has to transfer is like saying all the problems with the location of Northgate TC don’t matter anymore since they split the 75.

    3. This design will certainly make it harder to truncate the 554 at South Bellevue P&R. Although, I suppose a truncation at Mercer Island P&R could still be possible.

    4. The number of people going from lower Bellevue Way to Factoria is vanishingly small compared to the number of people going from Lake City or Sand Point to Oak Tree, Greenwood, or Ballard. Factoria is not Southcenter and it’s not Burien. South Bellevue does not have the surrounding apartments and businesses as even TIB does, so less reason for an on-street stop.. So the vast majority of bus riders will be transferring to the train, and whatever they might have wanted in Factoria they’ll find in Bellevue or Seattle, and they’ll also find much more that they can make a chain trip to. Maybe the platform should be moved closer to Bellevue Way, but that’s not going to happen, so the question is, which bus stop locations make the best bus-to-train transfers.

      1. And the answer is whichever makes the bus-train transfer the fastest.

        If the walk from the street would be 30 seconds, but passengers on the bus will instead spend 60-90 circling and waiting at crosswalk stop-signs and turn signals, then you’ve just made things worse.

        These “transit center” disasters need to stop.

  8. What is Bellevue’s southern boundary now? Are Factoria, Newport Hills, and Somerset part of Bellevue now or still unincorporated?

    1. Yep, all incorporated. In the last round of annexation the two small patches of unincorporated area were assimilated. It’s all now either Renton, Bellevue or the City of Newcastle.

  9. This train has left the proverbial station, and it’s not all bad, but forgive me if I am not impressed with this overall plan:

    Rainier Station – middle of a giant highway (I-90)
    Mercer Island Station – middle of a giant highway (I-90), includes P&R
    South Bellevue Station – nothing but a giant park and ride, adjacent to huge wetland complex with zero development opportunity, a busy road with zero amenities and a single family neighborhood with no planned growth of any kind, no good connections to Factoria, Eastgate or Issaquah
    East Main Station – Adjacent to single family neighborhood with no planned growth, walk shed includes giant highway (I-405)
    Downtown Bellevue Station – not really co-located with transit center, walk shed includes giant highway (I-405) and multiple highway interchanges (NE 8th, NE 6th, NE 4th), east of center of activity
    120th Station – new development — okay, though no relationship to SR 520 transit service.
    130th Station – new development — includes big P&R. No relationship to SR 520 transit service.
    Overlake Village Station – includes big P&R, adjacent to giant highway (SR 520) but still lacking any relationship to SR 520 transit service.
    Overlake Transit Center – includes big P&R, adjacent to giant highway (SR 520) with much faster service to UW / North Link than East Link will provide, requires 7 minute diversion for SR 520 bus service that will connect downtown Redmond until Link is built there too (without a NE 51st St. station.)

    1. I agree that the lack of connectivity with 520 buses is a problem. A lot of this really falls on WSDOT’s shoulders, since it keeps building and rebuilding highways with poor support for transit and development plans.

      1. I like it. Now we have a whipping girl (Paula), in addition to a whipping boy (Kemper) to blame for anything that goes wrong.
        Off with their heads.

      2. mic, I really don’t want to set up a whipping boy here, but the design of 520 really is deficient in this way (while in some other ways it’s not so bad — it doesn’t mess with the local street network as much as some other freeways, for example).

        There seems to be a huge lack of cooperation between the state DOT and local DOTs and transit agencies on big projects. This, combined with the litany of bad ideas in the AASHTO and other highway planning wisdom, means that our biggest, most expensive transportation projects work against transit regularly. It’s something that we have to work on at every level of government, and because of the way agencies think of their projects it probably won’t happen without citizen pressure (both on the state and the local agencies).

    2. Brilliant observations, Jonathan. Thanks for collecting all this. Sadly, ST doesn’t care.

      1. If ST cared, what would it do differently? Maybe it shouldn’t have even given Bellevue the option of sticking it with the awful alignments it has (that is, maybe it cares too much about pleasing politicians and not enough about pleasing its riders and creating a transit backbone for the future of our city). But if you’re going from Seattle to Redmond via Bellevue, you’re going to spend a lot of time along freeways, in places that aren’t built out and thus don’t yet have infrastructure support, and in places that will never build in a transit-friendly way. That’s what’s there.

    3. Why a 7 minute diversion to connect to SR-520 buses at Overlake. Is Overlake Freeway Station going away?

    4. The presence of a rapid transit connection between Seattle and downtown Bellevue, Overlake Village, Microsoft, and (eventually) downtown Redmond is more important than whether the stations are next to highways or eight blocks from Bellevue Square. It creates direct transit connections which are either multi-seat rides now or have less frequent and reliable buses. Of course it could have been better, but it’s a rapid transit connection which the Eastside has never had, and has suffered for it. Bellevue would have probably grown more densely and with more activity around stations if the 1972 subway had been approved.

      Rainier station — good for Valleyites going to the Eastside, and an alternative to downtown Seattle.
      Mercer Island station — the most walkable area in Mercer Island, and directly on the way.
      South Bellevue station — wouldn’t have been built if the P&R didn’t exist; provides transit access for those who don’t have a bus near their house; and is better than a parking garage next to Bellevue TC
      East Main station — I don’t have much opinion on that area. Of course it would have been better if the line were closer to Bellevue Way.
      Downtown Bellevue station — it exists! You can walk to Bellevue Square and Kirkland buses, in spite of all the hand-wringing. It’s not perfect but it’s something.
      130th station — I would delete this. The P&R is minor; it’s there to justify the station and put “something” around it until development catches up to the area, which is silly. It’s 10 blocks from 120th station, which is too close.
      120th and 130th station transferring SR 520 — Why is this important? The 255 has already turned toward Kirkland, and the 545 is a Redmond-Seattle express. Why are the 120th and 130th neighborhoods big enough to justify an express 520 trip to UW and downtown? It’s a more glaring hole that the 545 doesn’t stop at Overlake Village, than that it doesn’t stop at 120th or 130th.
      Overlake Village station — the largest commercial center between downtown Bellevue and downtown Redmond, except Crossroads which it merges into.
      Overlake TC — needs to drop the name Overlake. Not much of a TC either. Happens to have the Eastside’s largest employer next to it. Renton Boeing employees wish they had such a station.

      1. “East Main station — I don’t have much opinion on that area. Of course it would have been better if the line were closer to Bellevue Way.”

        I’ll say something in its favor. Three hotels and a large athletic center across the street. Adjacent to residential, including some MF housing if I’m not mistaken. Nearby to the district court and some office buildings. Not far from a Lexus dealership.

      2. How is having a Lexus dealership in its walkshed “something in its favor”? Just because CPS has a handful of car dealerships in its walkshed doesn’t mean that’s an example to follow!

      3. It was intended to be tongue-in-cheek, but you’ll be able to drop off your Lexus for service and not get a loaner car.

    5. Al Dimond, you almost hit the nail on the head. Sound Transit cares too much about pleasing politicians [and business interests] and not enough about pleasing its riders and creating a transit backbone for the future of our city.

      The route through downtown Bellevue is ridiculous. As Jonathan points out, many of the stations are placed badly. Sound Transit can’t be trusted to make intelligent decisions.

      Sadly, it’s not just Sound Transit to blame here. Seattle and the surrounding areas don’t usually show any wisdom or foresight in capital projects.

      1. ST is a bunch of politicians and politics is big business. The ST board is comprised entirely of politicians or political appointments. In fact, since the board has the power to hirer or fire the CEO you could say the entire operation is political. The politics of getting elected or keeping your job may or may not align with what’s best for the minority that uses transit. And given the geographical make-up of the board rest assured that the primary focus will be on those who drive to access transit.

      2. Politicians run ST as Bernie says, and businesses generate sales-tax revenues which make transit and other amenities possible and employ people. That’s why they have outsized influence.

  10. One element of the station for which I am grateful is the center platform. The suggestion of having the Issaquah train line interline to head into Bellevue, with a quick transfer at South Bellevue Station to the East Link line for those headed to Seattle, should end up being much faster than the failed attempts to provide time-saving commuter bus connections.

    1. All stations should have center platforms. Sometimes people turn around or catch a different train in the opposite direction. With a center platform they just walk across the platform. With a side platform they have to go up and back down. There’s no reason to force people to do that.

Comments are closed.