CentralEast_KBIBUDUKR_Lev2_060514_Final_Exec.17The third study area staff presented at this month’s Sound Transit Executive Commitee meeting was Kirkland to Issaquah, to go along with Ballard to UW and from UW across 520. As with the 520 options, these plans commit to save costs by using existing right-of-way regardless of its proximity to ridership generators. Assuming some sort of subarea equity continues into ST3, the East King subarea is likely to have enough revenue to do better than what these options suggest.

The two light rail options both travel down from Totem Lake to Downtown Bellevue via the Eastside Rail Corridor, link with East Link at Hospital Station, and run along I-90 from roughly Eastgate to Issaquah. The difference is between downtown Bellevue and Eastgate. Option C1 (9-11,000 riders, $2.0-2.7 billion, 23-28 minutes) uses a mixture of elevated and at-grade track via Richards Rd, while Option C3 (9-11,000 riders, $1.9-2.6 billion, 22-27 minutes) uses I-405 instead of Richards Rd. The concepts have no difference in notional station placement, so C3 would appear to have the nominal advantage.

The bus options, by comparison, aren’t so bad. The exception to that is A2a, which runs in “managed lanes” on the two freeways. At less than $700m, it would attract only 6-7,000 riders. Though fastest of the buses at 23-28 minutes, reliability depends on WSDOT maintaining speeds of 45 mph in the lanes, which they haven’t done in the past.

The other three options only differ from light rail (and each other) in the section between Downtown Bellevue and Eastgate, and the degree to which they get priority. Option C2 (7-8,000 riders, $1.2-1.6 billion, 23-28 minutes) is the bus version of C1 (Richards Rd.), with some exclusive busway there. Option B1, intriguingly, moves East-West through downtown Bellevue, and restores service on Bellevue Way that will disappear with the 550. B1 is further subdivided into an option with exclusive busway there (9-11,000 riders, $700m-$1 billion, 28-34 minutes) and one without (6-8,000 riders, $500-700m, 26-32 minutes).

Both bus and rail extensions to Issaquah Highlands add about 2,000 riders, and about $35m and $500m, respectively.

By not imagining significant deviations from readily available right of way, the set of East King conceptual studies kneecaps potential ridership. A big Sound Transit 3 package is going to need a big, quality-of-life improving transit investment on the Eastside, and East King produces enough revenue to afford one. I’m not sure that buses running in freeways and isolated corridors, or light rail that provides barely any advantage over it, fits the bill.

The one place in East King that the study envisioned taking lots of right-of-way in the center of a city was in Renton, and the results were encouraging for a suburban ring line. As tempting as the Eastside Rail Corridor is, it cannot be the entire answer. Intercity segments on the ERC and I-90 must pair with grade-separated diversions into Downtown Kirkland, Bellevue College, Bellevue’s ambitious plans for Eastgate, and the like. Although access to Bellevue via Hospital Station would be adequate, an approach from the West to catch more of downtown Bellevue would be ideal.* Kirkland, Eastgate, and (possibly) distant Issaquah deserve to tie in to the rail network with high-quality rail that reaches the actual ridership generators in the area.


* Assuming  a more amenable Bellevue City Council in the future.

34 Replies to “Issaquah/Kirkland Study Options”

  1. It’s hard to imagine that I-405 will ever have reliable free-flowing traffic for BRT, even in the HOT lanes, during commute times.

    Why isn’t there more study of a Ballard-Fremont-U-District-520-Bellevue-Issaquah route with a good connection to the Seattle-Mercer Island-Bellevue-Redmond line? I suppose one option of such pairing is that they share the segment between Hospital and South Bellevue, and transfers available at both those stations to allow for Ballard-Redmond and Seattle-Issaquah trips

    1. PS and if there are appropriate Y’s installed, it could also allow for Ballard-Redmond service and Seattle-Issaquah service, and eventually if a line is built toward Kirkland/Totem Lake that could allow either Issaquah-Bellevue-Totem Lake or Seattle-MI-Bellevue-Totem Lake routings.

      Not saying all those would be operated necessarily, but it can allow for changing operating patterns as new infrastructure is built or as (if) travel patterns change.

      But any Issaquah service ought to support an easy transfer toward Seattle and serve downtown Bellevue. Following the ERC and having the only stop at Hospital seems stupid.

    2. The new I-405 HOT lanes are currently supposed to be 3+ during peaks though I doubt that’s written in stone yet. (See page 7). Virtually any HOV lane that is transitioned to 3+ will be reliable most of the time. The only reason the old 520 HOV lane was so unreliable was because of merging traffic gumming up the lane, not overuse.

      1. The I-405 HOV lanes have been unreliable during the evening peak for the last 10 years. If DOT cared, they could have done something about it. They don’t care about transit reliability.

  2. The map shows no stations between the point that the LRT lines deviate from I-90 and Hospital station.
    How would taking the line a bit further west, and interlining with Eastlink at the South Bellevue Station impact costs and ridership?

    1. I like the C1 option, but I find it absurd that if they’re going to run LRT down Richards Road, they can’t find an appropriate place for a station there. They could also take a backdoor approach to getting to Eastgate P&R with a more convenient station than in the middle of I-90.

  3. Connecting Kirkland to Bellevue via light rail sounds absurdly expensive for the number of riders it would generate. A bus using the existing right-of-way would much more in line with actual ridership. If we could overlay the 234/235 with a Sound Transit route running nonstop between the two downtowns every 15 minutes, it would be a huge improvement over service today and still vastly cheaper than building a rail line.

    As for Issaquah, I don’t see a compelling need to connect it directly to Kirkland, as this is not a trip that a whole lot of people are going to be making. A three seat ride (bus to Mercer Island, Link to DT Bellevue, bus to Kirkland) would probably be sufficient for this, provided that both bus segments are fast and frequent.

  4. It’s amusing because utilizing the main highway corridor is the opposite approach which Seattle has taken. Because it will have an unobstructed and clear run, the Eastside may actually lay claim to proper use of the term “rapid” for its transit, something South LINK cannot.

    1. If by some electoral sorcery any of this gets built, the Eastside can also lay claim to the term “massively underutilized train”.

      1. We’ll see…I bet everyone wished they have some rapid transit corridors on a day like today! And by 2030 (50?) maybe the Eastside will look like Belltown!!

    2. Rapid does not mean bypassing downtowns. That makes it unrapid from the perspective of the total trip. It also loses riders if the station is not within walking distance of the neighborhood center, and even more riders if the station is in an unpleasant place to wait like a highway interchange or isolated P&R.

      1. can rapid transit work along freeways?

        It’s really not helpful to image a future divided between happy sustainable urban fabric and benighted freeway-oriented slums. The media will always find it easiest to explain new stories, such as the urbanist agenda, by reducing them to old stories, such as class warfare. So we will always be hearing that the sustainability agenda is elitist, especially so long as it can’t propose answers for redeeming the freeway landscape. So much has been invested in freeway-oriented fabric that most cities can’t abandon those areas — either politically or economically.

        I’m not saying that transit on freeways is always wonderful, or that it doesn’t have disadvantages. In corridors where there are freeway and non-freeway options, a lively debate is in order. But I am saying that a blanket slogan of “no more rapid transit along freeways” would mean a lot less rapid transit, period.


      2. With few exceptions BRT implementations in freeways have been huge failures. The one on the 110 freeway south from LA is a prime example. I think it was projected to serve 40,000 daily riders and sees only a few thousand. At best these can serve rush hour commuter service, but that isn’t what all-day two-way BRT is about.

      3. I’m guessing that photo is from Berlin. If it’s where I think it is, that is actually a circumferential ring road, and there is a circumferential ring line around the city.

        Berlin has entirely different land use and a different topographic environment than Seattle. On the one hand it’s fairly spread out and flat, and has very few topographical barriers. On the other hand German policy has long concentrated development and created higher density.

      4. It’s a continuum, not an absolute yes/no. We’re building rapid transit along a freeway in north Seattle and Shoreline. That makes the line less effective than if it had been on Aurora, but it doesn’t make it completely ineffective. But the principal destionatons on the west side are not north Seattle and Shoreline, they’re downtown and the U-District, and Link deviates to them both. The principal destinations on the east side are downtown Bellevue, downtown Kirkland, and downtown Redmond. That’s why I argue we should not bypass them.

      5. Indeed, Carl. That photo is from the same Human Transit link that Bailo intrepidly misinterpreted.

      6. Oh, I didn’t go to Human Transit, just looked at the photo and thought about the configuration with 2 tracks with overhead catenary, 2 with 3rd rail, and the highways on the side, and then the building styles. Looked like what I’ve seen in Berlin, which has phenomenally good transit coverage despite being fairly spread out. They also mix essentially all technologies – streetcars, buses, pseudo-BRT, subway, electric S-Bahn which is regional high frequency, and regional rail (more distant and generally hourly or half-hourly.) And best of all a single payment system that means you never have to duplicate service nor does the fare depend on the mode.

      7. Of course, Carl, the crucial point is not that Berlin has phenomenally good transit coverage despite being (by European standards) fairly spread out. It’s that Berlin has phenomenally good land usage despite being (by European standards) fairly spread out.

        And as I’ve pointed out in these pages before, the extreme fringes of the S-Bahn system lie barely 18 miles from Berlin Mitte. And those outermost branches emphatically neither have — nor need — urban service frequencies.

      8. it doesn’t make it completely ineffective.

        It does in the sense that it is so slow and meandering, that it cannot be used for rapid transit from distant stations (or so I was told here, in a previous thread).

        So rather than getting the Regional Rapid Rail that voters have asked for over the past 20 years, instead we a left with what is in effect a rail-bus, doing a milk run rather than something that can deliver people to multiple central destinations in quick speed, fed by bus and yes, car.

      9. Voters have asked for several different things. They didn’t all ask for what you did. In fact, that’s what makes ST’s job so difficult is that different voters ask for different contradictory things. In germany the transit agencies just follow transit best practices, and the land-use agencies do too.

        There’s nothing equivalent to the Eastside or south King County in most parts of Europe. Instead of all-residential subdivisions, and malls on freeway exits, and superblocks, there are cities and towns. The Eastside would consist of the centralized parts of Bellvue, Kirkland, and Redmond but larger, with no sea of low-density houses next to them. If you want a low-density house, you move to a rural area or small town. Malls like Southcenter would be recast as a cluster of shops in a city center (a la “Main Street”). Perhaps around a pedestrianized street, but a real, walkable city street. Not an enclosed building beyond a huge parking lot off the freeway. If rising population requires a new satellite city, they’d build a new satellite city with a real downtown, as Surrey BC has done. That’s what Tukwila could have been.

      10. Bailo,

        I don’t know WTF you are talking about. Are you saying rail should have stuck strictly to the highway right of ways and bypassed Capitol Hill, the University District, Rainier Valley, and Downtown Bellevue?

        While it is true a few minutes of travel time might have been saved by sticking to the I-5 ROW between Downtown Seattle and Northgate the travel time is competitive with cars in the same corridor even during free-flow traffic conditions. It also serves a heck of a lot of riders it otherwise wouldn’t including the second largest transit destination in the entire state. While deviating to 99 between Northgate and Mountlake Terrace would have cost a few minutes in travel time the trip would have still be competitive with a car during all but the lightest traffic conditions.

        While deviating to Downtown Bellevue does cost a couple of minutes in travel time, you really can’t ignore the Eastside’s only true regional destination. Any ridership loss at Overlake and Redmond is more than offset by the riders you gain from serving Downtown Bellevue.

        While I’ll agree the surface alignment in Rainier Valley forever cripples Link in serving destinations further South I’d argue that politically it wasn’t possible to go straight up the Duwamish Valley and again the ridership gain far offsets any losses from destinations further South. There really isn’t all that much there South of the Airport until you reach Tacoma. Would it have been better for South King if Central Link had been grade separated through Rainier Valley? Sure, but that isn’t what was built.

  5. Maybe just “jaded” after all these years, but don’t generally bother to look at colored-line charts. With terrain in the Seattle area, a few yards of transit right of way can cost in the hundreds of thousands. And huge ingenuity.

    Southbound I-5 access into Convention Place prime example. For almost quarter century of DSTT, we’ve never been able to get an all-day two way ramp in a place that critical. Let alone any all-day southbound lanes in from Northgate.

    Also, no more patience with cheapouts that cost many times saved expense in lame operations. Considering the years between now and opening of fast east-side service, a billion is just late-fees.

    Will “call out” any use of the term “Bus Rapid Transit” that doesn’t include barriers, ramps, and laws forbidding anything but buses in front of transit-except ambulances, fire trucks and police cars. Otherwise “BRT” is an LIE.

    I first saw Seattle in 1974, the Space Needle and the Monorail were 12 years old- possibly built the last time official mood and thinking saw the future starting next week- not next geologic age.

    Service opening fifty or sixty years past that should run at ninety to make up for all that plate-tectonic time.

    Mark Dublin

    1. And to think only 6 years after they built the Needle and the Monorail, those King County forward thinkers voted down Forward Thrust.

      1. I think story is the vote passed second try- but not by big enough majority. I wasn’t here ’til two years later.

        Can’t claim it wasn’t my fault, since it still took ’til 1983 to get going on DSTT, and seven years after that to open for service, and six more years to get Sound Transit.

        Folk tale from New York City: third baseman got put out of a game for too many errors. Replacement immediately missed a catch and let a runner get by him.

        He yelled at his predecessor: “See? Ya screwed up Thoid Base so bad NOBODY can play it!!!

        Since Seattle is so passive aggressive, there’d be decades of open houses, public forums, and a fortune on consultants as to whether the whole concept of third base wasn’t a mistake.

        Final outcome: only budget for home plate.


      2. First one passed…uh, received a majority but not the required supermajority; second failed. Boeing Bust took place between the two votes and the mood had changed dramatically (17% unemployment will do that to ya).

        The system proposed was to this day vastly better than what we got. No sub-area equity then (and population was much more Seattle-centered anyway).

  6. The study of these awkwardly-grouped two corridors (only a few people could possible be going from Kirkland to Issaquah) is perhaps the biggest problem with all of the ST planning studies. Each of these corridor segments has very little to do with the other yet all alternative traverse the entire corridor. There are only two technologies studied (BRT and LRT), when there are two more – DMU and automated people mover — appear to be better suited.

    Similar to the density here, DMU or EMU has emerged as the chosen technology in a number of recent Western US projects. Of course, ST doesn’t seem to want to study that for reasons that mystify me. Meanwhile, three DMU lines (Sprinter, SMART and EBART) are open or under construction in similar West Coast suburban environments. Similarly, Denver is constructing an EMU line to the airport.

    The interesting thing about splitting these into two corridors is this: each corridor taken independently is also well-suited and almost ideally-spaced for an driverless, automated people mover system. I believe it’s called a two-segment, pinch loop system like the Oakland Airport Connector (opening in a few months at only $600M).

    A) a pinched loop people mover spacing is almost ideal for the I-90 corridor. It takes only three loop segments: South Bellevue to Eastgate; Eastgate to Lake Sammamish Parkway; Lake Sammamish Parkway to Issaquah Transit Center. We could actually build just the first loop in ST3 to Eastgate with plans to add the other loops later.

    B) a similar pinched loop people-mover system could be built in two segments: from Downtown Bellevue (connecting to the Downtown Bellevue Station or the Hospital Station as opposed to just the Hospital Station) to South Kirkland Park and ride; then from South Kirkland Park and Ride into Central Kirkland. As an elevated system, it would leave a larger footprint on any part of the Eastside Rail Corridor that is used and thus opening up the corridor for a trail.

    I’m not saying that these are the best alternatives, but merely that they really should be studied with more technologies. I know I sound like a broken record about this, but frankly this corridor in the series of ST corridor studies is the one that screams the loudest for considering these two technology alternatives!

  7. I am now more convinced than ever that they are intentionally doing a bad job for these routings so that they don’t have to justify future investigation.

    A few key points:
    1. By not interlining East link and Issaquah link you lose out on replacing both the 212 and the 554 with light rail trips. A simple transfer at a center platform in s bellevue is very reasonable — whereas a massive detour to dt bellevue is not.

    Plus is is almost certainly far more expensive to build a whole new corridor parelling 405 when there already and existing one — you’d just need to build a Y south of south bellevue station.

    2. The station spacing is far too wide and nonsensical. The most egregious is Factoria is compelely skipped, even though it is on the corridor. Factoria is a big employment center and has a large commercial area. Likewise, there is certainly enough room for multiple stops in Eastgate, eg one at bellevue college and another closer to the office parks at the old airfield.

    3. As discussed on the other thread, the same thing applies to the Kirkland segment. Why is there no station in Houghton (incl. Google is there)? A short deviation could easily serve downtown as well.

    To that end I have a proposal of an alignment :

    This (IMHO) hits all the the major areas that would be useful to hit and would almost certainly be far cheaper than the proposed alignments.

    1. These are the minimum stations proposed, not the maximum. The final stations would be decided in the EIS, which hasn’t even started yet.

    2. It makes sense to me, Stephen. The odd LRT alignments that add travel time along with the missing stations probably contributes to the paltry ridership forecasts here. I just wonder if it’s mere lack of vision or intentional sandbagging that is at work with ST and the consultants.

    3. This is all feedback you can give ST when the comment period opens. If enough people say these are inadequate — especially if mayors say so — then ST will come up with something better.

    4. Yes!! I totally agree with the routing in that PDF. I always assumed that issaquah and Kirkland would use east link through downtown Bellevue and was confused when I saw them study a parallel corridor.. Also skipping Factoria and Bellevue college? Doesn’t really make sense. Issaquah spur should begin at south Bellevue for easy transfers to seattle. They also need a Factoria station.

      Another plus of interlining is that the frequency of trains in the downtown Bellevue area will double and cut wait times (great for people making intra downtown trips)

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