By Jay Arnold
Later this afternoon, the Sound Transit Board will begin to define the ST3 package by determining their priority project list (PPL). As the project list gets narrowed, Sound Transit board members have an opportunity to be responsive to feedback from open houses and community outreach, provide meaningful transportation options for areas of dramatic growth, and create an ST3 package that has the best chance to be successful at the ballot in 2016.
Kirkland is in the middle of this dramatic growth. With over 82,000 residents, we are a smart-growth city that has already planned for transit-oriented development. Over the past decade, we have zoned for dense commercial and residential development, and are now seeing explosive growth with thousands of new multi-family units in the pipeline and thousands of new high-tech jobs in our downtown and Totem Lake urban center. Now, we need the transit.
Sound Transit’s draft priority project list (updated 6/9) includes bus rapid transit (BRT) from Lynnwood to SeaTac along the I-405 corridor. This recognizes the need to connect cities among the Eastside and provides nearby access to East Link rail in Bellevue. The BRT leverages expansion of HOV/managed access lanes on I-405, direct access ramps in Renton, Bellevue and Kirkland, and existing park and rides adjacent to I-405. In Kirkland, Sound Transit envisions park & ride expansion and potential garage construction at Houghton Park & Ride, Kirkland downtown and Totem Lake.
The I-405 BRT line can be vastly improved by taking advantage of opportunities to eliminate the car-dependent focus for the last mile. Instead of just connecting cities on a map, Sound Transit should connect places using the Eastside Rail Corridor and allow more riders to get directly to their destinations.
In Kirkland, Bus Rapid Transit along the corridor would:
- Directly serve employment centers: In Kirkland today, over 18,000 jobs are within a half-mile walking distance of the corridor. BRT on the corridor would provide ability for folks to take transit directly to work. A great example is Google’s Kirkland campus (which is doubling in size, with new buildings to open this fall), which is bisected by the corridor. Their expansions and improvements anticipate and support future service.
- Connect between activity centers: Instead of connecting highway exit ramps, using the Eastside Rail Corridor connects Totem Lake, Kirkland’s designed urban center, Kirkland downtown (whose growth may soon qualify it for an urban center designation), South Kirkland Park & Ride, and light rail in Bellevue (with the hospital station at NE 8th Street).
- Integrate transit with biking and walking: Kirkland has developed an interim trail for the segment of the Eastside Rail Corridor that we own (the “Cross Kirkland Corridor”) and envision a multi-use corridor with transit, cycling, and pedestrians. The right of way is over 100 feet wide and our master plan illustrates how all modes can be accommodated, dedicating a 30-foot transit envelope. Kirkland is a willing partner in working with Sound Transit on a BRT expressway on the Cross Kirkland Corridor.
- Support transit oriented development: Efforts that Kirkland is doing such as the TOD at the South Kirkland Park & Ride (with both market-rate and affordable housing) and residential suites (our version of “apodments”) in our downtown work because they are adjacent to frequent bus routes today. With pending redevelopment and planned growth in Totem Lake, downtown, and business centers along the corridor, Sound Transit has the opportunity to support this development as it is happening, not waiting for the next transit package.
Instead of forcing folks to drive their cars to new Sound Transit parking facilities near Interstate 405 (causing more congestion on city streets), why not provide ways to connect directly to activity centers along the corridor (and eliminate vehicle trips)?
Our analysis shows BRT on the corridor in Kirkland tops other proposed projects using Sound Transit’s own ridership projections and scoring criteria.
Sound Transit already owns an easement along the corridor. Sound Transit’s long range plan envisions light rail on the corridor between Totem Lake, Bellevue and connecting along I-90 to Issaquah. Constrained finances will likely limit ST3 to only planning and design funding for this light rail segment. But we cannot wait 20 to 30 years for ST4 to build any transit along the Eastside Rail Corridor. Sound Transit needs to build BRT now and can convert to light rail in the future, following the model where RapidRide lines in Seattle will convert to light rail in ST3.
Sound Transit 3 should take advantage of the Eastside Rail Corridor and use it for Bus Rapid Transit.
Kirkland Councilmember Jay Arnold represents Kirkland on the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Advisory Council and the Puget Sound Regional Council Transit Oriented Development Advisory Committee. His comments above reflect his own position and do not necessarily reflect the positions of other council members or city staff.