In recent weeks, Sound Transit has released several corridor reports for the Eastside. These were previewed in meetings in May and June, but I thought it might be interesting to take a closer look at the options for Sound Transit on the Eastside. The reports offer quite a bit more detail, and some occasional editorial comment. First up, I-405.
Sound Transit has a long-held commitment to BRT on I-405, dating to Sound Move in 1996, and updating the I-405 master plan in 2002. The master plan envisioned all-day service with 10 minute headways along the length of the corridor. Since then, Sound Transit has built a number of HOV direct access ramps on the highway and transit center projects serving local and regional service along the corridor more generally. Most of those are toward the north end of the corridor, in places such as Totem Lake in Kirkland. Practically speaking, this has translated to a set of express services on the highway that are low-frequency outside peak, and subject to reliability issues in the increasingly crowded HOV lanes.
The challenges in serving the corridor are obvious. Development potential in Renton and downtown Bellevue is substantial, but low to moderate elsewhere in the corridor. Most potential stations are park-and-rides far from walkable communities. Building ridership requires more direct access to neighboring communities, but that adds cost and hurts reliability. Travel markets are widely dispersed, particularly at the ends of the corridor. Most trips on I-405 are only a few miles in length. But with 800,000 daily trips on the highway, it’s tempting to look to BRT as a strategy for reducing traffic.
Two representative infrastructure models are analyzed. Combined with two service models, there are four scenarios considered (they briefly discuss a fifth option, a variation in the alignment within Renton). But the infrastructure models are not either/or choices. They are representative models of a portfolio of infrastructure elements, so expect the ballot to involve some a la carte selection from among the individual elements.
The ‘phased build-out’, A3, assumes WSDOT will complete the BRT projects that are currently funded or have been identified as ‘next priority projects’. The ‘full build-out’, A2, assumes several additional capital improvements. It might make sense to think of A3 as one reasonably feasible set of projects for the 2016 ballot, and A2 as a wish-list for the LRP. A2 does depend in important ways on fulfillment of the full I-405 master plan by WSDOT, an effort likely to extend over decades. The incremental projects are mostly freeway stations and direct access ramps.
The incremental projects between A3 and A2 require funding from both Sound Transit and WSDOT. While included in the I-405 master plan, it’s not clear that WSDOT’s priorities will align, or that the Legislature would add funding for WSDOT in Sound Transit’s preferred time frame.
Stations served are mostly in Renton, Bothell, and Lynnwood, so this looks very much like a commuter express for riders to downtown Bellevue, but with much more regular off-peak service than today. Under the A3 scenario, the only Bellevue station served is the downtown transit center. In Kirkland, only Totem Lake is served (the freeway station on 128th, not the more central Totem Lake transit center). So the plan is notably weak in the middle of the corridor.
Under the ‘full build-out’, ST would add stations at Newport Hills P&R, and at 85th St in Kirkland. Those would not be served under the ‘phased build-out’. Newport Hills has an affordable cost of just $63 million, but serves only a 275-car Park & Ride. Serving 85th St is $384 million. That seems due to inadequate space for direct access ramps, necessitating a major rebuild of the highway. As this would be a particularly poor way to serve central Kirkland, it seems unlikely to be built.
The sticker price for Sound Transit is $700-900 million for the ‘phased approach’ and $1.3 – 1.7 billion for the ‘full approach’. This at first appears competitive with some of the other Eastside options, but is only the incremental cost to implement BRT. It is assumed WSDOT will otherwise fund the entire I-405 Master Plan (estimated in 2002 at $10.9 billion total). So we’ll have to see the appetite of the Legislature to make the corresponding WSDOT funding decisions. Other than the 85th St stop in Kirkland, most of the cost difference between A2 and A3 is in Snohomish County, raising obvious questions about how much funding Snohomish would direct to I-405 as it also seeks rail to Everett.
Because WSDOT has built only one HOT lane north of SR 522, and because the highway lacks direct access ramps at key points in this area, the ‘phased build-out’ would see buses run in general-purpose lanes north of Brickyard P&R. Even with two fewer stations than A2, the time penalty for A3 would be five minutes, and there would be reliability issues. Ridership in the phased scenario is about 30% lower than the full build-out. But with costs to Sound Transit alone approximately 50% lower, that might be a reasonable trade-off.
Two service concepts are modelled. One is a single line service running at 10-minute intervals through the entire corridor. Passengers would generally use their own vehicles or local Metro/CT services to reach stations. The other is a ‘trunk-and-branch’ service. This is an overlapping set of four routes, each serving different pairs of communities near the corridor. Headways would be 20 minutes, but combined headways would be as low as 5 minutes between UW Bothell and Renton.
Today’s 405 master plan assumes the single line service model. Sound Transit is concerned a trunk-and-branch model would reduce reliability because their buses would be subject to delay on arterials. But that may be of less concern to riders who would experience those delays anyway. By reaching deeper into communities, Sound Transit estimates it would boost ridership by about 20%.
Depending on the service model chosen, the phased build-out has 14-20,000 riders. The full build-out would see 17-25,000. Against the 800,000 daily journeys on I-405, it’s not quite compelling. But in the context of a master plan that was estimated at $10.9 billion in 2002, and which mostly remains unfunded, some version of this might pass a cost-benefit analysis, at least relative to highway widening projects.
126 Replies to “Building Transit on I-405”
Thanks for the article. I read the report a few days ago, but you were able to get more details out of it, such as the branch headways and how much of it depends on uncertain WSDOT/state decisions.
Normally I dislike branches and 20-minute headways on tails. But having grown up on the Eastside and taken hourly buses and walked 30-45 minutes from 405 exits; I can see that 20-minute branches may be right for that area. Because if we have just the single line, then what about the areas that aren’t on it? (Kent, Kenmore, Woodinville, Everett.) Are they just supposed to transfer from the existing buses (adding 30-60 minutes to the trip)? That doesn’t sound like full regional transit.
It took me a while to understand the WSDOT constraints and their implications. The reports are geared toward consideration of the LRP, not the 2016 ballot. In the context of an unconstrained LRP, it makes sense to think about services that WSDOT won’t support for 20 years. But it wasn’t obvious to me in May, or even on first reading of these reports, just how unlikely A2 was as a prospect for the ballot.
I think I like the branch model too. For most use cases other than P&R commuters, it seems to eliminate a transfer. When the alternative is waiting at a freeway stop on a winter morning, that’s a big usability advantage.
There is a trade-off with a branch versus trunk model (and I’m sorry if I have the terms wrong). A lot depends on the usage. If you run a trunk BRT (or rail for that matter) then the trunk is fast and reliable. For folks who arrive and leave from there, that is huge. For example, a lot of people will walk to Northgate. Those folks will know exactly when the train arrives, and can get there a minute before it leaves (day and night). The other advantage is that the bus routes can be truncated, thus enabling much higher frequency. For example, this means the 41 can run twice as often from Lake City.
But if the bus and train don’t run that often, then it is really hard to time. If the local bus and BRT run every ten minutes, then you would want to allow plenty of cushion, which means that your transfer will cost riders a lot of time. What is true for bus riders is also true of “Park and Ride” drivers. Walking is very reliable, but driving isn’t, especially if a driver is caught in traffic (which could easily happen if the stations are close to a freeway).
If the trunk is frequent enough, then a transfer is no big deal. In my Northgate example, if the train runs every two minutes, then the truncated 41 doesn’t have to time anything. This leads me to several questions:
1) How often can 405-only BRT run?
2) How much can be gained by truncating the local runs?
3) How many people will walk to a 405 station?
If the answer is “10 minutes”, “not much” and “not many”, then it is better to have the branch buses just use 405. The few people who walk to the station, as well as the park and riders will still enjoy fairly frequent bus service along 405, it will just be subject to bus bunching. This is similar to someone downtown who wants to get to the U-District and just grabs the first 71, 72, 73, etc. Everyone else will enjoy fewer transfers.
Your last point is very salient. WSDOT has already spent billions widening 405, surely better transit service access would stack up well as cost-benefit analysis compared to what they’ve been doing. WSDOT should be responsible for paying for the HOV/transit only stations and transit only ramps. Also 405 is a case and point for need to shift to 3+ HOV all the time or at least during peak as a start.
I agree with your last point. It is crazy to consider spending millions (or billions) to improve the speed and reliability of transit along here when we can improve it significantly by just requiring 3+ people in the HOV lane.
What about 2 HOV lanes, rather than a single 3+ HOV lane?
Thanks for the summary. A few points jump out at me here:
1. For freeway stops along I-405 to maximize potential, there needs to be great bicycle (and walking but due to the lower density, bicycle is more important) access to the stops. This will be expensive because the existing interchanges are deadly to ride bikes or walk to/through. Ideal would be to build new bike/ped overpasses near existing auto access points and have the the transit branches feed them.
2. A NE 85th stop would require either a completely new bicycle/walking access to downtown Kirkland or drastic changes to NE 85th/Central Way (which makes sense to do regardless of whether we get a transit center on I-405). Similarly, a completely new bicycle connection to downtown Redmond would be required or again drastic changes to NE 85th/Redmond Way (which should be done regardless of whether we get BRT at NE 85th).
3. What about the bicycle/walk trail along 405? I had heard this is in the I-405 Master Plan but I never hear WSDOT talk about this. We just spent billions expanding 405 without doing this, now are we talking about spending another billion or so while still ignoring this? If we want to get people to these BRT stops along the I-405, having a multi-use trail the entire length of the 405 would do wonders for connecting the communities that the 405 cut in half and encourage use of the 405 BRT routes. After all, when people get off these buses they are likely to still be a mile or two away from their destination which is the perfect scenario for a bicycle.
4. All of this requires that SoundTransit updates its bicycle infrastructure on the buses. 3 bikes per bus will no longer cut it (in fact it already doesn’t cut it). Roll on access through rear doors with off-bus payment would do wonders for increasing ridership.
Would love to hear your thoughts on these issues.
#3 is the Eastside Rail Corridor study, which is the fourth item in the document archive. Frank reviewed an earlier draft in May and didn’t think it had good ridership or cost effectiveness.
Never mind, that’s about HCT on the parallel rail corridor, and I think what you want is a trail on 405. But if there’s a trail in the rail corridor (which is already being built in Kirkland), why do we need another trail on 405?
My first reaction is that I don’t think I want to go for a walk anywhere near the 405. I’m not aware of such a trail in the 405 Master Plan and couldn’t find a reference. Of course, there is a trail on the ERC that is taking shape in Kirkland, but that would parallel any future transit on that corridor rather than providing access to transit.
For bike-friendly transit in this area, I almost think it has to be the rail corridor. In a place like 85th St, one could spend a lot of money on bike access and still have something really unfriendly. The green-way which you’ve advocated for elsewhere sensibly stays away from that intersection. But green-way access to the CKC is a natural part of what you’d want to do anyway whether or not there’s future transit there.
On the other hand, if 85th St were redeveloped extensively, one could see potential for adding better walk/bike facilities that use a little of the land given over to all of those parking lots today.
I’ve argued in a previous post here that BRT on the Bellevue-Totem Lake segment of the corridor makes a lot of sense, even though the longer Woodinville-Renton alignment doesn’t perform well. That would involve a trail. I believe it’s actually a requirement of the rails-to-trails act that there be a trail alongside the transit. Kirkland would insist on it anyway. Sound Transit’s cost estimates do include a permanent trail on the corridor, although they are not committing to paying for it.
Glen, I think there’s an interesting article to be written about how well the trail system interfaces with transit. I haven’t studied in any depth, but my sense is they don’t connect well. A lot of trails go in otherwise under-used corridors because that’s where it’s easy to put a trail. That seems a strategy likely to keep trails away from transit.
Dan, you are right that the proposed greenway network stays away from 405 crossings like NE 85th, but if this is where we are putting high frequency transit, then we need it to be connected for people walking and biking.
That either means making the existing auto-oriented crossings much more people friendly or it means putting the transit stops away from these existing crossings. The latter option seems problematic since these arterials that cross the 405 are the best place to have feeder branches join the trunk. Diverting those away from the arterials significantly could add a lot of expense and make them slower. Although I guess anything we do is going to be very expensive.
The reason I mentioned a multi-use trail in the 405 master plan is because WSDOT tweeted that this was part of the plan. I haven’t looked at the plan though. Perhaps the BNSF corridor is what they were referring to, but it seems a stretch to say that this is part of the 405 corridor especially at the north end past Totem Lake.
This came up in a Google search. It’s a map of bike projects in the 405 corridor. The only one in the central part of the corridor is on the ERC from Bellevue through Totem Lake. But there are a lot of highway crossings planned for the far north and south ends of the corridor. I don’t know the local geography well enough to know how useful these are.
It’s WSDOMA. Any north-south biking or walking project anywhere between the lakes might as well be on 405 to them.
Whether you look at a super-frequent spine relying on east-west connecting service or a related series of buses taking different detours on the way from Bothell to Renton (basically a 358-vs-pre-358 thing with the size tripled… which matters a lot because most people walk to transit, and people are about the same size and walk about the same speed along 405 and Aurora), the weak link is frequency to the actual destinations. In either case that will inevitably drop off early in the evening after more popular routes attract all the operating funds.
Infrastructure without service is empty, and the service characteristics that make transit broadly useful (and not just a commuter option for people going to Seattle) are supported by land use that’s very rare on the eastside, and doubly so close enough to 405 for easy through-service. We should therefore be skeptical of infrastructure projects that don’t plausibly support transit-oriented land use change on the eastside (unless they support services that are popular given existing land use).
Also, unless Seattle’s gone to LA for the winter (doesn’t look like it based on the weather), it’s not “the 405”, just “405”.
“We should therefore be skeptical of infrastructure projects that don’t plausibly support transit-oriented land use change on the eastside”
That’s holding the entire population hostage to a few powerful interests who don’t want to upzone. Infrastructure that’s a “C” is better than infrastructure that’s a “D”, and it decreases people’s frustration and immobility at getting around.
The point of skepticism here is something like… we shouldn’t justify infrastructure investments by proposing service characteristics that wouldn’t survive given realistic ridership projections.
If infrastructure improvements along 405 can be justified by realistic projections of ridership and service characteristics they should happen. And if some of the service will branch off to places today’s 405-based routes don’t, that have some chance of growing around faster transit, that’s supporting land-use change, or at least making the notion of a higher ridership projection than today’s routes less laughable.
It isn’t just about upzones and sprawl. There are powerful interests in downtown Bellevue that love upzones even if they generally don’t care about limiting auto-based impacts, and most development in the 405 corridor would be infill. It’s the severe limitation of stop walksheds near 405. Maybe having four different lines that deviate into different places fixes this somewhat. Where the 358 restructure consolidated several routes into one that served most of their walksheds, the larger scale of 405 might favor the opposite.
The differences between proposed “405 BRT” and today’s existing service with pretty well-known and underwhelming demand are that it might run through Bellevue and that some of it might deviate to Kirkland. Do either of those things change the game for ridership all that much? If not, then we have to pin our hopes on land use change. A lot of the places these proposed routes connect are places that hope to grow, but a lot of them have names that end in “Park & Ride”, with little else of note existing or planned nearby.
“Also, unless Seattle’s gone to LA for the winter (doesn’t look like it based on the weather), it’s not “the 405″, just “405”
I think the the is quite appropriate.
The 405 is in LA. Ours is just a 405.
Hmmmmmm. Actually, looking at the map for their “branching” plan, it doesn’t actually mean deviating into Kirkland for some of the lines, it means sending some to Woodinville. When you look at this pleasing subway-style map with a bunch of routes converging for a core central corridor with branches off to various places on the periphery it’s almost tempting to like it until you remember where the actual stations in the core would be:
– Renton (served by some existing 405 routes). OK. Though in one of the proposals they skip it entirely (literally every branch skips it!) because it takes too much time to go there.
– North Renton. This would be a new station, convenient for buses to access, whose immediate walkshed is chopped up by hillsides, the freeway, and freight rail lines. Extended walkshed includes some jobs, some shopping, some housing, some transit connections. That’s not horrible by 405 standards (read: damning with faint praise).
– Newport Hills (served by existing 405 routes). A P&R and nothing more, ever. People mostly use P&Rs to avoid more expensive parking at their destinations, and there are only a few actual destinations along proposed 405 BRT routes where parking even might become expensive within a generation: downtown Bellevue, the airport, maybe UWB (maybe).
– Bellevue TC (served by existing 405 routes). One of the most important cities for the future of our region, and the eastside’s primary transit hub.
– An “85th P&R”. There is no “85th P&R” today, so this is one of the new things, because if there’s one thing that area lacks it’s parking stalls. P&R much more likely to contribute to ridership on Seattle routes than to 405 BRT, just like the Houghton P&R that exists just a few blocks south. Otherwise, as a new addition relative to existing service, it doesn’t look good. Hopelessly messed up walkshed. Infrequent transit connection to Kirkland and Redmond (read: actual destinations), the more frequent one being down by that Houghton P&R where they’ve already determined they’re not stopping because there’s no ridership potential. Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm.
– Kingsgate P&R (served by existing 405 routes). Read: Totem Lake. Read: magical Totem Lake redevolopment plans that are perpetually far enough off for 405 BRT to be implemented and to see its service pattern chipped all the way back to current levels before they’re realized, leaving that redevelopment to be driven by auto access just like the current development.
– Brickyard P&R (served by existing 405 routes). See: Newport Hills.
– UWB (served by existing 405 routes): Actually generates some ridership for existing 405 routes.
That’s the core of the system. Where is the new ridership coming from?
Based on the station maps, it must be non-core (Everett/Lynnwood/Bothell/maybe Renton) to downtown Bellevue.
It’s what I was getting at when I said it was “weak in the middle”. 405 is not the right alignment for shorter bus trips, particularly in the middle of the corridor (it misses two of the three downtowns in the area). Freeways attract development in their general hinterland, but repel it in their immediate environs. So 405 is a good way to get kinda-sorta-close to a lot of places, but a poor way to get within walking distance of most. What it’s good for, in transit terms, is getting people from the ends of 405 into downtown Bellevue, once they get themselves to the stations.
Al, there is a NE 85th Park & Ride(although it has a different name). It’s tiny.
Evergreen Medical Center is a short walk from the freeway stop. There has been some new development near the hospital. There is also some retail, office, and residential.
A number of local routes converge on the Kingsgate P&R or Totem Lake Transit center. Those local routes can feed the. 405 expresses too.
OK not spectacular, but better than anything else along the core other than Renton TC, Bellevue TC. and UW Bothell.
I’m not sure the exact reasons the redevelopment of the mall property keeps stalling, but I’m guessing market forces are a major factor. I’m not sure what the City of Kirkland can do to try to jump start redevelopment of that site.
“The 405 is in LA. Ours is just a 405.”
Ah, so theirs is the ultimate in 405ness.
We are just a wannabe region.
The question isn’t about whether a lot of these places have any demand for express transit — we know they have some, as ST already runs the 532, 535, 560, and 566, which have performed well enough to avoid the axe. The question is where the new demand comes from that justifies trying to build a frequent, all-day service that ties these routes together.
The reason you build a rapid transit line is so people making different trips can use the same service pattern, which can then run frequently for the benefit of all. If most of the demand is from the spokes of the proposed system into downtown Bellevue, where that combined frequency doesn’t apply… well, the existing system, which already connects Bellevue with Everett, Lynnwood, UWB, Totem Lake, Renton, and Kent, works fine for that. Keep up with WSDOT’s HOV improvements but let the regional transit dollars improve service where better service could really improve ridership, like Bellevue-Kirkland.
Rather than spending billions of dollars on capital spending for I-405 BRT, I would rather let WSDOT build whatever HOV lanes it’s going to build and redirect the money into operations. For example:
– Improve the Bellevue->Renton segment of the 566 to every 15 minutes all day. This could possibly replace the 560, as the P&R lots in Newport Hills generate almost zero riders outside of peak.
– Improve frequency on the 535 to every 15 minutes all day.
– Create new route that would shuttle back and forth nonstop between Bellevue TC and Kirkland TC.
And if the transit demand is so awful that these buses would get axed without a few years for running trip after trip with only 5 people on them (which looks depressingly likely based on today’s ridership patterns), one must ask the question of whether it makes sense for the East King subarea to participate in ST 3 at all – if East King doesn’t get to vote (or pay taxes for) ST 3, that would probably be a good thing in terms of helping the measure pass.
We have one too here in Portland!
I think Al makes great points. There’s no “there” there at most points right along I-405. If this BRT project for the Eastside is going to be anything except a bunch of express buses, it needs to penetrate the activity centers of the Eastside better. It needs to go through downtown Kirkland and the area around 520/Northup and Lake Washington Boulevard. It needs at least two stops somewhere within the cluster at Totem Lake and it would be nice to serve Woodinville directly as well as Bothell for future development there.
What do all these places have in common? The Eastside Rail Corridor, that’s what. Supposedly it’s 60 feet wide throughout which is sufficiently wide for a two-way busway in the middle and a trail on both sides where appropriate. That is, the “main” unbroken trail to one side or the other of the busway can be supplemented by a local street access trail on the other side where necessary to allow access from nearby streets to the stations.
“But it doesn’t go through downtown Kirkland!”
No, it doesn’t. But it goes pretty darn close and there’s a way to get it to the corner just south of the TC without destroying reliability.
I believe that the ERC should be used from NE 8th in Bellevue to NE 68th then street running (yes, terrible I know but there’s no option for bus lanes) along State to the TC but turn on Kirkland Avenue instead of stopping in the existing TC. The reason for this is that Kirkland Avenue/Kirkland Way has more and better development on the way back to the ERC and there are some old parking lots just north of the Kirkland Avenue overcrossing which could be used to access the right of way.
There should be a station between NE 85th and 87th. The existing storage is on a big enough property that a rather sizable multi-unit development could be put there and the southside of 87th there are a row of small business properties which reach back to 85th and could also be upgraded.
A station at NE 112th would provide access to a number of auto-oriented business properties which could be replaced with mixed use housing and a walkway across the freeway would give access to a large apartment complex just to the east.
Another station would be at NE 124th and the ERC, giving access to a bunch of auto lots which may one day be revamped and long-distance access to Lake Washington Institute of Technology.
There would have to be a little elevated section at 124th landing in bus lanes on Totem Lake Blvd. The buses would turn up 120th NE through the mall to Evergreen Hospital then left to the HOV ramps at NE 128th. The transition to 120th NE on the elevated section should be built as a tee intersection rather than a simple curve to allow extension of the busway up to Woodinville at some time in the future should be intervening land be upzoned.
North of the hosptial there’s nothing at this time of sufficient density to warrant further deviation from the freeway so the BRT route would stop at the same set of P’n’R flyer stops that buses do today, serve UW Bothell and then terminate either in Bothell or Kenmore.
Now if LRT is chosen for the Kirkland-Bellevue-Eastgate-Issaquah route discussed a few months ago, this would not work. An LRT line would have to stick to the ERC all the way to Totem Lake. I think there’s available right of way just west of Totem Lake itself that could get the route from the ERC to the Mall; it would have to be elevated all the way from 124th Avenue to the Hospital, though. An LRT solution should not go any farther north, at least not any time soon.
If a station were placed at Sixth Street South there is the opportunity for a very nice separated walking route along Kirkland Creek to Kirkland Avenue.
I don’t know how to fix the Eastside, but the Totem Lake Massive Cloverleaf Urban Center and
dreams of spontaneous corridor cohesion aren’t it.
“I don’t know how to fix the Eastside,”
Now this I totally agree with you on!
> »Now if LRT is chosen for the Kirkland-Bellevue-Eastgate-Issaquah route discussed a few months ago, this would not work. An LRT line would have to stick to the ERC all the way to Totem Lake.«
No, it wouldn’t. Just name it River Line and voila!
Well not just DMUs. Pretty much any LRV is capable of street running though there are geometry restrictions.
The two biggest issues with serving downtown Kirkland directly by using surface streets are the already mentioned speed/reliability issues from operating in mixed traffic and how willing Kirkland is to accept surface rail in their downtown,
The street geometry is hard. Those are mostly two lane streets, so there isn’t enough space for rail on the streets unless you close some streets to cars completely. Even then turning radii will be a challenge. You can do it with a tunnel, of course, but then the cost is so much higher and uncompetitive with other projects.
Interestingly, I did learn today that Kirkland will be asking ST to remove commuter rail on the corridor from the LRP. (Is there any precedent for removing anything from the LRP?).
Given the commuter rail ridership numbers from the ERC corridor study, it seems redundant. But they’re partly motivated by concerns about interoperability and station access, so I read it as a positive that they’re paying attention. They are also being careful to let it be understood they are in favor of transit on the corridor generally. They just don’t want anything that looks like Sounder.
The sooner they can get BRT up on the ERC from downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake the better.
I lived in Southern California for eight years, and forget that not everybody appends “the” to highway numbers. Fixed that in text.
I have heartburn too about projects like this that don’t help move us to more transit-oriented development. And yet, there’s so much built infrastructure there that can only be served by some variation on this proposal. I wouldn’t want to recommend anything that facilitates sprawl, but maybe the GMA and the zoning code is the place to manage sprawl. Or maybe it’s just a necessary political compromise that we offer something for the commuter belt.
I haven’t heard the “The” in front of highway numbers until a few years ago. I was wondering where that came from. The first few times I heard it I thought someone was talking about bus routes and trying to figure out what they were talking about.
In the case of the 522, it could be either one… (fine, the bus 522 spends virtually no time on the freeway 522)
This is reminding me of when I first moved to this area and had conversations with people like:
“No, my daughter is not in grade 3, she is in third grade.”
I guess I’m still learning to speak the language?
I don’t recall anyone ever saying I was in “grade 3” instead of “third grade”…
Nobody anywhere says “grade 3”
Looking at this study I’m a fan of the trunk-and-branch model.
While the pure ERC study showed high costs and low ridership the other Eastside studies, University District-Kirkland-Redmond and Kirkland-Bellevue-Issaquah, paint a different picture of the ERC versus 405 at least between Bellevue and Totem Lake. Those studies show higher ridership for the ERC at only slightly higher cost.
Perhaps an alternative would be to use the ERC instead of 405 between Bellevue and Totem Lake. Connecting in Totem Lake would be a bit problematic without causing delays due to surface street travel between the ERC and 405.
If you’re thinking of a BRT solution on the ERC, the best place to switch from the ERC to I-405 in Totem Lake would be at NE 116th. Put a BRT station just south of 116th, then get on the freeway at the 116th interchange. Ideally this would be upgraded to have an HOV ramp and the next northbound stop could be at the NE 128th freeway station.
If you’re thinking of BRT on I-405 and LRT on the ERC, a good location for a transfer station would be a bit farther north at the ERC undercrossing of 405.
Just to clarify, NE 116th is a half interchange today; the infrastructure change needed for the full BRT solution would be to add HOV ramps for 116th to NB 405 and SB 405 to 116h. There is still a median at that location according to aerial photos, but it looks like the ramps would be a tight squeeze.
I don’t think LRT on the ERC makes sense for the next phase of transit expansion. Past the extension from Overlake to Redmond the only place rail could possibly make any sense is between the University District and Redmond. Even then it is a bit dubious.
The 128th freeway station really isn’t in the center of the Totem Lake urban center. Then again it isn’t that far from the Totem Lake Transit Center, a tad more than the distance between the Kingsgate P&R and the freeway station.
“I don’t think LRT on the ERC makes sense for the next phase of transit expansion. “
LRT anywhere on the Eastside didn’t make it close to the other modes for cost effectiveness for 40 years, since it chased the current density, requiring large amounts of spending and low ridership in the early years(read: within the 30yr cost/benefit analysis time span).
BRT on the freeway works because it serves that 30 year window, and is cheap compared to LRT.
Just getting people to live by the freeway stops is the tricky part.
The Totem Lake Transit Center isn’t in the center of the Totem Lake urban center either. I would hope that when the malls redevelop they move it or add an additional one.
Actually the intersection of NE 128th and 120th NE is about dead center in the part of Totem Lake designated for the most intense development. The transit center is on the SE corner so it is reasonably well located (or at least Kirkland thinks so).
Totem Lake Transit Center is pretty far from the geographic center of the urban center. But it’s right between Evergreen Hospital and the (maybe soon to be redeveloped) Totem Lake Malls. So that’s just about the best possible spot for today’s uses. As the area south of 124th starts to redevelop, it will make more sense to think about how/whether to move transit through the neighborhood.
The route that Sound Transit sketched out in the Kirkland/Issaquah study had rail/BRT on the corridor to 124th St, and then on either surface street (BRT) or an elevated guideway near the surface street (rail) to the Transit Center. That’s about 0.5 miles, and would be within 0.3 miles from the freeway station.
Having the 405 buses run down the ERC between Totem Lake and Bellevue is worth a close look. It would mean about 0.8 miles on surface streets which has to do something for reliability. But it would buy several useful stops. Probably some operational savings too vs the alternative of building out both the 405 and Kirkland-Bellevue service on the ERC.
Kirkland has zoned the highest density right around the hospital and the mall. The transit center is dead center in this area.
I too like a trunk and branch model. Some refinement ideas:
1. Should there should be only two lines, rather than three or four?
2. I would like to see all branches end at a Link light rail station. Wouldn’t going from Kent or Kenmore to light rail stations (less than two or three miles from these places) give broad system connectivity and generate both through riders and more short-distance riders?
3. SR 167 transit planning seems to be a natural extension of the corridor. The 167 corridor is horribly congested and has several hundred thousand people in it. Should we be analyzing strategies to continue the I-405 proposal down SR 167?
4. I love that the articulated bus is shown here in the snow because articulate buses are horrible in the snow. We almost always see at least one jack-knifed bus in the snow. Should we be looking at a better high-capacity vehicle design?
Two solutions to jack-knifing 60-footer problem. One, get fleet of double-deckers. CT drivers say they handle well in the snow.
And two, give buses fully reserved lanes and ramps- completely separated and barriered off from regular traffic- like in Pittsburgh. Kept clear by giant plow trucks carrying transit logo.
Above would be good mid-range transit solution for the I-5 corridor- maybe useful for several decades.
Good fast short-term, like starting this winter measure: any time urban diamond-lanes- like I-5 through Seattle- are shut down by snow, make them bus-only. At entrances, post personnel, for access control and signalling.
Bus tires on short headways should do most of the clearance, with minimal help from plow trucks. Through put might give the public a revelation about how much really can be done by fully-reserved lanes.
But real I-405 question is the core problem of our entire working lives: converting the living patterns of a whole decades-old national way-of-life.
Sooner or later, whatever the wheel-covering I-405 will be a transportation corridor through a very crowded place. It’s possible that north-south motor traffic will route east of the Cascades.
And also, near future, like the rest of the interstate highway system, I-405 will soon be needing repairs which will provide opportunities to add transit reservation.
This might be a good chance to give freeways the rail corridors that should have been built into them in the first place. As other cities did many years ago.
Leading to a question. Dan: Would it be a good idea for us to put a heavy rail electric line right down the middle if I-405? And if we decide to give all the LINK line color designations, should the one going by Bellevue be red?
Also illustrating a point of usage: the name of, for example, a transit writer would not have a “the” in front of it. But if the Mayor of Chicago memorialized for him for great civic service, the name of the rail-equipped freeway named for him would definitely start with a “The”.
Formerly Boarding “El” at Morse Avenue
At some point, the region will figure out how to handle snow removal better — to contract with outside construction companies that can send out their idle trucks to clear roadways when it snows. That’s what much of the rest of the US does from areas that rarely get snow to those that get a great deal. In fact, it would probably be worth it to transit operators like Metro to pay for that rather than to deal with the consequences of buses moving at 2 miles and hour, lots of accidents from buses sliding down hills and frozen riders taking hours to get home.
Looking at this study and the potential ridership, I’m confounded. Why is this a priority? ST’s studied of the potential Eastside rail corridors are knee capped by some bad assumptions. (Like not interlining with East Link and avoiding the Mercer slough.) It seems like its always been leading towards a justification for BRT on 405 as the heir apparent project. WHY?
-BRT doesnt vote. Seriously. If this is what is offered as the project for that subarea, people will say things like: “the eastside is getting nothing from ST3.” If ST is looking for a way to make ST3 fail, this is a pretty solid way to go.
-There are good rail options, ST just didnt study them. The Better Eastside rail post expounds upon this. Some portion of that line would be much better than this BRT project.
For reference, is the better Eastside rail post:
I think a scaled down version of that project, combined with BRT, could be quite popular.
The route from downtown Kirkland to Bellevue (East Link) makes a lot of sense. There is no BRT alternative. By that I mean BRT that could leverage existing freeway. Kirkland is fairly dense from a population and employment standpoint (for the east side). I don’t think another rail line across Lake Washington will pencil out, unless the estimate comes in way less than expected. But connecting quickly to buses on 520 would accomplish much the same thing. The stations are now on the freeway, which means the buses can be very fast and frequent. A light rail line like that would make a huge difference for riders in Kirkland, saving significant time for trips to Bellevue, Redmond, the U-District, downtown Seattle and the rest of Link.
For the I-90 section, I’m less enthusiastic. There are some decent stations along there, especially the first few, but you really start getting diminishing returns after Eastgate. You are talking about miles of light rail, with very few people and very few businesses. This suggests that a smaller line on I-90 might make sense. Since East Link can only run every 8 minutes over Lake Washington, interlining a Kirkland to Eastgate line would make a lot of sense. This would enable four minute headways through parts of Bellevue, while providing good service on both ends.
There are really three choices for I-90: extend light rail all the way to Issaquah, extend it to Eastgate, or not adding any additional light rail next to I-90.
Light rail all the way to Issaquah would be great for folks in Issaquah and Lake Sammamish who are headed to Bellevue, Kirkland, Redmond or along I-90 (Factoria, Eastgate, Bellevue College). But it wouldn’t help those folks much if they are headed to (or from) Seattle. They would still need to transfer. Since many of those folks would arrive to the station by bus anyway (given the low density of the areas) then it wouldn’t save them any time at all. In all likelihood, the buses would still need to connect to an East Link train heading downtown in the morning. Given the number of people and expected destinations, I don’t think it makes sense to extend the rail all the way to Issaquah.
But extending it to Eastgate might make sense. It isn’t that far. For a line like this it makes sense to have at least one station along there with a very fast connection to I-90 HOV. This would cover the most important pieces, allow four minute headways through Bellevue, while reducing the backtracking for east side riders. For example, someone from Issaquah would take a bus to Eastgate (or an I-90 HOV bus station) then switch to the train headed for Kirkland. If the rider is headed for Redmond (not Bellevue or Kirkland) then the rider would make a second transfer. Making this “shortcut” might be worth it if it means getting on an earlier train. But it wouldn’t be required, as the bus would surely meet up with East Link somewhere, for folks heading to Seattle (I assume this would be Mercer Island). There would be plenty of buses from Issaquah and Lake Sammamish serving these two stations (one for the Kirkland-Eastgate line and one for East Link).
On the other hand, maybe BRT makes sense for the I-90 section because it is next to I-90. This is the cheapest option. But if you build Kirkland light rail, it makes sense to interline it with East Link, which means that it has to end somewhere. South Bellevue is less than ideal, since it is not that easy to get to. I think it would be faster for a bus to serve both Mercer Island and an additional station (assuming the second station is on the freeway) than it is to serve South Bellevue. This means that BRT only would lack the shortcut. More importantly, you would probably have a substantial drop off in service to Factoria, Bellevue College and Eastgate.
Regardless, you would need a turnback station. I have no idea if you could build one close to South Bellevue, but adding just a bit of track to the east might be not much more expensive when you factor in the turnback station. From a political standpoint, a small line (to Eastgate, or even just to Factoria) would be popular. Folks hate waiting, but if they have to wait, then it is nice to see a line that is making progress, rather than one that is not. I don’t think light rail to Issaquah will ever make sense, and I have no qualms in telling people that, but if folks in Issaquah see a line that is heading towards them, they may believe that it is only a matter of time before it serves them directly.
Ross — To be clear, I’m saying: Some portion of the Kirkland to Issaquah via Bellevue. If that means terminating in Eastgate due to budget and cost/rider concerns – great.
Regarding I-90 to DT. A forced transfer at Eastgate or, if the line was from Issaquah, at South Bellevue would be a relatively minor issue and could replace those express buses. Timed correctly, this would be a quick transfer and people do see rail as an upgrade.
BRT is a political loser. The Eastside is not Chicago. Keep in mind Prop 1 lost there by 10 points. The 405 project is a political loser. As other have noted, there is no ‘there’ there along the proposed line and NO ONE builds TOD to support BRT.
For what long term TOD can look like, look to the planned White Flint Mall project in the DC area. By White Flint Mall project, I mean they are knocking over a suburban mall in an area everyone here would have derided for being a low value location for a subway stop to build TOD.
The White Flint area is no urban paradise, but at least the area possesses roads and through-streets that aren’t adjunct to some hideous cloverleaf.
It’s not that such a conversation to post-sprawl uses isn’t possible. It’s that Totem Lake is about the worst possible candidate for such an outcome.
The “grand plan” for Totem Lake, if it happens at all, is likely to turn out like Denver Tech Center — a dystopian nightmare exurban terror-campus that is basically unwalkable from the transit station 1000 feet away.
“The Eastside is not Chicago.”
And 405 is not Ashland Avenue. I haven’t seen Ashland but if it’s like Lawrence, Diversey, and Belmont Avenues it’s like something between Crossroads and Broadway stretching on for miles.
If you are going to have LRT along I-90, just as we all agree for LRT parallel to I-405 north of BTC, don’t put it on I-90. Run it through Factoria and then cross over the freeway, visit the Park’n’Ride and have it terminate in the BCC campus. To get to Factoria, hitch up your jeans and run alongside I-90 to the south. Treat the slough with respect but get over there and serve Factoria directly.
Future proof the line just east of Eastgate P’n’R by putting in a stub track in case Issaquah surprises us all and gets big.
Oh, I forgot to say that this assumes interlining from Hospital to South Bellevue with a level junction directly to the south. With trains only every eight minutes on each line there’s plenty of time here; so I defer to d.p. on the wisdom of a level junction.
Now ST may not allow it, in which case there’d be a nice little flying junction over the freeway. Not the worst thing in the world, though; blocking nobody’s view.
You’re damn right that 405 is nothing like a major urban Chicago avenue.
Nor is 405 anything like the urban Chicago freeways that, despite their hideousness and their legacy of damage to the urban fabric, deliver El trains to hundreds of thousands of front doors.
405 is conduit that winds from nowhere to nowhere, collecting people headed between various non-adjacent somewheres. Like all exurban freeways that aren’t remotely conducive to rapid transit of any mode.
I can’t even figure out what point you were trying to make above.
And Ross, “BRT” does not run on freeways. “Express buses” run on freeways. They may be frequent like BRT, but they’re not “rapid transit” since they always depend on most of their ridership arriving by car or feeder bus. There’s no walkshed around most freeways.
(That was @Mike.)
But Anandakos makes the same point in his 7:13 reply.
@ Anandakos — Oh really? BRT on freeways isn’t BRT? Then what the hell is light rail? Seriously. Most of our light rail runs right on, or next to the freeway. So, that isn’t light rail, I suppose. Fine, let’s not obsess over semantics, shall we. I have enough trouble telling people that RapidRide isn’t BRT, at least according to Wikipedia. But now you tell me the Wikipedia definition should include the definition “no freeway”. OK, be my guest. Tell me when the definition is updated.
Personally, I really don’t care what you call it. But here is the key: the feeder buses can be the same as the BRT. This is something that light rail on the freeway can never be. A bus that serves Lake Sammamish can also serve Eastgate, Bellevue College and Factoria. I’m not sure what you want to call a bus that serves some Everett neighborhood as well as a half dozen freeway stops between Everett and Northgate — but to me, that is BRT. Making every bus that goes along 520 stop at a station (or set of stations) serving Kirkland will be difficult (a lot of those riders just want to get to Seattle) but that is what BRT does (which makes it different than an express bus and more like light rail).
If BRT doesn’t run on a freeway (or on any controlled access road like Aurora or 15th West) then you can kiss BRT goodbye in this area. It just doesn’t make any sense. The only advantage of BRT for this area is the fact that you can leverage the existing freeways. Even a new bus tunnel (which makes sense) only makes sense because so much of the south end has freeways, as well as a dispersed populous. So, I suppose those buses magically turn from “express” (while on the freeway) into “BRT” (while in a bus tunnel). Whatever.
You two may be talking past each other a bit, but Anandakos is mostly correct here.
Freeway-based point-to-point express buses — which is what the multi-line plans above may functionally be — can play a valuable role in the transportation system. Especially if they’re frequent enough and have stellar connections. But there is a severe risk of definition creep when you start to treat any transit that happens to go fast in highway lanes for part of its journey as if it were a genuine rapid transit corridor.
Reaching into my personal wayback machine for the most crucial crux I’ve ever written on the subject: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2011/11/30/brt-insincerity/#comment-198780
And yes, sometimes a full-on rapid transit corridor is placed along the freeway, be it rail (some of MAX, most of lesser U.S. systems, future North Link) or be it bus (L.A.’s El Monte and Harbor Transitway). The results are usually disappointing, but with truly exclusive rights-of-way and stations with perpendicular connections, these at least qualify as corridors of actual rapid transit.
I am unconvinced that the scattered multi-line 405 plans would really look much different than today’s non-RT express buses when all was said and done.
Yeah, we are probably talking past each other and getting into a semantic argument. To be honest, I really don’t know what the particulars of the 405 BRT proposal are, or whether they are crap. They may very well be BRT crap. By that, I mean that just like some light rail systems (much of BART, for example) they are fast, efficient, reliable, consistent, but pointless. They don’t go anywhere near where people want to go, and thus are LRT crap. Likewise, if they function more like point to point commuter rail, then it not necessarily what is ideal. I just think the whole idea that if buses travel on the freeway then it is “not BRT” to be ridiculous. We have stations on the freeway, and I have no qualms with us adding more. With enough of these stations, we have something pretty much equivalent to our light rail line as it exists outside the city. Better, in many ways (since light rail from Rainier Beach to Tukwilla has a gap of about five miles). Of course, for this system to work, the BRT bus stops at every station, just like light rail.
A BRT line, like a LRT line, along the freeway does not function like an urban light rail (or BRT) system. You don’t get that many walkup passengers. But feeder buses can provide a very important role in getting people to the rest of the system much faster. That is why people from Lake City really want a light rail station at 130th. There is nothing there, and there will never be anything there. But with a station, you connect a fast, frequent bus to Lake City with every other station on that line (UW, Capitol Hill, downtown). A BRT system in the suburbs can do the same thing. This not only connects the neighborhood with the important destination (in the case of 520 that means the UW at a minimum) but also connects neighborhoods. Take a local bus, transfer to the BRT for a mile or two, then take another local bus. As long as the BRT has high frequency, the transfers are painless.
Obviously, BRT can do both jobs — act as the trunk (or “spine”) as well as serve the local neighborhood. This means one fewer transfer for the typical rider, but a little less consistency on the shared BRT trunk. That is a trade-off that I imagine most of the riders would be willing to make.
I have no idea what each type of system is called, but if it doesn’t connect enough local systems, I suggest the term “Commuter BRT”, similar to “Commuter Rail”. In that case, it provides much the same function, at much the same speed. It is faster than express buses, because you can board it faster than an express bus (having spent ten minutes trying to get off at Northgate, I can tell you that riders of the 41 would have loved to have that bus converted to “BRT”, even if the route didn’t change one bit). But it doesn’t allow for the types of connections that you suggest in your other comment.
I’m not so sure that BRT is an election loser. I would say that we have definitely sullied the BRT brand with RapidRide. Making things worse, most folks have no idea who runs RapidRide, and could mistakenly believe that it is somehow run by Sound Transit. If you explain that RapidRide is run by Metro, then I think you could easily run a campaign for Sound Transit BRT. You could even be a bit harsh in your rhetoric (“This plan isn’t RapidRide, this is real BRT”). Furthermore, Sound Transit bus service is very popular. Last time I checked, more people ride the Sound Transit buses than ride light rail. But the difference in popularity between Sound Transit bus service and Metro is striking, to me. I don’t have any polling to back it up, but I have a friend who commutes to Redmond from Seattle, and as he put it “Everyone hates Metro, and everyone loves the Sound Transit buses”. This isn’t fair to Metro, of course, because Sound Transit can cherry pick express buses, instead of providing service that is necessary, but bound to be crowded, slow and late (44, 8, etc.). But from an ignorant voter perspective (which is what you are talking about) such sentiments could easily be leveraged.
All that being said, the big advantage to BRT is cost. Remember the video of Chicago BRT? This is a major city — a city that has no qualms about elevated rail, or rail in general. They are pursuing BRT for one reason: cost. A streetcar would be more expensive, elevated light rail would be substantially more expensive, and underground would be extremely expensive. But BRT is just as fast and frequent as a streetcar, and way cheaper than the other alternatives, which is why it makes sense for that area.
On the other hand, if you start throwing around ideas of billions of dollars on a corridor that isn’t likely to have huge numbers of riders, you are going to lose the penny pinching folks that are attracted to BRT. That is why the devil is in the details. If you can build BRT (real BRT) for very little money, then I think the idea will be popular. But if BRT costs are similar to light rail, it makes no sense, and you will lose plenty of voters in the process.
ST Express serves a lot more places than Link.
You are absolutely right, but calling what ST wants to develop between Lynnwood and Renton is not “Bus Rapid Transit”. It’s “ST Express” on steroids. It will run through the middle of the day frequently and into the evening later than it does now.
But it will run in HOT lanes on I-405 so such normal BRT treatments a signal pre-emption and bus lanes are simply not necessary.
Now yes, I agree this is semantic haggling but in all honesty ST is being rather devious by calling nearly all of these lines “BRT” when in fact they’re freeway expresses. Yeah; they can show up RapidRide big time, but it’s apples to pomegrantates.
There are a few actual BRT lines in the LRP: Renton to Burien will certainly have to have plenty of BRT treatment, because from the time it gets off I-405 east of I-5 it’ll be on surface streets. So it better be BRT or they can just paint half the F-Line coaches seafoam and call it good.
callingwhat ST wants to develop”
Depending on the alignment chosen issaquah-Kirkland would be BRT except for the stretch along I-90.
A few factors make make think additional LRT on the Eastside other than the Redmond extension probably won’t happen.
1. With the exception of downtown Bellevue and Overlake the trip generators just aren’t there. Even when you look at all trips no locations other than those served by East Link really jump out.
2. Even factoring future development in, I have my doubts that any places other than Downtown Bellevue, Overlake, the Bel-Red corridor, and downtown Redmond will add much in the way of walkable transit supporting density.
3. So far the only leadership clamoring for more rail on the Eastside is Redmond for completing East Link and Issaquah.
4. Kirkland doesn’t seem to think they’ll be looking at anything other than I-405 BRT any time soon. I’m not sure they would support BRT or LRT on the ERC even if there was a serious proposal on the table.
5. Even though LRT to issaquah has the support of local leaders the potential ridership is really small even if such a line was optimized.
6. The environmental and technical issues with crossing the Mercer Slough are real and can’t be hand waved away. This is part of the reason East Link alignments not serving South Bellevue P&R kept getting shot down.
I acknowledge politics may still require building rail to Issaquah in ST3 but let’s not kid ourselves, any possible alignment is going to underwhelm in terms of price/performance.
To my mind the priorities for the Eastside in ST3 should be:
1. Complete East Link to Redmond.
2. The Renton portion of Burien/Renton if it fits in the ST3 budget
3. Any remaining funds used for BRT.
If LRT to Issaquah is in ST3, it doesn’t have to be the entire corridor. Kirkland to Eastgate or Factoria with an East Link connection and access to the OMSF could be a useful addition to the system if the ROI works out.
Also, it wouldn’t necessarily include actual construction. It might just be a more detailed alternatives analysis and EIS.
What aw said.
1. There are already things build via the Mercer Slough — it would be difficult, but not nearly as difficult as other things ST is building and planning to build.
2. You didn’t mention Kirkland. Its a big deal to get to Kirkland and yes, the short Redmond extension should be priority 1.
3. Renton to Burien is unlikely to be included at all. Too much of it is in South King and South King is clearly using their funds to extend south.
4. I question how small the Issaquah extension would be, ridership wise. Until ST studies a good version of that line, I’ll reserve my judgement. Rail done right there could have major advantages over every other mode.
5. TOD is slow but it would happen. Check out the DC area over the last few decades. What as happened around Metro stops in former suburban hell areas is incredible.
6. This is the biggest one and I’ll say it again. BRT is a policial loser. We need an Eastside portion of ST3 that is exciting to voters. BRT on 405 just isnt it.
Leaving aside the technical merits for a moment, I think the political priorities for East King are:
(i) finish Link to Redmond.
(ii) build high-quality BRT to every significant urban center that’ll support it (that means either grade separation a la Cross-Kirkland corridor, or well-managed HOT lanes).
(iii) beef up ST Express to places that don’t qualify for (ii).
(iv) If there’s money left over, then revisit the BRT corridors, and put rail on whichever offers the best long-term potential.
It’s not glamorous, but it gets a lot of service to the greatest number of people. I don’t see East King getting excited about a single prestige project. (East Link was the prestige project, and there’s no obvious second). East King is a big place. Any one big rail project is exciting for that one community and of little interest to a lot of others. A lot of voters will look at rail to Issaquah and say “meh, when do I ever go to Issaquah?”.
The corridor studies aren’t finding a lot of extra ridership for rail vs. bus in East King. Generally, the studied BRT travel times are quite competitive with rail, so rail isn’t more useful on the Eastside the way it is in many of the North King corridors. But every rail corridor you build means giving up two bus corridors.
Getting high-quality bus corridors in place is an actually useful service. If we can avoid having too many of them on highway medians, that’ll build enough transit-oriented centers on the Eastside to make later upgrades a lot easier.
1. ST dropped LRT alignments crossing the Mercer Slough pretty quick. While I’d like some explanation I assume ST staff has a good reason.
2. Given the potential ridership, Kirkland can do fine with BRT as long as there is a way around the choke points. BRT on the ERC is cheap and avoids the mess on 405.
3. Burien-Renton is pretty cheap for a lot of riders. While South King’s priority is indeed extending past Kent-DesMoines Road, it shouldn’t take all of the available funds. Depending on how the costs break down there may be enough for the South King portion of Burien/Renton.
4. I look at the population and the travel demand and can’t see great ridership. BRT looks like it would have similar travel times and ridership at far less cost.
5. You are probably right on TOD but good BRT can attract TOD too. Perhaps not as much or as fast as rail but it does happen. Potential TOD is not a good reason to build rail in marginal corridors.
6. What Dan Ryan said.
Dan — to be clear. I’m not saying that rail should be build along 405. I’m saying that, if ST is hanging their hopes for Eastside votes on 405 BRT – they are making a huge mistake. I’m also saying that there are rail options on the eastside that would be better. ST just hasn’t studied them yet.
Keith, to clarify my own thoughts, I wouldn’t want to make 405 the centerpiece of anything either. It’s politically appealing because it brings in a segment of the electorate that doesn’t get anything from any of the other corridors. And appealing on the merits because it’s just about the only way to serve some of these places. My gut is that we’re harming mobility more than we help if we select a list of projects that simply excludes the communities at the ends of 405.
But I also don’t want to spend a lot on 405. There’s not much development potential out there, so this will be just a higher-frequency version of ST Express for a long time. Specifically, I don’t want to put meaningful resources out on that corridor until we’ve got something workable for Kirkland and Issaquah which really do have some development potential.
Dan, those corridor studies had constraints that kneecapped ridership for Light Rail. They avoided city centers (unless you would call Hospital Station the center of Bellevue, which is iffy), avoided interlining (“impacting East Link operations”, to the point where the Light Rail options insanely recommend a parallel Hospital Station) and focused on pure speed over coverage.
The first and last are large blows to ridership since the study omitted any stations in Factoria, Houghton, Central Issaquah or Central Kirkland that might increase ridership and transfer opportunities.
The lack of interlineing drives up capital costs (I would be quite surprised if building a parallel hospital station and replacing the Wilburton trestle is cheaper than crossing the Mercer Slough), while losing out on ridership and easy transfers from East Link including missing the Center of Bellevue.
What on earth would be the point of Light Rail that doesn’t go through the city centers of the places it purportedly serves!?
Which brings me to the other point what are these BRT corridors that would be served in the absence of rail spending (in the East Subarea)? I only see Renton to Bellevue, Kirkland to Bothell and Overlake to Issaquah via Sammamish.
I’ll agree that the LRT ridership numbers were hurt by some of the assumptions. But they’re also broadly the same assumptions for BRT, so I don’t think they make a lot of difference to the relative choices. In some cases, the problems are materially easier to solve with BRT (for instance, getting BRT off the ERC and into downtown Kirkland is an order of magnitude easier than getting a train to make that particular deviation).
I do have a specific worry that a half-built rail network will introduce service issues. With so many disparate locations to serve, we’re not getting rail to everywhere on the Eastside in this round, if ever. And mixing the technologies requires transfers that wouldn’t otherwise be necessary.
When I started thinking about Kirkland (yeah, being a little parochial here), I realized that the cost of getting rail over 520 drives everything else in its vicinity. Without rail on 520, you can’t have Kirkland-Bellevue rail and Kirkland-UW BRT except by putting the latter on 405 or forcing a rail-bus connection at South Kirkland. You also lose the option to run local Metro services on the corridor. Maybe we want the 245 (Kirkland-Crossroads-Factoria) to use the corridor for a few miles in Kirkland. I think using the corridor for BRT to both Bellevue and Seattle may be an objectively better solution for Kirkland.
Issaquah may have some similar concerns, particularly for the Highlands which won’t be getting rail even if central Issaquah does.
The counter-argument is that we’re building a network for the next 100 years, and that will mean a lot of rail eventually, so we’d better get started and accept the frictions in the meantime. But that sounds to me like we’re accepting a very low transit share for a long time AND simultaneously expecting to run a large transit capital program. The politics for that proposition don’t look compelling to me.
>> Without rail on 520, you can’t have Kirkland-Bellevue rail and Kirkland-UW BRT except by putting the latter on 405 or forcing a rail-bus connection at South Kirkland.
What’s wrong with a rail-bus connection at South Kirkland? To me, that is one of the big selling points of Kirkland-Bellevue rail. The rail-bus connection should occur on the freeway. This freeway stop should serve all buses that go along 520. There might be fewer buses along 520, but there still should be plenty. This means that not only can someone get from Kirkland to the UW much faster (by transferring at the freeway station) but someone can get from a neighborhood bus to Kirkland if the neighborhood bus goes along 520.
The other selling point is that you can connect easily with East Link. Interlining makes sense as well, given the 8 minute headways for East Link. That doesn’t mean you have a one seat ride to Seattle, but it does mean you have a one seat ride to all of the Bellevue stations (once you build a turnback spot on the other side of South Bellevue).
Downtown Kirkland is one of the places (if not the only place) on the east side where additional light rail makes sense. This is because it is a reasonable destination, and it sits apart from the freeway. Since it is apart from the freeway, you can’t cheaply build BRT (not that light rail would be cheap, either).
@RossB. Today, I can get from DT Kirkland to DT Seattle on a one-bus-ride via Metro 255. With Link opening at UW in 2016, that may become a 2-seat ride, but it’s worth the transfer hassle because Link will be a faster way downtown. (Or maybe not, but that question has been litigated in comments on other articles).
Put a rail segment on DT Kirkland to South Kirkland P&R, and it becomes a 3-seat ride. If I’m starting from Juanita, my 1-seat ride has become 4-seats. A choice rider will look at this and see too many transfers to get him out of his car.
We can mitigate this by running today’s Metro service alongside the new ST service, but that seems really inefficient. It makes more sense for this thing (whether it be bus or rail) to be the spine for north-south service in Kirkland.
Maybe there’s a design fix with really great timed transfers. With the local buses running in mixed traffic, that would seem to mean an implausible number of trains. But a Kirkland-Bellevue busway buys you a Kirkland-UW busway almost for free (not quite free: you still need more buses, and some investment shaving the sharp corners off the South Kirkland P&R).
And it buys you the option of serving other bus routes on the corridor. Metro could use this to get to Juanita or Woodinville more quickly than a mixed-traffic route all the way. I’m not sure we’d want Metro running to Juanita or Woodinville on the corridor – maybe it’s more efficient to restructure those services to transfer at Totem Lake or DT Kirkland. But since nobody has done that analysis yet, I think it has some option value at least.
Actually Bellevue-Kirkland BRT on the Cross-Kirkland corridor is cheaper than alternatitives using I-405. The costs seem pretty reasonable, even by BRT standards.
Rail costs quite a bit more In the same alignment and isn’t expected to draw any more riders.
>> This is the biggest one and I’ll say it again. BRT is a policial loser.
Just because you keep saying it, doesn’t mean it is true. Rather than repeating yourself, how about you offer up some arguments, or maybe try and rebut the counter arguments (https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/11/01/building-transit-on-the-405/#comment-552820 and https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/11/01/building-transit-on-the-405/#comment-552903). Maybe if you wrote something like this:
Issaquah Light Rail is a Political Loser:
1) Voters rejected the light rail proposal back in 1995. They then passed a scaled down version which had less light rail, but plenty of bus service. I don’t believe the original plan called for light rail to Issaquah, but I think the arguments are analogous. Folks didn’t want a light rail line that was really long, but were OK with a shorter line. This shorter line also had more money for express bus service than it did for rail. In other words, after three failures, voters supported light rail only when it was paired with huge amounts of money for express bus service and only when it was cheap.
2) Environmentalists are likely to be split, if not in opposition to light rail to Issaquah. Issaquah is not a city the way that Tacoma, or even Everett is. It is a suburb, and not a very close one at that. I for one don’t like the idea of new growth in Issaquah, and I certainly don’t like the prospect of growth in the surrounding suburban areas. But this is likely to happen quite a bit, if light rail to this area is popular. There just aren’t that many people in all of Issaquah, let alone close to a station. It is highly likely that a station there would be a park and ride, not an urban station, like ones you could find in Tacoma, let alone Seattle. Even if it wasn’t a park and ride, you would certainly have people in surrounding communities that drive in, and park close to the station. Basically, a lot of people would oppose such a project because it encourages sprawl, regardless of price.
3) It isn’t a great value. It won’t improve the lives of a typical commuter that much. It can’t be intertwined with west bound traffic. This means that for the vast majority of riders, you would have a three seat ride. If I live in Issaquah, I think I would rather ride a bus that picks me up close to my house, gets on the freeway (in an HOV lane) and then drops me off by East Link (so I can get to Seattle). There aren’t that many people along this corridor to justify the extra expense of rail. Since it isn’t a great value, a lot of voters will reject it for that reason. A lot of voters, as well as newspaper editorial boards, looking objectively, will consider this a bad idea.
4) As Dan said, a lot of voters will look at rail to Issaquah and say “meh, when do I ever go to Issaquah?”. This means that the voter who is only looking at his self interest will reject this. Unlike Seattle, a lot of east side voters, having paid for the most important part of their system will simply want to stay with what they have and see how it all shakes out. Given what I said above this is understandable.
5) Political jealousy may play a big part in defeating the next proposal. This is a potential problem for Seattle as well. Propose light rail to Ballard and BRT to West Seattle and West Seattle may vote against it. Propose light rail to West Seattle and the Central Area (or South Lake Union) may feel the same way (“why are we building hugely expensive light rail to West Seattle when other areas of the city, which could be served far more cheaply, get ignored?”). In the case of Issaquah, you could easily have folks along the 405 corridor saying the same thing. I know if I lived in Renton I know I would feel that way. But saying “well, subarea equity and that is just the way we drew the lines” isn’t a compelling argument. That only makes one more likely to say “Fu** it. Express buses are good enough. Maybe the whole Sound Transit structure needs an overhaul”.
By they way, arguing against Kirkland to Bellevue is a lot harder (many of these arguments apply easily to Issaquah, but don’t apply to Kirkland).
Dan, I don’t see why downtown Kirkland to Seattle would be an more than a two seat ride. Maybe 3 seat from Juanita. Unless you think Sound Transit is going to cross 520 with rail, which I view as unlikely. Given the expense and other priorities in the North King subarea.
If some thing like the Seattle Subway idea linked above is chosen then the 2 seat ride will be faster than the 255.
Chris, the study has a station area that is outside of Downtown Kirkland, of course the Light Rail won’t draw more riders if it equally doesn’t go anywhere.
Ross, below is a presentation of a Sound Transit survey of the area. Note the results of page 16.
With an average of over 5 out of 7, light rail is the clear political winner. Since the ST2 vote Central Link has opened and become the gold standard for service quality in the region. Buses pale by comparison.
Sound Transit should study a line that is actually good and see how it compares both for cost, which should be cheaper, and ridership which should be higher. A BRT that can’t interline in Bellevue is no competition thanks to area traffic. An ERC BRT route would have the a parallel station similar to the ridiculous Light Rail proposal that doesn’t interline and then would terminate or hit congestion going into downtown Bellevue.
Here are the scenarios for downtown Kirkland to downtown Seattle that I was getting at.
Today: Take the 255 all the way (1 seat ride, but subject to traffic issues most of its length).
2016 (probable): Take the 255 to UW, transfer to Link (lose the 1 seat ride, but gain Link speeds into downtown Seattle).
If rail goes on the Kirkland-Bellevue corridor: Take rail to South Kirkland P&R, transfer to bus across 520, transfer to Link at UW. So that’s the three-seat ride. Each segment works better, but the travel time savings are chewed up by transfers.
With BRT on the corridor rolling off to 520, you avoid the South Kirkland transfer, and stay off surface streets for perhaps the entire journey except that one block between South Kirkland and the freeway.
You are arguing against points that I’m not making. I want to make sure what I’m saying is clear.
1. Let me be more clear when I say “BRT is a political loser.” In the absense of easy to understand capital upgrades or an voter pool who is well informed, BRT is a just a bus. Maintaining bus service lost by over 10 points on the Eastside earlier THIS YEAR, and quoting me Issaquah opinions about ST from 1995 is a bit out of date. Admittedly, a big part of what I know is from talking to so many people directly about these issues, so there is an anecdotal element in addition to the data that Peyton got from ST below. If you have any information a history of suburban voter support of BRT, let me know. As far as I can tell, most undecided or lightly informed people have no idea what BRT is. Further:
1a. I am not saying that ST must build rail to Issaquah. I’m saying that a significant rail investment is needed on the eastside as part of ST3, or ST will risk a voter revolt/apathy in that subarea. This could easily mean Kirkland to Eastgate via Bellevue + MSFT to Redmond + Some 405 BRT improvements. In fact — that package sounds pretty compelling, doesnt it?
2. If environmentalists vote against nearly zero carbon transit in a corridor where THERE IS ALREADY A HIGHWAY they are very confused. I don’t buy this argument at all. Environmentalist will broadly support this.
3. Re: Value. This is a major improvement for commuters now and long term more so. I-90 routes are already going to be forced into a double transfer in the scenario you reference. What rail can bring are reliability, TOD opportunities, a better ride and connectivity to the regional system. Plus: People just prefer rail. What is most concerning to me is that the obvious/best new rail routes on the eastside were excluded from the ST studies. Therefore we have no way to make objective comparisons with current data.
4. Re: Voter self-interest. You would be surprised how many people vote for a solution to a problem they know about even if that problem doesn’t impact them directly. I doubt many will see this BRT as a solution to a known problem (even if it is.) I am more concerned about this at the subarea level than at the neighborhood level. We need a compelling set of projects for the eastside.
5. Political Jealousy is really overstated as an electoral factor. Ballard passed ST2 by over 70%. People vote for solutions and big thinking. A huge majority knows that we can’t highway out of our problems.
Again, I’m talking about rail from Kirkland via Bellvue and then east along I-90 towards Issaquah. None of which will be built (or considered properly) in ST3 without a push from advocates.
Dan, if there were LRT from Kirkland to Bellevue, why would you get off the train at S. Kirkland P&R to get to downtown Seattle? You could continue to Hospital Station, then transfer to East Link to get downtown. That’s a two-seat ride.
If there were still 520 buses that went downtown and served S. Kirkland, you would have a choice of transfer points, depending upon total travel time and convenience to your ultimate destination.
I haven’t calculated out all the travel times, but Kirkland to Seattle via I-90 seems like a long way around. Versus the scenario I sketched, it would save one transfer, but add a lot of miles.
It just doesn’t seem compelling. For all the added cost of LRT, I’d like to be able to say there’s something importantly better about my travel options. LRT isn’t really buying me any faster service than BRT on the rail corridor to Bellevue, maybe buying me a less appealing stop for service terminating in Bellevue (as Mike highlighted in his comment), and perhaps requiring me to take I-90 to get to Seattle when I can take 520 today.
For twice the cost of BRT, I’m just not seeing LRT offering me anything more.
Sadly there is no easy way to serve downtown Kirkland directly with light rail. The geometry for surface rail is awkward and I’m fairly sure the city of Kirkland would strongly object to a street alignment. Elevated is even more out of the question. A tunnel would be very expensive for the ridership.
Speaking of ridership, the fundamental issue for Kirkland is there just aren’t all that many people there to begin with. Moving the downtown station won’t significantly change the ridership. Maybe it would add a couple thousand riders but the total ridership on the line would still be very low.
@Keith — I made arguments against light rail to Issaquah to show how easy it is to make an argument. Now you muddle things by conflating my arguments against light rail to Issaquah with your arguments against BRT, or even bus improvements. Fair enough. I’m sorry for the confusion. I’ll try and separate the two.
1) Arguments against light rail to Issaquah: I stand by my comments against light rail to Issaquah. I think it is more than a waste of money, it is a horrible idea. Either it will be unpopular, or it will be encourage sprawl. Very little in our system, so far, has had that dilemma. That is why I, a card carrying member of the Sierra Club, will oppose it for environmental reasons. Do you think I’m alone? Hardly.
2) Arguments against the idea that BRT is a political loser: I counter your election with my election. Again, the first time this area approved a rail system, it was when it consisted of mostly express bus service. This was after similar votes failed three times. This was two years after a similar, more extensive vote failed. Sound Transit runs these buses, and I believe they are very popular (although I can’t point to a study, and only have anecdotal evidence).
You suggest that “BRT is a loser” based on one failed vote, for a completely different agency (Metro) and a completely different taxing mechanism. A taxing mechanism that has failed repeatedly at the ballot box.
As has been pointed out, express buses are not BRT. Perhaps BRT will not be as popular as express buses, but I think BRT is a lot more like BRT than regular bus service. It will be the same agency (not Metro) and these buses will be travelling much faster. The difference between BRT and express buses can be very small, if done right. In many ways, express buses are simply scaled down versions of BRT — they have the grade separation, but lack the off board payment and level boarding. I can’t imagine someone supporting express buses, but not liking BRT, because except for the extra stops (which should add extra value) they are faster. At worse someone will conflate the two, but as I said before express buses are a huge winner, as is obvious by the first successful Sound Transit vote (and the failed votes before them).
Dan, when I ran the numbers for travel time from DT Kirkland to Westlake I figured Sound Transit would run Light Rail in the 520 transit lanes as described in option B2b or C2 of the U-K-R Study. (Pages 27-28 PDF pages 41-42)
“Alternative B2b would be the same along the ERC and SR 520 as Alternative B1a, except that LRT technology would be used (tracks and electric rail vehicles/trains) instead of a bus running way and buses.”
B1a for reference:
“Along SR 520, the BRT service would operate in the HOV lanes on SR 520 and use the HOV direct access ramps at 108th Avenue NE on the east side of Lake Washington, and HOV direct access ramps at Montlake Boulevard on the west side of Lake Washington.”
“Alternative C2 is an LRT service with trains running on shared tracks with East Link from
Downtown Redmond, along SR 520 near Overlake, then through the Bel‐Red Corridor. It would leave the East Link alignment to connect with the ERC towards South Kirkland. At the South Kirkland Park‐and‐Ride, the elevated, exclusive guideway would run along the north side of SR 520 to the floating bridge across Lake Washington. The elevated bridge superstructure is assumed to be widened to provide a separate, exclusive guideway in the center of the bridge”
If you are going to pay for rail in the 520 corridor it would make sense to interline Ballard-Totem Lake with Ballard-Redmond and maximise your investment. So you get a train from Kirkland towards Ballard, and transfer at U Dub station taking about 27 minutes which is about the same as the 255 in no traffic and much faster than the 255 otherwise and a two seat ride.
I also assumed ST would choose C3 from Issaquah to Totem Lake, which would interline with Ballard-Kirkland on the ERC and have a parallel station at Hospital to transfer to DT Bellevue. Redmond transfers would be done at S. Kirkland Park & Ride.
C3 (KBI Study Page 24-25 PDF 38-39):
“Alternative C3 is the same as Alternative C1 until reaching I-405. Instead of traveling along
Richards Road, Alternative C3 continues along the north side of I-90 to I-405 and travels along the east side of I-405 in a separate guideway for a short stretch, and then connects with the Eastside Rail Corridor.
“Once in the Eastside Rail Corridor, Alternative C3 operates similarly to Alternative C1. The guideway is elevated over NE 8th Street and is located along the east side of East Link’s future Hospital Station. North of Hospital Station, the alternative continues along the Eastside Rail Corridor right-of-way and provides station access at South Kirkland Park-and-Ride, 6th Street in Kirkland, and the Totem Lake Transit Center vicinity, where the LRT route would terminate.”
They could do other things but this would be the Light Rail for everyone solution.
Chris, I’m not an expert at estimating ridership, that may as well be black magic to me but I would like to see a Central Kirkland tunnel studied. Something I assume I will see now that Sound Transit is studying a Sandpoint crossing.
Frankly when we are building 100 year investments I’d rather not cheap out on providing stations to dense walkable communities where people want to go. Which in this case is walking (and honestly, sometimes drunken stumbling) distance of Central Kirkland.
1) Issaquah isn’t going anywhere. Moreover they are they are trying to redevelop right. With dense walkable communities. That kind of redevelopment, combined with pollution free technology like Light Rail is what environmentalist have dreamed of since at least 70s.
“There I was shown a map on which adjacent new towns are drawn, each centered on its own rapid-transit stop. It appears that a ring of such new towns in being built to surround the Bay, each one a self-contained community, but linked to its neighbors by train so that the entire necklace of towns will constitute one city. It is promised that you can, for instance, walk five minutes to your transit station, take a train within five minutes to a town ten stops away, and then walk another five minutes to your destination.” (Ecotopia by Ernest Callenbach Pg 29-30)
Certainly Ecotopia isn’t a bible for environmentalist, but it is a vision that many people, myself included, like.
I don’t think you are alone, Ross, just misguided, if it is unpopular then we have done all we can and we never have to build any more HCT to Issaquah ever again. Keeping in mind that predicting popularity over a century is hard task. If it is popular it will be so because Issaquah has limited sprawl and built up around its transit.
That said we don’t have to build rail to Issaquah in ST3. You think that there are better projects and are fighting for them, which is good, but dismissing rail to Issaquah forever is a mistake that will discourage their densification.
2) Each election is a snapshot of a moment of voter sentiment. Older elections provide less information than newer ones and both are less accurate than current polling. Citing an election from 1996 (when I was 6 years old) is like using 1996 senate elections to predict tonights results, Keith citing 2008 is more accurate (the players are largely the same) but still isn’t predictive of tonights results.
That is why I went to the Sound Transit poll and why I think they should fund more polls to gage voter sentiment on various plans. Your anecdotal evidence might not be entirely worthless but I one should never trust it over a good poll (and hopefully many good polls polling averages being more accurate than single polls).
Last time I glanced at the “New Issaquah” plans, they hardly inspired much confidence. 8-10 stories envisioned, but with copious setbacks, lots of required parking, and mostly back toward the highway interchanges (i.e. very, very far from anything resembling the town’s tiny walkable center).
In short, they’re trying to attract an overgrown office park, and call it an urban center.
I have no idea if the offices and their workers will come. Being on the Eastside puts them on a supply-demand continuum with Bellevue/Overlake locations, so perhaps it has a better shot at attracting businesses than the hypothetical Magic Downtown Lynnwood.
But the results are not going to be good. The vast, vast majority of people coming to and from the office developments will be encouraged by their physical properties to drive, and to whatever (minor) extent the jobs spur transit demand, that demand will be 100% skewed toward rush hour.
This is almost the textbook definition of a plan that does not justify 7 miles worth of from-scratch rail.
@ Peyton — In Ecotopia, they banned cars. Remember? They were illegal in the entire country. So, yes, ban cars in the state, and I’m all for light rail to Issaquah.
But they aren’t going to ban cars. They aren’t even going to ban park and rides. That is my point. It isn’t about the heart of Issaquah (wherever that is) it is about the entire region. I’m talking about the “surrounding cities”, to use the term on Wikipedia: Sammamish, Fall City, Preston, Hobart, Maple Valley, etc. To call these cities is a stretch. There are areas that until recently were unincorporated (and many still are). These are the areas that will grow, and grow considerably if light rail to Issaquah ever is popular in the area.
You know that, right. Or are you suggesting that the Issaquah and Lake Sammamish stations will be built without park and rides? Really?
No, they will have park and rides. Which really a few possibilities:
1) This type of light rail performs like similar light rail in the country, which is not very well. The benefit doesn’t come close to justifying the cost. Even forty years after being built there are empty cars running infrequently — serving as commuter rail for folks who all own cars, and use them on a regular basis, because they “need them”.
2) The light rail exceeds expectations. Four car trains are full in the morning, but fairly quiet midday. It serves as popular commuter rail, with very few people heading to Issaquah (or the surrounding towns) in the morning, and very few heading back in the evening. The town of Issaquah has increased its population — a bit by density, but mostly by sprawling. Of course, the sprawl in Issaquah is nothing like the sprawl in surrounding communities. Communities where, of course, people drive everywhere (including to the train station).
3) The light rail exceeds expectations. Four car trains are full in the morning, while two car trains are busy throughout the day. Folks from as far away as Ballard take the train out to Issaquah, just to visit the quaint shops or night life (it takes two transfers, but it is worth it). Issaquah has increased its density (people call it “the new Capitol Hill”) while surrounding areas (Preston, Fall City, North Bend) have hardly changed at all.
The first scenario is most likely, while the second is quite possible. The third, in my mind, is ridiculous. That is my point. In all likelihood, light rail to Issaquah will be a waste of money. But if it isn’t, it is likely that it will lead to more sprawl, not less.
“Why is this a priority?”
It’s not a priority. It’s an alternative. It’s one of four Eastside corridors ST studied (alongside the ERD, Kirkland-Issaquah, and UW-Redmond). I haven’t seen any indication that ST has made this one top priority. I think Kirkland-Issaquah is more likely. The reason for this corridor is people perpetually keep bringing up, “Why don’t you do north-south HCT on 405? It’s where the most people are traveling, it’s already public ROW, and WSDOT would assume part of the cost of HOV lanes and stations. What else can be more cost-effective than that?” It’s a similar argument as Sounder: the tracks are there, it goes in the direction people are traveling, so it should be cheap and high ridership, right? I disagree with some of these premises, because people aren’t going to within walking distance of a 405 exit, but this is where that mindset comes from.
Mike: My understanding is that rail on the eastside is dead on the table for ST3 (other than the Redmond extension.) Thus the coronary I am currently having about it.
It is my opinion that the parameters by which rail from Kirkland to Issaquah was studied was unreasonably knee capped by study parameters. Why did they study it that way? Unclear. But it does seem like 405 BRT has been the plan all along.
Where did you get that from? As to why LR bypassed dowtown Bellevue, never attribute to maliciousness what may have been stupidity. I put in my comments that overlapping wtih East Link between South Bellevue and 120th is better and should be studied, and maybe they’ll do it because they’ve done some other things after feedback. I don’t know about htis ruling out Mercer Slough at an earlier stage; maybe they did but I didn’t hear it and I’m not assuming it’s an absolute showstopper, although the fact that it’s a nature reserve may put the nail in it. But that would be unfourtunate because Issaquah-Kirkland Link sharing East Link between South Bellevue and Hospital/120th would have absolutely the highest ridership of anything other than East Link, and it would serve the same function as 405 BRT in its highest-ridership segment.
If LR is dead on the Eastside, that means no Seattle line either?
I also put in my comments that I was shocked that ths shared alternative wasn’t studied because it always seemed like the most obvious route to me, and to a lot of other people. It’s the first time ST’s alternatives have been so out of the way that they missed their primary ridership market. So it is very odd, but hopefully ST will make more sense on it next year.
Mike, Option A-8 (Light Rail across the Mercer Slough) was ruled out in preliminary screening on page 16 of the K-B-I report (PDF page 30)
“No, based on Screening Questions 2, 7, and 8. Construction of LRT on
an elevated structure through Mercer Slough would entail
environmental, permitting and engineering issues.”
Note that the questions are as follows:
Question 2: Could the concept avoid or minimize significant impacts to known designated
critically sensitive environmental and/or parks or 4(f) resources where another prudent and
feasible alternative has been identified? [NOTE: This would be limited to known parks that
are 4(f) and other resources identified by local jurisdictions as highly critical environmental
Question 7: Is it feasible for the concept (mode, corridor) to be constructed to HCT
standards, given the known topographic, geometric, and other engineering-related
constraints of the corridor and within reasonable costs for expected benefits?
Question 8: Could the concept be constructed in a manner so as to avoid substantial
regulatory hurdles and/or avoid or mitigate substantial impacts to the natural environment
and/or the built environment?
I’m not sure if this was maliciousness or stupidity, but it must be one.
If ST won’t consider LR going through downtown Bellevue, I’m tempted to say just go with BRT that does. That would match people’s destinations better and also prepare the corridor for future rail. But ST is missing an opportunity to make something like the DSTT/SODO busway in Bellevue, where people use the ultra-frequent transit for short internal trips as well as longer trips. There will be more demand for that as downtown Bellevue grows and acquires more pedestrian destinations.
Mike, that is a testament to how bad the Light Rail options are.
But we don’t have to accept what was studied as the end of good rail on the Eastside; we can fight for interlineing with East Link and frankly we should every chance we get.
DP – the White Flint area when the station was put there would give any reasonable urban transit advocate a complete coronary. Like I said, they are ripping out a mall to build TOD — that is completely amazing. This would never happen with BRT.
Stations located off the highway where there *COULD BE* TOD is critical, I agree.
I have no doubt that Rockville Pike was nothing but low-slung pedestrian-hostile strip malls before the Metro helped nudge it into hideous and still pedestrian-hostile office complexes. But at no point did this look anything like this.
Totem Lake is uniquely terrible, in that it literally possesses not one square inch that isn’t explicitly defined by its access relationship to the highway interchange. It would have about an order of magnitude further to travel along the evolutionary scale to get to where White Flint or even Tysons Corner are today.
Never mind to where those places aim to be in 20 years.
And never mind that where those places aim to be in 20 years isn’t even especially good!
Listen, I get it. Traditional malls being razed or massively retrofitted in favor of mixed development is a big deal, and something that the world should absolutely see more of. But let’s not pretend that a centrally-planned campus of a dozen highly-ordered buildings that intend to perpetuate an impoverished relationship with the street are something to write home about in and of themselves.
Let’s also not pretend that they can happen anywhere, regardless of any external conditions, as long as someone introduces the magical ingredient of “rail”.
Reverting to such tropes, Keith, is incredibly poisonous to the conversation. “Rail=success” is quite simply a counterfactual proposition. It’s belittling to the thousands of successful urban places in cities around the world that lack rail to their front doors. And it doesn’t even reflect the local reality, in which Ballard and Northgate and Bellevue have unrecognizably transformed over a couple of decades without (you might have noticed) any fucking rail.
Oh, and five seconds of Googling just turned up Westminster Center — a post-mall conversion nearly identical to the one in North Bethesda, and explicitly adjacent to the Denver-Boulder BRT, but bypassed by the famously useless (and presently unfunded) route of the Northwest Commuter Rail.
So much for “would never happen”.
Dp: Why do you keep bringing up Totem Lake? Who said anything about extending rail there?
I’m not saying rail = success. I’m saying placeless BRT is a terrible sales pitch and there are completely decent rail options that need to be studied.
You got me on the Denver TOD. I’m shocked.
Totem Lake was mentioned repeatedly as the “redevelopment” anchor in any number of these proposals.
And isn’t one of the grave limitations of an expensive rail-to-downtown-Kirkland plan the inconvenient fact that Kirkland city planners have become intent on quarantining downtown Kirkland and pushing all future “density” efforts to Totem Lake?
DP — haha, sure — someone has said that… wasn’t me/us. Can we agree to only disagree on the things we disagree about?
I don’t doubt that you would support a downtown Kirkland focus over a Totem Lake one.
But I’m pretty sure it was David L. (as of late a Kirkland resident, iirc) who noted that, despite being one of the rare suburbs in our region with a healthy and robust downtown, Kirkland’s underlying NIMBYism has been increasingly rearing its head, and civic forces have signaled a strong intent to freeze downtown in place and to make Totem Lake the focus of all future growth. Resultant quality be damned.
This is not an imagined problem.
I think this is over-stated. I agree there are a lot of NIMBYs who see Totem Lake as the far-away out-of-sight out-of-mind place to stuff development and density.
But there’s a huge market interest in living in downtown. The city establishment is now fairly open to mid-sized development (i.e. mostly in the five-story range, lower right on the waterfront, but higher a few blocks back). After the debacle over the Bank of America development in 2008, they moved to a zoning code with quite a bit less discretion around downtown. Heights are still quite restricted near the waterfront, but the City did approve 8 stories in Park Place which is just about four blocks off the water. They are very eager to see development in the five story range at places like the Antique Mall (the derelict site by the transit center). And they’re likely to back off their onerous residential parking requirements in January (although only enough to bring it into rough parity with other east side communities).
Now there’s still an imbalance. The city is meeting its regional growth target with extremely permissive zoning in Totem Lake that isn’t terribly realistic. So they’re pitching around looking for a way to make things happen. In the context of Sound Transit, they fastened onto the 405 study with its apparent cost advantage over the ERC, and decided that getting behind 405 BRT was the way to promote growth at Totem Lake. The deficiencies of the service at Totem Lake and the lack of connections to elsewhere in the city wasn’t well understood.
I wrote a piece recently for a blog in Kirkland advocating for BRT on the corridor. I didn’t get any pushback that was explicitly about density in downtown, and there was a receptive audience for the fiscally conservative aspect of the proposal. I did get pushback from trail advocates – not everybody is comfortable with trains or buses zipping by their peaceful trail. There was one gentleman who was particularly ardent about talking up 405 BRT, but whose real concern was that Sound Transit stay off his trail. But I think that’ll be a manageable problem, particularly once it’s understood that the trail will co-exist with whatever transit gets built out there.
So is not the issue (as David seemed to be describing it) that downtown Kirkland is intended to remain horizontally hemmed by single-family on three sides (and by water on the fourth)?
So as with Seattle’s growth quarantines, the limited available ground space is expected to be replaced up to maximum zoned capacity, at which point downtown will be done. Forever.
Water on one side, for sure. And there’s a lot of relatively new SFH (i.e. not going away anytime soon) to the north and south. But there’s a lot of develop-able space on the east. Also, 6th St (from the SE corner of downtown down to Google and Houghton) is redeveloping. There’s a lot of old industrial space (because it used to be freight trains running through), and Google is already anchoring the neighborhood. The Houghton neighborhood is still obsessed with traffic (narrow arterials and cul-de-sacs -> congestion -> anti-development sentiment). But the major parcel owners in central Houghton are all very involved in trying to move an upzone forward.
So, add it up, and it’s not enough to make downtown Kirkland a Bellevue or even a Redmond, but I can see a reasonable path to it becoming a significant multiple of its current size. And the good news for transit is that the likely expansion path for development points at the rail corridor.
@Dan — I would like to hear more about your ideas for a BRT crossing Kirkland. When I think of light rail plans (for this region) I think of tunnels or elevated structures. Would BRT across Kirkland be in a tunnel? About where would it go?
@Dan again — Sorry, I found it — https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/10/07/showcasing-brt-on-the-eastside/
I have to apologize for not reading this earlier. I completely agree with your assessment. I’m no expert on the various proposals, but I think this is by far the best one for the area. I’m fully in favor of this idea, and would like to see it in ST3.
As I sit in the Denver airport waiting for my flight back to Seattle, I can only think back on what I just say. I had a 40 minute freeway trip to the airport through sparsely developed areas. Almost the entire trip had LR paralleling the freeway. The situation in Seattle is much better overall, but I do wonder on why they think it makes sense to install LR in Denver while we seem to think BRT makes more sense.
It is a question of money. The ST3 budget isn’t going to buy much rail on the Eastside.
Chris — really? Why? It will be about the size of ST2, which is building quite a lot of rail on the eastside.
OK, much cost-effective rail. Denver’s expensive rail to nowhere really isn’t a model to be emulated.
That said, i haven’t heard of many asks from the Eastside. The only two so far seem to be completing East Link and Link to Issaquah. Given the likely budget, yes there would be enough to build rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah. But I think BRT to via South Bellevue and the cross-Kirkland corridor would make more sense and leave budget for other BRT and ST express service.
Will is too far out to be certain. All we know is ST is leaning in that direction now.
hmmm…we might have been on the same flight!
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