Sound Transit and Kirkland are considering a possible light rail station at the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride. After the draft system plan was released on March 24 without the hoped-for service to Kirkland on the Eastside Rail Corridor, the Eastside Board members wrote the city suggesting study of a short rail extension to South Kirkland. Staff analysis on both sides is underway.
Preliminary analysis envisions extending the planned Issaquah line from Wilburton to South Kirkland along the ERC. The travel time to Bellevue would be 7 minutes. The extension would cost $307 million, serving 2,500 daily riders, perhaps truncating some Metro routes. A 500-stall parking structure would add another $28 million to the capital cost.
The symbolic relevance of the proposed station is obvious. For Sound Transit, it suggests the Issaquah-Totem Lake rail line will be completed in ST4 (the draft plan also includes an environmental study of transit on the corridor). For Kirkland too, it’s an affirmation the city will finally see high-capacity transit in ST4, though rail rather than the BRT which the City expects would be more productive. For homeowners who opposed transit “on the trail” in ST3, it means transit plans were not defeated, only deferred.
Pending a future transit package, how would the spur line fit in the network? After all, this could be the terminus of the rail line for a long time. There are some obvious questions:
Is South Kirkland a viable destination? The planned station mostly targets riders arriving via Metro routes from the north, along with drivers to the expanded parking facility. Current local land use is primarily office with extensive surface parking and little near-term redevelopment in the pipeline. On the other hand, proximity to Bellevue will surely help redevelopment before rail service begins (anticipated at the very end of the ST3 program in 2041). Zoned heights on the Kirkland side of the station max out at 65′. But, with few residential neighbors and an adjacent highway, the path to more aggressive zoning may not be difficult.
Added parking comes with well-understood trade-offs, but replacing some of the existing surface lot with a 500-stall garage would hardly be decisive. Both Kirkland and Bellevue (the P&R is mostly within Bellevue city limits) should be having a land use conversation, even if Sound Transit’s immediate analysis must rely on current PSRC projections.
What does the transit network map around a South Kirkland rail station look like? Most riders to Seattle would prefer a cross-lake bus to UW station in any scenario. Kirkland-Bellevue riders will be served by Rapid Ride (by 2025 per the Metro LRP). Would that be improved upon by having riders exit the bus to a train, with the associated transfer penalty?
Metro scheduled travel times between South Kirkland and Bellevue are between 9 and 14 minutes. Rapid Ride would improve on that. Link would take just 7 minutes, better for passengers embarking at South Kirkland, but typically no faster for riders who might otherwise have direct service.
The South Kirkland proposal was proffered too late to be considered in Metro’s LRP. It would be helpful if Sound Transit and Metro could draw a map of the bus network feeding the rail station that makes the rider benefits clear.
What about Surrey Downs? Until recently, Sound Transit’s operational assumption had Issaquah-Totem Lake rail intersecting East Link at Wilburton, with a transfer to reach downtown Bellevue. In the March draft plan, Sound Transit interlines Issaquah rail through downtown Bellevue between East Main and Wilburton.
In Bellevue, this re-opened a debate about rail near Surrey Downs that the city had thought over. East Link minimizes neighborhood impacts by placing the rail at a lower grade along 112th (“road-over-rail”). The Issaquah line, because it must cross I-405, would be elevated before merging with the East Link line south of East Main Station. It also means more trains in the area than neighbors anticipated. Others on Bellevue City Council are making an affirmative case for placing Bellevue’s second rail line along the east side of I-405, serving an area that is expected to accommodate much of Bellevue’s future growth.
An east-of-I-405 alignment will be unappealing to riders from Kirkland (or Issaquah) to downtown Bellevue. For riders from further north, a three-seat journey to downtown Bellevue (bus-train-train) would be fatal to the appeal of a South Kirkland rail terminus.
Why not a busway? The discussion about South Kirkland has focused on rail, with Kirkland’s expectations having evolved after the bruising discussions that preceded the draft plan. But a busway from Bellevue to South Kirkland would dramatically ease bus-rail integration challenges in a topographically challenging space. Buses could drive from the ERC into the transit center, continuing into Kirkland on surface streets. This would deliver to riders the benefits of an exclusive corridor within Bellevue whether or not the line is ever extended further to the north.