On Tuesday evening, the Kirkland City Council approved a letter to the Sound Transit Board offering a compromise to resolve the impasse over transit on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). The letter (significantly revised from the draft Zach reported on Saturday) seeks an investment in trail access from Kirkland to the Wilburton Link Station and Kingsgate BRT station. These trails would be designed to accommodate transit, carefully signaling the integration of transit and other uses on the corridor. At the same time, ST3 would fund planning and development for high-capacity transit on the corridor, leading to a record of decision for transit in the next regional package.
The “Kirkland Compromise” includes:
- A Regional Trail connection from Sound Transit’s Totem Lake terminus to Sound Transit’s Wilburton Station in Bellevue along the CKC and ERC. This would be a fully developed permanent trail built to the specifications of the Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan in Kirkland and King County’s ERC Regional Trail Master Plan in Bellevue.
- Trail planning aligned with transit planning to clearly define a future transit envelope in the CKC and ERC in Bellevue. Planning the trail and transit together ensure the trail would not be disrupted in the future.
- Design money allocated for transit design on the CKC/ERC to achieve a record of decision.
- BRT on I-405 to include an inline station at NE 85th along with transit service directly connecting downtown Kirkland to Redmond along NE 85th in exclusive lanes.
The Compromise commits all parties to future transit on the CKC, even if delayed (Kirkland reiterates its preference for BRT on the Corridor in ST3). It accelerates development of Kirkland’s primary walking and biking corridor, and advances access for walk/bike to I-405 BRT at Kingsgate and East Link at Wilburton.
Placing the proposal in context, Kirkland emphasizes its longstanding support for expanded transit options in Kirkland and for light rail expansion regionally. Kirkland’s analysis of its own needs sought to maximize transit ridership. That led to their proposal for a flexible BRT corridor which could serve far more riders than a single-line BRT or rail service alone, and at far lower cost or impact to adjacent trails than the light rail option.
Sound Transit has resisted BRT in Kirkland. BRT options were not included in the draft priority list in 2015, so the public was never invited to comment. At Kirkland’s urging, it was added to the final priority list. When BRT again faced resistance, Kirkland suggested another compromise “LRT with flexibility” which would have funded rail, but allowed BRT if study found it was more effective.
At the same time, there are concerns about the effect of rail on the CKC. Home owners along the trail organized as “Save Our Trail” opposing any transit in the corridor. The Council resisted their often extreme rhetoric. But there are real issues too. Rails would reduce accessibility and cross-ability of the trail because the tracks would be extensively fenced. A trail that is difficult to access would hamper other goals of improving walking and biking access. Less accessible rail stations would require more parking because of their distance from denser ridership centers. There are concerns about the visual impacts of catenary and pylons.
Sound Transit Board members recently informed Kirkland they would only consider light rail. With fewer than 5,000 riders in 2040, Kirkland sees light rail as inadequate to its transit needs, and simultaneously too impactful to the City’s popular trail and goals of developing walkable/bikeable connections. The rail ridership would be a fraction of Kirkland’s transit ridership in 2040; fewer even than ride Metro 255 in Kirkland today.
Kirkland offered its latest compromise as a way to keep alive plans for future transit on the corridor while improving non-motorized transportation in the nearer term.
Relative to Kirkland’s earlier hopes for better transit, the current impasse is a disappointment. But the compromise at least promises much-improved connections to Redmond, and affirms the corridor will have transit, though on an uncertain timetable.
Coordination of trail construction and transit planning ought to mitigate the risk a future transit proposal will be viewed as incompatible. On the other hand, if permanent trails are built absent planning for transit, they are likely to become even more entrenched obstacles to future rail or BRT. Building permanent trails around an agreed transit envelope, and reaching a record of decision on a transit alignment, are key to a future consensus. For Sound Transit, the Kirkland Compromise offers an opportunity to fund politically popular trails and to improve access to stations. The trails, and associated planning for transit, would cost $250 million vs $1.4 billion for light rail, or about half that for BRT.
Sound Transit’s legal authority to build trails may yet be a sticking point to a deal. Kirkland sees trails terminating at Sound Transit stations as multi-modal access to transit, within Sound Transit’s authority and indeed a stated priority for ST3. In a letter Tuesday, Sound Transit’s General Counsel Desmond Brown suggested Sound Transit views the trails as mitigation, so that they could only be built concurrently with transit. Kirkland’s response (attached to the letter to the Board) points out Sound Transit had considered this trail as access, and thereby authorized, as recently as last year.
Kirkland’s letter closes in reiterating that they see BRT on the CKC as the ‘best and most cost effective transit mode’. The City remains open to funding high capacity transit without selecting a mode. If neither of these suggestions is possible, Kirkland would support the ST3 package if it includes the Kirkland Compromise. If none find favor with the Board, or if the latter is not legally possible, the City is looking to Sound Transit to provide alternatives. Discussions are expected to continue over the next several days.