Bellevue Transportation Town Hall

Representatives from various Eastside city governments were on hand Wednesday night for a “transportation town hall” at Bellevue City Hall.  I had thought it would be focused on Metro cuts, and, indeed, the Transit Riders Union was out in force.  However it turned out to be a broader effort, designed to drum up support for the various transportation bills floating around in Olympia.  I didn’t stay for the whole thing, since it seemed to consist of softball questions about the need for more revenue.

Fred Jarrett (King County), Jane Hague (King County), Rod Dembowski (King County), Don Gerend (Sammamish), Jennifer Robertson (Bellevue), David Baker (Kenmore) and Bruce Basett (Mercer Island) were on the panel, and several other elected officials were in the audience as well.

All panelists supported a local option for Metro funding.  Big props to Hague and Dembowski for keeping the focus on buses.  Cheers to Jarrett and Baker for emphasizing the importance of road maintenance.  Jeers to Robertson for pushing I-405 expansion.

I wish there’d been more of a dialogue about the tradeoffs between highway expansion and the maintenance backlog.  If we’re closing one bridge per year in King County, as Jarrett claimed, should we really be adding lane-miles to I-405? Sadly, the question went unanswered.  Or at least no one answered it before I had to leave to catch my bus.

I did, however, get to see some renderings of the new and improved Downtown Bothell, which includes some pretty fantastic pedestrian-oriented redevelopment projects.

Were you there? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!

24 Replies to “Eastside Transportation Town Hall Recap”

  1. Dembowski is to be commended for calling out the almost $800 million one-time deficit reduction actions Metro has taken as well as $150 million in ongoing annual savings. While road maintenance is a screaming need as pointed out by Jarrett, Robertson’s push for capacity improvements on I405 is completely justified for congestion relief as the Tukwila to Bellevue segment has an extraordinary 4.7 benefit/cost ratio (see page 14 of http://www.leg.wa.gov/JTC/Meetings/Documents/Agendas/2012%20Agendas/JTC_111412/WSDOTEastsideCorridor.pdf). Bellevue has done a commendable job of providing an appropriate blend of multi-modal growth opportunities as evidenced by downtown Bellevue having one of the fastest growing bus mode shares in King county (from 10.4% in 2008 to 12% in 2012 – a 15% increase).

  2. Lane miles should have been added to 405 yesterday. The Lexus lanes project on the north end will only benefit those willing to pay the price to bypass congestion.

    With 405 latent demand plugging local roadways on the Eastside as commuters filtsr through neighborhoods to find quicker alternatives to the slog, adding a single lane to 405 will do absolutely nothing.

    If anything East Link will make matters worse as travellers who use I-5 and I-90 to avoid I-405 are nowdealt a blow as more traffic is using I-90. 520 tolls…centdr roadway closure. In essence, 405 would need to be doubled in Renton to make a dent in latent demand.

    …but then again…ST could have used the old Wilburton Line for a DMU. However, it’s now a happy bike trail and the 560 is stuck in the 405 slog.

    The role of govco is not social engineering. You need to realize that. Light rail is costly…and 25k ridership was $20 billion. How many freeway miles could that have built for how many MORE drivers?? …including buses!

    1. This comment does an amazingly concise job of stating every wrong idea about Eastside transportation…

      How many freeway miles could that have built for how many MORE drivers?? …including buses!

      Great, so we tear down half of downtown Bellevue and Totem Lake to expand I-405… and just get more sprawl development leading to the same congestion on a bigger freeway, still with no alternative for commuters to bypass it. People will tolerate a certain amount of congestion on roads, and will build until that level of congestion is reached.

      If anything East Link will make matters worse as travellers who use I-5 and I-90 to avoid I-405 are nowdealt a blow as more traffic is using I-90.

      East Link is not resulting in any reduction in available lanes on I-90 (although it’s changing the HOV lanes from variable-direction to fixed, one in each direction).

      ST could have used the old Wilburton Line for a DMU. However, it’s now a happy bike trail and the 560 is stuck in the 405 slog.

      Now there’s a waste of money. Spend billions building a heavy-rail commuter train from nowhere (about half a mile outside of downtown Renton) to nowhere (somewhere in a marsh south of Woodinville) via nowhere (a mile, across a freeway, from downtown Bellevue) and nowhere (half a mile, up a steep hill, from downtown Kirkland). I just wish the Wilburton Line idea would die. There’s a very good reason actual transit planners soundly rejected it: it doesn’t go anywhere useful.

      And the 560/566/567 do OK in the HOV lanes the majority of the time. Their reliability is pretty good. HOV lanes actually do provide an alternative!

      The role of govco is not social engineering.

      You do realize that a massive expansion of I-405 would be social engineering on an epic scale, right?

      1. Not to mention that widening the freeway does not widen the roads in town. Unless you go around bulldozing houses for more roads the popular exit ramps will still be as clogged as ever. ;)

        I used to think that turning rail lines into bike lanes was a waste too until I realized that there’s nothing from preventing us from turning it BACK into a useful rail line (at grade) if and when the points on each end become populated enough to warrant it. Its certainly more useful than allowing the rail line to sell off the individual parcels to the highest bidder.

      2. @Charles Once you spend the money and effort to turn something into a trail, the backlash for turning the trail into something else would be so great that it’s pretty much accepted that trail conversions are permanent.

      3. @RapidRider Yeah that may be true, but I would rather have the trail then allow the parcels to be sold off. At least we can use the trail.

        As the interurban shows (unfortunately) after a rail line is put out of use, there is rarely (if ever) enough density near those likes to bring them back.

        Still, I would like to think that a dual use would be politically acceptable at some point (having a trail and a rail line in same corridor). Perhaps with an elevated rail line over the walking/bike trail?

        I know its probably unrealistic, but its nice to dream anyway.

      4. “As the interurban shows (unfortunately) after a rail line is put out of use, there is rarely (if ever) enough density near those likes to bring them back.”

        The reason density went down in the face of a rising population was a decision to build a new automobile-scaled landscape, and to push out the suburban boundary rather than densifying to the scale that our population level would suggest. Decisions are based on people’s attitudes, and people’s attitudes can reverse over time. Low-density automobile-scale neighborhoods can survive only with huge perpetual energy inputs. It’s a race as to whether we can achive solar-everything (including cars) before we run out of fuel or it’s too expensive or shoreline neighborhoods are underwater or overseas shipping is cut off due to oil or wars. In time people might decide it’s silly to depend so heavily on huge energy inputs and to put everyday necessities too far away for your own feet to walk to. Then we would move back to more of a “streetcar suburb” model, which is well proven, does not require huge energy inputs, and can scale down to a small town or up to a large city as the population level changes.

      5. Great, so we tear down half of downtown Bellevue and Totem Lake to expand I-405… and just get more sprawl development leading to the same congestion on a bigger freeway, still with no alternative for commuters to bypass it. People will tolerate a certain amount of congestion on roads, and will build until that level of congestion is reached.

        They actually found that it would be cheaper to tunnel at the downtown Bellevue area, since there is no more room on the I-405 right-of-way to expand. They are not planning to widen the freeway in that area. The traffic analysis showed that that area is used as a ‘switching point’ so to speak, for people deciding on whether to use I-90 or SR520.

        The reason there are only 4 GP lanes planned is that it uses up the last green space, and has minimal property takes.

    2. I don’t see a point to widening roads unless the new lanes are only for buses. Encouraging more single occupancy vehicles on the road is pretty much the antithesis of what the goals of mass transit organizations should be.

      Streamlining existing bus routes and improving transfer times would be a great short term goal, but widening the roads to relive congestion is a bit like borrowing money to get out of debt. It only buys you a little time until the problem gets worse.

      The transit ridership may be relatively low now, but its growing every year. As density in the cities increase and the lines continue to be extended, the use will continue to expand much faster than it already has been.

      I am a bit confused though… maybe I need to read more of your posts. This is a pro transit site… what are you trying to convince us of? Are you saying we should abandon rail expansion projects in favor of more roads?

    3. “The role of govco is not social engineering.”

      Uh. Yes it is :P Societies aren’t free-for-all playgrounds.

  3. I was there too. Too bad you had to leave early. There were open questions from the floor which were more lively. And there were fiery speeches on the need for a transportation package from House Transportation Chair Judy Clibborn and from Rep. Jessyn Farrell.

    As for debate on 405 and the level of roads v. transit investment, I agree that we should be investing more in transit. However, to pass any local options for transportation funding for King County we have got a clear message in past years that we needed to be unified in Olympia. So, roads advocates and transit advocates worked hard leading up to this session to agree on a package all could support and they have stayed rock solid in support. Over the past months suburban electeds have actually internalized a lot of the arguments for transit investment in a way they never had before. You heard suburban mayors all stressing the need for transit.

    As for 405, I think it is somewhat inevitable that it will be built. The cow is somewhat out of the barn on growth on the Eastside. The new lanes will be managed lanes. It is a false choice to say that we would be able to pass a package through the legislature that didn’t invest in roads and 405/167. Many state legislators live in places like the Tri Cities and Yakima where transit is an afterthought.

    Charlotte–East Link is $2 billion, not $20 billion and that wouldn’t buy much road either. We have to build to the future and provide transit options for the million more people coming here in the next 20 years.

    1. I’m not 100% opposed to widening 405 in a balanced compromise that doesn’t shoot for the moon on highways. But it is true that congestion makes people more willing to consider transit and high-quality transit. Isn’t ST planning to study BRT on 405 anyway in its plateful of projects?

      One theoretical advantage to widening 405 is we could someday make it the primary freeway and downgrade I-5 and make it more urban-friendly. Unfortunately I don’t see that as realistic, both because I-5 is a straight line, there’s so much traffic from Edmonds and Tukwila through Seattle that will refuse to move, and most of I-5 is technically a viaduct so you can’t shave off side lanes without rebuilding it, and a narrower viaduct won’t help the neighborhoods that much. But as a long-term goal it would be nice.

      1. Just to be sure everyone is aware, the study done in 2001 that determined 4 more GP lanes were needed, showed (at that time, assuming we would be constructing it now), that congestion would return to present levels at around 2025.

    2. Thanks RBC, sorry I missed the end. I understand the political reality of needing Eastside votes. It’s just unfortunate is all. I wish there were a political coalition that transit supporters could join that didn’t have diametrically opposed views to ours. It’s like, “sure you can order the vegetarian option, we just need you to slaughter this lamb first.”

  4. Now there’s a waste of money. Spend billions building a heavy-rail commuter train from nowhere (about half a mile outside of downtown Renton) to nowhere (somewhere in a marsh south of Woodinville) via nowhere (a mile, across a freeway, from downtown Bellevue) and nowhere (half a mile, up a steep hill, from downtown Kirkland). I just wish the Wilburton Line idea would die. There’s a very good reason actual transit planners soundly rejected it: it doesn’t go anywhere useful.

    The transit planners never rejected it. The City of Renton and the Kennydale Neighborhood Association had it taken out of the planning process before the Cost/Benefit Analysis was done during the I-405 Corridor Program analysis that was completed in 2001.

    Read the FEIS, along with WSDOT’s BRT White Paper, Sound Transit’s Eastside BRT analysis, and the Sound Transit’s study on Commuter Rail on the Woodinville Subdivision.

    Then come back with an informed opinion.

    1. I never rode the dinner train, but my friend who did said it stopped right near downtown Renton and Renton Boeing, so that’s something. And it only takes a decision by Bellevue to redevelop the area around its presumed station. Ironically, East Link will make it a quick shot to get to downtown Bellevue from there (or Microsoft, or someday downtown Redmond…).Most people assume downtown Bellevue will spread to 116th and 120th eventually, and merge into the Spring District.

      1. Have a look at Google Maps. The train stops about half a mile from the center of downtown Renton and about two miles from Renton Boeing. That’s “near” if, and only if, you are using a car to access the train.

        The Bellevue right-of-way is near Overlake Hospital, and absolutely nothing else. It will be separated from the Spring District by a hill and a distance of about half a mile. It will be separated from downtown by I-405 and not quite a mile. It’s just not a useful right-of-way. Period.

    2. An actual “informed opinion” would be one that recognizes there’s no such thing as an effective sprawl-to-sprawl rail line anywhere in the world, and that understands “but… but… but… but… rail!” does not make your hometown a special circumstance.

      1. An actual “informed opinion” would be one that recognizes there’s no such thing as an effective sprawl-to-sprawl rail line anywhere in the world, and that understands “but… but… but… but… rail!” does not make your hometown a special circumstance.

        This coming from someone who is on (seattletransitblog.com) record stating that the financial decision for driving is based solely on the marginal costs.

        I can see where the problem lies.

        I really don’t care what you think, though, but what I do want is for the elected officials to lay out the data in these studies for the public to digest, and let the public know how the decision was arrived at.

      2. “On record.” Hilarious.

        If you already own or have access to a car, then the decision to drive is, by definition, based solely on weighing marginal costs and convenience against other modes of transport.

        Rational self interest. It’s a thing. Best addressed with effective transit, not dreaming and whining.

        I fail to see how ignoring basic matters of fact and logic helps your foamerific cause.

      3. It’s obvious that your grasp of car ownership costs is extremely shallow, otherwise you wouldn’t be rationalizing the choices with your logic, contradictory to how any accountant views it, along with AAA, and anyone else who reimburses car use based on actual costs per mile.

        The only thing I can think of is that you have never owned a car, maybe coming from some east-coast city where transit was more accesible, or that you’re a Transit Poser, who is really an auto salesman.

        Nonetheless, I know once you’ve tossed the ‘foamer’ clause in there it’s only because you have no logical argument.

        Unless, of course, you’d like explain the differences in the studies done above, and why a more expensive BRT option with roughly the same ridership (actually less, if you use the WSDOT data), is a better choice.

    3. Sound Transit’s study discussed the feasibility of building a line (and said it would be technically feasible but very expensive). It conspicuously didn’t say anything about whether the line would be useful, and the tone makes it clear the planners didn’t take the idea seriously.

      1. Expensive? Compared to what? The two BRT studies done by WSDOT and by Sound Transit/PSRC were more expensive.

        It’s politics, and the people who live by the current rail line don’t want the data compared and were respnosible for it being pulled from the I-405 Corridor Program study.

        All it took was a letter from the Kennydale Neighborhood Association and the City of Renton to the Program’s Executive Committee to get it pulled from the study before it went to the Cost/Benefit analysis.

        Sound Transit is a concensus organization, and there are people with money and politcal muscle that they are afraid to take on.

        (Northgate – Lyynwood Link is another example, they were afraid to take on Shoreline, since the long term analysis would show that a Hwy 99 alignment is the better choice.)

  5. I was there part of the time on behalf of the Transit Riders Union. Thought I’d just give a plug: consider joining and voicing your thoughts (it’s a democratically run, volunteer-based group). For some of you out there, I would say it sure beats arm-chair planning :)
    http://transitriders.org/

Comments are closed.