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The city of Tukwila and its partners are committed to transforming Southcenter into an area more friendly to bus transit, commuter rail, bicylists and pedestrians, envisioning a truly urban center of varied neighborhoods.  One of the centerpieces of this plan is the conversion of Baker Boulevard into a complete street, anchored by a new pedestrian bridge over the Green River. The bridge would connect the new Sounder/Amtrak station that breaks ground Monday to a new Transit Center at Andover Park West and Baker Boulevard (in front of Southcenter Mall).

The new bridge, Transit Center and street makeover are all separate projects that will help lay the groundwork for the development of a new transit-oriented neighborhood.  According to Lynn Miranda, project manager of the overarching Southcenter Plan, 30% of the design for the pedestrian bridge is completed, and she expects the 60% design milestone in late summer or early fall. The NEPA/SEPA process starts in a few weeks.

“The design is anticipated to be completed by March 2014,” Miranda said. “Tukwila received a grant of approximately $4.6m which will be available starting July 1 to apply toward right-of-way acquisition and construction. Our application was for a 4 year project, and at this point the project is in the starting slot for a future award of $2.27m in the 2015-2017 biennium.”

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Cyndy Knighton, project manager for the bridge, went into even more detail, adding that design completion milestones may take longer than anticipated. She emphasized that these numbers are only estimates, but the bridge could reduce vehicle trips by over 99,000 annually, and also reduce vehicle miles traveled by 1.1m. Furthermore, Knighton pointed out that the pedestrian bridge over Green River could reduce shuttle trips that area hotels provide to patrons, as well as increase access to the Sounder station (although that depends on the station revamping, a sizable caveat).

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“We think having this bridge will open up more development on the Green River…and see it as a big help for dense, pedestrian-friendly urban center, since it opens up different kinds of development possibilities,” Knighton said. “It’s funded through design, and we think design and environmental planning may go through March, but all of my estimates are absolutely just estimates. While we are at 30% design at the moment, things can and do change substantially between now and the next milestones.”

In order to move it forward, the bridge will require further coordination with Sound Transit, the city of Renton, and the Union Pacific and Burlington Northern Railroads for funding and planning, since building a beautiful new bridge won’t do much good unless it easily connects to transit and other appealing destinations.

Knighton also told me more about  the transit center, as she is its project manager as well. The project is much further along:

The design is complete and I am just now getting the right of way acquisition completed – literally. The last documents are being signed by the Mayor hopefully this week. Current anticipated date to put the project on ad for contractor bids is this fall with construction being done next year.

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She mentioned that the center was originally supposed to be completed by September 2013, yet “really intensely complicated underground utility conflicts” and right-of-way acquisition issues delayed the process.

The project is more complex than it may appear on the surface; it’s three separate capital improvement projects combined, according to Knighton. Andover Park West Widening, Andover Park West Water Main Replacement, and the Tukwila Transit Center all blend together into one larger project. The former two expand and replace the water line from Strander Boulevard to Tukwila Parkway, add some more turn-pockets, and widen the road mostly to the east into two lanes in both directions, Knighton said.

“Instead of a two-way center left turn lane running the length of the Strander-to-Tukwila Parkway section, the project will be implementing access management by using landscaped medians and restricting most driveways to right-in/right-out operations,” Knighton said. “This is because this particular stretch of roadway has a much higher than average collision history which can be significantly improved through access management. The landscaped medians will do double duty of discouraging jaywalking.”

In addition, the southbound zone will lengthen into two large separate bays to accommodate up to three coaches, Knighton said. The northbound zone will be a bus pullout. The stop will also include ORCA readers, RapidRide F-Line real-time data (debuting in June), and two pedestrian plaza areas connected with a “colored and stamped concrete intersection”This is a big improvement over the current station:

“There will be a significant increase in shelter and seating space and a clear delineation between the transit center and the adjacent public parking areas is a key feature of the design,” Knighton stated. “There is a lot of crime and loitering that the adjacent property owners (and the City) are hoping to minimize, so between keeping public and private separate, we will be significantly improving lighting levels and installing a lot of CCTV cameras.”

Finally, the transition of Baker Boulevard into a multi-use trail will consist of expanding access to both the trail and the transit center through bike lanes and increased signage, with eventual plans to develop an independent paved bike route also accessible by pedestrians (rendering it truly multi-use). Wider sidewalks and on-street parking in order to encourage its use as a retail and pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare are also planned.

Part 2 of the series will focus on the city’s ambitious rezone and gridding of the area.

69 Replies to “Tukwila’s Transformation of Southcenter – Part 1 of 2”

    1. I am in favor of all of the pedestrian and bicycle path improvements/additions. I have to say though that I have a little trouble seeing the point in improving connections from a sounder station to a mall unless they want their parking lots to be used as a park and ride.

      Since they don’t move at all on weekends, I don’t see how it (the sounder) really helps Southcenter.

      The improved connections to the upcoming F-Line sound like a pretty good idea though.

      I always wondered if Southcenter planned to try and have some sort of fixed transit (busses, trolley, etc) run to the airport to get people riding Link to come their way (once the network is solidly in place). It seems like a waste to have the closest rail connected shopping center from the airport be all the way downtown.

      Many travelers probably never realize that Southcenter even exists, since the only way to get there from the airport is car or bus. Its good for Seattle though… maybe some of that tax revenue can be used to put in more transit downtown.

      1. There’s no reason not to connect it, so that at least you can walk to something from the station. Southcenter workers would use it, both at the mall and at all the surrounding businesses. And ST’s plans and long-term goal call for more mid-day Sounder service. Not quite hourly but almost. Evenings and weekends are further off, but mid-day service would begin to generate more two-way all-day usage rather than just being a peak-commute system.

        (DP shouts from the back, “I bet nobody will be getting off in Puyallup or Lakewood at noon!” That may be, but they definitely would in Tukwila, Kent, and Auburn. We could start thinking about Auburn turnback trips, since the subarea boundary conveniently splits the higher-ridership and lower-ridership areas.)

      2. I think that regularly scheduled commuter rail is “right-sized” to outer-suburban and inter-city travel needs far better than $2 billion delusions of a need for rapid transit.

        Of course, the higher labor and ROW costs require some evidence that the route of the train offers superior service and access to the route taken by highway buses. I don’t know if Sounder is good enough to meet that threshold off-peak, but my own latent rail bias would like it to be.

        Charles, meanwhile, terribly overestimates the number of Cheesecake Factories to which travelers desire access.

      3. I think this makes more sense as a way to get workers to the mall. Right now, the light rail line to Tukwila is mainly used for this. In other words, more people commute TO the Tukwila station, as opposed to FROM it, despite the fact that it has a nice big park and ride. There may be more going on here (with regards to the Tukwila station) but that is how I read the numbers. For mall workers, things might be different. Maybe they get paid more (than the workers who ride Link to the Tukwila station) so they are more likely to drive. Then again, maybe lots of workers at the Southcenter mall would love to be able to take a train to work.

        My guess is that most people who like to shop at malls prefer to drive there. But I would imagine that there are still some that would like to take a train to go shopping (or eating or drinking). I could easily see meeting a friend at the mall, for example — I take the train, he drives (from Kent) and then we go out and get a beer. Next time, we meet in Seattle.

      4. @dp People do want to shop before they leave town. The airport has almost nothing to offer in this respect. Westlake/downtown is better, but much further away.

        @John Bailo Thanks for the info. I am not surprised there is a bus route at least. You would think Southcenter would advertise… maybe their marketing people thought it wasn’t going to be worth the expense… I do see ads for that shopping center up in Tulalip though, and that is more than an hour away by any method.

      5. Many mall workers need to arrive early in the morning, well before the mall officially opens up to customers, to do cleaning and other tasks. While I don’t personally know anyone who does work at the mall, I would imagine that the Sounder’s reverse-direction schedule could attract some mall workers – if they had a better way to get from the station to the mall itself.

        One big problem, though, with making the Sounder option attractive is the fares. Many mall workers make at or near minimum wage, while getting zero transportation benefits from their employer besides a free parking space for the car they can’t afford. Such workers would be very sensitive to fare differences, and would be driven to take Link+140 over a direct Sounder trip, even if the Sounder schedule happened to work out, even if the Link+140 option took twice as long, simply to save $2 a trip, or $4 a day.

        In general, I consider it a travesty that reverse-commute trips which are nearly empty charges fares which are just as high as peak-direction commute trips that are mostly full. Given that the existence of the peak service requires running trains in the reverse direction, either deadheading or in service, and that the marginal cost of making these runs “in service” is negligible, there is no reason to charge the $2 premium for reverse trips that get charged for peak trips. Reverse-direction Sounder trips should really cost no more than Link or an ST express bus would cost.

      6. I saw a family in town from Canada trying to get to Southcenter from downtown on the 150 once. I’m not sure whether they had a specific reason to go to Southcenter as opposed to any other mall (they were in the Westlake tunnel station, but that’s a pretty pricey shopping district), but they had a really confusing and lousy experience trying to get there. They bought Link tickets, and seemed pretty embarrassed by the mistake. They also were sort of confusingly corrected after asking if the bus went to “Westfield Mall” that it was called Southcenter — not that I think transit agencies are wrong generally to refer to the area as Southcenter, and I think this will make more sense if we’re successful in building a public realm there, and the distinction between Westfield and Southcenter would have been hard to explain quickly… but when they saw the big “Westfield” sign at the mall entrance the husband said to his wife, “See, Westfield!”

        Southcenter and the airport are sort of awkwardly located relative to eachother by transit, in the way that things tend to be awkwardly located in places where massive barriers (here freeways, parking lots, runways) break up the pedestrian network and push things farther apart. The freeways probably aren’t going anywhere and the runways certainly aren’t. I don’t think that making Southcenter a convenient stop on the way to the airport will be a high enough priority for our transit system to invest the money to overcome the physical hurdles any time soon. In terms of what’s important locally to Southcenter, it will be more important to bring in residents, create a network of public streets and build a public realm, reduce pedestrian barriers (including crossing of ludicrously wide surface streets) and strengthen transit connections to neighboring areas.

      7. Honestly, where do you people get your crazy ideas?

        There is no place in the universe in which people leave the airport, with their luggage, and drag it two stops on a train to a mall with the same generic chains they have at home. People who travel for the sake of shopping (Europeans and Canadians in times of strong exchange rates) do so sans luggage and beginning from wherever they’re laying their heads. Compulsive consumers who absolutely must be shopping at every free moment have airport shops aimed directly at them.

        The idea that airport travelers would suddenly flood Southcenter if only we’d given them a one-seat ride is bunk.

      8. Gonna have to agree with d.p. on this one. If any tourists are coming to the greater Seattle area with shopping on their agenda, they are likely taking Uber or an even swankier stretch limo (Hummer?) to the Westin in Bellevue across from Hellevue Square. Honestly… If you think Southcenter deserves mention along side Bellevue Square and the Bravern, you’ve been smoking too much meth.

      9. @VeloBusDriver

        Southcenter has appeals that differ from BelSquare.

        First of all, it’s very much hip and youth-y, whereas BelSquare is more matronly. Lots of the newer shops for young adults and teens. The place is often packed with young families and kids.

        Second, it’s far more multiethnic, like South King County. There is a huge Asian-American crowd that frequents not only the mall in general but places like Seafood Palace which is an Asian supermarket and Sarku, Japanese Teriakyi.

        There is a very international flavor to the mall — it even has a money exchange kiosk in the center of it! Perhaps it’s the proximity to SeaTac. I get the sense that people who fly in shop here when visiting the Seattle metropolitan area.

      10. John, if you think people travel to the Seattle area in mass specifically to shop at Southcenter, you are deluding yourself. A quick glance at the Southcenter and Bellevue Collection visitor pages should confirm this.

        That said, a surprising number of visitors to Kemperland end up on the 550 asking for directions to/from their hotel so the thought that they don’t take public transportation is not fully valid. Too bad he didn’t push for the Bellevue Way alignment with the transit center closer to his precious shopping mall. Light Rail could have brought a lot more wallets to his empire.

      11. Southcenter’s vibe is a lot more like Crossroads than Be’square. Be’square may see a demographic of wealthy tourists but that’s no different than their normal demographic and who the people are coming to visit. In general people visiting from Europe and Asia (even Canada) love to shop because things are so much cheaper here than at home. The outlet malls see a huge amount of tourist business. Of course they also want to visit Pike Place Market and iconic stores like REI. In general transit options, except for DT Seattle where driving is a PITA, don’t really matter. They are renting, borrowing or being driven because that’s the only way to access 99% of what you’d want to see and do on a limited vacation schedule and you’re not going to schlep an airline luggage bag full of merchandise home with you on the bus.

      12. I don’t think going directly from the airport to Southcenter is very common, but two reasons visitors go to American malls are the exchange rate and tax rate. Canadians find American prices cheaper sometimes, and Britons can find things dramatically cheaper. Asians like to have pictures of themselves shopping, and to take home American brand names.

        If Google is recommending the 128 over the 140, it means its algorithm isn’t very good. The 128 is the slow way to get to Southcenter, for times when you want to meander through beautiful suburban Glendale and its isolated library. I’m sure it will be fixed when RapidRide F launches and becomes full-time frequent.

  1. Looks like My World is getting ever classier!

    That Southcenter design, with its suburban flavor of horizontal density is beautiful, and very livable.

    We can build this all over Washington State and create affordable and plentiful housing that is transit and bike friendly and provides jobs and business.

    I bike the Green River (and Interurban) Trail from Kent to Southcenter and it’s a fantastic and really underutilized resource. There could be more apartment housing all the way down to Algona oriented to people who want to use the trails as their “highways” to work!

      1. A development is coming to Kent Station, but 104th is mostly 70s big-box stores and strip malls with large parking lots, and the apartment developments north of the commercial district cannot be mistaken for walkable.

  2. Overall, this looks good, but I do have a couple areas of concern:

    1) “The landscaped medians will do double duty of discouraging jaywalking.”. I hope there are plenty of legal crosswalks here. Otherwise, all you do is force people to either trample on the landscaping (which would make the crossing more dangerous, by reducing lines of sight), go all the way around (a giant waste of time), or get into their cars just to cross the street (a waste of time, plus needless pollution and congestion).

    2) ” a clear delineation between the transit center and the adjacent public parking areas is a key feature of the design”. I would like to know more about what “clear delineation” means. If “clear delineation” means a fence to keep the riffraff away from getting between the bus stop and the mall, this project becomes a step backward.

    1. “The landscaped medians will do double duty of discouraging jaywalking.” – So would mid-block pedestrian crossings with signals and pedestrian refuges. Making people backtrack, after walking all the way to a legal crossing, to reach their bus stop is inviting jaywalking. Just look at the B Line stops along NE 8th – Distaster.

      2) The “delineation” appears designed to keep the bus stop riff raff off of the private property/parking lot. In my experience, parking lots attract their own kind of riff raff who just happen to drive cars.

  3. “There will be a significant increase in shelter and seating space and a clear delineation between the transit center and the adjacent public parking areas is a key feature of the design,” Knighton stated. “There is a lot of crime and loitering that the adjacent property owners (and the City) are hoping to minimize, so between keeping public and private separate, we will be significantly improving lighting levels and installing a lot of CCTV cameras.”

    Is this really another way of saying that in Southcenter’s opinion, private cars bring shoppers and transit brings shoplifters? And car prowlers?

    Worst part of suburban transit, especially for shopping, is that anyone using transit has to cross a howling wasteland of pavement to reach the store.

    Difference between a shopping center and a healthy city is that the latter features coffee, food, and bathrooms close to transit after the stores close.

    The danger and deterioration of life as our cities lost their health, as they lost their customer base to shopping malls, stems greatly from the amount of empty and undefendable space that parking lots require.

    Better crime prevention strategy than cameras and prison-yard lights would be to make every effort to integrate the transit system into the commercial area. You might even make some more money, too.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Would edit sentence re: urban decline to say “as parking lots require and depopulated cities can’t avoid.” Two symptoms of the disease of putting empty space between people and the necessary functions of their lives.

      Mark

    2. The food court and walking space inside the mall are completely carfree…and encourage walking and convivality.

      That doesn’t seem to sink in when it comes to these discussions.

      1. And slavishly giving your every cent to a single corporate overlord who controls every inch of the space you traverse.

        Francisco Fraco wishes he could have invented the hermetically-sealed suburban mall.

      2. Malls can be useful places! But they have their limitations — they tend not to be useful for walking through the way public streets are, they have limited hours of operation, they don’t allow freedom of expression, etc. In many places around the world malls exist within a more consistent, continuous pedestrian network — not just in Europe and Asia, even in Chicago, Seattle, Bellevue…

        It will be really important in Southcenter (as it will be at Northgate, as it continues to be in Bellevue) to build and constantly reinforce a public realm, and then connect the mall to that.

    3. “Is this really another way of saying that in Southcenter’s opinion, private cars bring shoppers and transit brings shoplifters? And car prowlers?”

      Unfortunately, there are a lot of people who believe just that, even in ignorance. Even though waiting for a bus is an incredibly stupid way for a shoplifter to walk off with his loot, as the police would have lots of time to track him down and arrest him, compared to if he took off in a car.

      The same logic happens in other areas, dragging down transit accordingly. Take West Seattle Junction, in which the so-called “Rapid Ride” bus has to detour around the block so that it can stop further away from the shopping area, for no other purpose other than to allow car drivers who shop at the stores to avoid looking at the riffraff waiting for their buses. Because of bullshit logic like this, we have slower buses in perpetuity.

  4. The area between Southcenter Mall and the new Tukwila Amtrak/Sounder station currently seems to have a large concentration of motels and parking lots. Neither of those uses will generate a lot of diverse or intensive pedestrian activity. So to succeed in creating a dense, urban and non-motorized (sub)urban center, Tukwila will need something more than a cute bridge.

    In the article, it’s stated that “the bridge could reduce vehicle trips by over 99,000 annually”, which pencils out to about 275 trips per day. But the city is also working on widening Andover Park West which might serve as a deterrent to pedestrians and an incentive to drive to Southcenter.

    1. Alternatively this is what has been previously discussed as NTOD — transit oriented density that is Not right at the rail station.

      Thus the station is optimized for in and out traffic, and then people can use a short shuttle (in this case the 128) to get to the final destination.

      1. So the transit station isn’t even transit-oriented, it’s car-oriented?

        I think the only person “previously discussing” this is you, JB.

      2. As you walk to Link through the SeaTac parking garage, there is a big advertisement that says “No shuttle to slow you down. That’s smart.”

        And there’s a reason for this – shuttles DO slow you down, and slow you down a lot – enough that even when the shuttle runs as frequently as every 10 minutes, people are willing to pay an extra $30-50 (depending on the trip length) to avoid.

        This is also the reason why Sound Transit did the right think and built a walkway to connect Link to the airport terminal, rather than imposing long delays by making people connect to shuttles.

        The same is true at Southcenter. We need people to walk to their destinations, and that means doing everything we can to make walking quick and reliable – which means building the bridge.

    2. [ot]

      In reality, it’s so far away that it really should have a shuttle. It would be fantastic if we could move the N/S tram out of the security perimeter and connect it to Link.

    3. “…a large concentration of motels and parking lots.”

      Land ripe for redevelopment. Come visit LQA/Uptown and see the all parking lots being developed into housing.

  5. This is great, and will give more options to those who want to live in south King County without a car. Two concerns:

    1. Now is the time to reserve right of way for future Link lines, both east-west and north-south. That would significantly decrease the capital costs and also help the city avoid retrofitting things later. Lower costs would make it to be approved, and to be elevated rather than surface. Making the development “transit-ready” is the most effective way to bring rapid transit to you, and it just happens that downtown Burien and Renton have been doing the same thing.

    2. The TOD image looks superblocks. How large are the blocks, and are there small streets or pedestrian paths going through at one-block intervals? Small single-number blocks make the most walkable neighborhoods, and also disperse car traffic to avoid congestion, as evidenced all over Seattle. Now is the time for Tukwila to restore the one-block blocks it used to have in its town centers before big-box development obliterated it.

  6. If you’re already planning a bridge, why not bridge over both the Green River and the West Valley Highway? Sort of like how the Interurban Trail crosses 99 in N. Seattle/Shoreline? Now THAT would be a much nicer trip from the train station towards the mall.

    1. I was thinking the same thing. The only reason I can think of is being cheap and not wanting to pay the extra cost.

  7. This is like the new Sim City, where you can have tons of car traffic and parking is magic. There is zero chance of any of that pedestrian/bike friendly stuff happening when everybody is surrounded by six lane arterials and deafening highways.

  8. Its nice to know that Salt Lake City is kicking Seattle’s ass when it comes to Commuter Rail. UTA Frontrunner now has over 13,000 riders a day, more than Sounder. Its a longer system, off peak and saturday service, with much higher frequencies. Frontrunner has been running since 2008 and has sparked transit oriented development up and down the 90 mile line. I’m surprised that with Seattle being such a linear metro area the Sounder would not be better. Maybe if Sound Transit built extra tracks they could get extra service and kick Red State SLC’s ass.

    1. The problem with the sounder is that its only useful going to and from work, and that’s only if you work right around king street station and live pretty close to one of its other stations. If it ran all day and had weekend runs it would have a lot more people using it.

      Sound transit is also renting the usage, so getting enough access could prove problematic. I don’t know the numbers, but I suspect its not cheap.

      1. yeah i know… Frontrunner has a similar problem with a small segment of their line. I guess the moral of the story is don’t build it on the cheap. Build it right and own your own track even if it means your own ROW. UTA spent over 800 million on the south segment alone.

      2. We are building something with its own right of way, Link. Sounder was always intended as a cheap and quick-to-install secondary service, a low-hanging fruit that couldn’t be ignored. Of course it’s only “cheap” in terms of capital costs, not ongoing costs. But that’s part of the point: people were focusing mainly on capital costs. Which is the problem everywhere with cut-corner systems. But at least Sounder wasn’t our main transit investment, it was a secondary investment.

    2. Commuter rail cannot be a catalyst of transit-oriented development, as a line that only goes one place, runs infrequently, and doesn’t run at all in the evenings or weekends, doesn’t really reduce the need to own a car. Yes, people that live there might be able to take the train to work and back, but if you have to use a car for every trip except work, it is not transit-oriented development – it is still car-oriented development.

      1. This is only viable because of the transit center with all-day buses. The pedestrian bridge helps to make it more off-peak friendly too, by making a nice clean direct route to walk between the sounder platforms, and stops for the all-day 150 at the Tukwila Transit Center.

        The transit center is the real workhorse here, I think.

  9. I’d love to see a bus-only route into/out of the mall, and place the station there. We complain about messing up the Link connection to SeaTac by adding a long walk, but that’s what we do with all of our malls and buses. Imagine how much improved the shopping experience would be if you don’t have to lug your purchases through a parking lot.

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