I didn’t attend the South Bellevue Station Open House last month, but the materials are online. They are largely focused on appeasing people afraid of density — “No Transit Oriented Development” is prominently printed on the fifth slide, and there are lots of words about mitigation.

Although STB is not friendly to park-and-rides, especially when free to use and publicly funded, a few stations in a system can function primarily as a useful transfer point for buses and access point for cars. Positioned at an elbow in the line; on the way to Downtown Bellevue; and with limited walkshed, neighbors hostile to density, and decent highway access, South Bellevue is one of the points where parking is least objectionable.

With 1,500 stalls, ST projects 4,500 boardings per day at this station in 2030, which (in an apples-to-oranges comparison) would have ranked fourth in 2012. Projected travel times are 14 minutes to Chinatown, 16 to Overlake, 24 to UW, and 49 to Seatac. The UW time is actually a couple of minutes faster than the afternoon scheduled time for the 556, and the Seatac run is at the high end of the scheduled range of the much less frequent (but more direct) 560, for whatever that’s worth.

The parking, as it should be, is behind the station rather than hiding the train from the street:


Sound Transit seems to have learned the lessons of poor station designs in the past, hitting both my hobby horses: center platforms and multiple, dispersed entry points. The center platform will be especially useful if South Bellevue one day becomes a transfer point to an Issaquah line.


If anyone attended the meeting and can share their impressions about the crowd, please do so in the comments.

55 Replies to “South Bellevue Open House Materials”

    1. Some of my neighbors continue to believe Sound Transit is intent on building skyscrapers down there despite the Bellevue City Council repeatedly stating that it ain’t gonna happen. There is no reason a future council won’t change their minds but we’re a long way from that. I suspect I’ll be living on lower Queen Anne in that retirement community by the time that happens.

  1. If I remember right, Sound Transit originally wanted to put the station close to the freeway, by Factoria. I can’t but think that they had it right in the first place. Putting a station right by the freeway is bad, but cheap and fast. This station is more expensive, slower and worse. No transit oriented development in an area that has big houses and big lots on one side (on a hill no less), and a park on the other. Factoria, on the other hand, already has a few big office buildings, and would welcome some big residential buildings. The freeway would block walkers from the north (unless you put the station at Richards Road) but you would still get a lot more people then this station. Rather than dream of a future rail line to Issaquah, we could build special ramps connecting the HOV lanes to the station. At best, this is a feeder station, and not an ideal one, given its location. I guess the best thing about this station is that using it will not be very disruptive — the buses are used to going there.

    1. Stopping “near Factoria” in any meaningful sense would require two extra crossings of 405 and going south of I-90 before ultimately heading north of it. The idea that it would be cheaper just because it’s a freeway station is ridiculous. It would probably be more expensive because of all the extra engineering, and future ST or WSDOT maintenance around the 405/90(/Link) interchange would be more complicated and expensive, with either agency’s maintenance more like to affect the other’s operations. It would add extra distance, turns, and inclines, which would substantially slow down travel speed to Bellevue and Redmond, and that really matters.

      This is exactly like the, “We should have gone to Southcenter on the way to the airport,” argument. Maybe if the freeways and interchanges weren’t in the way, but they are.

      1. If the Freeway wren’t present there would be no ready made bridge over the Lake Washington, and East Link probably wouldn’t be being built.

        In practice, serving Factoria without severely compromising service to downtown Bellevue is very challenging: there are no good pre-existing rights of way between Richards Road and 148th Ave SE, and the topography is also quite challenging in the area bounded by I-405, I-90, 148th SE and SE 8th.

        The problem only becomes more difficult if, in addition, you need a convenient place to put a park and ride to serve commuters from beyond teh walkshed of the Factoria station.

        meaningful service of “Factoria” requires a station no more westerly and no more northerly than the intersection of I90 and Richard

      2. OK, fair enough. Getting back to the freeway (where travel is cheap and fast) would be tricky (as William mentioned). If that is why they chose this really crappy station (at South Bellevue) then I’m fine with that. Saving money is saving money.

        But I don’t buy the other arguments. Factoria is one of the few areas where TOD could happen, and happen at a level that would dwarf most of the east side stops. There are already big buildings there. They are surrounded by malls and mini-malls that aren’t earning much money for their owners. I’m sure the landlords would love to tear down those lots and put up big apartment buildings or more office towers. Renting apartments in the area would be easy. With Link, you are minutes away from Redmond, downtown Bellevue or downtown Seattle. From a transit perspective, it would put you in the same category as downtown Seattle, downtown Bellevue, and the UW. Every white collar worker in Puget Sound would understand this, and suddenly the apartments in the area would be (almost) as valuable as those other areas. This will happen to South Bellevue, but a handful of lucky home owners will benefit.

        I could care less about a park and ride, but buying up one of the many parking lots would be easy. More importantly, building a transit center to serve the local buses wouldn’t be that hard, either. The buses coming on the freeway could, at worse, just continue to Mercer Island. Meanwhile, local buses serving that part of the east side would have a much more convenient route. The South Bellevue station is cut off from areas directly east and south (in part because of the slough, but also because of the way it sticks out). Factoria would serve both areas much better.

        As speed goes, I think we are already going to pay the price. The route doesn’t make a nice, fast curve through the area. It zig-zags quite a bit (mirroring 405, interestingly enough). It also goes on the surface for a while, which I assume will cost us some time. The tunnel will speed things up, but that wasn’t cheap.

        I’m sure the boarding numbers for this station will be decent, but that is really misleading. People will park and ride (as they do today). But the numbers would have gone up if Mercer Island were the main transit station (serving buses from here as well as further east). In that regard, it reminds me a bit of the Northgate station. If we don’t build the station at 130th, it will be popular, because folks won’t have an alternative (Northgate will continue to be the main transit center serving the north end of Seattle). But with a better station (at 130th) Northgate becomes a lot less relevant. The big difference is that Northgate is already experiencing major TOD, while this station, as stated clearly by the literature, will not.

        Serving Factoria (in any meaningful sense, as William put it) might not have been practical. But maybe the other extreme would have been the way to go. Rather than worry about South Bellevue at all, just follow the freeways the whole way (I-90 to 405). As should be obvious, I don’t know which routes would be plausible (cheap) or not, but staying to the inside might work. Staying over the freeways until entering a tunnel would probably have been faster. You could have added a cheap, crappy, station over the freeway somewhere and call it a day. From a station perspective, I don’t think it would have been much worse.

      3. Just a followup — I read the comment about the gondola and completely agree. That is a much better way to serve Factoria then what I had in mind (since serving Factoria would have been really expensive).

  2. I get the feeling the usership projection was also leveraged to appease the neighbors. It comes down to whether South Bellevue or Mercer Island will be the transfer point for buses from Issaquah and Renton Highlands. The 555/556 looks like a likely inheritor of the 550 local service through south Bellevue, but I just can’t see splitting bus routes from Issaquah to have one serve South Bellevue Station and one (554) serve Mercer Island Station in perpetuity.

    It is disappointing few eastsiders have taken an interest in the effort to get a quick transfer, via a center platform, at ID Station, for a faster trip to the airport, Federal Way, and Tacoma. That’ll certainly impact boardings at South Bellevue Station, and lead to more 560 service than was actually needed, in perpetuity. How long it would have taken to pay off the cost of building connecting tracks directly between East Link and South Link at ID Station via service efficiencies, and how building a turn-back instead of a center platform in the middle of ID Station, which will impact minimum headway and maximum capacity on East Link, is a whine for another day.

    1. Bellevue’s Transit Master Plan assumes that the 556 from Issaquah and the 240 will serve South Bellevue station and both the 556 and 240 will be made frequent. Obviously the plan isn’t binding, but the connection at South Bellevue will be much faster for riders headed for Bellevue and Overlake while only being a tiny bit slower for Seattle riders. Clearly, the 554 would be eliminated in this case.

      1. What I’m afraid of here is that “frequent” will turn into only frequent from 7-7, Monday-Friday, and at all other times, the truncated 554 will have the same 30-60 minute frequency of the current 554, yet require an additional connection to reach Seattle.

        If, however, the “truncated 554” took the role of a 556 continuing through on to the U-district (probably replacing existing service on the 271), many of these objections would go away.

      2. I share your concern about reduced frequency on weekends/evenings. Overall, Sound Transit and Metro need to stop thinking that every 15 minutes from 7am-7pm is an adequate definition of “frequent service.” The idea of frequent service is to enable spontaneous travel at any time (except possibly the middle of the night), and hence if Metro gets more funding they should really push for a definition at least as high as Vancouver’s (until 9pm 7 days a week).

      3. Another reason why I fear that “frequent” service will inevitably inevitably exclude evenings and weekends is that the ridership won’t be there to come anywhere close to filling up a 60-foot bus every 15 minutes at those times. As it is, the current level of demand is barely enough to mostly fill a 554 every 30 minutes. After East Link is finished, ridership will only get worse, as rail bias will inevitably cause people who currently ride the 554 from Issaquah to drive directly to Link instead. In fact, the only factor that would cause people in any significant numbers to ride a connecting bus from Issaquah to South Bellevue P&R would be if it’s late enough on a weekday morning for the South Bellevue parking garage to have already filled up. On weekends, this incentive disappears.

        In theory, if the 554 were truncated, the existing service hours should support a doubling of off-peak frequency. In practice, once the route gets held to the same ridership standards as every other route, there will be pressure to hold off-peak frequency at the same 30-60 minute headways as today, and redirect the savings of the truncation elsewhere (e.g. more frequent service during the weekday peak period).

      1. Nice write-up! You mentioned that Route 554 “would either be truncated at Mercer Island or not at all.” Do you happen to know why Sound Transit has ruled out the possibility of truncating the 554 at South Bellevue? It would be only a minute or two slower for Seatte-Issaquah commuters, but at least 5 minutes faster for Issaquah-Bellevue or Issaquah-Overlake. In addition, having the 554 not serve South Bellevue continues to perpetuate Issaquah’s complete isolation from the I-405 corridor by transit. For example, Issaquah-Renton and Issaquah-Kirkland would require at least two transfers and a lot of out-of-direction travel, which is completely unnecessary.

      2. For better or worse, South Bellevue P&R is terribly sited. It’s basically a freeway station, but it’s far enough away from the freeway to be really annoying. In addition, there are no direct access ramps to eastbound HOV lanes. Mercer Island is a much easier place to terminate buses coming from I-90, since the park and ride is right next to the freeway, and there are direct HOV ramps.

        Now, it goes without saying that this is a bad situation. It would have been better to build South Bellevue P&R right on the freeway (and likewise for South Kirkland P&R). In both cases, you have key bus routes (the 554 and 545) that pass very close to a key connection point, but don’t serve it, because doing so would represent a major time penalty for every current rider.

        I admit that I’ve often wished that there were a freeway station at the I-5/SR-520 interchange. It would have saved me a ton of time on my daily commute for four years. But if we had that kind of money to spend, I wouldn’t really want to build transit infrastructure in such an inhospitable environment. I’d rather just build stations where people actually want to go in the first place.

      3. I agree Aleks. The South Bellevue Park and Ride is bad for two reasons. It is far enough away from the freeway to have a substantial time penalty and is doesn’t serve the area very well. The slough cuts it off from surface streets to the east, and it sticks out to far west to easily connect to the south. A station build really close to the freeway would make a lot more sense (especially since this will have zero TOD).

  3. Wow! Do mine eyes deceive me? Did ST actually nix the world’s worst bus-bay design, and return the northbound stops to their rightful place along a straight line?

    1. No, your eyes do not deceive you, ST actually listened to feedback from its potential customers rather than its paymasters.

      1. I like it, although they need to more clearly define how passengers transferring from NB buses will walk to the train platforms. Right now, it appears the designers believe pedestrians will not cut through the layover area and instead choose to walk south and then east on the sidewalk to enter the station along the center roadway.

      2. The middle image above is just a bit too low-res, but if you squint hard enough you can see a combination stair/ramp mere inches from the front of the northbound bus stop. It drop pedestrians less than 50 feet from the foot of the northern escalators.

        There’s no marked crosswalk, implying a late addition to the plan, but the location is as good as it’s going to get!

        The bottom image is full of weird errors — as far as I can tell, they accidentally dragged the opaque layer an inch and a half awry in the Photoshop file. A corrected version should probably be sent out, rapidement.

  4. If there were ever a place that a tram could be truly useful, and not just a gimmicky tourist attraction, it would be between Factoria and the future South Bellevue Station.

      1. I’m guilty of using the words tram and gondola interchangeably, even though I know there’s a difference. Whichever type of system would be better for this location, I would be in full support of. Factoria is so close. It’s just 4000 feet away. But because of the geography, there isn’t an easy or direct way between two locations. A gondola might help solve this problem.

      2. The straight-line path between the station and Factoria includes wetlands, the 405/90 stack interchange, and a residential neighborhood. Gondolas can go over stuff more easily and with less impact than other sorts of guideways but not with no cost or impact. If impacts are low enough to sink supports into the wetlands (and the wetlands would actually hold them up!) then maybe there’s a nearly-straight-line path that skirts the interchange and residential areas and makes it into Factoria. I’m not sure that’s a given. And while it would certainly be useful, it’s simply not true that other seriously proposed gondolas (seriously meaning Denny but not ERC, for example) wouldn’t be equally useful.

        For me, the preferred vehicle would be not a gondola but a bulldozer. Freeways are the problem and their destruction is the solution. But I’m not running for office…

      3. My experience is that the 241 does a pretty good job of connecting Factoria and the South Bellevue P&R. Towards Factoria, thanks to the way the I90 ramps are configured, it’s fairly quick as long as Factoria Boulevard is flowing freely. In the other direction it sometimes gets held up in I-90 traffic getting from Richards Road to Bellevue Way. The biggest problem isn’t journey time, but rather frequency. I seriously doubt that the capital expense for a gondola/tram would meet even the smell test here.

      4. Speaking of gondolas, and direct access, I would love for there to be a gondola between Tukwila station and Southcenter. It’s so close but yet so far from the LINK station!

      5. Considering there are thousands of office dwellers at the T-Mobile offices a Gondola system that could transport 3000 people per hour would make a great solution to getting them out of their cars.

        And speaking of Gondolas, it was just announced for a waterfront to Convention center line PRIVATELY funded. Looks pretty sweet.

      6. Keep an eye on the Oakland Airport Connector project slated to open later this year. The technology used for that system could be a lower-cost way to get service to the Eastgate park-and-ride, with an intermediate stop at Factoria.

    1. William A, you have to have vision. The area around the South Bellevue Station (one of the worst places for a light rail station ever), is never going to grow, but Factoria will continue to develop. Perhaps there could be some sort of private/public partner ship with T Mobile to build it.

      1. Yes, yes, yes. Excellent idea, Sam. I agree completely. The Factoria area is ripe for growth. There are big buildings and big parking lots. Nobody will whine about TOD, they will welcome it. The mall itself has not done well, so there is plenty of opportunity right there. From a transportation standpoint, if it is connected to the Link line via a fast gondola it would be one of the best spots in the Puget Sound region from a transportation standpoint. For white collar workers, especially high tech workers who change jobs frequently, it would be a really convenient location.

  5. This works out great for South King County because now all one has to do is get to a LINK station and then you’re on the network to both Seattle and the Eastside with fast service day and night and weekends too. I wouldn’t really need to worry about more frequent Sounders, if there were regular cross routes to the FedWay station from points all over. Also, if they could run a RapidRide or even the 169 up to say Mount Rainier station instead of ending in Renton.

    1. You’ll be happy to see the article that I’m writing on this very subject. :) I’m hoping it will be finished in time for this coming Monday.

  6. “Freeways are the problem and their destruction is the solution.” Al, if you said that ridiculous statement as a way of holding up a mirror to me, to show me just how nutty I often times sound, you’ve succeeded. That asinine idea is a wakeup call for me. I promise I’ll take more care in the future not to come-off like a wingnut.

    1. Obviously it’s not politically feasible to blow up I-90 and 405. But as an advocate I’ll argue for it every time.

      Reducing carbon emissions massively is one of the greatest responsibilities of every living generation. No efficiency improvement or alternative fuels will get us there, we have to actually reduce VMT a lot. Freeways both enable and enforce large VMT, so demolishing many of them would be good for our civilization’s survival. It may sound like a drastic change but the alternatives are more drastic. Serious VMT reduction, seriously meat/grain reduction, and serious reduction in dwelling sizes is actually the continuity plan because it prevents complete societal collapse.

      1. I know it sounds hyperventilated, but Al is largely correct. Only if we make as rapid a transition to renewable sources of energy as is possible with the then current state of renewable arts will technological society continue. Even if anthropomorphic global warming does turn out to be over-estimated as many people believe, the fossil fuels are going to run out in a couple of hundred years at the outside. Even with oil shale and gas. Even with the tar sands.
        Once they’ve been consumed for transportation and boiling water for electricity, if humanity hasn’t transitioned to fully renewable energy sources it will be forced back to a muscle powered economy, with no way back up the energy cliff. We won’t even be able to replace hydro-power dams because concrete requires extremely hot carbon fired retorts.
        Some of the easily recoverable reserves must be sequestered for future human generations.

      2. My objection to freeways has less to do with the effects of the mobility they enable (such as carbon emissions [1]), and more to do with the mobility they *disable* through their placement. As much as I-5 makes it easy to get between Northgate and Kent, it makes it hard to get between Queen Anne and Capitol Hill, or Wallingford and the U-District, or downtown and First Hill. For a dense urban area, the damage that freeways do to the street grid hurts more than the straight-line capacity they add.

        Could I imagine a world with no freeways at all? Yeah, sure. But if you imagine a network of freeways that circle cities (rather than cutting through them), and in which all vehicles are electric or otherwise emission-free, I don’t really have a problem with that. I’m much more interested in repairing the fabric of our cities. For me, that means getting rid of freeways like I-5 through Seattle, and shifting traffic to freeways like I-405 that (mostly) avoid bisecting important cities.

      3. I forgot the footnote. Here’s what I was going to say:

        Yes, carbon emission is a really, really big deal. But a *huge* percentage of VMT in the US are within cities. I think I heard that 50% of trips are under two miles? In terms of VMT per freeway mile, there’s no question that freeways inside cities are the peak — and they’re the emission peak, too.

        Empty rural freeways aren’t that useful, but for the same reason, they aren’t causing that much pollution. And they’re also essential to people who live in rural areas in a way that urban highways aren’t. So I don’t think it’s worth our energy (at least for right now) to advocate strongly for removal of non-urban freeways.

      4. Anandakos: regarding the non-energy uses of fossil fuels:

        – thankfully, somone has invented carbon-negative concrete (you can look it up)
        – unfortunately, steelmaking uses large quantities of particularly high-grade coal

      5. If you care about the infrastructure of suburbs and rural towns (and you’d better — they house a large majority of the people) you won’t be too happy with freeway impacts there, either. You can’t ignore the difficulties 405 causes for transit and walking in the suburbs, whether we’re talking about walking to Factoria or Eastgate destinations from major transit stops, current bus routes going through Southcenter, the horrific intersection of NE 8th and 112th in Bellevue. You can’t ignore the way freeway interchanges outside of rural towns have contributed to the decimation of their older, more walkable business districts. (One of the small towns I’ve lived in is Cody, WY, where there’s no freeway and the main road is still the old US highway, and though it’s sprawling around the edges like every other place it still attracts travelers and locals to its walkable core.) You can’t ignore the way the prohibition of at-grade intersections even in pancake-flat rural areas inhibits local travel for miles at a time and requires more and larger bridges to be built and maintained.

        An urbanist can only say suburban and rural freeways are fine if urbanism ends at the city limits, or at some equally arbitrary point based on historical urban extent. To me “the city” means the whole geographically contiguous and economically interdependent area. The concern of my urbanism is the whole damn thing. I’ve lived in big cities, small towns, and sprawling suburbs, and in every one of them freeways inhibit my ability to get around on foot, on bike, and by transit. That’s not to say some highways don’t have good purposes, but there are some things that shouldn’t exist anywhere, like cloverleaf interchanges (stack interchanges may occasionally have a place, but not nearly as many as exist in the US).

      6. Al,

        That’s fair. I admit that my experience with suburbia is very different than most. I grew up in a very small town called Hamilton, Massachusetts. There isn’t much of a downtown, but to the extent that there is, it’s centered around a commuter rail station and an old state highway (Route 1A). Don’t be misled by the term “highway”; it’s not even as wide as most Seattle arterials, and certainly not grade-separated. The nearest freeway is Route 128, which actually does a great job at bypassing the center of pretty much every single town in the area.

        To the extent that freeways inhibit local mobility, I agree with you that they’re always a bad thing. When I say rural freeways, I’m specifically referring to freeways that run far away from anywhere that people would want to walk. You’re right that I was underestimating the extent to which I-405 inhibits mobility. But a lot of the I-90 route truly runs through the middle of nowhere, in places that have never, ever been walkable, and where there aren’t even any local roads for miles around. I just can’t bring myself to care about the existence of those freeways one way or the other.

      7. @Nathanael,

        Wow, that IS good news (the carbon negative concrete). Is it anywhere near economically competitive with the standard Calcium Oxide stuff?

      8. Rural highways are of course necessary. But whether they need to be four-lane interstates when they never fill even two lanes is another question.

      9. Here in Kent my experience is the opposite (and I would go so far as to say in Seattle as well). I content that it is the lack of highways that makes places like suburbs unwalkable. The reason is that if you do not build enough highways (the case in Western Washington) then streets are used as highways.

        Case in point is Kent-Kangley road which, at rush hour, ends up with interstate level traffic, but it also runs through the major crossroads where people would want to bike and walk to shops, malls and so on.

        I contrast this with Portland, OR which has both an abundance of transit and also of highways all through it’s neighborhoods and suburban areas. It is only a short jump in most places to get to an entrance ramp. The end result — except for places where that is not quite true, like parts of Powell — is that traffic gets off streets and on to highways.

        Highways help move traffic off streets, even in “dense walkable neighborhoods”.

      10. John, the difference you are observing has much more to do with how the streets are built than with the number of highways around. Portland has relatively narrow streets with sidewalks, short blocks, lots of crosswalks, and street-fronting buildings. Kent-Kangley Road is built like an interstate, and has large parking lots on both sides in most places. People want to walk on a Portland street, even when traffic is heavy. They wouldn’t want to walk on Kent-Kangley even if you built an interstate tunnel directly under it.

      11. An interesting comparison is Benson Drive. 104th in Kent is a neighborhood commercial street but when it reaches Petrovitsky it becomes an expressway for two miles to downtown Renton. All the adjacent houses turn their backs to the street there, and there’s nothing else except two minor access roads to small housing developments. There’s also no transit in this segment AFAICT. So it looks very much like the residents don’t want to walk near that street or even see it.

      12. Mike,

        I live here.

        You don’t.

        I see people walking and trying to walk, bike ride all the time to the many storefronts on Kent-Kangley.

        I know that in the minds of State Planners and the pundits of STB ideology substitute real world observation and experience so maybe I shouldn’t even bother.

      13. We’re talking about different things. People have to go places so they’ll get there any way they can; that’s what you’re seeing. That’s a different question from whether the enjoy the enviromnent or consider those storefronts easy to get to; which is what I’m talking about. If you show people side-by-side pictures of different environments, say one of Kent-Kangley road and the other of University Way, and ask which kind they’d rather live in, most people choose the latter — even if they live in the former.

        I’m not saying we should do anything particular about KK Road now, because that would raise a much larger issue of what to change it to and I don’t really know. But we should recognize the disadvantages of that design (one-wide-highway-surrounded-by-low-density), and what the community is missing out on because of it.

    2. Wow, what a post. d. p. is happy, Sam comes up with a great idea, and then it is the other folks who sound like trolls. Wild :)

      Seriously, though, I hate what freeways have done to cities and you could make the argument that they play a big part in global warming and simply perpetuating our car dependent lifestyle, but removing them would devastate our economy, unless we built a replacement transportation system right away. Doing so would be really, really expensive. Since we, as a nation, still haven’t paid for the last couple of wars we were in, let alone the other maintenance projects that need fixing (drinking water, sewers, dams, etc.) that is really unlikely. We will have to live with these freeways a long time, and it makes sense to leverage them as best we can (by putting buses on them) and mitigating their nasty impact (by covering them with lids and building bridges over them).

  7. What’s up with that bike route (p 14 of the Presentation)? It looks like they are assuming all bikes are heading to the station. There are plenty of cyclists today that use the existing sidewalks as a bikeway.

  8. In general, I like most of the layout. It even appears that there will be one down escalator (compared to many stations without one)! Many adults over 50 or 60 have serious problems walking down lots of stairs – even those that are in great shape. The station activity forecasts are pretty high (those who wait for elevators will probably have to wait a long time during peak periods) so the availability of escalators will be more important for passengers here than at other stations.

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