Mercer Island 60 Percent

Last Thursday, Sound Transit held an open house to present the Mercer Island Station 60% design. In addition, there were several preliminary design options for integrating bus and rail at the station.

An animation of a Link train traveling from International District Station past Mercer Island was playing when I arrived. I didn’t hear many comments and questions as I moved around the room except for one notable exception: Several people expressed concerns about the loss of the express lanes. (For those who are unaware, SOV drivers are currently able to use the express lanes between the Mercer Island and Seattle.)

The station platform will be located between 80th Ave SE and 77th Ave SE where the current I-90 reversible express lanes are. The center platform will be accessible from both ends of the station and will be served by an up escalator, staircase, and elevator at each entrance. In addition, a Kiss & Ride area will be added at the 77th Ave SE entrance, and each entrance will provide seating, ticketing, and ORCA readers. There is even an area near the entrance marked “Future Vending”.

For those looking for bike parking, Mercer Island Park & Ride currently offers bike lockers that can be rented by the month and several well utilized bike racks. In addition to these existing spots, the station will include 8 new bike lockers, a secured bike cage for up to 50 bikes, and a bike rack area. I was told the bike rack area is designed to be convertible to another secured bike cage, should demand warrant it. In short, Mercer Island residents should have no shortage of places to stash a bike when Eastlink opens in 2023.

4 different options were presented for integrating bus and rail operations. These included various bus pick up and drop off locations, layover locations, and routing options. There were two Metro planners discussing these options. Interestingly, they were openly talking about potentially truncating all bus routes that currently travel across Mercer Island into Seattle. Not many people appeared to be paying attention to this information, even though, with increased frequencies, it could provide far better bus service throughout a large portion of the Eastside.

While there are still significant details to work out, especially with the Bus/Rail integration, the designs appeared to be a good example of multi-modal design, especially given the site constraints.
The Open House Boards, Staff Presentation, and details maps can be found here.

47 Replies to “East Link Mercer Island 60% Design Open House”

  1. About terminating bus service at the Mercer Island Link station – the ST presentation says “Sound Transit and King County Metro are designing changes to the way transit crosses I-90. Bus and light rail service will connect at regional transit hubs, including the Mercer Island and South Bellevue stations, where transit riders will transfer between bus and light rail.”

    Doesn’t quite say “ALL” bus service will terminate, but I know this discussion has been going on with Mercer Island city council for some time.

    And yes, this is good news.

    1. The big question is whether a truncated 554 really means a more frequent all-day 554? It is not at all inconceivable that the money saved by truncating the 554 all day could simply go towards a couple more peak trippers, leaving off-peak service with the same half-hourly to hourly service as today, only with a transfer.

      If it’s the latter, it seems almost inevitable that, at least on weekends, nearly everyone who currently drives to catch the bus at Eastgate Or Issaquah TC will end up driving directly to the train at Mercer Island or South Bellevue, rather than take their chances on missing an infrequent connection on the way back. This would push the 554 down in the productivity metrics, possibly leading to additional cuts.

      On weekdays, limited parking at the P&R lots is the only thing that prevents this from happening.

  2. I grew up on MI and my parents still live there. It seems like most Islanders are still completely unaware that the express lanes are going away. MI voted overwhelmingly for ST2 and sided more with Seattle than the eastside on funding Metro. Yet my sense is most Islanders completely distrust Sound Transit because of the toxic Park and Ride situation. It’s strange…almost nobody rides the local Metro routes but the 550 and Park & Ride are wildly popular.

    Despite the low density, I actually think MI could be pretty well served by local buses once Link opens. Frequent service down East Mercer Way, West Mercer Way and Island Crest Way connecting to the Town Center would give most people practical access to Link. But right now these are some of Metro’s worst performing routes and they are all being gutted by the upcoming cuts.

    1. What’s toxic about the P&R situation? I mean other than the fact that it was built smaller than needed and is overcrowded, and the design/construction errors when it was built.

      1. I hate to keep repeating myself on this, but P&Rs near town centers (at least the parking portions of them) should be built, owned, and operated by the towns they’re located in.

      2. I grew up on MI as well. You have to understand the MI mentality to understand what their objections are, and why they think the P&R is a disaster. Islanders have a sense of entitlement, that they are better than everyone else. Rules for other people don’t apply to them. They have their own special MI-only SOV lanes over the I-90 bridge (the express lanes), for example.

        Understanding this, what is toxic about the MI P&R is that it is popular. It is full quite early, and there are no Mercer Island only spaces to keep out non-MI residents who utilize the lot as well. Sound Transit is therefore not respecting Islanders sense of entitlement to those parking spaces which should naturally belong to Islanders, and isn’t requiring people from Bellevue to use their own P&Rs.

        I wish I was making this up, but I am not. This is really how people think there. It’s like street parking spaces outside of houses, where homeowners feel they are entitled to the curb space in front of their houses.

        Regarding the other island bus services, there really isn’t much demand for a few reasons. First, the typical income of an island resident is so high that the marginal cost of the extra time to use transit is huge. Driving a car just makes economic sense because the buses are slow and infrequent. Second, the houses and lots are large, and there are almost no multi family structures that aren’t in walking distance to the P&R. The geometry doesn’t support frequent transit service. Maybe this would be different if we didn’t have a car culture, but this is our suburban reality for now. Third, because the circulator bus service is already so infrequent, it is mostly used by a few people physically and/or financially unable to drive. Therefore it is hard for Metro to justify its existence in the first place, let alone expanding the service. Nearly everyone walks, drives, or gets a ride to the park-and-ride anyway.

      3. Entitlement about parking isn’t unique to Mercer Island – It’s a widespread disease.

        Mercer Island does own a fairly large, and seemingly underutilized during commute times, lot at the community center just a short walk away but they currently do not allow commuters to utilize it. Sound Transit had enough money to build a larger lot but the city decided to ‘protect the surrounding neighborhood’ instead. The result? 190 new “free” parking spots at only $88,000 each or about $12 per day amortized over 30 years with no interest. The true cost, including interest and operations, is much higher.

      4. For the foreseeable future, and for the reasons Gabe describes so well, suburban rail usage is going to be about people driving to park-and-rides.

        So if the park-and-rides fill, foreseeably, and without plans for augmentation and sustainable overflow, the usefulness of your suburban rail has been (knee)capped even more than it would have otherwise been by its inherent suburbanity.

        There has got to be a way to build structured and footprint-minimized parking for less than tens of thousands of dollars per spot. There simply must be. It may involve breaking any number of inertia-based public-infrastructure habits (bidding rules, prohibitions on transit agencies entering into development partnerships), but the pre-existence of parking is frankly the only reason suburban rail is working anywhere in auto-scaled parts of North America (suburban New York and Chicago included).

        If your present-day suburban rail projects require an $100,000 paved investment for nearly every rider, then you should simply abandon all hope for any of them to pan out (or to continue to draw voter support) in the slightest.

      5. The biggest barrier to getting people to ride a connecting bus to a P&R is not the morning trip, but the afternoon trip. An infrequent connection at the P&R, combined with already unpredictable amounts of time it takes a bus to get through downtown (even if the bus goes through the tunnel), means you can either allow a huge time cushion and sit and wait at the P&R for 20 minutes if everything is on time, or risk missing the connection.

        A more frequent bus would help somewhat, but even a potential 15 minute wait is still a lot compared to a guaranteed no wait if the car is parked right in the garage. To make connecting buses truly time-competitive with driving to the P&R, they would probably have to run all day every 5 minutes, at a huge cost per rider.

        I am glad, though, that after spending zillions of dollars of car parking that Sound Transit found something left for bike cages. Now, if they could only do the same for Seattle residents at the UW Link Station…

      6. There’s nothing wrong with islanders wanting a train station built near their commercial district to benefit their residents and their commercial district. Sometimes it’s impossible to satisfy both commuters and local businesses. If ST builds and operates a parking lot any complaint about it goes to them and it looks like Mercer Island as a unit has incoherent, impossible demands. If Mercer Island builds and operates a parking lot questions of its design, size, and operation can be worked out in city politics, where it becomes clear that there are a few different factions of islanders with different and conflicting demands. This makes it clear that the design and operation of the parking lot are political questions, and though they obviously must consult experts to find out what’s possible it’s properly the job of elected officials to work out some of the answers. It’s not the job of an agency like ST, which should, as much as possible, tackle questions that can be answered technically.

        If MI decides what they want is a parking lot that you can’t park in unless you’re a resident, good for them. If Bellevue residents don’t like it then they should get their leadership to build them a shiny garage; if people living in the unincorporated foothills of nowhereland don’t like it, maybe they’ll reflect on the benefits of living in a civilization. More likely MI would simply issue paid permits and charge daily rates high enough to ensure the lot usually comes close to filling, like cities do all over the world — it’s something that looks like a controversial move for a transit agency, but for a city that actually has representative leadership it’s a position you can campaign on and test at the polls.

    2. Seems like they would have to expand bus and even park n’ ride lots there.

      I can’t imagine all the MI traffic that drives into Seattle to park cramming into a single LINK station lot.

      1. Um, John, they will still be allowed to drive in the General Purpose lanes. I understand that will be painful; driving the hoi polloi can be so timesome. But they won’t be trapped on the island.

  3. Looking at pages 18 and 25 of the presentation, why aren’t there ORCA readers at the top of the stairs? I’d like to walk in the shortest path to the steps and tap in along the way.

    Regarding station naming, why is this even up for public input? There is only ever going to be one station on MI, to name the station anything other than Mercer Island Station would be stupid.

    1. actually a number of names have been proffered to Sound Transit including but not limited to:

      Mercer Island Station
      Mercer Island Town Center Station
      Mercer Island Freeway Station
      et al

      1. Those other names would just sow confusion. “Excuse me. Is this the Mercer Island station closest to downtown Mercer Island?”

  4. What is to happen with Mercer Island bus service? Will Mercer Islanders vote for a local tax to augment service hours, or is it assumed among the electorate that everyone should own a car and drive to a an ST-paid-for park&ride and get a free parking space? Will all new TOD be within the station platform’s walkshed?

    As for the eastside bus truncations, it looks like Metro’s budget will force the issue, or ST will have to pick up more of the operations tab. I can see lots of people switching to driving to South Bellevue P&R or Mercer Island P&R instead of catching a bus once the truncations happen, so maybe bus ridership will drop anyway. Pity those who have moved out east thinking it would become easier and easier to live without a car. That includes State Representative Cyrus Habib, now running for the senate seat vacated by Rodney Tom. Primary ballots are about to hit the mail.

    1. “Pity those who have moved out east thinking it would become easier and easier to live without a car.”

      It has become easier and, frankly, is completely possible to pull off in Downtown Bellevue and several other surprising spots. You have to map it out, plan a bit, and likely supplement it with Flywheel/TNC/ZipCar, but it can be done. The gaping hole is lack of cycling infrastructure…

    2. The apartments near Crossroads Mall is one place where living without a car might be possible. A transit commute to either Microsoft or downtown Bellevue is pretty straightforward and there is also a good amount of shopping available within easy walking distance, including a QFC for regular grocery shopping. Bellevue College is also a pretty easy bus commute from there too.

      Cycling infrastructure is mostly lacking, but it is somewhat possible to get around on a bike. 156th, south of 8th St., has relatively light traffic volumes. North of 8th St., there are at least good sidewalks (and off-peak, it’s not that bad to just ride in the street).

      For me, though, the biggest dealbreakers, at least presently would be:
      1) Limited access to other areas. By and large, Seattle has express buses to everywhere, while suburbs have express buses only to Seattle. If you ever need to get from crossroads to Renton or Lynnwood, it would be an extremely long bus ride. Even neighborhoods within Seattle outside downtown or the U-district would be difficult. (This is especially a big deal, as there is still a lot more to do in the evenings in Seattle than in Bellevue).
      2) No carsharing in sight. Nearest Car2Go is in Seattle. Nearest Zipcar, downtown Bellevue. There are some rental car offices closer, but needing to either wait in line or ride a bus to pick up a car (and again to return the car) is a significant hassle.
      3) While Uber does serve Bellevue, service is not as reliable as it is in Seattle, especially late at night or early in the morning, when transit options are fewest. (Although this area does seem to have been improving).

  5. Dozens and dozens of bike lockers, cages and racks. Um, why? There’s nice, big, wide bike path across I-90. And you can bring bikes on Link trains. Why will so many bicyclists want to end their commute at MI Station?

      1. My mom says smart people are curious, so I’m not sure what all the coughing is about. Maybe you should encourage and celebrate my curiosity, like she does.

    1. Noise, big trucks’ low roaring slipstreams, sports cars’ high screaming tires, motercycles’ preposterously loud engines. Air quality is also a problem, though not as bad on those bridges as it is in the passes further west. The biggest factor is how far most people are willing to cycle. Unless one’s legs are in excellent shape, biking more than a few hilly miles is a big deal. Anyone who wants to take public transport from the Island has to somehow make it to the P&R first. If they don’t bike, their only other option is to drive. Even though the vast majority of Islanders have cars, that doesn’t mean they’re unaware of the many ills of driving. Another difficulty with driving is the paradoxical lack of car parking at the P&R. If I lived on MI I might use it from time to time. Even though I’m a very powerful cyclist, I could still see myself biking a few miles to a P&R and then relaxing the rest of the way to work, assuming the public transport is quick and convenient of course.

      1. I’ve walked through that area to see what the Mercer Slough Nature Area was like.

        You forgot to mention all the trash people throw out of their cars that hit the bike path.

      2. Yeah, all this. Also, the bike routes from I-90 into both downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue are pretty intimidating (and the trail itself is nowhere near wide enough, nor sheltered enough from road spray when it’s raining), while anywhere on Mercer Island except Island Crest Way is pretty mellow. Generally, a bike-to-rapid transit commute is one where you shower at home and wear normal clothes for a short-ish, slow ride to the train, which is a lot more practical than carrying clothes and showering at work as most cross-I-90 commuters do. Then there’s the security issue; many major Seattle employment areas, especially UW and downtown, have much higher rates of bike theft than Mercer Island P&R.

        As for bikes being allowed on trains, they’re allowed but it’s a pain to deal with maneuvering a bike around the inside of a train, especially when it’s crowded, and it’s not very polite to other riders to bring a bike on a crowded train. It wouldn’t surprise me if ST eventually banned bikes on the train during peak hours, and as a cyclist it wouldn’t bother me a bit. It actually wouldn’t bother me if they required a double-fare to carry a bike on the train (or to use racks on the front of buses).

      3. The Mercer Slough park connects to the Bellefields park and is worth a hike, as is Kelsey Creek park which is surprisingly large. I started by going south on 124th from RapidRide B; at Main Street the school district parking lot connects to Kelsey Creek park, which has extensive woods, and then the farm, which was unused when I was there (probably December) but may have stuff happening now.

        I got all turned around in the park and ended up on an unknown residential street, but following my general knowledge that smaller numbers went toward downtown I eventually found the Lake Hills Connector and headed to SE 8th & 116th,, which is highway-ramp hell. (This is Bailo’s utopia?) However, there is a bus there, 271 I think, so that’s the easy way to get there. I continues walking south on 119th, which is like a bad 1960s towers-in-the-park movie. Lots of space for mixed-use development if the too-much-concrete factor can be resolved. On 119th I found a false park entrance (which was closed at least that time), and then the real entrance.

        Bellefields park is an oasis of woods wth a few trails and a vigorous creek. That was the highlight of my hike. I continued south toward the park n ride and found a wooden causeway through the blueberry fields (vancant again since it was winter), and ended up at the park n ride. The whole thing must have taken around two hours.

  6. One thought on the way we built stations. I took the Sounder in a few times this year and one day it was raining so hard it was coming in sideways. The very minimal few awnings over benches did little to offer any shelter at all.

    I realize that for the sake of vandalism, they want as little building on the platforms; however, it seems like in a town known for inclement weather, they could provide a bit more insulation. Back when I was riding NY Transit, there are many stops where they have fully enclosed rooms on the stations for winter.

    Again, we’re a very temperate place, and getting more so due to global warming, but at the same time, we do have that rain and waiting on a totally open platform for a train in the rain is no treat.

    1. Much agreed, as a regular Auburn Sounder commuter.

      What’s odder still is why they bother with the “steel tree” fixtures on the Mercer Island platform, either provide cover or not, don’t tease us with uncovered steelwork.

      1. Style over function. Like the Eastgate Freeway Station’s two stops, I think the designers care more about how it looks more than how well it works. Agency apologists say about the noisy, unprotected, windswept Eastgate stations that “they didn’t have enough room to build cover!” So what’s the excuse for Mercer Island Station’s ineffective cover?

      2. It’s the same idiocy we have everywhere. The people who design this stuff are pretty obviously not transit users, so have no vision of how things impact riders.

      3. If all designers started using their own products, there would be a great rethinking. Either rethinking their products or rethinking their lives.

        How much do those silly girders cost? The gall of putting that up in Seattle.

      4. I agree with all your comments. The minimal covers at sections at this station are made even more silly because the escalators/stairs on each end are covered! If someone wants to stay dry, they are just going to hang out near the escalators and stairs — and block people getting on and off of them.

  7. Generally the layout is great! I really am happy with the center platforms.

    The two areas where I’m a tad concerned:

    1. Sound Transit seems to love to make people walk on unsheltered portions of platforms, which seems really inconsiderate. One has shelter to the ticket vending machines and Orca readers, so riders often have to set everything down to buy a fare or scan their card. Once they go through that ordeal including closing their umbrella in a heavier rain, they have to go back into the elements to get to the part of the platform where the trains load. All of this hassle for mere photo ops for the designer?

    2. I remain convinced that as the years go buy, drop-off and pick-up locations will be increasingly popular, and not much is given over to that here. With cell phone messaging, Uber and eventually driverless vehicles, this kind of access will only grow in popularity – especially in Mercer Island where bus service is infrequent and households often have another driver at home.

  8. Has Sound Transit designed this station and other stations for easy installation of fare gates in the future?

    1. Faregates are not a viable method of enforcing fare payment at any of the at-grade stations, so the issue is pretty much moot. Regardless, we have low fare evasion compared to peer agencies.

      1. The system could be POP overall, but still have faregates at select stations. Like the downtown tunnel stations once the buses get evicted.

      2. For now because the system has expand yet. Ounce you get expand to other cities the fare evasion could increase and then Sound Transit may choose to explore the concept of fare gates.

      3. The only way fare gates reduce evasion is to have someone standing there, like WSF does. Otherwise people jump over them.

      4. Even the revolving door pay gates encourages gaming the system. People double and up in those things. My favorite was when I saw three kids cram in on one fare. It can’t hurt to leave room for them in design though.

  9. I have yet to hear a valid reason as to why sound transit provides free parking when their lots are overflowing. Weak will is not a valid reason.

    1. Political inertia.

      Sound Transit has a pilot permit program at four of their busiest park & rides that will be ending this month. Staff will report on the program in the near future.

      My one experience with the program was showing up to Issaquah P&R at about 10:30 on a weekday and being able to park in one of the permit spots since they are only reserved until 10am. Worked great for me but more data is obviously needed.

  10. It would be nice if they could completely lid that section of I-90. If nothing else they could put parking there.

  11. Can’t help but notice the weird disconnect between architecture and reality: the suggestion of useful roofing without actually being worthwhile, in a location afflicted by frequent rain.

    What is the point of the “almost a useful shelter but not quite” steel assemblages to the left of the main station structure? Adding a few connecting panels between the diagonal beams would make those things useful, but as they’re shown they’ll be merely an irritating reminder of design myopia. This seems to be an ongoing fad in the local architectural vernacular.

    1. I do see functionality in providing shelter for those who crowd to the center trains. Lots or riders will prefer the first or last train based on which way they want to head when they get off the train.

      Having no true shelter at all seems aimed at keeping the stations from becoming de facto homeless shelters.

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