ST Express 545 arriving at Evergreen Point. The busy SR 520 corridor is not on the draft priority list for high-capacity transit investments

Last Thursday, the Sound Transit Executive Board reviewed a proposed draft project list for the Sound Transit 3 ballot. On May 28, the full Board will consider and perhaps amend this list. After June 4, the public will be asked to comment on the draft project list, and the subsequent comment will guide the Board in further whittling down the list to a feasible proposal for ST3.

Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick explained yesterday that the public outreach will “ask people’s views about the priority level for each project on the draft list, and to identify projects they think should be added or deleted”. The public will not be specifically asked about projects that are not on the draft list. So while the door is not closed to members of the public who may point to their own priorities, the presented options will be the “starting point for the Board and public’s conversation”.

Predictably, the draft project list for Snohomish, Pierce and South King is focused on completing the spine. All of their projects are just alternate alignments for doing so. Snohomish’ goals will be hard to achieve without large revenue transfers from elsewhere. The draft list includes costly projects such as alignments to Everett via Paine Field and a further extension to North Everett.

North King has ten projects to consider; all are light rail and would serve West Seattle or Ballard. Mayor Ed Murray would like to add Madison BRT to the list. The quality of the eventual outcomes in North King will depend on how these goals are balanced.

East King has just three options on the draft list. These are (i) the Eastlink extension to Redmond, (ii) I-405 BRT from Lynnwood to Seatac, and (iii) a light rail line from Totem Lake to Issaquah via the ERC and I-90.

The first two are highly likely to be in the final plan, and I endorsed their inclusion along with the BRISK BRT network last week. The last cannot, because even the maximum revenue authority sought by Sound Transit won’t support all three. The high-end cost estimate for Totem Lake to Issaquah rail is $2.67B (vs. about $900M each for East Link and I-405 BRT). With Eastside revenues well under $4B, Sound Transit could build to either Totem Lake OR Issaquah, but not both. Depending on the size of the final revenue authorization and competing demands from Everett, they may not build either end.

Rail lines to either Totem Lake or Issaquah are obviously over-sized solutions for travel demand. Either line, rather than a BRT network connecting much of the Eastside, would explicitly reject an ‘abundant access’ approach to transit planning. Sound Transit’s own corridor studies showed both Totem Lake and Issaquah could be served by BRT with no loss of ridership, and for much lower cost.

We do not know why the less expensive BRT options for Totem Lake/Issaquah are not on the list. Neither do we know why BRT options on SR 520 are not on the list. Much Eastside transit demand is cross-lake. While cost estimates for rail on SR 520 were quite high, BRT service that would leverage existing HOV-3 lanes is inexpensive and would improve the transit experience for many riders.

The corridor study revealed a rail line to Issaquah would be hobbled by poor connections. Responding to concerns about interference with East Link operations and environmental impacts to Mercer Slough, the proposed LRT options did not interline with East Link, but instead followed alignments to the east. This meant the only connection to East Link could be at Hospital Station. Riders to both Bellevue and Seattle would make transfers involving out-of-direction travel, ludicrously so for Seattle travel. While some have suggested better alignments may be possible, there’s no indication that Sound Transit staff have figured out how to solve this challenge, and it would probably be more expensive. If unresolved, rail to Issaquah wouldn’t even serve Issaquah riders well.

More transit options for more people
More transit options for more people

Rail to Kirkland is inferior to BRT in at least two ways, other than the unnecessary cost. One is the last-mile challenge in downtown. While there are necessary compromises in getting buses to serve downtown well, rail cannot do so at all except with expensive tunneling. A second challenge is that rail could only serve travel to Bellevue. The more popular Kirkland-Seattle transit market would continue to be served by buses on surface streets, or riders would be forced to transfer from rail to bus at South Kirkland. BRT on the corridor could serve both travel markets.

The Executive Board is appropriately concerned that the draft list not be filled up with more expensive options. They are, after all, trying to get to a shorter and more affordable list. But BRT is the affordable option for transit to more places on the Eastside, developing transit corridors that could be served by rail in the future when demand warrants. Last week, I wrote at length about one potential network (here, here, and here). The BRISK network would include five BRT lines covering the Eastside, in addition to I-405 BRT and an Eastlink extension to Redmond. The entire package, by Sound Transit’s own numbers, fits comfortably within the requested revenue authority. The Board needs to ask why a single rail line, serving much less of the Eastside with compromised station locations, is the option that deserves to advance to the next level.

65 Replies to “The Eastside Needs Better Choices”

  1. BRT often good short-term measure- just so we’re talking Eugene, not Lower Queen Anne. But when it’s time, population and money-wise, what about a light rail bridge from Sand Point directly to Kirkland?

    Mark Dublin

    1. For ST3 ST nixed this awhile back. There justification was to first wait and see how East Link performed. So much for confidence in their own studies.

    2. All models require after-the-fact verification and refinement. The models only show what people would statistically normally do, not what they will do. The people themselves may not know yet, or may change their mind later.

      Sand Point – Kirkland was initially dropped because of 520 bias, but later re-added at the request of transit fans. The 520 light rail study showed low ridership; that’s why ST isn’t pursuing it this round. It’s not “Wait and see how East Link performed”, but “East Link will draw away some riders, and there aren’t enough remaining riders for a 520 line at this time, especially given East King’s higher priorities.”

    3. But when it’s time, population and money-wise, what about a light rail bridge from Sand Point directly to Kirkland?

      I still can’t see how the cost:riders served ratio will ever pencil out for that, unless Kirkland’s density increases by orders of magnitude, which doesn’t seem politically feasible.

  2. I’m curious, if they interlined Totem Lake to Issaquah with Eastlink from S. Bellevue through the Hospital station, would there be enough money to do all three?

    1. I don’t think anyone has a good handle on how much that might or might not save. The real issue with any alignment to South Bellevue is constructability. That alignment would need to 1) cross Mercer Slough, 2) get through the I-90/I-405 interchange, and 3) get from Factoria to Eastgate.

      Crossing Mercer Slough is probably do-able. Bellevue commissioned studies during the East Link process which showed it is possible. The big issue is the environmental impact, which would be substantial. There are also long-term issues with structural stability of structures crossing the slough; WSDOT has had issues with the pilings for I-90 crossings moving over the years.

      The I-90/I-405 interchange would be tough to get through because there is essentially no usable space both vertically and horizontally within the interchange. WSDOT has long-term conceptual plans for HOV direct-access ramps, which would be up in the air above the current I-405 viaducts. The result of this is that a rail line going east from a South Bellevue wye would be too steep to get over the interchange. As for going under (tunneling), you could conceivably dive into the hillside/embankment at the northwest corner of the interchange (be aerial over 118th, then to a portal under the BNSF corridor), but then where do you come out? Going around the interchange results in significant out-of-direction travel. The general options are: a) Richards Road to Lake Hill Connector, likely joining the BNSF corridor for a transfer at Hospital station; b) run along the east side of I-405, and either cross over I-405 to 118th and interline at East Main or join the BNSF corridor and transfer at Hospital station; or c) head south through Factoria, past Newport High School to Coal Creek Parkway, cross I-405 to the BNSF corridor, then head back north and then west across the slough, allowing an interline at South Bellevue.

      Getting between Factoria and Eastgate has a lot of variables depending on how you get to Factoria from the west. The main issue is that Eastgate is at the top of the big hill, and Factoria is at the bottom of a valley. Eyeballing, it appears to be just shy of ~6% from the Eastgate freeway station to Factoria Blvd, but as Dan Ryan has pointed out before, I-90 is a good ~30 feet in the air over Factoria Blvd/Richards Rd and the Eastgate freeway station is also elevated, so grade of a line is an issue.

      Ultimately, these are solvable issues, but the costs and benefits are unknown.

      1. If you’re going to cross Mercer Slough, do it south of the I-90 structure. It’s entirely feasible to dip under the freeway make an admittedly slow turn to the east, parallel the freeway to I-405 then go under or over to Factoria. SE 38th is conveniently angled to the northwest on the west side of Factoria Boulevard, and there’s a greenway along the creek leading back to I-90 about a half mile east of Factoria Blvd. It works, though it’s not cheap.

    2. I would guess so, but I see a couple problems. First, you have issues with the slough. Second, what does that get you? For most people in Issaquah or Totem Lake, you have a two seat ride to downtown Bellevue, or a three seat ride to downtown Seattle. Meanwhile, frequency to Seattle might be reduces, assuming headways in Bellevue aren’t really small. This would mean the transfer to the train to Seattle will take even longer. For most riders, I don’t see this being any better than BRT, along there, which is only a shade above express bus service. If there are bottlenecks in the neighborhoods, then we should deal with those. If I live in the Highlands, I would much rather catch a bus that goes to Mercer Island than catch a bus that goes to the train station, take that train to South Bellevue, then take a different train to Seattle.

  3. I agree that Eastside Rail will be far better if it connects at South Bellevue for both direct connections and better transfers. We won’t know the costs and tradeoffs until that routing is actually studied.

    I think you are underselling the value of having a clean and relatively inexpensive to operate rail trunk line and the political value of rail. The transit outcomes of “better Eastside rail” are desirable and permanant.

    I think you are overselling the Eastside’s desire to provide exclusive lane access for buses and WSDOT’s ability and desire to maintain HOV lanes at acceptable standards.

    Regarding transit outcomes. Some of the network you describe should be built in addition to rail. There definitely needs to be 520 BRT.

    Most of the transit supportive locations on the Eastside can be served by a single rail line. A redesign of the bus work is definitely necessary in addition including some targeted BRT – but at the end of the day – ST exists to expand our rail system and that is what voters expect – and a system with just a few tweaks will serve the Eastside well.

    1. >> Most of the transit supportive locations on the Eastside can be served by a single rail line.

      Yes, and it is called East Link. All the major destinations and the big pockets of population density are handled by East Link. Some destinations are left out — Eastgate, Bellevue College and Factoria are probably the highest ones left out. As previously mentioned, it isn’t that easy to serve them (you would have to spend a fair amount of money to zig-zag between Bellevue College and the office buildings in Factoria). It can be done, but it wouldn’t be cheap.

      As far as population goes, the only pockets of density are those close to East Link. In Kirkland (a pretty big city from a land mass standpoint) there are only 2 census tracks that have density over 10,000 per square mile. Magnolia has three. Oh, and both of the ones in Kirkland are in Juanita, which puts them a fair ways away from a new train.

      This doesn’t rule out a good feeder system, but I don’t think we should rely on it too much. Most of the people in Issaquah want to get to Seattle. Most of those people want to get downtown. This means they would have a three seat ride into Seattle. I think it makes mores sense to just have the buses feed Mercer Island instead, which would mean a two seat ride to Seattle.

      Connecting Kirkland to the UW in the manner you describe would be wonderful. There may not be that many people that make that trip, but for those that do, that route would be a huge improvement over the alternative. The problem is that it would extremely expensive, and Seattle doesn’t want to pay a dime for it. Seattle enthusiastically helped chip in for East Link because plenty of people need to get to Bellevue and Redmond. But there aren’t that many that need to get to Kirkland, nor are there that many that would pay extra for the shortcut from the UW to Bellevue (especially since it would be a minor improvement). More to the point, Seattle has much more pressing needs. This means that the east side would have to take up the bulk (if not the entirety) of the cost. Good luck with that.

      1. Seattle definitely has more pressing needs than the SP Crossing. I’m only talking about the Eastside portion here.

        All if the proposals on this BRT map (am I missing something?) include a forced transfer to get to DT Seattle. I can’t figure out why that transfer is forgiven but the rail transfer isnt.

        We want to see ST study just the corridor you mention (Its in the better eastside rail post.). It would improve (and remove transfers to DT Bellevue) transfers and add transit supportive locations.

      2. Most people in Issaquah want to get to Seattle? Heck, I’d wager over half of Issaquah residents haven’t crossed the bridge this year. Most are going to Eastside jobs.

    2. @Keith.

      I’d like to see a more in-depth exploration of Issaquah rail via South Bellevue and Factoria. It got looked at in Level 1 of the corridor study process, and was rejected at that point. So it never got the deeper analysis that it would have gotten if it were advanced to a Level 2 study.

      I suspect the numbers would have been awful, because I can’t think of a good way to solve the Mercer Slough/Factoria problem. Evidently, ST didn’t see a solution either. But maybe smarter technical minds would have come up with something not awful. It would help move the discussion forward to have a real number either way.

      Absent that study, my point is simply that ST should not be building THIS rail line to Issaquah. Perhaps we’re agreed on that.

      BRT to Bellevue would get Issaquah riders a one-seat trip into the center of Bellevue. BRT to Mercer Island requires a transfer to get into Seattle, but it’s a much more direct and faster transfer for Seattle riders than a rail transfer at Hospital Station. If extended to the Highlands, BRT options could also eliminate another transfer point for riders from the Highlands (the LRT surely won’t go there, so Highlands riders would have to make another transfer in downtown Issaquah, or run a parallel bus service).

      I don’t know what Issaquah will ask for. Does the City still want rail after the studies? Maybe they should ask for BRT today and a commitment to study future rail options that don’t make their citizens go in circles.

      I can’t imagine that transit riders in Issaquah would thank the City if it advocated for a line to Hospital Station.

      1. We agree that the proposed version of Issaquah rail is not what should be built.

        We didnt get the impression that a robust attempt to solve the technical issues was taken up – like you said, it was dropped in level 1.

        The advantages of the alignment are clear and, though tricky, would hardly be the toughest technical endeavor in ST history.

        Considering the scale of the decision – we want to see all the options on the table.

      2. With the “better eastside rail” and ST’s ERC options travel between Kirkland and Seattle would either be an unimproved 1-seat trip (255 will sooner or later be kicked out of the DSTT) a 2-seat trip (still unimproved on the Seattle side) or a 3-seat trip via UW station. All of these options are a *degradation* of transit service for Kirkland. From my understanding of what Dan has outlined BRISK would improve all aspects of Kirkland – Seattle travel.

      3. People mover: Yes – Kirkland/520 is exactly the part of the BRT network not adressed by “Better Eastside Rail” – both projects should be in ST3.

        I’m still a little confounded by the transfer comment though. Kirkland will be a 2 seat ride in BRISK as well, no?

      4. If you use the ERC for rail then you can’t use it for buses right? Soo… assuming buses can use a parallel then you’re building two capital improvements on parallel corridor less than a 1/4 mile or so apart. That simply doesn’t make sense and is exactly why BRISK is such a great idea. You kill to birds with one stone.

        Transfers are an important tool in developing a transit network, but they need to deliver value to the rider primarily through reduced travel time. Forcing out of direction travel is a big no no and is a deal breaker for the Issaquah end of the line. Likewise, for travel over SR 520 all ERC rail ideas would require one more transfer than a bus based solution would. Thus the Kirkland end of the rail line has limited value as well. I simply don’t see any upside besides the fact that it’s rails.

      5. I’m not sure why you are forgiving the Bus transfers on Mercer Island but not the South Bellevue train transfers for rail… But I’ll digress on that point. Grade separated rail has significant political and environmental advantages and is cheaper to operate per rider, but maybe it doesn’t overcome the technical objections in this case.

        Re: Kirkland — OK, I see what you are saying. I was saying that some Kirkland BRT should be part of this project — not specifically ERC BRT.

        520 oriented BRT is a different corridor than what Better Eastside Rail would serve.

        It would be interesting if we could know how many riders would choose rail to rail transfers over moderately faster bus to rail transfers. Based on rider behavior elsewhere, I wouldn’t be surprised if the slower DT via Bellevue rail + rail ride beat out DT via 520 bus + rail ride for a shocking percentage of riders making that trip.

  4. I agree with Dan that BRT for Eastside makes sense for more than just the cost. It can serve more people and areas than light rail (if rightly implemented). The BRISK Network is a great starting point for discussion during the comment period for ST3.

    I would suggest a modification for Red Line that might make it even better. From BTC have the line move through Bellevue Way to South Bellevue P&R for a transfer point to East Link. Then use the I-90 off ramps towards Factoria and then use 36th St to get to Eastgate and Bellevue College where the line would terminate. Add another transfer to Green Line at Eastgate Freeway Station. i see following advantages with this alignment

    – Serves Factoria better with connections to Bellevue, Seattle (via East Link from S. Bellevue) and issaquah (through Green Line). It is currently not served by any line.
    – Serves Bellevue Way as a replacement for current 550 route which might be particularly helpful with all the new developments happening at Bellevue Way and Main Street intersections as well as connecting as a connector for western part of Downtown Bellevue.

    The roads through Factoria and Bellevue Way may require modifications in terms of adding bus lanes / priority but is still pretty achievable.

    1. I like that idea.

      There is a trade-off, though, and that is Issaquah/Eastgate and Bellevue College would not have a fast connection to downtown Bellevue. So I would keep the 555, but have it use the freeway from Eastgate to downtown Bellevue instead of the current routing (on Bellevue Way/112th). That makes it an express, and a very good one. That way you can quickly get from Issaquah or Eastgate to the Bellevue TC. Even with a transfer, that makes for a very fast ride from Bellevue College to the BTC. You could also change the 555 to include Bellevue College and it would probably be close to as fast as it is now (I’m sure taking Bellevue Way costs some time). Those routes complement each other quite well.

      If it turns out that Bellevue Way can’t be made fast for buses, then I would truncate that route at Bellevue TC. There may be some good stuff along Bellevue Way, but I think that part of the trip is not as strong as the rest of it. To connect Factoria, Eastgate and Bellevue College is huge, and we don’t have anything that comes close. Meanwhile, East Link comes close to Bellevue Way.

      1. Is it even possible to get from Eastgate Freeway Station to the I-405 ramps? My guess is no, as you would have to cut across a large number of lanes in a very short distance. My guess is that’s the primary reason why the 555 uses Bellevue Way today. The bus stop at South Bellevue P&R is secondary.

      2. That merge is illegal; there is a double stripe isolating the HOV lane in that area. Even if it were legal, it would be dangerous, as you have no more than about 1,000 feet to merge across 5 lanes. I wouldn’t try this in a car, much less a bus.

      3. Well, that’s too bad. I wonder how much a new lane/ramp would cost? I think it would be worth looking into. If lots of people from Issaquah want to get to downtown Bellevue, then this would be a good way for them to do so.

  5. I travel the 554 twice a day for work. I’d be highly opposed to cutting off *all* direct lines between Seattle and Issaquah/Eastgate. Even if the light rail is more frequent, I’d rather have to plan ahead a little than make a transfer.

    1. The problem is – it’s unclear whether the transfer would actually be saving you time. Assuming we’re talking about a peak-hour commute, EastLink would run every 6 minutes. Meanwhile, the 554’s current pathway into downtown would be taken over by the tracks, forcing the bus to operate along one of the general-purpose downtown exits. You could easily spend more time waiting at the exit ramp than what it would have taken to just get off at Mercer Island and wait for the train. And, if you’re trying to get to the UW, you would have to transfer to Link anyway, so doing it at downtown, rather than Mercer Island wouldn’t actually save any transfers.

      Off-peak, the big motivation for truncating the 554 is frequency. The bus spends a surprising number of service hours on downtown streets and, if it were truncated at Mercer Island, you would probably run it twice as often at similar cost. A higher frequency is not just about planning ahead. It’s also about not having to wait 20-30 minutes at Eastgate for a connecting bus to home, as well as not having to leave a baseball game with two outs in the bottom of the ninth with a tie score, just to avoid an hour-long wait for a bus home.

      The flip side, of course, is that if frequency is determined not by frequent-service standards, but by the number of expected riders per hour divided by the seating capacity of an articulated bus, off-peak riders would likely not see any improvement in frequency. Rather, whatever money is saved by truncating the bus all-day would be re-invested in more peak-period service. Especially on weekends, when people who are in their cars anyway on the way to bus will just drive a few extra miles directly to the train. On weekdays, the 554 is at least guaranteed some ridership simply because the parking garage at South Bellevue will not be able to accommodate anywhere near all the drivers who park at other P&R lots further east.

    2. Sound Transit will truncate the 554 when East Link opens, either to Mercer Island or South Bellevue, so you’ll have to transfer anyway. The 554 spends ~half of its service hours on the leg from Mercer Island to downtown Seattle, so a truncation allows for significant savings and/or service increases. Also, as asdf2 points out, the pathway into/out of downtown is going to get substantially worse when East Link takes over the I-90 Center Roadway and ramps to 5th Ave, costing more service hours to continue running the existing service.

    3. Yeah, what Jason said. It really doesn’t matter if ST3 passes or what is in it, you will have to transfer (like it or not). This is a sacrifice you will make for the greater good. You aren’t alone. Those who ride the 41 from Northgate to downtown won’t gain much time by using Link, and they will have to transfer. But the service hour savings will make Metro and Sound Transit do this soon after Link opens to the feeder stations.

      Nor should we assume that the savings will necessarily all flow back to your area. Metro and Sound Transit redo their routes all the time. They try and meet the biggest need with what they have. It is why service to Magnolia, for example, is nowhere near as good as it was when I was a kid. It isn’t that Magnolia has shrunk (it hasn’t) but just hasn’t grown as fast as the rest of the region. So service to the area has weakened, but other areas, areas arguably more in need, get better service. You won’t have a one stop ride into downtown, but the greater Seattle area (including Issaquah) will have a much better transit network.

      I do appreciate your comments, as they demonstrate how foolish it would be to spend billions extending light rail to Issaquah unless they could connect it to go downtown (and Sound Transit has made clear they won’t allow this). For most, this would mean a three seat ride to Seattle, not a two seat ride (take a bus to the train, then take a second train to downtown Seattle). If there is a “rail bias” out there, then there is certainly a “transfer bias” and I don’t think we can assume that the former is stronger than the latter (especially since the latter is often not a bias, but a factual advantage). I don’t think that people will necessarily flock to a system that isn’t much better for their commute (the area that will have the new light rail) but will result in a better overall network (especially since the money spent on rail could provide that anyway).

  6. In some sense, your map and plans are focusing what I think will one day be referred to the Old Town, an early dense cluster of development around Lake Washington that will give way to the vast expanse of land south, past King, into Tacoma and the rest of Washington State, where there are no restrictions by water.

    1. This would be a plausible scenario, except for the total absence of evidence of it happening at all. Eatonville and Prosser and Tonasket and Humptulips aren’t exactly booming.

  7. To put things in perspective, during my trip from Nice to Paris, doing about 200 mph during much of that, I clocked trains going the opposite direction as tight as 2 minutes apart and mostly 5 minutes, so that equates to 4 or 10 minute headways with closing speeds of nearly 400 mph.
    The stations in Europe are functional and well used, without all the glass mezzanines and grand escalators. I know they are mostly old, but the pedestrian subways work at substantially less cost than what ST and its design firms are offering up for future expansion. We have put all our eggs in tunnels or elevated sections of guideways, and ignored the obvious rail corridors where connecting the dots would have been much cheaper. Bothell Woodinville, Totem Lk, Kirkland, S.Kirlland P&R, Bellevue, Factoria, Renton, Tukwila would have been a great N-S corridor to intercept our natural E-W corridors.
    Instead, we will complete the spines, build a bunch of freeway crap, and call it a day.

    1. +1
      I’m from Japan where trains work similarly to the way they do in Europe, and I completely agree with you, why are american trains so crappy in just about every single way?

      -Awfully designed stations (Long walks for transfers, no food or beverage vending at all, incomprehensible signage)
      -Terrible head ways (7.5 mins is considered frequent in America…. in Japan trains can come every 3 mins OFF PEAK)
      -No express service, anywhere (There are rail lines in Tokyo, that have trains stopping every less than a mile, and trains that average 50+ mph running on the same tracks only minutes from each other, why is that not possible on Link?)
      -Pathetic top speeds (Fancy expensive elevated guide ways? only to achieve 55 mph?)

      Why America… why….

      1. Thank you for pointing out what a world class rail system ‘could be’ in America, and what we are being spoon fed as ‘the best we can do – given the paltry billions we’ve been given to work with’.
        American politicians will not look at rail transportation corridors as a national asset, so the railroads and every nimby neighborhood activist is allowed to block it’s development. We don’t give air corridors to airline companies, nor do we give roads to local developers (mostly). We do support privatization of turnpikes and RR row is sacred ground to the class ones. That’s why it’s cost prohibitive to build anything approaching world class around here.
        It’s quite common for passenger trains to pass by houses mere feet away in Europe or Asia. Try that in Kirkland or Newcastle. Ms Dunn had the Mayor of Renton squash the ERC early on in the planning process, so here we are 20 years later looking for freeway consolation prizes.

  8. I was very happy when I saw Sound Transit’s proposals originally because I don’t think that the BRISK BRT proposal is the right investment for the Eastside.

    We should just cancel any investment in 405 BRT, use that to fund better options, pretty much anywhere else in the region. WSDOT and the myriad of other agencies around here have demonstrated once-and-for-all that BRT is not a sustainable, viable solution when push-comes-to-shove. It’s too easy to make horrible compromises. Even the one “real” BRT we claim to have in the region **doesn’t even run on Sundays**.

    The “better light rail” proposal is the best option to get support on the Eastside — I think the only question is if there is a way to reduce the costs enough to get it to fit entirely in the package. Maybe you truncate it at DT Kirkland to save money and complete it in ST4.

    Honestly I think that BRISK BRT is better than 405 BRT because it actually serves where people are (unlike 405 which literally spends most of its time in the middle of forests and completely misses all key population centers). If I had to choose, I’d say cancel 405 BRT, and do BRISK as long as it was **100% convertible** to light rail in ST4. That means 100% dedicated ROW today. If the tires are rubber that’s fine, once you’ve done the work of getting the ROW laying tracks and wire and building platforms are a much lower barrier to entry.

    1. >> the only question is if there is a way to reduce the costs enough to get it to fit entirely in the package.

      And the only answer is no.

      Keep in mind, Seattle won’t chip in a dime. Why would they? Why run a line through the area least in need*, to connect to an area with only a handful of businesses and less density than Magnolia**. So I just don’t see this happening — I don’t see the east side picking up the whole bill (and it would be a big bill) just so that there is a really cool way to get from the UW to Kirkland.

      * Kirkland has only two census blocks over 10,000 people per square mile — both of which are in Juanita (an area not that close to the proposed rail line). Magnolia has three. Magnolia, by the way, is usually the neighborhood people use when they want to describe an area that lacks density (e. g. “West Seattle is not Magnolia, there are some big buildings there”).

      ** The area east of the UW is not very populous (it is like Magnolia) and the only destination there is a hospital. This is a decent destination, but not a huge one (it would be included if a line was built, but it certainly doesn’t justify a line). Meanwhile, once Link gets to 65th, most of this area will be tied in quite well to the rest of the system with stations at Husky Stadium, 45th and 65th. You can’t say that about, say, Ballard, because it is further away and the feeder streets encounter a lot more congestion.

    2. >> The “better light rail” proposal is the best option to get support on the Eastside…Maybe you truncate it at DT Kirkland to save money and complete it in ST4

      On top of the what RossB said about lack of support in Seattle, there’d be little support for it on the Eastside. While it serves one of the more dense areas on the Eastside, spending all the money on one tiny area is never going to get support except from a few people directly benefited by it. And I doubt most of Kirkland would want it anyway. The only way to get support for ST3 from East King is to provide direct benefits to a good chunk of the people here. While we can bicker on the details of BRT, it allows helping most people than a single, short, light rail line.

      >> Honestly I think that BRISK BRT is better than 405 BRT because it actually serves where people are (unlike 405 which literally spends most of its time in the middle of forests and completely misses all key population centers).

      The 405 corridor is about as equally densely populated as the 90 corridor and the ERC. The census tracts along the ERC are, for the most part, 4-5k people/sq. mile, but the ERC won’t hit the denser areas that are mostly on the shore, nor are they easily walkable for a good chunk of it. True, the 405 corridor has low density (~2k/sq. mile) in South Kirkland, but then goes to 3-5k density until Snohomish county. In fact, the densest census tracts as RossB pointed out, are in Juanita, which is even harder to get to than downtown Kirkland. South from Bellevue, the 405 corridor is similarly dense. The 90 corridor is equally, if not less dense, than the 405 corridor.

      The point is, 405 is not in the “middle of the forests”. I does miss of the downtowns, but that doesn’t necessarily mean population centers: the density of Kingsgate,along 405, is 5300 people/sq mile while Kirkland is 5000 people/sq mile, supposedly the population center. It is a decent compromise though and does provide benefit to a lot of people, unlike something that barely serves any part of East King.

      1. Bravo, rail doesn’t have to plow through the heart of the city to be effective. I suppose you could say I-405 doesn’t work because it too, misses all the same downtown centers.
        Oh, 405 has pretty good ridership last time I checked.

  9. RE: >> Neither do we know why BRT options on SR 520 are not on the list. Much Eastside transit demand is cross-lake.

    The issue with 520 BRT is that the last three mile problem you have is not on the Eastside.
    I-5 is not and will not be functional for buses without cooperation from WSDOT, and lots of money from North King subarea.

    The UW link station isn’t going to be a layover station for lots of new 520 buses, and the montlake neighborhood doesn’t want HOV lanes.

    1. The 520 corridor already functions a lot like BRT without new billion-dollar investments. We have HOV 3+ lanes that actually move. The new 520 bridge will have HOV lanes that continue all the way to Montlake. There is even an (unfunded) plan to build an HOV 3+ Montlake exit ramp.

      The biggest thing missing from the 520 corridor today is mostly just a question of service hours to run more buses. My understanding is that ST express bus improvements are separate from whatever capital-intensive projects are in ST’s draft list, so it may still happen.

      1. The current lanes aren’t enough, though. I’ve been stuck many times between 405 and the start of the westbound HOV lane; it needs to be extended.

        Also, the HOV exit ramp at Montlake is vital and must be built before U-Link opens.

      2. U-link is opening in one year. That is not enough time to build the HOV exit ramp. The short-term will bring a wider general-purpose exit ramp that can handle more car throughput, for which construction has actually already begun (with a light instead of a ‘yield’ to turn onto Montlake). But, for the next several years, that’s it.

        “I’ve been stuck many times between 405 and the start of the westbound HOV lane”

        The cheapest solution is driver education. Drivers need to get over into the right lane, exit the freeway, and re-enter using the direct access ramps. The problem is that the left lane always backs up first and some bus drivers prefer to just sit in it and inch along.

        For a slightly more expensive solution (but still fairly cheap), WSDOT could actually extend the westbound HOV lane to 405 with nothing more than a paint job. Just make the right-lane to 405 south exit-only, then restripe to shift the remaining to general-purpose lanes over to the right, immediately after 405. When the shift is complete, the left lane becomes the HOV lane and poof – problem solved.

        The beauty of this solution, besides being cheap, is that it has much less of an impact on general-purpose traffic than restriping the inside lane to be HOV all the way out to Redmond. That approach was canceled because it would leave just two GP lanes approaching 405 for both thru-drivers and drivers turning from 520 west onto 405 south. (Experience shows that the number of drivers who turn from 520 west to 405 south is quite large). The lane-shift idea does not impact drivers trying to get to 405 at all.

      3. Just make the right-lane to 405 south exit-only, then restripe to shift the remaining to general-purpose lanes over to the right, immediately after 405. When the shift is complete, the left lane becomes the HOV lane and poof – problem solved.

        Exactly. Other people have proposed this idea here before, and it makes great amounts of sense. I’ve scoped it out while sitting in the buses, and I don’t see any problems with it. We should organize a group to advocate for this.

        The short-term will bring a wider general-purpose exit ramp that can handle more car throughput, for which construction has actually already begun

        This might be enough in the short term… but, at least in the long term, something better is needed. We can’t expect everyone in buses to sit in traffic to wait to transfer to U-Link.

      4. For the long term, we already have the HOV ramp to Montlake. Once buses get to Montlake, it’s usually pretty smooth getting across the bridge. Bridge closures are possible, but they don’t happen during rush hour, and when they do happen, the HOV ramp will put the buses near the front of the line when the bridge re-opens again.

        It’s not funded now, but it is funded in the proposed state transportation packages, and there is no point is spending Sound Transit money on a project that WSDOT will likely pay for. (Remember, if the transportation package doesn’t pass, there will be no ST 3, so you can’t talk about ST 3 picking up the tab instead).

    2. This has been suggested a lot already, but would it be possible for ST3 to fund a bus-only fly-over ramp from the 520 HOV lanes directly to UW station? I know it would be very expensive, but it would still be less expensive than that small segment of the proposed 520 rail that ST studied, and it would improve reliability and travel times substantially, especially during peak hours. (I seem to recall that some of the original 520 bridge proposals had a similar ramp–why didn’t it get approved?)

      1. It’s not just money – it’s also space. There would be no way to build it without completely destroying the Montlake environment. You would also have to convince the UW to give up a bunch of premium parking spaces for a bus loop, and the UW, being a government institution, is not subject to eminent domain.

        Let’s give the new exit ramp a chance in a few months and see how well it does before we jump to conclusions and fund multi-billion dollar ship canal crossings.

      2. I would be expensive an encounter local (Montlake) opposition. Not that it would be impossible, but WSDOT is moving away from it (moving away from a new Montlake bridge). I think the best bet would be a new bridge just to the east of the other bridge, which would not take any houses, but be over part of the park. This would connect into the parking lot.

      3. asdf and I pretty much said the same thing. There are other things that can be done as well. This here would do a lot:
        Assuming HOV ramps are built with 520, that pretty much eliminates the problem in getting to Husky Stadium. You have a jump ahead situation, and buses are in the right lane, and can stay in the right lane all the way to the station. There just isn’t that much traffic on that lane for that short section.

        Things aren’t great the other direction (heading south). Traffic builds up so much getting on 520 that a bus can’t reach the HOV lane. But Seattle DOT could force people out of the inside lane. Basically, if you are a regular car and you want to go to 520, you have to be in the right lane by the time you reach the intersection before the bridge. That lane ends at 520. Meanwhile, the left lane is used by those headed south (towards the Central District) as well as those headed to the HOV lane. This rarely backs up and it won’t, even if it is one lane (because it eventually extends to two anyway).

        In general all of this should be worked out now, instead of waiting. Sound Transit, Metro, the city and the UW should sit down and figure out a plan. The section of road between 520 and the Montlake bridge is being planned right now, and it makes sense to get WSDOT and the transit agencies to work with each other. The UW basically just needs to cooperate with a bus station (as proposed by Adam) which may mean nothing more than negotiating for money (that could be used for a parking garage if they really wanted it). My guess is they would be happy with buses and more cash.

      4. WSDOT’s plan also includes an eastbound HOV entrance ramp at Montlake, too, which will put the bus right in the HOV lane. The ramp is supposed to be 3+. It would be in the middle of the Montlake lid.

      5. @asdf2 — There already is an HOV ramp. Where would the new ramp be, and how far back is it. Right now, the ramp is in the right lane, and is after the general purpose lane. This means a bus either has to be in the left lane and cut over at the last minute, or slog through the left lane. It really isn’t the ramp that is the problem, it is the lanes and the bridge. Unless you force people to be in the left lane (as I suggested) before the bridge, you will make it tough on buses.

  10. I think at the core of the Eastside problem is that it is generally that the subarea isn’t dense enough for high-frequency light rail, and many residents think BRT just isn’t sexy enough. I also think that Eastlink does a great job at reaching the places that Eastside residents think that rail should go, so expanding that doesn’t get Eastside people highly excited.

    At this stage, the timeline is too short for a re-conception of an ST3 package. That leaves us with finding ways to reduce costs on the corridors we have already studied. Some options:

    1. Look at more single-track operations as a cost saving measure. If we get the one track built in ST3, then the next track can be funded in ST4.

    2. Expand the technology options that have the appeal of light rail (on a track) but are less costly. Only the ERC study began to look at a self-propelled commuter rail option and in that case the stations were horribly sited. Some of the connections could be served by self-propelled single tracks in an interim condition. Electrification can be done later — like maybe ST4.

    Is this a reasonable strategy?

      1. It’s difficult for me to imagine that single tracking helps very much. With rail (or new build busways for that matter) a big part of the cost is acquisition of right of way and then draining and grading it. I have a hard time imagining cases where it would be cost effective to do half the job and then come in and retrofit the other half. On top of that, a rail line that has significant amounts of single track running and yet can be operated effectively is likely not worth building. One possible exception might come if we tried to serve South Bellevue P&R on an Issaquah line, where a smaller bridge across the Slough would be significantly cheaper and have less environmental impact. [I’m very dubious that a cost effective environmentally acceptable path can be found from S. Bellevue to I-90 East, but, unlike the Sand Point Crossing, which doesn’t even meet the smell test, I wouldn’t mind spending a decent amount of money trying to design something and failing].

      2. Unfortunately, the ST is providing a big cost estimate for a line from Issaquah to Hospital Station to Kirkland in Phase 2 of their recent study. Then, if this ST corridor in this study is actually built, all Issaquah people would have to go to Hospital Station and transfer, rather than transfer at South Bellevue for either Downtown Seattle or Downtown Bellevue. (STB put a few items calling out ST on this negligence but it has not gotten much traction.) That would make an Issaquah/Eastgate rail line pretty much politically unacceptable to Issaquah and Eastgate as well as produce awful ridership forecasts (and I have to wonder if ST did this deliberately to take the corridor off the table for ST3).

  11. As an Eastside taxpayer, it’s difficult to get excited about ST-3. I’ll vote yes if (1) East and North King don’t get shaken down to finance the spine and (2) genuine needs in North King don’t get sloppy treatments to fund gold plated transit to Alaska Junction.

    East Link to Redmond makes sense as a continuation of what has already been built. But, as I have said elsewhere, I don’t think it should be taken as the obvious first priority. It’s liable to eat close to a third of the revenue, and has fairly limited benefit. [And I say that as a Mercer Island to downtown Redmond commuter].

    BRT on 405 gets a lot of bang for the buck, but is a radial BRT system centered on Bellevue running on freeways and probably not interchanging well with Link exciting? Not really. The rail proposal seems awfully expensive for what we get: a second light rail line that skirts Bellevue without managing to actually serve it.

    Speaking for myself, my priorities for the Eastside are (1) Acceptable interchange between the 520 buses and Link. This clearly benefits East King, so East King should pay for it. Without it, most of the northern Eastside is likely to be worse off once Link opens. (2) improved connectivity from Renton (remember its in East King) to the Rainier Valley Link, better enough that freeway buses on I-5 are no longer clearly bette outside of the high peak. (3) Excellent interchanges from the existing Link line through Seattle to whatever is built to serve the swathe of Seattle immediately north of the Ship Canal. My hope is that this will just happen on North King’s dime, but I wouldn’t object to some funding coming out of East King to pay for it if that what it takes. [I actually have a higher priority, but I don’t think getting East Link to actually serve downtown Bellevue is actually a political possibility at this point].

    BTW, at this point my sense is that a bus intercept on Mercer Island is not going to happen. The murmurs I hear from the more enlightened members of the City Council are that there’s overwhelming negative feedback, and that there are insurmountable technical challenges. I think that ST’s attempt to use the already promised mitigation money as a lever here has hardened opposition. I would rate ST’s chances of getting necessary co-operation on this extremely poorly. I think that this is unfortunate.

    1. The problem with East King is that it’s basically a collection of small, almost independent towns. I live on the border of Bothell and Kirkland. I’ve gone to Renton, Sammamish, and Issaquah fewer than 5 times in the last year. When I do go, it’s on the weekend, so there’s no traffic, and usually on the way somewhere. The people who live there probably never go to Bothell, Kirkland, or Woodinville. Why would I vote for something I’d never use? East Link got support because it solves the problem of going to Seattle. But nothing in this package does.

      The other issue is that from what I’ve heard and what I’ve seen, 90 has few traffic problems, particularly in the HOV lanes. The big problems are on 405, and almost everyone uses that or is affected by it (I think the only problems on 90 are due to 405 traffic). Why spend over a billion dollars on transit to Issaquah when buses will run as well if not better?

  12. I would like ST to consider running all day 15 minute frequency ST Express lines with light rail type stop spacing in every primary HCT corridor that won’t get rail this time around. It would facilitate longer distance transit travel, feed into the funded HCT network, and gauge demand in corridors presently served only by local, infrequent, or peak time express transit. For the corridors that have heavy demand, like the 550s of the future, there would be a real-life justification for building light rail in them in ST4. Building a frequent express system that ties the region together in short order is an underrated concept.

    1. It’s a valid concept — but I have my doubts that this could work politically. That’s exactly what we’ve done with 520!

      I don’t see anyone on STB advocating to replace the 520 buses with light rail as a top priority — even though that was put on the table with the corridor studies last year! The ironic thing about that is that a 520 LRT produced more riders (18 to 22K in their future year testing) than any of the other studied Eastside corridors by far! If we were to choose an Eastside ST3 project based on ridership and cost of the corridors, this would be the most productive.

    2. It’s an interesting idea, but it only works if the “corridor” is actually one currently and adequately served by roads. You can add all the capacity you want to the 44, and N. 45th Street is still going to be stop-and-go from I-5 to Stone Way at most times of the day.

      1. I’m more thinking of places where there isn’t already something frequent like the 44. In my mind I see a regional rail system type map, where there is a stop or two per town, but instead of rail everywhere or even “BRT,” we take the first step of providing every 15 minute express service along corridors that we want to have light rail eventually, to get people accustomed to there being frequent, limited stop transit available. Yes, there are always the folks who won’t step on a bus and whatnot, but trying to skip from 30 minute headway local buses to Link in some areas doesn’t seem correct.

  13. The Eastside needs better government. I wonder if we’d do better to plan as four or six cities (Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland, Renton; maybe add Issaquah & Woodinville.) when Bellevue decided to work with Redmond we did reasonable changes in the Overlake area. Having a regional view might help a bunch.

    And no, King County isn’t an answer. King is way too concerned about the eastern hinterlands and way too controlled by Seattle folks who have little understanding of the suburbs.

  14. Just to be clear, are you proposing BRT along the Cross Kirkland Corridor?

    I agree with you that extending Eastlink to Redmond and BRT on 405 should be first on the list. I also agree with you about not running light rail on the Cross Kirkland Corridor (for a variety of reasons).

    I am not sure people (Kirkland residents) understand the benefits and trade-offs with regards to the CKC of putting rail or BRT on the corridor. Might require quite an education/sales effort.

  15. Is there any reason that a Factoria stop couldn’t be on the north side of I-90 at the intersection of Richard Road and Eastgate Way? Sure, its a less ideal position than a stop at 38th, but it is less than half a mile from 38th, and it could set things up for a run along Eastgate Way. You could then close the last half mile or so of Eastgate Way, diverting car thru-traffic to 36th. The tracks would run at or near grade at Richards Road, rising as it heads east onto an elevated track at the Eastgate P&R / Freeway station. The foundations for the tracks would be in divider between I-90 and Eastgate Way, maybe even taking up a portion of the eastbound lanes of Eastgate Way. To make additional room for the foundations, there is a center turning lane here which could probably be removed due to the lack of a thru-traffic requirement.

  16. Are there any options for BRT on the Eastside that would build infrastructure that could later be used by light rail once residential and employment densities in places like Downtown Kirkland, Factoria, and Eastgate reach a level that would actually merit true high-capacity transit? I have a feeling that by 2050 some of those areas will be ready for light rail, and it would be nice to have some features like stations, elevated guideways, or even tunnels that that light rail could use.

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