With petty alignment squabbles behind us, most East Link work is now well into the stages of final design and station area planning. Recently, the City of Bellevue has been doing outreach to various communities in South Bellevue to gauge input on station area improvements. Most of the design and planning work still belongs to Sound Transit, though neighborhood improvements in the surrounding locale rest squarely with the City.
I’m not really eager to rehash the strenuous East Link saga that dominated Bellevue for more than four years, but I think some background will be helpful. Back in 2009, both Sound Transit and the Bellevue City Council came to consensus on a preferred alternative for South Bellevue, which would have routed East Link up Bellevue Way to serve the existing South Bellevue P&R. After the 2009 election, the Council’s makeup changed and they flipped, setting off a long battle with Sound Transit over routing.
After multiple attempts to advance bad alignments, the Council ultimately threw in the towel and entered into a collaborative design process with Sound Transit. That’s still happening to some extent, since residents around the alignment were promised “exceptional mitigation” from the impacts of light rail. So while most of the planning discussion has been driven by mitigation and the fear of impacts, there’s recently been mild interest in increasing the palatability of East Link and harnessing its benefits.
During the project’s environmental process, we lobbied heavily for Sound Transit’s preferred route, mostly because of better access, higher ridership, and lower costs. While it is true that most of the projected ridership gains would come from a larger park-and-ride, the route offers superior access to South Bellevue neighborhoods compared to the B7/BNSF alternative. Density enthusiasts, however, will be disappointed to know that TOD around the station is a virtual impossibility. From the Bellevue Reporter:
Bellevue Senior Planner Mike Kattermann told residents during the session the city wants to make sure the station ends up being a good fit for the single-family neighborhood, which will not face transit-oriented development.
“That’s off the table,” he said. “It’s been very clear from the beginning.”
Even if development itself isn’t realistic in the near term, it’s certainly not a bad idea to develop TOD-friendly infrastructure. Sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes don’t carry the political baggage that TOD does, but are certainly a prerequisite to future development prospects. In the meantime, South Bellevue neighborhoods are rife with cul-de-sacs, which are invariably the biggest obstacles to station access. I’ve long advocated for punching connections through these cul-de-sacs, though I wouldn’t put it past the neighbors to put up a property rights fight if it came down to it.
When it comes to parking, the new 1,500-stall garage should be able to absorb South Bellevue Station’s short-term latent demand. In the long run, there will eventually be a point when the park-and-ride hits capacity, which might lead to some spillover into the neighborhoods. When that does happen, the City’s best option might be to implement a restricted parking zone (RPZ) near the station. There’s already a precedent for RPZs in neighborhoods surrounding downtown Bellevue, so I’d be surprised if any significant opposition proliferates.
For the most part, neighborhood input has been largely standard and far more constructive than the NIMBY rhetoric that was so dominant in years past. One of the City’s next steps is to form an ad-hoc planning group, which I surmise will be largely comprised of citizens. It remains to be seen what this group will look like, but given the input received so far, I’m fairly optimistic we’ll see productive dialogue prevail over any last vestiges of anti-transit opposition.