south bellevue station renderings
South Bellevue Station renderings, from Sound Transit

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.

48 Replies to “Planning for East Link’s South Bellevue Station”

  1. Hating on Bellevue much, Sherwin? If Sound Transit wanted the train to run where there’s dense population and retail business, why was the preferred alignment not down Bellevue Way (see all the apartment density on Old Main St), pass Kemper’s mall, and out through 10th St (again, with density, a library, and a planned performing arts center.)

    SEATTLE Transit Blog’s angry, jaundiced coverage of Bellevue concerns is getting a bit old.

    1. >> neighborhood input has been largely standard and far more constructive than the NIMBY rhetoric that was so dominant in years past

      On this, I’d allege that the majority of people in South Bellevue aren’t anti-transit or NIMBY. I’m a good example of someone who has supported transit since the first vote in 1995 and someone who’s quite thrilled that there will soon be a train coming near my home. However, I’m virulently opposed to stupid transit decisions. I spent a lot of time lobbying hard against Sound Transit’s recommendations because I honestly believe that they frequently make bad decisions that only serve to appeal to short-term political squabbles. If I thought Sound Transit was in the least bit well-run I would have been one hell of a lot less NIMBY when we were “squabbling” in our “petty” fashion.

      The East Link is aligned along the areas where the political opposition is the least well-funded. It goes through office parks, one of the cheapest neighborhoods in West Bellevue (filled with 1100 square foot homes) and away from anyone’s expensive commercial properties such as Bellevue Square. Heck, it even moves from the west side of 112th to the east side of 112th so that it can miss the Bellevue Club’s tennis courts (by Sound Transit’s own admission.)

      But given that the train route is now fixed, yeah, I’ll be helpful and constructive in trying to make a silk purse out of this overpriced sow’s ear.

    2. Not sure how I’m hating on Bellevue, but yes the route you described, B1, would have been the preferred route if not for the high cost.

      1. concur 100%. But cost is a big driver in many of these decisions.

        And I don’t see how you are “hating on Bellevue.” This was the route worked out with the Bellevue City Council, and within cost restrictions both for ST and for Bellevue. Any Bellevue resident who doesn’t like it should complain to their own elected officials, and to Kemper Freeman of course….

      2. The article starts with “petty alignment squabbles.” That’s a bit editorializing. And all through this article Bellevue comes out with the blame. It’s not this article alone: the standard for STB is to hack on Bellevue.

      3. The Bellevue City Council deserves most of the blame. They wasted time and effort, and hundreds of thousands of city dollars, trying to move the alignment as far away from downtown as possible. Arguing to keeping alignments in consideration that were universally accepted to be slower, to produce less ridership, and to be more expensive than the alternatives. And they continued to waste City and ST resources on non-competitive alignments long after their inferiority was made clear.

        The City Council could have better spent those resources finding money for a Bellevue Way alignment. That was the direction they should have been pushing the line. They could have gone all-in on a real downtown station. But they decided to crow about the Vision Line and the wonders of a potential freeway station instead.

      4. We should remember that the Bellevue City Council members in the recent years are responsible for the “squabble”, due to an anti-light rail majority.

        The city council before them (2008 I believe) were highly supportive of the C3T option, which would have put light rail in a tunnel along Bellevue Way. Unfortunately that council was replaced by one that was less than enthusiastic about East Link.

        So yes, there is merit to flaming at some members of the current council, because had it not been for them, we would likely have had more support for a better alignment, not to mention a much faster decision-making process.

    3. why was the preferred alignment not down Bellevue Way

      Uh… it was, early on, but was eliminated from consideration due to high cost.

      This is why we can’t have nice things.

      1. Funny so much of the cost of the Bellevue Way alignment was from crossing downtown Bellevue. They successfully pushed Link to 112th and decided to build a tunnel through downtown anyway – for no reason at all! Pure insanity.

      2. @Sherwin Lee: I agree, it was Bellevue City Council that insisted on a tunnel. So we got a tunnel that runs on 110th for two train stations that open onto 112th.

        I would allege that this is an example of how Sound Transit’s projects are all negotiated for short-term political influences. We could never build a really good project in this region because the organizations running our capital projects make the wrong “big bets.”

        If Sound Transit (and Bellevue City Council) had any vision the train would be running through a tunnel under Bellevue Way.

    4. Didn’t STB just lavish praise on Bellevue’s long term transit planning? Perhaps on everything Link, STB thinks things Bellevue was wrong, but it’s not anything Bellevue does.

      1. It is, actually, something Bellevue did. You can break down everything that happened regarding east link in Bellevue into 3 eras:
        The early era: Bellevue city council is supportive of a proper downtown station with an alignment on Bellevue Way. It’s expensive, because it’ll need a long tunnel, but the council seems to be looking for money to fund the extra cost.

        The Freeman era: An ugly, overfunded campaign season results in massive upheaval on the city council. When the dust settles, the new city council has a clear anti-rail majority. Talk of local funding for the Bellevue Way alignment ends. The cheap option down 112th is the new favorite, with the council majority pushing for an even more out-of-the-way alignment. ST won’t bite because the route has been studied and found lacking, the city does more studies and more engineering on the city’s dime, all which confirms what’s already known: the vision line sucks. The uncertainty resulting from the spat between bellevue and ST turns into delays for the scheduled opening of the line. The argument makes local news.

        The current era: public backlash against the council’s actions is evident at the ballot box. The council becomes more moderate, starts ignoring their ideological campaign donors, accepts the low dollar 112th alignment, and starts scrounging for money for a short tunnel near city hall. Realistic local transit planning comes back from the dead.

        This is probably not entirely accurate, but it’s the best I can do from memory on my smartphone during my lunch break. Politics in Bellevue are to blame, almost entirely.

    5. There’s a difference between ideals and practicalities. Ideally Link should have been on Bellevue Way. Ideally Bellevue/Kemper are to blame for the alignment we got, the two-year slippage of the opening date, and the money ST spent defending itself rather than installing amenities. And don’t forget the subway whose only effect is to preserve a pristine car-oriented view from City Hall, without even an underground station closer to the bus bays. But practically, Bellevue has finally come to agreement with ST and is supporting the agreement, and I commend them for that. Let’s make the best Bellevue we can given the restrictions, and not worry about could-have-beens.

  2. I have a question about NIMBYISM. Sound Transit chose to put this light rail station in a location that is undevelopable on three sides. The only possible place future development could is occur is to the west, which is a single family neighborhood. My question is, years from now, when anti-single family home activists demand that the residential communities of Enatai and Beaux Arts accept high-rise apartment complexes into their neighborhood, will residents who oppose this change be labeled NIMBYS?

    1. anti-single family home activists

      Not a real thing.

      But major changes to the underlying street grid would be required first. The walking path from within the neighborhood to the station is labyrinthine and excessively long.

      If the city went to the time and expense to fix the grid, and was prepared to pump it up to lowrise condos & mixed use (it would never go straight from SFR to towers – something like 30-40′ would be more likely), then yeah, there’d be a NIMBY issue.

    2. Activists have resigned to leaving South Bellevue the way it is. The P&R does some good in keeping a large garage away from downtown Bellevue. In the long term, we’d like to upzone single-family neighborhoods in general, but that’s not specific to Enatai, and Enatai doesn’t have to be first. Also, the wetland blocks development to the east.

      Ideally (back to my ideal-vs-practical again), there would be a transfer station where all N-S and E-W trains could meet without detouring. But the geography of highways and villages in the I-90 104th-to-124th area doesn’t make that easy. But if future lines share the East Link track from South Bellevue to Hospital, no matter whether they’re going to Issaquah or Renton or Bothell, then it would become an almost-ideal transfer point.

  3. I found something very curious when I clicked on the “punching connections” link that took me to an old Sherwin post. It’s how he referred to the Mercer Slough Nature Park. He called it a swamp. Here’s the quote. “To be clear, South Bellevue P&R’s walkshed is not great– one side of the parking lot is swamp, and the other side is a make-up of low-density single-family residences perched on a short plataeau.” I’m not sure why that word jumped out to me. I never hear people in this part of the county use the word swamp.

      1. If I remember my Envi-Sci properly, a northwestern marsh will naturally become a swamp over time, as trees colonize it. And then a swamp will naturally become a forest over time, as the leaf-litter builds up and decays into new soil. Various parts of the park are at various stages of this process.

        The whole area is kind of weird, though. It was artifically created when we lowered Lake Washington back in 1917. It was originally all a wide, shallow rivermouth. After the lake level was lowered, they dredged the current creek to keep it boatable, narrowing the wet areas even further.

  4. It’s fascinating to watch a vibrant Urban Center grow from just a little ole’ parking lot filled with cars in the morning, only to be emptied in the afternoon. S.Bellevue Stn has grown from a ‘last chance to park before hitting the bridge’ lot in the middle of nowhere, to a Metro mega lot, to a ST transit center, to Sherwins dream of knocking down all the homes at the ends of cul-de-sacs to create a quasi-grid, ped friendly, bike sharrowing nucleus for high rise apartments near the station.
    I can hardly wait till the pedestrian bridge across the [wetland-swamp-wasteland (choose one)] links the existing MFU’s near the BNSF/Factoria area, when DMU’s start running in 2100.

  5. Why can’t we at least have non-insane bus transfers? As currently designed, riders will spend more time getting off the property than they did crossing the Lake Washington. This thing makes Tukwila seem streamlined by comparison.

    1. The current bays at South Bellevue are pretty optimal, assuming you don’t locate a bay on the other side of Bellevue Way. This station will add quite a bit of extra time to any routes that are through routed here. I really wish Metro and Sound Transit would stop building Park & Rides so that buses have to actually go into them.

    2. Why can’t they just slide the station to the left a little and make northbound buses stop on Bellevue Way (just like they currently do) instead of making a bunch of turns? I think that southbound buses will still need to go into the bus bay, as it’s important to not have to cross a street when doing timed connections. *If signal priority is implemented*, this shouldn’t be much delay.

      Sound Transit really needs to place more emphasis on high-quality bus connections, especially at South Bellevue, where THE main purpose of the station is allowing people from the east and south a fast connection to Link. I guess Sound Transit is trying to compensate for the errors made in Mt Baker and UW where connecting bus service is too far away or requires waiting for traffic lights to get to, but it’s also important for bus service to get to the stop quickly.

      1. Ha! If only the southbound bays were remaining the minimal impediments they are today. But the truth is so much worse than you imagine!

        Every Link user who arrives on a bus, every Link user who leaves on a bus, and every bus passenger with the misfortune of passing through in any direction will be subjected to as many as seven turns, three stop-signs, and two or three busy pedestrian crossings. Northbound buses will be forced to cross under the rail line four times. All exiting buses share lanes with cars emerging from the massive garage, which will likely cause gridlock in the afternoon peak.

        South Bellevue intends to be a nightmare for all comers and goers on all modes. As with so much of Sound Transit’s output, this design couldn’t be worse if it were gunning for an Anti-Pritzker Prize.

      2. Of course the northbound path is just ugly, which is why I suggested moving them to Bellevue Way, which would be far faster overall (yes there would be a bit of extra walking, but none of those turns, and if the station was moved to the west a little there would be no walk). However, I don’t see what is wrong with the southbound path, other than (1) the lack of signal priority leaving the station, and (2) the left lane of the exit road should be bus-only. Both of these issues are easily fixable.

      3. Today’s southbound pull-out is as quick and easy as any pull-out could possibly be. It doesn’t even involve full 90° turns — it’s more of a “zig” and then a “zag”. You travel mere feet from the main roadway, you pull up to the zone, and you’re off again. Crucially, you cross no other roadways along the way.

        The future plan drags you 200 feet off the main road, adding stops signs (a.k.a. next-light-missers) at the end of each new right-angled segment of your journey. On top of that, you now have to cross the north-bound bus route — twice! — so don’t expect smooth sailing into and out of your stopping zone. To top it off, you now cross three primary “pedestrian circulation” routes, each with poor visibility (so drive slowly)!

        Southbound may not be as comically awful as northbound, but it will still require multiple minutes for every bus, compared to today’s relatively painless sail-through. Still a severe and pointless downgrade, suggesting that those responsible are incompetent or uncaring or both.

      4. Just wait until the Choir starts singing “Oh let’s truncate all the Issaquah-Eastgate routes in the interest of efficiency”.
        The bus/rail transfer will rank up there with seeing your dentist for root canal surgery.

      5. @mic, I believe that Sound Transit has always been planning to truncate all off-peak (and possibly peak) service from Eastgate and Issaquah at South Bellevue Station. Overall, this is a good move as it allows for much better frequencies on the I-90 corridor, as well as faster trips to Eastside employment centers such as DT Bellevue and Microsoft. However, it is crucial that the connection be high-quality: which means timed connections from every train, a very short walk for the connection, and no excessive delays in entering or exiting the station. Nevertheless, there is nothing inherently wrong with forcing a connection here–just like how Vancouver truncated all express service to the southern metro once the Canada line opened.

        @d.p. I agree that the connection is extremely suboptimal, but I think that it’s easier to fix than you think. Just make the northbound buses stop on Bellevue Way, as I’ve already suggested. Even though southbound buses will still deviate, it will be faster as southbound buses will no longer intersect with northbound buses. At the intersection with the exit from the parking garage, it should be simple to give the southbound turning buses priority by putting a stop sign at the garage exit but not on the bus roadway.

      6. Absolutely. Leave the northbound on Bellevue way — as it is today. Allow the southbound an unimpeded parabolic pull-off — as it is today. Move the track toward Bellevue Way if possible, or let passengers walk the ~150 feet if not.

        (150 feet is still closer than any other walking transfer in the system, including at the surface stops on MLK. It’s 5x closer than at downtown Bellevue.)

        Unfortunately, what you suggest and I endorse is the precise opposite of the design that ST seems hellbent on building. If they build any part of their plan as previously revealed, the station can never be rectified for buses in any direction. We can’t pretend otherwise. It needs to be kiboshed completely.

      7. For routes that are terminating at SB P&R, the bus loop is fine. Once the bus serves the stop, it will go into the bus layover area until it’s time to start the return trip. Riders won’t be subjected to many of the looping turns.

        For southbound through routes, it would be much like the situation today, but the bus would drive a little further from the road to directly serve the train platforms and the garage.

        Only in the case of northbound through routes does it make sense to stop on the road.

      8. Absolutely incorrect.

        As in Tukwila or Northgate, the deviations and curlicues and stop signs and crosswalks add up to minutes of waste for those transferring as well. Lumbering vehicles do not pull off such maneuvers efficiently. The start/end of your ride is excruciating.

        There’s nothing quite like watching your connection pull away as you circle around it, powerless to speed your own exit, all because some amateur from Asphalt Academy decided to add fifteen “engineering elements” to your experience.

        Transit vehicles are good at traveling in relatively straight lines. A good transfer lets passengers walk a reasonably-minimized distance from one vehicle to another, again in a straight line. Link’s track is expected to be a mere 150 feet from today’s bus zones. The station has yet to be built, and the landscaping has yet to be done.

        There is no excuse for the forced badness.

      9. “Welcome Aboard the Eastgate to Seattle Express” … where off-peak you can exit the freeway for the pleasure of wandering around the newest transit abomination foisted upon you by your transit masters. As you wait your turn to get out of the bus, you be pleasantly surprised to hear the toot toot of the train leaving for Seattle, knowing YOUR train will arrive in just 15 more minutes.
        Yes, predictable transit is what we’ve all been longing for.

  6. OK, in the interest of moving forward, here are a few ideas to improve the situation:

    -Relax regulations for “low-impact density” around the station, allowing ADUs and room rentals rather than new apartment buildings.
    -Create a scheme that allows residents to benefit from more cars parking on nearby streets. Something like the Parking Benefit Districts that Alan Durning describes: http://daily.sightline.org/2013/10/04/curb-appeal/. There is actually very little conflict because the new demand is during the day, when residential demand will be low. The neighborhood would probably put the money into improvements that would benefit pedestrians anyways, so it’s a win-win.
    -Pursue pedestrian and bike infrastructure. Bikes especially could be very helpful to increase station access in a low-density area. The nice thing about cul-de-sac connections is that they really only need permission from 2, max 4 property owners. You could put them in where people are amenable to them, and just wait until property changes hands in places where people are not.

    1. Even with South Bellevue P&R being over capacity, you really don’t see a lot of park & hide activity in the area. There is a little bit near the Triangle Pool, just to the south of SE 16th. But in the neighborhoods to the West, which I walk and ride through almost daily on my way to the P&R, you really don’t see that many cars parked in the street. If it ever becomes a problem, an RPZ could be added. (Frankly, the new church in that neighborhood is more of a nuisance.)

  7. You can tell just from looking at the picture that the people in charge imagine that it will be great for getting to the airport or one of Seattle’s many stadiums, and never consider anything else. What a travesty.

    1. Getting to the airport using the 560 today is pretty convenient. Assuming ST doesn’t take that route away, most folks will continue to use it. That said, if you just miss a 560, taking the 550/Link today to the airport is faster than waiting for the next 560. Link the whole way will be more comfortable, but have a transfer at IDS. If traffic isn’t bad, most people here will continue to bum rides or take taxis.

      1. The 560 to the airport is faster than the Link proposes to be. I’ll continue to ride the 560 to the airport (even with its crazy milk run to the Renton Transit Center) after East Link is built.

        Unless I’m in a hurry in which case you really can’t beat a taxicab.

    2. The main reason for the P&R is that it has been established for thirty years, and just bypassing it would raise a huge outcry from the single-family houses surrounding it. The only reason it was built was for 9-5 commuters. Stadium and airport use was negligible because the population was significantly lower (so less congestion), parking was cheaper, and buses were more meandering and less frequent. Now the P&R has gained a secondary uses as a weekend event collector, but it probably still won’t be a major airport draw. And hopefully, local transit in the surrounding neighborhoods will be better enough that people will take a bus to the train, if they want to spend an hour going to the airport rather than just driving or taking a taxi.

  8. Re the cul-de-sac paths, the city doesn’t have to be heavy-handed and force them in. It could just keep reminding residents that their children would benefit from them, and offer to help with the infrastructure costs when the residents are ready. Eventually as a few of these paths get build around the city and become popular, their children will start asking “Why can’t we have a pass-through like Johnny has”, and the parents will relent.

  9. I think Link would be improved by having a few more park and ride stations. The suburbs aren’t going to disappear so the last mile is going to be in a private automobile for many people. Providing them with a way to access the transit system should be a goal, even it means that every transit station won’t give ride to a transit-oriented community.

    1. There are plenty of P&Rs along East Link. There will be parking at Mercer Island, South Bellevue, 130th NE, and Overlake TC. There will be nearby parking at Overlake P&R, and with expansion, there may be parking in east Redmond.

    2. Park and Rides should be located along the outer edges of the transit system, where they can truly serve as a “last mile” option for people without comprehensive all-day transit service. South Bellevue might have fit that description when it was new, but I don’t think it does now.

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