Recently, Sound Transit completed its Central and East High Capacity Transit Corridor Study (Part 1 & Part 2). Martin summarized the Issaquah-Kirkland options last week. Along with similar studies of South King County and Lynnwood to Everett, the Central and East studies presumably lay the groundwork for a future Sound Transit 3 ballot measure. It is just a study and not a formal proposal, but it would be easy to take this document and make a proposal out of it.

As an Issaquah resident, I’m excited to see a future where Light Rail is a part of the transportation mix. Our town is seeking “Regional Growth Center” status and has a new “Central Issaquah Plan” which approves projects up to 10 stories. Yet, this study’s Eastside options seemed to have missed the boat (or train!).

The study makes heavy use of options involving so-called Bus Rapid Transit – of the 8 options considered for Kirkland / Bellevue Issaquah, 5 are BRT. As readers of this blog know, BRT, at least as currently managed in the Puget Sound area, is frequently not Rapid. Also, Kirkland and Issaquah already have decent BRT options via the 554, 540 and 555/556 (which combined have > 3,600 boardings per day, almost half the ridership of the Sounder trains). It would seem unlikely that spending a bunch of money on new buses is going to make this service much better than it is already. Many of the proposals essentially turn the Eastside Rail Corridor into a dedicated bus lane, which will share some of the downsides mentioned later in this article.

If I live in Issaquah (population 33,000 over 11 square miles of land) or Kirkland (population 84,000 over 18 square miles), there are two places I’m likely to want to hop on a train to go to: Downtown Bellevue and Downtown Seattle. Yet, the HCT study evaluated train options that don’t go directly to either place. Although there are other places to go besides those two locations, but one could imagine that those two destination would be most attractive. Issaquah’s two light rail options take you to Overlake Hospital (tantalizingly close to the central business district of Bellevue, but off by 1/2 mile). Kirkland’s corridor studies take you to the U-District and to Overlake Hospital. You can transfer trains, but wouldn’t we want to make the most popular locations the easiest?

Likewise, the study makes significant use of the Eastside Rail Corridor. The ERC runs from Renton to Woodinville. It seems like the natural place to run a light rail line, as it is already municipally owned, has tracks and runs the length of the Eastside. But the ERC has major issues. To start with, there’s a major gap where the Wilburton Tunnel used to be which would require a bridge over 405. The Wilburton trestle was last rebuilt in 1943 and would certainly need to be replaced. Using the corridor for a Light Rail line may require a bunch of payments to various landowners, as has happened when the rail line was replaced by a walking path. Most importantly, the ERC runs where a freight line would run, and not necessarily where you would run a light rail line — it misses the cores of Downtown Bellevue, Renton and Bothell.

The proposal for the Issaquah Highlands, a community of 9,000 people on a plateau 5 miles away from the Issaquah Transit Center, suggests a light rail tunnel. Surely there are better and less expensive ways to climb the hill to the plateau! Much of the 5 miles could be run up the I-90 right of way, and the hill climb could run near the existing Highlands Dr. roadway, at a reduced cost and schedule risk when compared to a tunnel.

So what would a good Light rail option look like to Issaquah and Kirkland? Simply run a spur up I-90 from Issaquah to South Bellevue, and share tracks with the Eastlink line. Split off at the 120th station and head to Kirkland. That would give good connecting service to Seattle, transfer at South Bellevue and great service to Bellevue. Kirkland gets great service to Bellevue and ok connecting service to Seattle, by transferring at any of the Bellevue stations. That service to Seattle could improve if you ran a line over 520 as the study discusses. You can do this without extensive use of the ERC in Bellevue, with its problems.

Jason Shindler is an Eastside-based small business owner and occasional writer.

81 Replies to “A Better Light Rail for Kirkland and Issaquah”

  1. Jason, great Article, interlining with east link seems like the most cost effective and should produce higher ridership with stops in downtown Bellevue. Why not a stop at Factoria?

    1. S. Bellevue / Factoria / Eastgate are all within 2 miles of each other, and the area, except the T-Mobile buildings, isn’t that dense. Maybe the city of Bellevue could encourage more TOD on SE 36th, and move the eastgate station closer to Factoria and away from the park and ride. Neither of these options serves Bellevue College very well, though.

      1. I think it is the office buildings (like T-Mobile) that make for a reasonable argument for light rail along this corridor. Without it, you have no destinations (other than Bellevue College) — you just have lots of residential areas. For example, there are very few people who want to go from the Issaquah Highlands to Lake Sammamish. But plenty of people from each location want to connect to Link, then onto Bellevue, Seattle or Redmond. I think if you dismiss the office buildings at Overlake and Factoria as being insufficient destinations, then BRT makes a lot more sense for the area. I’m not sold on the idea of light rail, but if it could be built cheaply, and a study revealed lots of employment in Overlake and Factoria, then I could see a line serving two stations between Issaquah and South Bellevue: Overlake/Bellevue College and Factoria.

        But I really don’t see any way that a tunnel through any part of Issaquah would ever make financial sense.

      2. I would also suggest that Factoria be a stop. Not only is there employment, but there are hundreds of thousands of retail square footage that would be within walking distance of a station – with stores like Target that serve lots of people who attract a higher proportion of transit dependent people. I note that the only Target near an existing Link station is the City Target in Downtown Seattle. Not only do these stores serve more transit-dependent people, but they also employ lots of low-wage and part-time earners.

      3. You forget, there is a steep hill there that is an insurmountable obstacle to many, though a few brave hearts do climb it…mostly cyclists. A stop at Factoria (close to the mall) AND Eastgate seems absolutely necessary.

    2. I believe Bellevue eventually wants to densify and pedestrianize the area. (“Pedestrianize” in the suburban sense of course, like the Spring District.) The city should make a more concrete commitment to it as part of getting stations.

  2. I agree that BRT has been implemented poorly in this area. But you could say the same thing about much of our light rail system. I think it is best to step back and ask ourselves when BRT makes sense, and when light rail makes sense. I think light rail makes sense when:

    1) BRT would be just about as expensive to be just about as fast. For example, BRT from Ballard to the UW will always be really slow. The roads there are just too congested. To make BRT fast, you would need to build a transit tunnel, which is just about as expensive as building a light rail tunnel.

    2) You have volume that BRT just can’t handle.

    3) You have multiple destinations along the way. There is no reason that BRT couldn’t be built like this, but BRT makes financial sense when it leverages existing roadways (typically HOV lanes on freeways). In most of those cases, getting to the various destinations become much more expensive, or much less effective. For example, an express bus that goes from Lynnwood to the downtown Seattle transit tunnel only has to maneuver through Lynnwood. It is a very fast, very efficient bus (because of the HOV lanes, which are essentially grade separation almost the entire way). But that bus would take forever to get downtown if, along the way, it stopped off at Northgate, then went to the heart of the U-District, then over to the UW hospital, followed by a trip up to Capitol Hill. To serve all those destinations you would need to spend a bunch of money on tunnels. We did, and put rail in it (for the reason mentioned in 1).

    Other than the opposite, the big advantage of BRT is that it can eliminate a transfer. A bus can go through neighborhoods streets, then get on an HOV only ramp to an HOV only lane on the freeway.

    As I see it, the biggest argument for additional east side rail is that:

    1) There are multiple destinations that aren’t served yet by rail. The only two I can think of are Eastgate and Factoria. There are some businesses in Kirkland as well, but they seem rather spread out.

    2) Buses can’t interact very well with the existing light rail.

    I’m not convinced of the second point. If we spent half the money proposed for light rail on the eastside, couldn’t we provide very good bus service from, say, Issaquah to the nearest train station? If so, then the strongest argument for Issaquah light rail becomes the intermediate stops (Eastgate and Factoria).

    1. I could see a reasonable argument for expanding the light rail core on the east side to include the other city centers that are not attached.

      There will probably be a lot of money left over after that for extensive bus service (and BRT) expansion.

    2. You can get good service from Issaquah to S. Bellevue or Mercer Island without spending a dime more than we spend now. Just truncate 554 at MI or S. Bellevue and run it more frequently with the extra time saved not running through Seattle.

      1. Yes, but are there are other things that could speed it up. I really don’t know. I have no idea what it is like to ride a bus from Issaquah. Maybe it is nice and fast. Maybe it spends a couple minutes just getting on the freeway. Or maybe it spends several light cycles getting to the freeway. These are the things that BRT (or rather, generic bus improvements can solve). In many cases, they are expensive; but not nearly as expensive as adding light rail.

      2. The 554 already has a pretty good path on and off the freeway that escapes most of the congestion. The biggest thing Issaquah needs is for the existing 554 to run more frequently. A frequent 554, truncated to Mercer Island, combined with EastLink and U-Link should be all that’s necessary to connect Issaquah to most destinations.

      3. The costly part of the 554 route from a time perspective is getting from Issaquah Highlands P&R to Issaquah TC, but it’s sort of necessary to serve downtown Issaquah. If you start at Issaquah TC, it’s a pretty quick trip to serve the Eastgate freeway station, MI P&R anf Rainier freeway station. Then it’s infuriatingly slow between 5th S & Dearborn and 4th & Wathington.

      4. I never understood why the 554 can’t just take 4th Ave. all the way, like the 512 and 545 do. What’s the point of deviating to 5th Ave., especially when the most logical place to have a stop (on 5th, south of Jackson), the bus passes by without actually stopping?

      5. except for getting stuck in traffic due to a myriad of events all through out the year. other than that, yeah, 554 is great. what would also be great though, better than great, actually, would be to take a light rail train from s bellevue (by the slough) under the train trestle, through richards road to factoria, under eastgate park and ride (bellevue college) to issaquah…or hitting those stops in whatever way possible (either from mercer island to factoria to eastgate pr to issaquah or from s. bellevue (before downtown) to factoria to eastgate pr to issaquah)

    3. Of the list of reasons for rail over BRT, I would also add:

      4) You need higher speeds than what is possible or practical with BRT.

      Issaquah is far enough out that it really needs something along the lines of the 70 mph light rail cars Nippon-Sharyo built for use in Texas, or the 73 mph of the Stadler GTW, or the 90 mph produced by the 1930s era Electroliners (which were also happy wandering down city streets when they needed to).

    4. “There are some businesses in Kirkland as well, but they seem rather spread out.”

      Downtown Kirkland is the second-largest urban center in the Eastside. It was a pioneer in suburban densification in the 80s. Moss Bay Park is a regional attraction, there’s a regional library, an annual art festival, the waterfront boardwalk for jogging, and restaurants that people all over the Eastside go to. Google is a bit out of downtown but not that far; a 68th Street station would serve the small village there. Kirkland is ten times more worthy of a station than Eastgate or Factoria (although I still support the latter two).

      1. Fair enough. Downtown Kirkland office space is probably bigger than I thought (which would explain the really low population density numbers).

        The biggest problem with downtown Kirkland is that light rail wouldn’t be cheap for it. Eastgate and Factoria aren’t worth building on their own, but if you decided to build a rail line to Issaquah, then it makes sense to throw in Eastgate and Factoria because of the big buildings. The only reason a line like that could make sense (and I’m not saying it does) is that it could, possibly, be built really cheaply by using the freeway ROW. Kirkland has no such luck. So, yeah, Kirkland makes sense, but I can think of plenty of places that would be a better value (half a dozen stops along the Metro 8, Lake City, Phinney Ridge, Queen Anne). All of those would be really expensive too, but have a lot more riders.

  3. Thanks for doing a review of these alignments, hearing from someone who actually lives on the east side and is for light rail expansion is refreshing.

    I still think a light rail crossing of 520 is a bad investment at this point, but I would be willing to hear what you have to say to justify it.

  4. If the transit-dependent, low-income crossroads neighborhood of Bellevue, the densest community on the eastside, isn’t worthy of light rail, why is the isolated, hillside enclave of Issaquah Highlands deserving of not only its own light rail line, but one with a tunnel, as well?

    1. Ah “isolated” “enclave” – nothing like a neighborhood to neighborhood spat.

      Why SHOULD crossroads get a light rail station? I would argue that it’s car dependent as evidenced by lack major transit hubs (they dont even have service to seattle, and only 4 routes criss-cross NE 8th and NE 156th) and, as for being an suburb, no park and ride, no ST express stops. Like it or not, the pattern in this suburb region outside of seattle has placed park and rides near freeways. The highlands has all day service to Seattle as well as additional peak hour service that’s heavily used to both bellevue and seattle as well as redmond via the plateau. The density maps of the area are skewed because much of the eastern portion is parkland however theres a lot of infill space in the middle of the highlands tract surrounding the P&R.

    2. Crossroads is less than a mile from Overlake Village station and has RapidRide B to both it and Hospital station. I was surprised that Link went through Bel-Red rather than Crossroads, but it is more direct and an opportunity to build a walkable neighborhood from scratch, of which the Eastside has few. Still, part of me wishes Link had gone via Crossroads.

      The Issaquah Highlands is only getting a station because it’s near downtown Issaquah. The Highlands is one of the most walkable neighborhoods on the Eastside, so it’s a reward for doing development right, and will hopefully encourage other neighborhoods to be similar. I don’t like the fact that it’s a greenfield development at the edge of town; I’d rather see infill development. But if you’re going to make a greenfield development, that’s the best way to do it. Hint, Klahanie and Sammamish and Bear Creek.

      1. So an isolated, hillside community with more culdesacs and two car garages than you can count, and where you have to pay dues to live, is development done right?

      2. I hate to agree with Sam… ever… but he’s right.

        Issaquah Highlands is homogeneous, self-quarantined, drunk-the-KoolAid, delusional New Urbanist bullshit, with as bad a carbon footprint as any other sprawling suburb (thanks to sheer distance) and a populace living in fear of the complicated, organic humanity it might occasionally encounter in any real urban place.

      3. I’m about to agree with both Sam and d.p. I think that means I’m done with the Internet for today and it’s not even noon.

        While true that Issaquah Highlands is a development that is “the least ‘wrong’ choice on a list of ‘wrong’ choices,” I strongly question how it is a candidate for a tunnel of its own and light rail service that, at best, will encourage another 10 miles of sprawl outside the GMA. Perhaps I’m wrong, and we have a long way to go before any dirt is turned on this, but I’m just not seeing it at the moment.

      4. The Sound Transit district ends at Issaquah. The GMA boundary is significantly further at North Bend.

        “Why are we even talking about this?”

        Because it’s in the official ST study as a possible extension.

        “The highlands will not get a station–probably ever… It’s not worth the investment.”

        That’s precisely what we’re debating.

      5. @Sam, I count less than 10 cul de sacs.
        @d.p. I don’t understand your points, they seem to be deeply rooted in subjective, biased assessments and over generalization and I wouldn’t begin to debate with someone about a topic with which they clearly know nothing about. The carbon footprint argument is a red herring.

        While I would bet that the highlands will not get a station (I was merely saying it would have to be a tunnel if they ever did), the reality of this region is that there is an existing node structure of P&R and transit centers that are magnets for commuters. You can bemoan the existence of suburbs until you are blue in the face, but they will not go away. Compared to many other urban areas with suburbs (which they all have) Seattle has a good framework that is best designed to draw from those P&R’s. And incidentally, the highlands P&R is one of the highest used P&R’s with several very high productivity metro and ST routes using it.

        So the paradoxical question is, for east subarea equity spending, is it better to pay to send a train to a station with marginal ridership, existing low density housing that will slowly rezone, or to a station that’s well used, with higher density housing both existing and under construction and jobs and activity centers?

      6. Like most New Urbanist fauxtopias, Issaquah Highlands is community that pretends to care about “density and walkability and community and environmental living”. Yet it is completely detached from any of its built neighbors, is unaffiliated with its natural surroundings, is situated nearly 20 miles removed from the primary source of its imported wealth, and is utterly reliant on massive public infrastructural outlays to enable its existence.

        Issaquah Highlanders who immigrate to Seattle for work each day already enjoy 30-minute, literally non-stop service — at great expense to Metro — from the massive garage in their supposed “self-sufficiency commercial district” (where everything is trucked in from great distances, including any low-paid employees). Highlanders who work in Overlake or elsewhere on the Eastside drive one of their 100%-obligatory automobiles every day, a fact which even the fastest train along the best route to Bellevue is unlikely to change for more than a tiny, tiny minority. Meanwhile, the vast majority of errands continue to involve leaving the “community” and driving many miles in SOVs. Just like in any other suburb, but further, because Issaquah Highlands is that much more remote by design.

        That adherents of this sort of project attempt to claim anything resembling “sustainability”, or the right to be whisked from their hillside in subway tunnels while hundreds of thousands of real urban residents continue to experience 1-mile commutes that take nearly as long as their highway buses, is the fucking apex of blood-curdling hypocrisy and privilege. That makes it worse than the blissful ignorance of old-style suburbia, which is dying anyway. (We should neither encourage nor enable this no-better New Conformist lie to flourish as its replacement).

      7. Ah, yes. The perfect storm where d.p, Sam, and Stephen F all agree – I might as well pile on.

        Issaquah Highlands is indeed “walkable” though this particular brand of “walkability” would warrant a new Pemco profile: “Intrepid NW Urban Elevation Hiker, you’re one of us…”

        If you are in good shape and willing to sweat a bit on the way home, the vast majority of the Issaquah Highlands is within a mile or so of the Park & Ride. The upper reaches are further but are largely made up of chipboard McMansions designed for the “aspirant” class. (They had trouble selling those plots off and even today there are many still available.) For a downtown commuter that enjoys hiking in the mountains on the weekend, Issaquah Highlands actually wouldn’t be a bad choice and might even result in lower CO2 emissions. (Commute by bus into the city during the week, drive not as far into the mountains on the weekend to go hiking)

        That said, at best it’s a “lifestyle center” surrounded by a somewhat condensed suburban layout that makes walking and biking theoretically possible, though unlikely. (The relatively undisturbed road grit and debris in virtually all of the wide bike lanes proves that)

        Most of the density is in though there is some more development going on near the P&R. I can’t imagine they’ll add enough density to make it worth investing in light rail but “adding more buses” with priority treatments is reasonable.

      8. I will give Issaquah highlands credit for at least giving it’s local streets decent sidewalks and building a reasonable amount of density within an easy walk of the P&R. However, if you’re talking about living without a car, there are a lot of basic necessities missing over there, starting with a simple grocery store.

      9. Just to add my own opinions to the pile, the Highlands is almost a gated community; Highlands Drive is damn near the only way on or off the plateau, with maybe a few out-of-the-way side street exceptions. Naturally, it is really freaking wide on the approach to I-90. It also has no bus service outside Highlands Drive, making its car dependence all the worse by forcing even people who want to be “green” to drive to the park-and-ride unless they live close enough to walk. At the very least I would have extended the 927’s DART area.

        Highlanders do have the 269 to commute to Overlake, though, to correct d.p. a little.

      10. While the 269 technically does go to Overlake, it is slow and direct. There is a much more direct Microsoft connector route for those eligible to ride it. I rode it once to hike Tiger after work and was appalled by how long it took, inching forward at 2 mph on the 405 HOV lane. As strange as it seems, it is actually quite a bit faster from there to commute to downtown Seattle than to Microsoft, even with a direct bus going both places, even though Microsoft is nominally closer on the map.

      11. “However, if you’re talking about living without a car, there are a lot of basic necessities missing over there, starting with a simple grocery store.”

        You haven’t visited recently. Safeway has moved in as have dozens of other retailers. It’s a little “chainy” and soulless for my tastes but there are several restaurants, coffee shops, spas, clothing retailers, a Cinema, Hospital, doctors offices, dentists, etc… It would require a little bit of creativity but you could manage without owning car.

        But again: car-lite moderately less sprawly suburb that can be reasonably served by buses? Sure. A future sustainable urbanist hiking and trail runner’s mecca with light rail in the cascade foothills? I doubt it.

      12. To be fair, Lake Sammamish lies smack-dab in the middle of a straight as-the-crow-flies shot to Microsoft. 405 is probably as good as it gets for the sort of route an automated trip planner would spit out (leaving aside whether WSDOMA could do more for buses on 405), and the 269 is pretty good for a shot as straight as possible.

    3. Will this Light Rail for the gentry in Issaquah and Kirkland be above ground, where it rumbles over or by the cul de sacs? Or will it be tunneled with underground stations–with wide elevators for families with multiple strollers?

      1. Take a walk around Kirkland and Issaquah sometime. The streets are at least partially gridded in south Kirkland, downtown Issaquah, and the Highlands. There are some cul-de-sacs but it’s not cul-de-sac hell. Where the streets are broken in Issaquah it’s often because of a creek or lake or I-90.

    4. “Why SHOULD crossroads get a light rail station? I would argue that it’s car dependent as evidenced by lack major transit hubs”

      It may look like that on a map but Crossroads has a wide variety of businesses and apartments in a concentrated cluster so it’s not that bad for doing errands on foot. It has good bus service to downton Bellevue where you can transfer to Seattle. And a 20-minute walk or short bus ride will take you to Overlake for big-box shopping. Crossroads mall has a variety of neighborhood events as well as the usual shopping. The 1972 subway would have gone to Crossroads.

      Redmond – Overlake – Crossroads – Bellevue College – Factoria would make a good BRT line someday. Or a streetcar.

      1. Crossroads is more urban than Issaquah Highlands any day and, ideally would be served by something better than the B-line’s twists, turns, and stoplights.

        Unfortunately, though, the B-line’s ridership numbers today are just not high enough to justify rail investment. Could be a chicken-and-egg problem (people don’t ride it because it’s still too slow and circuitous, in spite of being much better than the old 253), but we will never know for sure.

    5. Mike Orr, two questions. Do you believe the Issaquah Highlands fits some of the definition of sprawl? And second, do you believe sprawl should be rewarded or enabled?

  5. The tunnel to Issaquah Highlands is required, its not possible for Link trains to climb greater than 6% grades per ST and manufacturer requirements. A tunnel provides 2 benefits, reduces unnecessary routing through downtown issaquah from Issaquah TC and lowers the platform elevation since the station would likely be under the current P&R or the highlands road network somewhere.

    Running a vehicle up the south side of Grand Ridge, along Highlands Drive is approximately a 350′ elevation gain from the bottom of the valley. At 6%, just over 1 mile (minus the curvature) is needed to accomdate the grade change for a train. Thats an elevated structure at a continuous grade from the east end of Gilman all the way up the hill. Alternatively, an elevated structure beginning around 2nd ave SE along Sunset. Both routes assume ROW restrictions and stick close to existing roadways.

    A tunnel for the station entering the hillside around the lakeside gravel pit is the most likely option, beyond that, there’s not really another reasonable option. The highlands is growing and will have the density to accommodate a light rail station in the near future (as far as suburban P&R based stations go). I used to live up the hill from the P&R and much of the building in the neighborhood is occurring around the P&R and shopping center. The lakewood gravel pit is substantially closed and has already begun redevelopment as multifamily housing in the tract to the east of highlands drive. The tract to the west is on a pretty steep slope, but so is the rest of the highlands.

    1. Given the slope problems, building a subway tunnel in Issaquah will likely be quickly declared to be an unreasonable option. There are many areas of the ST district that are much denser and more congested (like the Ballard to UW corridor discussed recently). Even on the Eastside, a bored subway tunnel to add capacity to Downtown Bellevue or Kirkland would be more popularly supported and more productive than this would be.

      The potential solution that I would explore would be an automated people mover system between the two transit centers on an aerial line, like a pinched cable system that is in use in Las Vegas or getting ready to open in Oakland. Even a Portland-style cable lift option wouldn’t be out of the question. These would require aerial structures. Then I would ask the citizens of Issaquah what is more important: guideway transit to Highlands TC (and coming up with a local subsidy for the project) or no aerial transit structures?

      1. That might be an alternative for the Highlands. Suggest it to ST and Issaquah.

      2. I agree – maybe (sub)urban gondola from highlands TC to front street/gilman village station?

        Although ST’s LRP basically doesn’t consider aerial transit to be “regional” (but streetcars are apparently)

      3. ST has rejected other rail technologies like heavy rail, but I didn’t see anything about gondolas. So maybe ST would be open to it.

        Although since it would be a short Issaquah-only gondola, maybe the city should build it rather than waiting for ST. I’ve heard gondolas are inexpensive to build.

  6. I’m surprised ST didn’t consider a line sharing East Link’s track from South Bellevue to Hospital, which would go downtown and leverage the existing capital investment. I’ll be mentioning that in my comments to ST.

    Has there been any thought about moving the Issaquah TC and thus the potential Link station? It takes the 554 twenty-five minutes to get from the Highlands to the transit center and on to I-90, which is more than half of the route’s travel time. I don’t know how Issaquah residents tolerate that. Also there’s nothing to walk to from the TC. I’d like to see the TC near City Hall, although maybe the P&R would have to be separate from it, near a freeway entrance.

    However, I don’t think this line must be rail. BRT might be a good interim step. But that’s for East King taxpayers to decide.

    1. Issaquah messed up when it zoned 2 urban centers on the east and west hillsides (Highlands and Talus) of the city as well as a large population in low density zoning to the south. I used to occasionally ride 554 from downtown to the highlands, its long and laborious as you said, but its a 1 seat connection, so you take what you can get I guess. The hub of downtown issaquah is at Front and Sunset, which requires such a detour on 554, but as you said, is it really worth it? Downtown issaquah is comparatively low density compared to its urban villages to the east and west and transit service on ST 554 to the downtown seems more like a gift to issaquah after the city management pledged to become an urban center. It will take time as the town center can only redevelop slowly. I think Issaquah would do better to have a shuttle service run from old town up to costco and the commercial and industrial portion north of I-90 with stops at LR stations.

      1. And of course, what’s even worse for Issaquah’s urban center plans are the looming Metro cuts. Once they’re fully implemented, say goodbye to the 200, 271, and 927, leaving the only service to downtown Issaquah being the 554’s one stop outside City Hall, hourly service (and none on Sunday) on the 208, and occasional peak-hour trips on the 214. The 217 is gone, so the only service to North Issaquah – supposedly part of those urban-center plans – is peak-hour peak-direction service on the 269. Issaquah Transit Center is home to only the Sound Transit routes, 208, 214, and 269, which would mean only one bus to a bay if the 208 and 269 didn’t terminate there (assuming the 271 doesn’t even serve the transit center anymore). The 216, 218 and 219, though? No changes whatsoever!

        The 554’s meandering through Issaquah is a problem, but the siting of Issaquah Transit Center is a problem for the 555 and 556 as well, which go straight to the Highlands on I-90. Mercer Island’s placement is not ideal, but the I-90 buses still have the benefit of carpool entrances and exits; as they approach Issaquah, though, the Sound Transit buses and the 214 have to weave across traffic to get to the SR 900 ramp, then sit through the Gilman and Maple stoplights while weaving their way back to the left to get to the transit center either off Maple or, more often than they probably should, sitting through one more light at the mid-block bus-only turn-off. Westbound you get to stay on the right side of SR 900 all the way to the freeway, but you still sit through two lights and weave back over to the left side of the freeway. I don’t know that there really is a solution.

      2. @Morgan. Do you know something we don’t? The 554 runs on Sundays and runs half hourly on weekends between 10:30 and 7:30, hourly before and after that

      3. “…leaving the only service to downtown Issaquah being (1) the 554′s one stop outside City Hall, (2) hourly service (and none on Sunday) on the 208, and (3) occasional peak-hour trips on the 214.”

        Reading fast doesn’t always mean reading well.

    2. “The hub of downtown issaquah is at Front and Sunset, which requires such a detour on 554”.

      Once the bus is already serving the transit center, serving downtown Issaquah also adds only about 5 minutes or so. Having ridden the 554 on weekends several times, I can attest that the number of ons and offs at the downtown Issaquah stop, while not great, is still higher than at the highlands stop. Yes, people who live in the highlands like their 218 express to Seattle during peak hours, but when they aren’t commuting to work, they really aren’t that interested.

      On the contrary, I would argue that it would be better to have it serve more stops and simply treat the 554 as a full-fledged local bus, with regular stops, as it traverses the streets of Issaquah. (But staying in a straight-line, no deviations into parking lots).

      1) The number of people on the 554 east of Issaquah TC is small, on the order of 10 or less. The number of people who would be delayed by additional stops is tiny, and the added stops would serve additional riders who are not served today.

      2) The Issaquah Commons shopping center is quite big and has lots of stores, including a Safeway, Target, and REI. It deserves much better transit service than it currently gets out of the 208, 271, and 927, especially given the huge cutbacks planned for all three of these routes in the very near future. When connecting to the 208 to go to North Bend, the shopping center is a much better place to wait for the transit center. Not only does it have restrooms, but you can actually accomplish useful shopping while you wait.

      3) The 554’s stretch along Newport Way, including an elementary school and several homes, current has no transit service whatsoever. A 554 stop here would be a cheap way to provide service to more people.

      4) The parking garage at Issquah Transit Center is at capacity. Providing people who live further back along the route an opportunity to catch the bus as it goes by their house, rather than forcing them to drive to the P&R, is a cheap way to increase the parking capacity at the transit center for those whom this isn’t an option.

      5) Issquah Highlands already has a rush hour bus that bypasses Issaquah, so I’m not too concerned if it takes the 554 a couple extra minutes to reach the highlands.

      6) The money for a separate local bus along the 554’s route through Issquah isn’t there and, even if it were, would be a poor use of funds compared to numerous other corridors that could use the service.

      1. Re: 4, for people not travelling at peak, arriving at Issaquah TC shortly after 10am means that one could use one of the reserved spaces for the paid parking trial. Beyond that, Issaquah Highlands may be a better bet since it has a lower utilization. And as you point out, if the 218 is still running, you’ll have a quicker trip to downtown.

      2. My trips on the 554 have nearly all been weekends, when there’s lots of unused parking capacity at Issaquah Transit Center, which helps explain why so few people are picking up the bus at the Highlands P&R.

        Post EastLink, I have mixed opinions about what people in Issaquah will do. The optimistic side of me says that people will ride a truncated 554 if it can be made frequent and the transfer process is quick and there’s no out-of-direction travel to get to downtown Seattle. On the other hand, the pessimistic side of me says everyone will freak out at the thought of a transfer and just drive their cars directly to Link to avoid it. The result being that the 554’s ridership will suffer, and after a few years of applying service guidelines, we end up with a truncated 554 that is actually less frequent than the full 554 today.

  7. This is a good way to approach the issue of expanding rail service on the Eastside. Ultimately what I think we’ll need is a north-south rail corridor from Renton to Lynnwood via downtown Bellevue (sharing the tracks from I-90 to downtown Bellevue) and then up to downtown Kirkland, central Bothell, and Lynnwood. Building a spur line out to Issaquah along the I-90 corridor is probably the best way to get rail out there.

    BRT could be a short-term option to serve these destinations while light rail is being planned and built.

  8. Hi Jason — I 100% agree with your proposal. I think that the suggested routing by Sound Transit doesn’t make a lot of sense, whereas interlining with East Link would bring huge benefits.

    I created a suggested alignment here: — it think it’s right along the lines that you are thinking.

  9. Thanks for presenting this. I think most independent thinkers see using the obvious: ST should be proposing use of their LRT existing corridors and storage facilities (opened or under construction) in these expansion studies as much as possible including the one you’ve included here. I suspect that ST may be thinking that they have to get the maximum capital costs estimated now and then look at cost savings later. Still, I think it leaves an impression to the citizens that ST is more interested in expanding the miles of track than it is in being more productive with the track that it already has.

  10. Some of us were talking about this on Sunday; I’m all for it. Thanks for taking the lead. I would hope that a 520 line would come in and provide a South Kirkland transfer station…

  11. Part of this thinking might be — what could Issaquah, or Kirkland (or beyond) grow into that would make it not just a depot, but a destination.

    For example, looking at the traffic fiasco this weekend, why does everything have to concentrate itself in Seattle.

    How about putting our next sports arena in Tacoma? Or building a “Seattle Center” style park for festivals in Issaquah?

    How about looking at Bumbershoot differently…where instead of concentrating it all in a few square miles, you distribute it. A stage in Kent. A stage in Everett. A performance at Meydenbauer park. All happening in one weekend, linked by transit!

    1. How about the suburbs put their own regional attractions in their downtowns, as Kirkland has done with its waterfront park, Bellevue has done with its arts museum and Bellevue Square, etc. Then people will come to them.

      The Seattle International Film Festival has satellite venues in Kirkland and Renton, showing a subset of the Seattle movies.

      Distributed Bumbershoot can happen after Link reaches Tacoma and Everett. Right now it’s too cumbersome: it takes an hour or even two to get to those places on the bus. Even if you stick to one venue per day, no matter where you live it’s going to be a long cumbersome trip to several of the venues. Like the myriad of Boeing workers who get arbitrarily pulled to Renton, Lynnwood, and Everett whenever Boeing feels like it, so even if they live near one of them they may be reassigned to another and have to commute.

      1. Heck, it takes about 1.5 hours to get to Bumbershoot from West Seattle by public transportation and approximately the 1.5-2 hours to get to the U District Street fair by the same mode.

      2. Not that I’m recommending distributed Bumbersoot. Part of Bumbershoot’s attraction is that everything is in one place, where you can walk between all venues. And a lot of people like the fact it’s near downtown and the hub of Pugretopolis’ transit infrastructure. It makes it comparably easier for everyone to get to, as opposed to super-easy for some people and super-possible for others. Try going to an event at Marymoor Park: it’s a 40-minute walk from the nearest bus stop. And Chateau San Michelle: does it even have a weekend bus stop within three miles? What frustrates me most is the MMA events at outlying casinos, some of them in Fife and others way out in Smokey Point. Impossible to get to without a car, especially coming back late Saturday evening. Seattle Center is a piece of cake compared to those.

      3. Well, initially, I wouldn’t put anything that wasn’t already near a main stop with “Abundant Transit”.

        So, Kent Event Center could be used, and Downtown Bellevue. Puyallup Fairgrounds?

        We would have to ramp up frequency of trips and of course have weekend service for Sounder.

  12. Wait, wait, wait. Why the F**K is Kirkland/Bellevue getting light rail?

    I’m being completely serious here. After Kemper Freeman basically sued the state to prevent light rail. After everybody on the East Side moved out of Seattle because of some imaginary crime (read: black people). They have been mocking and deriding seattle’s urbanization. They choose gated communities and “parkways” over density. They are the kind of people who buy a house next to a bar, then complain that there’s a bar next to their house. They’re the whiny, obnoxious, me-firsters, NIMBYs of this area. They actively want Seattle to become the Detroit of the area.

    And we want to reward these selfish a-holes? We’re not going to do anything to get the ACTUAL hub linked up (so people can get to where stuff happens NOW, on light rail), but we’re going to support these outliers who don’t even want it in the first place? Where the hell are our priorities? We should be dumping every penny into getting ALL Seattle neighborhoods linked up, THEN spreading out to vicinities who want it. Despite all the whining. Seattle is still the major employer and social event hub. We should treat it as such, instead of building mass transit all around it.

    1. One phrase: Suburban equity.

      And more details: Don’t lump us all together. Kemper Freeman is one person, or at most one movement. Not everyone on the eastside moved there to escape the city; some of us – like me – are there just because we want to live close to our work at the local Very Big Software Company.

      1. Well said, William. When Microsoft decided to locate in the suburbs (and a far out suburb at that) it changed the dynamics of the region. There are a lot of people who live there not to escape the city, but to be closer to their job. Meanwhile, there are plenty of people who travel over there every day from the city to get to their job (look at eastbound 520 every morning). There are little spots that have an urban feel (like Kirkland) or decent population density (like Crossroads) but it is the office buildings that justify spending transit spending.

        But in general, there are simply way more places within the city limit that make more sense to develop next. But because of suburban equity …

      2. Look, I live in Redmond because it is the most practical place for us to live. We moved there from North Portland, half a mile from a light rail line 6 years ago, and looked carefully for somewhere that we could walk to what we wanted, and did not have to depend on a car to get to Microsoft (daily) or Seattle (occasionally). We walk to library, grocery, restaurant coffe shops etc. We do drive (largely because my job literally requires it) but we have 1 car not 2 for a family of 4. Both my children are comfortable riding the bus, though they too miss the train (In the words of my then 2 year old: “No like the bus mommy! Bus is bumpy. Train is better.”)

        We have close friends, also transplanted from Portland, who live in Crossroads and do not use their car on a daily basis (they did not own one in Portland).

        We make the best choices we can. If either of us worked in Seattle, we would likely live there. And Kemper Freeman is a short sighted, mean spirited idiot.

      3. Just as another data point: There are some of us who are even full-time employees of a local Very Large Software Company who live in Seattle and commute daily to Redmond solely via the public bus (that is, not the Connector). All it proves is that different people make different choices.

    2. Allison, calling people idiots because they disagree with you reflects much more poorly on you than the person you are calling names.

      1. Sam, while that is in general, a fair point, idiot is fairly mild compared to some of the other things I have seen here, even in this thread. And while you astutely point out that I disagree with him, I tend to think he has earned the label because his actions on transit work counter to many of his own financial interests in Bellevue. Nevertheless, I am saddened that that was your sole takeaway from my comment.

  13. On some previous post about service to Issaquah from S. Bellevue P&R, I recall that there was some discussion about how the crossing of I-405 could practically be done. The I-90 – I-405 interchange is already a stacked interchange with a below-grade level for the SB 405 to EB 90 and NB 405 to WB 90 ramps, then I-90 above and I-405 above that. WSDOT has been talking about direct HOV to HOV ramps that would go above all that.

    IIRC, there was some problem with the elevation profile of a light rail line to first cross Mercer Slough, then get around all the freeway sculpture to arrive at the other side of I-405. Perhaps Sam would like to search through the archives, locate this post, and bring it to our attention so we could discuss its implications to this plan. I’m just not inclined to do that right now.

    1. I believe I was recalling this post. It was in reference to assertions that from an East Link B7R alignment would be easy to add an extension to the east. It wouldn’t be quite the same for a line coming from Bellevue Way, but there would still likely be some stiff engineering challenges.

    2. aw,

      An LRT line from South Bellevue would have to go around the spaghetti. The best way would be to go under I-90 alongside the slough, turn east and then follow the east-to-south ramp to just north of 122nd SE then dip under the existing freeway heading east south east. Use the diagonal of SE 38th to get to a station with entrances on both sides of Factoria Way to serve both T-Mobile (hoping it will continue independent….) and the Mall.

      Come up at 129th SE and SE 38th, swing north close to the existing buildings and continue east to the greenway west of 134th SE, then north to the freeway ROW. Buy this right of way NOW to preserve it.

      1. Oh, and “Yes, d.p., I would support a level interlocking just south of the SoBe station to support this.” Just not under the U-district where trains will be much more frequent.

      2. Oh, and one more addendum. If and that’s a very big “if” Link to Renton ever uses the ERC, this is the way to bypass the two Wilburton “challenges” and avoid a Vision Line cluster*)!@ through downtown Bellevue.

        Another “level interlocking” south of I-90 and removal of one house along Richards Road would allow access the ERC.

      3. One last addendum: I don’t believe that any of this will come about. I was just providing a possible engineering solution to the problems identified by former Councilor Chelminiak.

        Of course, the problems he identified arose from the assumption that an Issaquah line would be north of I-90 east of SoBe station since it would be “aimed” toward Seattle. By turning the line to pass through downtown Bellevue as here it opens the possibility of going straight south between the I-90 supports at grade, thus avoiding the need to make the big elevation changes required in the northeast quadrant of I-90/I-405.

        And adding a really good station at Factoria.

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