Last August, Sound Transit selected a Project Priority List to proceed to the next level of study for the ST3 ballot measure. Since then, the agency has been working with other stakeholders to evaluate potential projects. The City of Kirkland, having successfully advocated for a Bus Rapid Transit option on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), has worked with consultants to develop a more comprehensive vision for that service. The first details of their work were shared at a City Council meeting last week. The City is also working with agencies on light rail and I-405 BRT options.
Kirkland is balancing several policy goals. The City is pro-transit, and understands that BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor offers far better connections to Kirkland’s growing neighborhoods than the alternatives. But the corridor is also a well-loved place to walk and bike. With rails being removed to the north and south of Kirkland, the ERC is shortly anticipated to be a high demand bike corridor with the highest demand through urban neighborhoods in Kirkland and Bellevue. Walk and bike uses would benefit in obvious ways from integration with accessible transit. To these ends, Kirkland is eager to see a transit infrastructure that mostly hugs the eastern side of the corridor, maximizing the space available to trail users and preserving views to the west. Sound Transit originally anticipated transit would follow the legacy rail-bed down the center of the corridor, more closely encroaching on the trail which would be correspondingly pushed toward the edge of the corridor.
Kirkland bought a 5 3/4 mile section of the Eastside Rail Corridor in April 2012, known locally as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). In 2014, the City removed tracks and built a crushed-gravel interim trail along the former rail-bed. The City’s master plan for the Corridor envisions the interim trail eventually being replaced by paved permanent trails alongside transit, with a primary trail mostly following the center of the corridor, and a lower-speed pedestrian-only trail on busier segments. Sound Transit retains an easement on the Corridor for high-capacity transit, as do some other utilities. However, it is unclear whether Sound Transit (as easement holder) or the City (as corridor owner) governs the placement of transit within the corridor. In September, Kirkland contracted with consultants on pre-design of compatible transit infrastructure, seeking to demonstrate to both Sound Transit and other stakeholders that a balanced design is possible.
What they came up with was an engineering design that increased the space for trails at what appears to be reasonable capital cost. Preliminary concept design also looked at pinch points on the corridor in Kirkland and Bellevue. They developed engineering concept solutions through all of the tight areas that do not adversely impact the trail.
Kirkland is advocating a gold standard BRT (per ITDP standards) with eight stops between Totem Lake and Downtown Bellevue. The corridor would see several overlapping services. A BRT route would run from Kingsgate to Bellevue (green line), almost entirely along the ERC. Overlapping would be services from Woodinville and Bothell to Seattle (orange line). These could avoid delays at the I-405/SR 520 interchange, speeding travel to Seattle while increasing service frequency through Kirkland (and incidentally providing Kirkland with faster service to its northern neighbors). A Metro service similar to today’s 255 would serve Juanita to Seattle (blue line), using the corridor for a portion of its route. Together, these would yield combined frequencies on the corridor of every 2-3 minutes at peak. The corridor bus services would be integrated with I-405 BRT (grey line), connecting at Kingsgate and Downtown Bellevue. An Issaquah-Seattle service could potentially use the corridor in Bellevue to get to SR 520 and University of Washington (yellow line).
At the south end, the BRT route would connect to Link at Wilburton station and terminate at the Bellevue Transit Center, serving riders to the Bellevue downtown core and connecting with bus service to elsewhere in the region. This would require completion of the overpass at NE 6th (currently built out only on the west side).
While light rail to Kirkland seems less probable than BRT in ST3, the City continues to work with Sound Transit on advancing the best possible options to the next stage. The City’s preference is to advance four stations in Kirkland; lower cost options under consideration would have fewer. The City anticipates that rail would have much lower ridership than BRT, hampered by the relatively few stations, and the inability to serve riders to Seattle. Downtown could only be served via a shuttle to a 6th St station.
I-405 BRT is far from most Kirkland transit users, but the city seeks to mitigate the weak local connections by adding a second Kirkland stop at NE 85th (one freeway station at NE 128th St already exists). The I-405 corridor studies explored a station at NE 85th, but the extreme cost and rework to the highway made it unlikely. The City suggests a simpler inline station, with elevator or stair access to connecting buses below. This more affordable model relies on bus and pedestrian connections rather than a large park-and-ride.
Technical analysis continues with Metro and Sound Transit, modeling travel times and estimating costs for the candidate project templates. The promising preview of the design will help allay the concerns of trail users who fretted about an over-sized transit infrastructure dominating the corridor. It remains to be seen how Sound Transit will incorporate these ideas into their process. The City’s unusually public process has, unfortunately, awakened the attention of some neighbors who are opposed to any transit on the corridor. Kirkland’s conversation with its citizens continues at an Open House and Community Update on November 19 (6.30-9PM at the Kirkland Performance Center).