Proposed ped-bike bridge connecting Overlake TC Link Station
Proposed ped-bike bridge connecting Overlake TC Link Station

As we mentioned in our news roundup last week, Microsoft is generously agreeing to pitch in on a new ped-bike bridge that would span SR-520 and connect to the new East Link station at Overlake. The contribution kills two birds with one stone: it greatly increases access to the station while also improving connectivity across Microsoft’s massive campus, which is cleaved in two by 520. Furthermore, it’s an encouraging sign that rail transit’s many regional beneficiaries, both public and private, are showing willingness to invest in improved station access.

From a transportation perspective, the news is very welcome for non-motorized and transit advocates alike. If all goes well, the new bridge would be the third built in the area in a matter of years. In 2010, the City of Redmond opened the NE 36th Street bridge, which connects the south side of Microsoft’s campus with the future Overlake Village redevelopment. The City also hopes to fund another ped-bike bridge nearby, currently planned to connect the station at Overlake Village with the 520 trail at Microsoft.

From a funding perspective, Microsoft’s example builds off of a good precedent. As Bike Blog notes, Amazon has already taken the lead on funding streetcar service and bike facilities in South Lake Union. Both Microsoft and Amazon campuses are somewhat centralized, so it’s logical for both corporations to be proactive about employee commute solutions. This, of course, beats the historical alternative, where transit agencies have had to rely on equally cash-strapped cities to fund station access improvements.

Private actors, on the other hand, usually have the capital to make these kinds of investments. Regionally, there’s no reason to believe that the Microsoft/Amazon model isn’t just as applicable elsewhere. North Seattle Community College and Northgate Mall, for example, both have high stakes in a pedestrian bridge crossing I-5. In Eastgate/Factoria, T-Mobile would benefit greatly from access improvements to the park-and-ride and freeway station.

The downside to public-private funding partnerships is that they’re contingent on voluntary contributions. Unlike general property taxes or LIDs (local improvement districts), government agencies don’t have the authority to mandate them. Employers might be better motivated by incentives, like tax credits and the like. Under the State’s CTR law, for example, employers who offer reasonable non-SOV commuting provisions are eligible for state tax credits.

The problem with the CTR law is that private financing of public capital projects don’t meet the definitions for “commute trip reduction,” disallowing Microsoft from claiming tax credits for its contributions to Overlake station access. One could easily argue otherwise– after all, free transit passes are only as good as the facilities and service that they’re used for. If the State wants to get serious about transportation sustainability, reforming the CTR law and providing meaningful transit funding would be logical steps to take.

58 Replies to “Microsoft, Amazon Take the Lead on Public-Private Transport Funding”

  1. OTOH, CTR employers benefit greatly from the public investment to their facilities, in the form of a mass transit station. Their contribution is relatively small in comparison to the total cost, and further pales from the eternal operating subsidies to its employees, and therefore should not expect additional tax incentives for doing something in their own interest – like connecting their campus.
    More giveaways to the private sector are not justified here. They get plenty now.

      1. What would Redmond’s infrastructure needs be without the presence of Microsoft?

        I understand the realpolitik involved in hyping these public-private capital agreements, but on principle Mic and Mark Dublin are correct.

        There’s something quite disturbing about a culture that allows corporations like Microsoft to wiggle out of billions in business taxes, that bends over backward to ensure sustained insane corporate profits and to direct the flow of wealth into the pockets of the few, while simultaneously setting the rest of the populace and all public needs at a permanent structural disadvantage… and then pats those corporations on the back for their occasional “generosity”.

        The American public corporation is, by it’s very design, incapable of behaving selflessly.

      2. This’s probably on the edge of verging off-topic, but I’ve heard the claim that Microsoft’s unfairly “wiggled out” of business taxes before. What’s the story? When and how did they do that?

      3. That’s similar to B&O exemptions that Boeing receives for exporting airplanes – I don’t know the specifics. I have a strong distaste for B&O taxes since they are messy and frequently end up being levied against businesses that are struggling and not even profitable. Meanwhile, if you make Billions and can hire lobbyists, you can wiggle your way out. The whole system should be scrapped in favor of carbon taxes or other taxes on impacts – all of which is outside the scope here.

      4. The B&O tax is evil for the simple reason that it taxes gross rather than net, which favors the already-successful while penalizing the smaller-and-just-starting-out. Washington has a fetish-level obsession with uncommonly regressive tax mechanisms.

        Corporate taxes should be based on a non-ambiguous calculation of net earnings, with little-to-no room for liability-reducing accounting tricks (like shifting money geographically, temporally, or between sub-entities). They should be applied across the board, without favoritism, and with deductions/incentives limited to outcomes clearly demonstrated to benefit the public good, at a strict-scrutiny standard of proof.

        Boeing should provide all the evidence you need that forgoing billions in revenue, with the vague hope of encouraging “good corporate citizenship”, is not a sustainable societal strategy.

    1. There’s also a public interest in connecting the largest employers to transit stations. That meets a basic goal of rapid transit, to have stations where the largest concentrations of pedestrians are. It doesn’t matter the reason for these concentrations (work, shopping, recreation, airport, etc). The only problem with a company-specific station is if the location forces the line to detour significantly out of its way (e.g., if Boeing Renton were on Central Link) or have an excessive number of stations (e.g., Portland MAX downtown blue/red segment).

      1. There’s a greater public interest in profitable corporations paying their damned share to support the society that supports them.

  2. Good points, and agree about CTR treatment of capital investments. The challenge I see with public-private is that the private contribution can trump other issues that ought to be considered in the planning.

    For example, for the Overlake ped bridge my only hesitation is that bus service will continue to connect Redmond to the UW even after rail is in place, and the HOV lanes are planned to be on the median side requiring buses to weave across traffic to get to the Overlake stop. Ideally a direct access ramp would connect to and from the east at that point, allowing buses to make the stop and transition to/from the outside lanes to finish their trip to Redmond. Now – nobody has proposed to pay for that, but the ped bridge will now pre-empt that idea when it could have been integrated instead.

    1. Ideally, you are right – the Overlake Freeway Station should have been built with median bus stops. It is somewhat tragic that the lid and transit WSDOT is currently building at 520 and Yarrow Point, which is expected to be used by almost nobody, is exactly what should have been built at 520 and NE 40th St., which has lots of real ridership.

      That being said, fixing it now would be expensive and I’m not sure it’s the most cost-effective use of funds, especially if it’s mostly for UW commuters, with most downtown commuters taking Link, and considering that if only thru-buses could use the station, Microsoft Connector buses would be excluded. In the southbound direction, the GP lanes move pretty smoothly there, so weaving through to reach the bus stop is not the problem. The biggest source of delay southbound is actually the light to cross 40th St. – a delay of as much as 2 minutes. Northbound, buses do frequently get stuck in the long line of SOV traffic at the 40th St. exit of MS employees driving to work. However, that problem could be solved simply by carving a bus lane out of the shoulder for a fraction of the price.

      1. Why wouldn’t buses between W. Lk. Sammamish and 148th be using the collector-distributor lanes like they (sometimes) do today? With the ped. bridge, there’s no need for those buses to divert to the transit center. Then it’s just a matter of the buses having to stop to cross NE 40th and NE 51st, like they do today.

      2. There would certainly be no need for buses like the 545 to divert to the transit center. But for MS connector buses, the transit center is not really a diversion – it’s where they all start and end. Similar for MS shuttles to their satellite campuses in Bellevue and Issaquah.

      3. “with most downtown commuters taking Link…”

        I’m curious about this – Will the 545 cease to exist after East Link opens? The reason I ask is that the estimates I’ve seen are 30-32 minutes on Link from OTC to IDS, so that’s 37-39 minutes to Westlake Station. On the 545, the same trip (between the NE 40th flyer stop and Pine St) is 20-25 minutes for most of the day, and up to about 35 minutes during the evening peak (which will probably improve once the 520 bridge/HOV project is complete).

        So, unless one is traveling to IDS or points further south, Link is going to be slower than the 545 is today.

      4. For downtown commuters, Link won’t actually perform all that badly, compared to the 545. The 545 looks fast going across 520, but, once it get downtown, it slows to a crawl. Where EastLink will uncompetitive time-wise with the bus is for travel between Redmond and north Seattle, due to the fact that Link has to go south to I-90.

        Because of this, I envision a long-term network in which 545 service hours get redeployed to the 542 (or perhaps a modified form of the 542 that ends at the UW Link station, rather than meandering through the U-district). This essentially leave Redmond->downtown trips with the choice of either a one-seat ride on Link all the way (best for trips to the south part of downtown) or a 2-seat ride, with a transfer from the 542 to Link at Husky Stadium (faster if headed to the U-district, capitol hill, or almost anywhere in north Seattle).

        Of course for people beyond Microsoft, in downtown Redmond, option 1) would not be available in 2023, but the 542->Link transfer still would be. And I’m sure a Link extension to downtown Redmond would be high on the priority list for East subarea funds for ST3.

      5. ST has not announced any plans for the 545 or 522, unlike the 550 and 512 and CT’s commuter routes which will all be deleted. We probably won’t hear about ST’s plans for the 545 or 522 until at least 2021, because it would just lead to multiyear complaints of “You’re harming my travel time!” And the complaints may be moot if ST changes its mind in the intervening years. The threshold for degrading travel time seems to be around ten minutes (194 -> Link, 510 -> 512). Still, there seems to be increasing willingness to take bolder steps, so ST might truncate the 545 at UW Station off-peak but probably not peak hours. (Unless further Metro budget cuts lead to the loss of most other peak-express routes, in which case ST would not want to be the odd man out.)

      6. The irony here is peak hours is precisely the time at which the 545’s slog through downtown is slowest, yet frequency of both the buses and the trains are at their highest. This is precisely the time at which riders would actually save the most time by switching to Link.

        The catch is that for this to work, Link has to have enough spare capacity by the time it reaches the UW station to handle whole busloads of people tranferring off 520. If Sound Transit’s ridership forecasts are to be believed, such spare capacity will not there, so 520 buses will have to continue on downtown to make room for everyone.

      7. ST, Metro and WSDOT produced an SR 520 transit plan that called for BRT service to continue from Redmond to the UW after rail reaches Overlake. Any why not? The travel time to UW will be much faster by bus assuming the HOV lanes are complete across the bridge. There will be direct access at 108th to serve the S Kirkland P&R lot, and if the remainder of the 520 project is completed there will be direct access also at Montlake – so buses will not need to interact with general traffic at all.

        I agree with aw (do you say that “aw” as in “aw, what a cute kitty”?) that between Overlake and Redmond it makes sense to be on the right side of the highway. The idea of direct access at 40th would be to allow buses headed to UW to exit, make a stop to feed the rail station, and then use a bridge there to transition to a direct access ramp into the median to avoid crossing general traffic between there and I-405, with the opposite movement eastbound.

        My point was just that considerations like this get trampled when private money and initiative come along with something like the ped bridge. Bus facilities aren’t on their agenda (but I’d submit they’re not on ST’s agenda either).

    2. RedmondRider, you’re wasting your time arguing to keep a quicker bus route. The only response you’ll get here from rail fanboys when you present them with the logic of keeping a quicker bus route is them claiming it would be “duplication of service.” Anything that would eat into a train’s boarding numbers is considered a threat, and must be squashed. But good luck arguing to keep the 545.

      1. I’m sorry, but the issue is budget. The money can be better spent elsewhere for people who can’t choose to ride the train because it doesn’t go anywhere near them.

  3. A few things … So perhaps if the neighborhood of Licton Springs wants a pedestrian bridge over I-5 to connect them to the Northgate Transit Center, they should help pay for it? Also, the western end of Microsoft’s proposed pedestrian bridge feeds right into their campus. Before thanking MS for their generosity, let’s realize this bridge won’t help anyone other than their employees. Lastly, perhaps Kemper Freeman, and other downtown Bellevue land owners, could help fund an enclosed elevated moveable pedestrian walkway from the BTC to Bellevue Way?

    1. While the primary beneficiaries of the bridge will be Microsoft employees, they will not be the only people who benefit. There are plenty of apartments along 148th Ave., and residents there would get to use the bridge to access the station too. There will even be some people living as far away as downtown Redmond who will choose to bike to the station (via the 520 trail) and ride the train for their commute.

    2. And before thanking Microsoft for their generosity, remember that they paid a huge share (a third, if I recall correctly?) of the 36th St bridge. And remember that they actually own the land that Overlake Transit Center is built on.

      Transit facilities on Microsoft campus are used by a number of non-Microsoft affiliated people. But if they didn’t primarily benefit Microsoft employees, why would Microsoft pour so much money into local transit?

      1. Sam, that’s interesting. Do you have a source for that information? Honestly, I don’t know one way or the other. I searched a bit online but I didn’t try hard to verify.

        If Sound Transit now owns that land, why do they allow Microsoft to use the majority of it for their shuttle operations? That fact alone made me assume that Microsoft has leased this land to Sound Transit.

      2. OK, Sam, it turns out you’re correct: Sound Transit owns 10 acres of the Overlake Transit Center. See this document for the reference: http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/html/board/motions/html/MotionM98-38.html

        To save you the trouble, “The Overlake MOA calls for these two projects and budgets to be combined to develop the Overlake Facility on 10 acres of property donated by the Microsoft Corporation for this purpose. ”

        Donated by Microsoft. Hmm. Yeah, let’s pause before thanking them for their generosity.

      3. According to various public documents, Microsoft is allowed to use that space because it leases it from Sound Transit under the terms of the original donation agreement.

        “WHEREAS, Sound Transit, the City and Microsoft have negotiated agreements to transfer the nine-acre site ownership to Sound Transit, committing the City and Microsoft funding for site improvements, lease space on the site for Transit Oriented Development use, and provide for the ongoing maintenance of the site; and …

        WHEREAS, the development and operation of the NE 40th Street Overlake Transit Center, including the use of a portion of the property by Microsoft and other private companies for employee shuttle services … supports regional transportation purposes, will encourage public transit use and reduce traffic congestion and is therefor a public purpose and an appropriate expenditure of public funds…”[0]

        “Microsoft Connector employee shuttles use two leased bus bays at Overlake Transit Center near the Microsoft Campus, which is also served by Metro and Sound Transit buses.”[1]

        “As an example, Sound Transit has an existing agreement with Microsoft Corporation to provide access to the Overlake Transit Center in Redmond…”[2]

        0 – http://www.soundtransit.org/documents/html/board/resolutions/html/ResoR2001-05.html

        1 – http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/tmp/briefingbook/SEATTLE%20TMP%205%20Peer%20Review.pdf

        2 – http://www.leg.wa.gov/JTC/Documents/Studies/TransitAdvisoryPanel/SoundTransitSummary_092910.pdf

    3. Licton Springs will be helping pay for the Northgate bridge, through their city property taxes. So, of course will residents of Ballard, West Seattle, the Rainier Valley, and so on.

      But the folks in Licton Springs have helped pay for improvements in other neighborhoods, too.

      While there is a lot to be said for “sub-area equity” as a political guide — EWA and Puget Sound are different enough that they have dramatically different political goals, so maybe “county” sub-area equity would make sense for the state budget — if an incorporated city can’t be considered one polis, what can?

    4. The thing needed most near BTC and Northgate is a strengthened public realm. The best public service developers in the areas could do is orient their businesses toward the public streets. Northgate Mall, in particular, occupies nearly a mile and a half of public street frontage and does very little with that. The office park just south of it is nearly as bad, suffering from extremely limited pedestrian access on three of its sides. I think that’s at least as important as the bridge to NSCC.

  4. Somebody please tell me the bridge is connected to the staircase in the parking garage. I can’t really tell from the picture, but it would really be a shame if the bridge simply went over the station without actually connecting to the station. If connecting from the bridge to the train means crossing 156th St. twice, not many people are going to use it.

    1. Yes, it is. I was at the ST Overlake open house, and they talked about it in detail. (There’s an elevator in the garage, too – as a cyclist, I’m grateful.)

  5. “This, of course, beats the historical alternative, where transit agencies have had to rely on equally cash-strapped cities to fund station access improvements.

    Private actors, on the other hand, usually have the capital to make these kinds of investments.”

    Since we’re talking history, let’s talk civics as well. The worst problem with the above assumptions is not the domination of public life by business, but the general acceptance across the spectrum that given generous billionaires, we the people don’t need to exert ourselves running our own government.

    A better understanding would involve business people who consider good government services, including public transit, and even more, public education, as a critical expense of doing business. And citizens who see public service as something they own and participate in running.

    Andrew Carnegie was a hard-nosed man. But I think he’d agree.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Thus how the Greatest Generation built our current infrastructure. But it has been eclipsed by a Libertarian Generation which hearkens back to the Gilded Age (and, er, southern plantations), where the rich prefer to build private infrastructure for themselves and put high walls around it.

  6. the bike-ped bridge at the OTC would be great years ago; it should be built as soon as possible; it has little to do with Link; today, Route 545 is Link; the bridge would allow the westbound trips to avoid the several minute deviation into the OTC, saving ST hours and many through riders minutes.

    1. I suggested this at the ST Overlake open house several weeks ago. A City of Redmond representative said that they couldn’t do it because the bridge would interfere with construction, but a Sound Transit representative said it was a great idea and she’d be sure to bring it up. So, we’ll see what happens.

  7. I’m not really keen on more tax credits, especially at the state level for basic infrastructure. It should be up to local jurisdictions to apply credits to permit fees and property tax credits not at a less-that 1:1 ratio. Building critical infrastructure could also be used as a carrot to essentially buy greater zoning FARs or similar type schemes if the infrastructure is identified in subarea, long-range, or master plan.

    1. *scratch that “not at a less-that 1:1 ratio”. Meant that the credits should be $1 for every $1 spent by the private actor, it should be less than that.

  8. I think this design is really weird. It looks like you have to go down in the garage and cross the tracks to get to the platform.

    I think ideally the platform would be connected directly to the bridge. While having pedestrian crossings on the tracks isn’t terrible, I think we probably want to avoid it for safety reasons — esp when there is a bridge right there.

    1. Yes, that’s what the design is. I complained about that at the open house. They said that due to space limitations, the platform won’t be wide enough for an elevator, stairway, or escalator on it. Plus, they said, it’d be overkill to have two stairways down from the bridge only a hundred feet or so apart.

      It isn’t horrible… but I still don’t like it.

      1. Space limitations are limiting the platform width so severely that we cannot build an elevator? What other function in the 750 feet across 520 and 156th is so important that we cannot spare a few feet to directly connect the multibillion dollar high capacity transit system to one of the largest employers in the region? Instead everyone has to trek in the rain across tracks and through a parking lot, for the next century.

        Like so many other things, this makes no sense. And the 520 HOV lanes should have been built with a median express bus stop to avoid the 7 minute diversion (with four signals including two signalized left turns!), and this overpass should have been built at that time, if not before.

        Unfortunately, even 10 years from now, it appears the vicinity of Overlake Transit Station will be a space one wants to vacate as quickly as possible.

      2. You’re fucking kidding me. Again, this is what happens when you let [ah] design every facet of your city. The world is full of transit stations with multiple platforms crossed by an overhead bridge. These bridges have stairs/escalators and lifts down to every single goddamned platform. Because that’s just what you do. That’s the way to to the train. That’s how transit works! Fucking christ, Seattle.

      3. + infinity * infinity (head exploding) to d.p.
        It’s something like 700′ across the freeway and transit center, and ST can’t find room for a set of stairs. It’s kindergarten crap like this that makes me want to puke.

      4. I didn’t ask ST for detail about their justification for limiting platform width, but one possibility is that they’re planning ahead to tunnel under 40th Street for the forthcoming extension to Redmond. The station is going to be almost abutting the existing embankment where 40th Street slopes up to the intersection with the SR 520 exit ramp, so it’s possible that they need to keep the station narrow so that the tracks will fit under the street.

        This’s just speculation, of course – I haven’t asked them.

      5. BTW, count the lanes on SR520.
        It’s 5 in each direction (10 total, not counting ramps), which is 4 more than current.
        Whew!, glad they had room for nearly doubling the freeway lanes, just in case this mass transit thing goes bust.

      6. mic, the highway is that wide in the area today, see http://binged.it/1kOKezI
        Counting from the east, there are two lanes for the NE 40th ramp, one for the NB collector-distributor, 1HOV+2GP lanes NB, 2GP+1HOV lanes SB one for the SB collector-distributor and 1GP+1HOV for the SB ramp. If they’ve added a couple of lanes, it’s done by narrowing the shoulders.

      7. Artistic license? The drawing on p. 26 doesn’t show the barriers for the collector-distributor lanes and skimps on the shoulders, but the plan view on page 27 shows the current configuration.

    2. It’s hard for me to see what’s really going on in that drawing near the parking garage and above the platform, but could it be that they are just trying to avoid building a elevator for the walkway, instead, feeding people over to the garage’s elevators? Perhaps to save money?

      1. Yes, that’s exactly what they’re doing. Money was one of the justifications they gave, along with platform width.

    3. Not having pedestrian crossings is a case of safety zeal run amok, where side platforms with an overhead connection is considered acceptable, and even worse, one-direction escalators with stairs the other direction. Just build a center platform and all these problems disappear, and people can switch directions by just walking to the other side of the platform.

      1. The enlarged image shows it to be a center-platform station already.

        So despite having a bridge directly above the platform, every single person coming from every direction will have to backtrack and re-cross the tracks, sometimes missing a train because Sound Transit insists on stopping trains (and placing ORCA readers) 400 feet from the closest place you’re allowed to cross once the train has passed.

        ST’s design process is so fucking stupid that I genuinely believe it will one day cause my brain to explode.

        (And seriously, Mike, knock it off about “switching directions by just walking to the other side of the platform”. Nobody needs to do this, ever.)

    4. “I think this design is really weird. It looks like you have to go down in the garage and cross the tracks to get to the platform. ”

      Idiotic in the extreme. Have Sound Transit’s designers ever BEEN to a train station?

  9. What amount of publicity and pressure, concentrated on precisely (by name) whom can the electorate apply to get this straightened out? Given the clout of the chief client- whom I’ll bet hasn’t seen the mis-design- one tirade with a lot of expletives out of his office should get the problem corrected.

    Probably only good thing about dealing with an actual human billionaire.

    Mark Dublin

  10. Overlake Station is going to look a little bit like Kent Station, with the circle-through bus thingy, and adjacent tracks, and a pedestrian bridge, etc. Except Kent Station has elevators at both sides of the tracks coming down from the pedestrian bridge, and an elevator in the parking garage, if I’m not mistaken, to make three separate elevators to service the bus area and n/b track, s/b track, and parking garage.

    http://www.perkinswill.com/work/kent-commuter-rail-station.html

  11. “The problem with the CTR law is that private financing of public capital projects don’t meet the definitions for “commute trip reduction,” disallowing Microsoft from claiming tax credits for its contributions to Overlake station access.”

    However, I think the private financing of a public capital project *can* be deducted as a charitable donation, so Microsoft does get one tax break off of it.

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