ST3 rail will terminate on the other side of this intersection in South Kirkland in 2041

The ST3 program is widely viewed as disappointing for Kirkland. The city wasn’t quite passed over: I-405 BRT will serve Totem Lake and NE 85th St in 2024, and rail will extend to South Kirkland in 2041. But most observers focus on the missed opportunity to connect Downtown Kirkland via the Eastside Rail Corridor. Why did this happen, and what are the implications?

It’s instructive to start at the beginning. In mid-2015, ST3 was anticipated as a 15-year package including rail to Redmond and BRT on I-405. Other Eastside rail investments would follow in ST4. Recognizing the risks of waiting, Kirkland developed a Bus Rapid Transit proposal with Sound Transit and Metro buses running in largely exclusive right-of-way along the ERC. The reduced capital costs, it was hoped, could fit within a 15-year program.

Destinations that can be reached via transit/walking in one hour from Downtown Kirkland. ST2 and early improvements to the Metro network deliver more than the ST3 program. Source: King County Metro

As a 25-year program came into view, the calculus shifted to potentially include a rail line between Kirkland and Issaquah. But Kirkland’s study highlighted several advantages of a busway. It could serve more destinations including Seattle (with four times the demand of a Bellevue-Kirkland service). It connected more activity centers within Kirkland, and eased the challenge of serving Downtown Kirkland. A busway might better balance trail uses, though not enough to appease South Kirkland neighbors who were determined not to have any transit passing their homes.

Kirkland was convinced of the advantages of BRT on the Corridor, but other stakeholders were less supportive. Sound Transit, improbably, estimated only about as many riders on the BRT in 2040 as the corresponding Metro routes today, emphasizing time penalties of deviating off the corridor to serve denser areas. The tortured history of BRT “alternatives” to rail on the Eastside ensured transit lobby groups would be skeptical. Issaquah worried about the implications of Kirkland BRT for its own rail plans. Even Bellevue placed a greater emphasis on I-405 BRT as a major north-south connection.

In March, negotiations deadlocked, and compromise proposals fell apart. The Board dodged the stalemate in Kirkland by building to Central Issaquah instead. Kirkland would only get two I-405 BRT stops and a study of ST4 options. A late amendment to the plan added a short rail extension to South Kirkland. Regulatory risk was minimized by locating the station within the city of Bellevue.

In a more dispassionate technical exercise, the Board would have selected rail to Kirkland over rail to Issaquah. Arguably, Kirkland’s BRT option outperformed either. Ridership on a rail line between Kirkland and Issaquah is mostly intra-Bellevue, with fewer riders at the ends of the line. But the economics favored an extension to Kirkland over Issaquah because the right of way was less expensive.

Among options serving the core Wilburton-Eastgate corridor, rail extensions to Kirkland would have delivered similar ridership at much lower costs. Source: Sound Transit
Compare the last three options. Rail from Eastgate to Kirkland would have delivered similar ridership at lower cost than a line to Issaquah. Source: Sound Transit

There has been much second-guessing of the tactical decisions made, mostly by observers not in the room. One popular view saw the decision as a concession to Save-Our-Trail. They were certainly prominent at Board and Council meetings. But six members of the Kirkland Council supported transit on the corridor to the end, even while attempting a balance between competing corridor uses. The Board was ready to build rail. Save-Our-Trail seems to have succeeded largely by accident.

More puzzling is why a bus-vs-rail debated ended with neither. The Kirkland BRT plan would have returned several hundreds of millions for projects elsewhere. There was understandable frustration in Kirkland that others insisted on a more expensive and arguably less functional alternative.

Tactical decisions aside, Kirkland was inadequately prepared for the ST3 process in several ways.

Downtown Kirkland is small and the community mostly favors keeping it that way. Only by the forgiving standards of the East King subarea would an urban center so small (or constrained by regulation) be considered for a large ST3 investment. When the debate grew contentious, Kirkland was not critical to the regional system and it was too easy for the Board to walk away.

The political groundwork was not in place. Kirkland’s BRT proposal evolved through work with consultants in 2015. That was very late to socialize ideas with such complex impacts to neighboring cities. It didn’t help either that citizens were surprised to learn of a transit proposal alongside the newly opened trail.

Land use policy, except maybe in Totem Lake, is not transit-supportive. Even as ST3 planning was underway, the City botched an effort at multifamily parking reforms (de facto, already high parking minimums increased), and limited a rezone just a block south of the transit center. A rezone in Houghton was deferred until after the election. At the same time, other cities were boosting their prospects with aggressive increases in planned growth and regional growth center designations.

At the same time, other parties did not consider local needs closely. Transit advocates sought a complete regional rail system, and believed rail would “vote” better on the Eastside. Little attention was paid to the challenges of using a corridor that was close, but not quite close enough, to demand centers. The costs of rail into Downtown were never studied, despite the reasonable worry that bus connections from downtown to a 6th St station would prove unworkable.

It’s tempting, but wrong, to see ST3 as dooming Kirkland to be outpaced by other Eastside centers in the next 25 years. A rail line with fewer than 5000 riders between Wilburton and Totem Lake wouldn’t even serve a large proportion of Kirkland transit users in 2040, so the loss is less consequential than one might suppose. Meanwhile, the Metro Long Range Plan anticipates early investments in Kirkland including an upgraded connection between downtown and Bellevue by 2025.

There are other grounds for optimism. Notwithstanding regulatory constraints, historic downtown remains one of the densest and most in-demand urban centers on the Eastside. The 85th St BRT station is inconveniently far from the traditional downtown, but less far from the parts of downtown where more growth is permitted. The Totem Lake Urban Center is viewed skeptically in many quarters. But it has a surprisingly healthy development pipeline, with 3,400 residences under construction or in permitting. Even South Kirkland may take advantage of proximity to Bellevue’s commercial core to grow much faster.

58 Replies to “Kirkland in ST3, and Beyond”

  1. “Land use policy, except maybe in Totem Lake, is not transit-supportive.”

    Land-use policy in Totem Lake may be transit-supportive if you completely ignore local infrastructure. This is similar to other high-zoned areas near freeway interchanges, like the I-5/164th interchange near Ash Way P&R, and maybe some of the plans for TOD near I-5/145th near the planned light-rail station. No land use policy is really transit-supportive in a place like that if it doesn’t address the interchange damage somehow. It’s growth-supportive, but that’s nothing new. They’ve been trying to push their growth out to that interchange since they annexed it (it’s probably a big part of why they annexed it — to satisfy regional demands that they accept their share of regional growth while appeasing no-growthers elsewhere in town). In the ’60s the buzzword for growth was freeway access, and Totem Lake did grow. In the 2010s the buzzword for growth is transit-oriented, so new growth plans have to be couched in such language. Here the two are painfully mutually exclusive, and nobody in Kirkland wants to admit it.

    1. Given the nature of Sound Transit projects, it is a huge stretch to suggest that land use policy had anything to do with the decision to reject bus service on the CKC. Freeway station after freeway station with huge parking lots surrounding on each one. Meanwhile, the bus based plans surrounding BRISK did not require any huge growth in one particular area. You could serve the most densely populated part of Kirkland (Juanita) while waiting for areas anywhere in the region to grow (including Totem Lake).

      1. I agree about ST’s overall affinities. ST obviously wants to build the “echo spine” along 405 (unfortunately Bellevue’s commitment to accommodating cars downtown undermines P&R transit to there, but…). On the original spine destinations like Capitol Hill and UW were already big enough to pull the line briefly out of the freeway’s shadow (despite the great expense). Is downtown Kirkland or Juanita Village like that? Nah.

        But ST has money to blow on the eastside. For Kirkland it’s obviously true that the only land-use policy that’s really transit-supportive is to build on existing walkable areas, both upwards and outwards (i.e. upzoning SFH areas with strong local street networks), with zero (or negative) parking growth. If Kirkland showed up unified behind a policy like that ST would have been forced to consider doing something there. Maybe even something BRISK-y, because this kind of policy would require overturning the ’60s-esque notion that Totem Lake should be a regional destination and growth center. This is nowhere near Kirkland’s policy, and nowhere near one that’s plausible given Kirkland’s politics, though, so it’s hardly worth discussing. The contradictions of the policy Kirkland does have, and the contentiousness that has led to it, scared ST away from doing any good there at all.

      2. Al makes a good point on whether DT Kirkland and Juanita has sufficient “pull” to merit serving those destinations given the additional expense of deviating from the existing ROW that is I405. For 405 BRT, the answer is clearly no. If we are going to (eventually) build new ROW via a rail line, then I think DT Kirkland should be served, though Juanita may still be left out.

        For Bothell it will be the same discussion – 405 BRT doesn’t deviate & so only serves the periphery, but perhaps a rail line will deviate to better serve Bothell UW and/or Bothell’s commercial center.

      3. >> If Kirkland showed up unified behind a policy like that [widespread growth for the area] ST would have been forced to consider doing something there.

        Yeah, maybe. But I also think it is possible they simply would have been ignored. ST seems fixated on simple, long distance runs. Mostly rail lines, but also “BRT”. I-405 BRT looks remarkably like a Link rail line, and I don’t think this is a coincidence. There is no sort of real network (lines extending to Juanita, Totem Lake, Woodinville, Redmond) only single, long lines (405, 522, etc.).

        Kirkland presented a different vision — one that most independent experts would say would be more successful:. A more wide spread network of buses that happened to share a common corridor (thus removing a major bottleneck). ST was already well along the “we want a big rail package” for the area, and when Kirkland rejected that for the CKC, ST punted.

      4. One of the puzzles, for me, is that there were other voices for a more comprehensive network on the Eastside. Look at this slide from a Metro presentation to Bellevue CC this spring.

        The map on the left was a joint work product from several Eastside cities. The map on the right is the Sound Transit/Metro network in 2040. Not dissimilar. But most of the connections are in the unfunded Metro LRP.

        I don’t know whether this is political rail bias, or institutional bias, or Issaquah urbanist wishfulness. But it’s quite the disconnect between ends and means.

    2. Sound Transit looks at PSRC Growth Centers, not land use policies. Land use policy is assumed when a city designations a Growth Center. Evaluating the land use policy is the responsibility of PSRC, not ST.

      Totem Lake as a regional growth center is not a ” ’60s-esque notion” – it is the official position of the city of Kirkland and the PSRC.

      1. The “60s-esque” notion was odd, since in the 1960s buildings would be one or two stories. The plans for Totem Lake are for a midrise district with maybe some highrise. Sp I interpreted the complaint as meaning that the center is away from downtown Kirkland. There are arguments on both sides of that. Is Snoqualmie better or worse off that Snoquamie Ridge is outside the city center? London and Paris preserve their centers as historical assets and build office/residential districts outside them. That’s the model in Kirkland and Issaquah, and it’s the opposite of Bellevue and Seattle.

        To me the question of whether the Totem Lake urban center will succeed and be robust can’t be answered by these abstractions. It depends on what goes in there, what the pedestrian experience is like between the transit station and office entrances and housing entrances, and how well they mitigate the ugliness of the freeway and the time it takes to walk across it. That would influence whether I’m willing to shop or live in Totem Lake if I have a choice. When I need to go to the stores that are in malls, I choose Northgate first because it has the best transit access, is closest to the inner city, is more pedestrian-oriented, and isn’t as hoity-toity as Bellevue Square. And I really like Northgate North: several big box stores stacked on top of each other. It’s low-budget but it’s compact and walkable. If the store I need is not at Northgate or Bellevue Square, then I’ll go to Southcenter hell,. but I try to avoid that. So I’ll be looking at Totem Lake the same way. Will it be convenient to get to a shop on transit? Will it have unique stores that draw me? Would it be a good experience to live there without a car? Will it be aesthetically interesting? Will its foot traffic and activities be robust enough that I won’t mind that I’m not in downtown Kirkland? If I’m asking these questions, other people must be asking them too, and the answers will determine whether Totem Lake becomes a vibrant urban center or another car-sewer hell that people avoid.

      2. Totem Lake as a “regional growth center” may be current policy, but it is inherited from the idea that freeway interchanges are our most important transportation infrastructure and that our future cities should be built around them. This is a ’60s idea, even if it was adopted here later (405 might not have been built in the ’60s) and perpetuated by officials through today even as the underlying ideas (or at least the buzzwords we use) changed.

        Have you ever been to Totem Lake on foot? I’ve walked and biked around a lot of it. Freeway noise dominates every inch. Interchanges and roads leading toward them slice up all local-access patterns. You can try to pile TOD and pedestrian amenities on top, but all that freeway infrastructure makes it more expensive while degrading the result. Northgate is full of examples of this, where the necessary infrastructure for walking and biking access is more expensive, less convenient, and more dangerous than simpler infrastructure in a place that’s not freeway-damaged. If the lesson of the last 50 years is that perpetual auto growth doesn’t work, the way to apply it is to abandon plans to focus growth around interchanges and instead to grow around places that work in at least some basic way on foot!

        But that would take vision and purpose.

      3. It’s a growth center because it’s a commercial brownfield. If it was already dense, midrise development, it wouldn’t be a growth center because there wouldn’t be any room to grow!

        It’s a growth center because anywhere else would have strong residential NIMBY push-back. On the Eastside, the future of growth is where the malls are, because those are the only large blocks of develop-able land. Historical downtown Kirkland & Issaquah aren’t zoned for growth … Redmond & Bellevue city centers are booming, as Mike points out, but they are as adjacent to freeways as Totem Lake.

        As someone who lives literally adjacent to I90, and my favorite morning running route navigates an I90 freeway ramp, living next to a freeway is not as nice as a bucolic cul-de-sac but it’s perfectly livable.

        Sure, some work needs to be done to improve it – more cross-walks, some noise barriers, etc. – but there’s enough land there to make it work. I’m optimistic about Kirkland’s vision & purpose.

      4. You can write a plan and put in a bunch of words about “sense of place”. You can probably make a drawing from drone perspective that makes it look good. You can spend real money on “pedestrian experience”. Will it work on the ground? Don’t wait for a bus to take you across that way, it isn’t coming. Oh, and your out-of-the-way walk is still across at least one uncontrolled left turn onto the freeway. Raise your hand if you’ve almost been hit there! *Raises hand*. Oh, and that’s where the transit “centerpiece” would go.

        This is way beyond the scope of any one mall redevelopment project, which is mostly focused on how to make the mall look like a less depressing place to park your $40,000 SUV in front of so it can attract upscale tenants and raise lots of tax revenue for the city. Maybe Kirkland succeeds at that, woo-hoo. You still have large-scale infrastructure that’s almost perfectly unsuited to urban development, and small-scale infrastructure that’s almost entirely non-existent. That’s what happens when you confine your future to places so intensely awful that nobody cares about them.

    3. The cities aren’t going to allow an urban center that’s not on a freeway exit, because realistically the majority of people will drive (nobody is expecting 50% transit mode share in the Eastside), so it needs the access that can handle a large volume of cars, which means a freeway exit.

      1. Good point – otherwise you get a traffic mess like downtown Kirkland. ST3 is building bus lanes on 85th to create the necessary transit ROW specifically to connect the Krikland TC to the freeway!

      2. Right, the cities aren’t going to allow an urban center that’s not on a freeway exit because we so lack for vision that we’d spend millions polishing the nuclear waste dump of 405/124th with worthless pedestrian amenities before doing zero-net-parking growth in places where walking basically works today.

        This isn’t just a dig on the eastside. SLU and downtown Seattle are adding more parking spaces under office buildings than could possibly be filled each day by the road capacity, forcing the addition of ever-more-expensive solutions to keep transit moving around the immovable traffic. For this, we deserve to lose. This is not something that couldn’t be fixed with reasonable policies — they wouldn’t make everyone happy, but then the cowardly path we’re following isn’t making very many people happy, either.

      3. Al, where would you channel growth that isn’t near a freeway, but still has access to jobs & housing? Edmonds?

  2. Excellent article. I appreciate the work it took to put this together.

    So, basically Kirkland got screwed out of the most useful proposal for the region (BRISK) because they hired the independent consultants too late. This says a lot about Sound Transit planning. Not only did they not come up with the same idea on their own (despite being fairly obvious when you look at the population density of the region) but they refused to accept an idea that came from an independent expert. It baffles me that you would spend billions on a proposal without being completely sure that this is the most cost effective system — but I guess that is just the way they roll.

    So what does the future hold for the CKC? Can the city afford to pave it? If so, then Metro could simply start running buses on it, and have something similar to BRISK (although only for Kirkland).

    1. I see no reason why CKC BRT can’t be a Metro capital project. If ST doesn’t want to do it, no reason the city & county can’t make it happen.

      1. Lots of double negatives there, sorry.

        I think the CKC BRT was a good project, and I hope Metro can implement some or all of it. Bummer there won’t be ST funding for it, but it can still happen if the city of Kirkland truly believes it is the best solution. Not all transit solutions will come from ST, even if they have the biggest pile of money.

      2. Metro, the agency that withdrew the 2N. 2-Madison, 4S, and 5-Dexter restructures in 2012 and 2014 because of nimby opposition? They’ll stand up to Save Our Trails? Also, building a new road on a trail is far beyond Metro’s authority. Kirkland or the county council would have to initiate that. Maybe STB will want to come up with a recommendation.

        I’ll be posting less frequently and shorter for the next two months because my arm is in a splint after a chronic tendon repair surgery (between my last message and this). Fortunately is wasn’t my dominant arm so I can type slowly. So keep up the good work, authors and podcasters, and I’ll be reading.

      3. Yeah, sorry to hear about your arm — get better soon.

        Yeah, the Save our Trails people might object, but I was more concerned about money. First things first, you have to pave the thing. This is where the Save our Trails people will voice their opposition, and Metro really can’t be counted on do anything. This would be all Kirkland. So you would have both the Save our Trails people and the anti-tax people opposed to this. I don’t know if the city of Kirkland is up for that kind of fight. Certainly not without a ballot initiative, and I don’t know what that would look like. This is why I ask the question — roughly how much would it cost, and what options are there, exactly (sales tax?).

        Once the thing got paved, then Metro would take over. This seems pretty easy to me. There would be people who would be pissed, but overall I think it would be popular. It would speed things up considerably. You could have hybrid buses (wire on the CKC, diesel elsewhere) so the biggest expense would probably be for the vehicles (I don’t know if we have any of those still around). That again, might take some funding by Kirkland, but once the purchase is made, service becomes a lot cheaper.

        Of course the alternative would be to make fixes on 405 and 520. I would imagine this would be a lot more expensive, and would require state funding.

        The last alternative would be to just improve service in general, and for that, you are back to Metro. But without more funding, it won’t happen (and the last county wide proposal failed).

      4. I don’t expect the idea of a busway to go away – the logic is a little too inescapable. But there are huge obstacles to making it happen. Starting with money. It would be a heavy lift for Metro to come up with a couple of hundred million for a busway in one suburban city. It would take a 60% vote for Kirkland to bond it, which wouldn’t be easy.

        The Bellevue section of the busway is increasingly difficult. The I-405 crossing at NE 6th St fell off the table along with the other BRT elements. So does the busway terminate into Wilburton? There is a lot of work going on around the ERC, not just East Link, but ERC trail and Grand Connection work. Lots of private investments coming too. All that assumes no future busway, so the design decisions are throwing obstacles in the way of building one later.

        So I think whatever happens will integrate with South Kirkland rail and I-405 BRT at NE 85th St. Not the ideal starting point, but hard to revisit now. There will be pressure on Metro to support the Kirkland-NE 85th St connection, despite the obvious challenges.

      5. Yes, the capital project would require strong support from city of Kirkland. I don’t see any reason for a busway all the way to Bellevue – that’s what the rail stub from Wilburton to S Kirkland is for! I’m imagining any metro bus route coming south on the CKC would either terminate a S Kirkland or head west to Seattle along 520; Bellevue bound riders would transfer to Link either way.

        Can’t you just run battery powered buses in a decade? No reason to deal with trolley wires or hybrids.

      6. But if South Kirkland rail doesn’t happen until 2041, does that reduce the appetite for busway before then?

        Probably. Though it’s worth remembering that Kirkland transit isn’t primarily about Bellevue. For most people in Kirkland, transit is Metro 255. A busway that ends at South Kirkland works just fine for those riders because they’ll want their bus to cross the SR 520 bridge anyway. (Where it goes after it crosses the bridge is a discussion for another day).

        There is a study in the ST3 program of future transit into Kirkland and Bothell. It is nominally open to both BRT and rail options, and will consider both the CKC and I-405. But it is starting from the rail station at South Kirkland which hints at a particular outcome.

        OTOH, the study won’t even begin until the 2030’s (Do it too far in advance and the environmental analysis gets stale, so you have to do it again). At that point, there’s a whole new generation of leaders and maybe a very different sense of what the region needs, so who knows what they’ll want?

  3. Thanks for the ‘Time Capsule’ submission Dan – to be unearthed in just 25 short years to view how the only transportation corridor running the full length of the eastside got squandered.
    As one of the many 2nd guessers, let me add the regions unwillingness to try low cost starter solutions, rather than holding out for the Grand Plans of others at the table. Simple RDC (Rail Diesel Cars) were proposed in the 90’s to keep the corridor functioning as an active rail corridor alongside the dinner trains and occasional boeing delivery. Modest platforms in Tukwila, Renton and north to Monroe would have ensured the ROW didn’t get cut like a snake into small chunks, destined to die.
    I’ve never understood how two major interstate corridors like I-5 and I-405 could have profoundly different transit volumes, when vehicle volumes are very similar, but that ship has now sailed, so doesn’t matter anymore.

    1. “I’ve never understood how two major interstate corridors like I-5 and I-405 could have profoundly different transit volumes, when vehicle volumes are very similar”

      That’s easy; it’s the Seattle affect. Seattle is large enough and old enough that industrial-era mass transit to it makes sense to a lot of people, and it was in fact the overwhelmingly largest destination until 405 reached critical mass twenty years ago. The Eastside was supposed to be the modern utopia, decentralized edge cities where people would live everywhere and drive everywhere, so high-volume transit wouldn’t be needed. Perrceptions change slowly so it’s not uncommon for them to lag behind reality for ten or twenty years. Look at Kirkland, in a regional population crunch, unwilling to zone for a region that’s three million going on four; instead they bury their heads in the sand and pretend it’s the same as the 1980s, even though their own children can’t find affordable housing in this environment. Did they think they children and grandchildren would have houses and yards as large as theirs? Where would these houses be? There’s no room for more houses in Kirkland unless you upzone to row houses. With low-density houses come cars, because transit is not as effective at that level. Eastsiders want transit to increase, but nobody seems to be thinking in terms of 50% mode share or higher. That’s why I-5 north has 40% transit mode share now, I-5 north and south has parallel light rail coming, and 405 has just a little BRT coming. Even Sound Transit did not think light rail worth pursuing between Bellevue and Renton or Totem Lake and Bothell this round. Because on I-5 most of those people in buses are going to downtown or the U-District. There’s no destination as big as that in the Eastside, so a higher percentage of 405 travelers are going to diffuse destinations that it’s hard for 405 transit to reach. That again gets into the decentralized edge city model: it’s what that kind of land use produces.

    2. “vehicle volumes are very similar” = both interstates are at capacity and roughly the same size. If I5 doubled in size, it would have double the vehicle volume as 405 (ignoring off-ramp congestion, etc.)

      “There’s no destination as big as that in the Eastside” – I think downtown Bellevue is comparable to U District … I’d wager the three Bellevue LRT stations will have similar weekday boardings as UW + U District. Microsoft’s campus is comparable to UW’s campus as a job destination.

      The issue with the eastside is the residential locations (the other half of the trip pairs) are diffuse. That, plus much cheaper parking than in Seattle, will hold down the mode share.

      Of course, Seattle downtown – even excluding SLU, First Hill, and the stadiums – is an order of magnitude bigger than all of these destinations.

    3. Mic, you know I hate the “Sailed Ship” metaphor. Hasn’t the captain always had final authority on whether to return to port if events demand? Maybe right cliche should be the German for: “Kapitan Pruss, the Hindenburg is handling a little heavy…..”

      But since the Benson Streetcars in fact came over on a boat, you get the prompt credit. Make the wheels quiet as possible and the Trailside neighbors might think they’ll add a touch of elegance. And property value, Especially if bike trailer is made of polished mahogany with brass fittings.

      For Kirkland CBD connection, wonder if Uber has anything with an 1890’s solid brass calculator and an telegraph- you know, with a reel trailing the wire? Lyfft is out, because horses will spook at a purple mustache even when it’s not attached to their bridle.

      Miss those Budd DMU’s, though. Something same-latitude-as-Alaska-and-Northern-Michigan about them. Rolling past Google with a dozen milk-cans and a tractor motor behind the baggage-door, and passengers with fly-tied hooks in their hats, and ears, at the window, and a deer or two in the overhead racks.

      Well, ever since the Alaska Ferries went to Bellingham, those seasonal railroad barges have (credit yours again)….BEEN TOWED!


      1. Perhaps you would prefer I said the ship was boarded by pirates, driven to the nearest rocks and scuttled. That pretty well sums up how I feel about the corridor being parsed out to multiple jurisdictions.
        The sad part is she went down without firing a single shot.

  4. As someone who just accepted a new job at the Google Kirkland office (right on the CKC, next to a proposed station in earlier plans), I’m still skeptical of the need or benefit to using the CKC as a rail line.

    The existing parallel bus corridor (108th Ave.) has almost no congestion and very few stoplights. The marginal amount of travel time savings by routing buses on the CKC instead would be at most 1-2 minutes, by skipping one light at 68th St. The existing 255 bus also goes to Seattle via the 520 bridge, which a rail route down the CKC would not be able to do without massive additional expense. (It could go to Seattle via I-90 relatively easily by following the EastLink tracks, but Kirkland to UW, or even parts of downtown, via I-90 is massively out of the way). At least for my commute, a more frequent route 255 (or 540) would be the ideal solution, and it would be difficult to imagine a train being much better than this more reasonable cost.

    Nor would a bus/train route down the CKC replace the existing coverage provided by the 255. The 255 stops every couple of blocks along 108th Ave., while the proposed CKC route had no stops all the way between the Google Campus and South Kirkland P&R. So, even if the train existed, parallel buses down 108th Ave., would still need to operate anyway, even though, without the “thru” riders originating from downtown Kirkland, ridership on these shuttle buses would be very tiny.

    Nor would a train down the CKC offer much benefit to “thru” riders, traveling between Bellevue and Totem Lake. Such a route would be much slower than the existing route 535, especially if a deviation to downtown Kirkland were added. (The CKC itself would also not be very fast; for safety and noise reasons, trains would probably be speed-limited to around 30 mph). It would hopefully run more frequently, but the plan Sound Transit actually adopted will hopefully run the 535 more frequently too (re-branded as I-405 BRT). At best, the CKC would save a few minutes and add some reliability over today’s service for travel between downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake, but that’s it.

    In the meantime, the CKC as a trail is well-used today, and on weekends, actually has more “walkership” than the parallel bus routes have ridership. When it gets paved and connects to Seattle via the SR-520 trail (and extends to Woodinville on the other side), it’s only going to become more and more popular with bikes. In the long run, the CKC has the makings of becoming another Samammish River Trail. Mic’s argument that we should have run “dummy” trains to keep the line “active” is like saying we should have run dummy trains along the Burke-Gilman, just to keep the line active.

    On top of all this, building rail on the CKC would have real impacts on the trail. The existing trail is about the width of a one-lane road, so adding a rail corridor about the width of a two-lane road (to allow opposite direction trains to pass each other) would triple the footprint. The land to do it simply isn’t there without massive amounts of grading and tree removal. Besides severely cutting into the green space and the quiet that the CKC currently offers, the construction itself would inevitably end up closing sections of the trail for years on end, and when it’s all done, safety constraints would limit where you can cross the rail line, so east/west foot travel, either access the trail or crossing it, would become more difficult.

    So, given all this, what’s the solution for Kirkland? I believe what Kirkland needs the most is simply more buses. If we want to better connect downtown Kirkland with downtown Bellevue and Totem Lake, Sound Transit should add an ST express route that does this. These buses can use bus lanes on 85th, along with the new ramp to/from the I-405 ETL lanes that Sound Transit is planning to add. Fast, reliable, and no transfer. At least initially, these express buses can run peak-only, eventually expanding to all-day if future demand warrants. That, and run the existing routes more frequently.

    1. So I gather you would argue against the little stub from Wilburton to South Kirkland. Without an eventual extension north along the trail right of way, it’s pretty darn useless.

      1. It’s a P&R. Even if people don’t drive to it and take Link to Bellevue, they might drive to it and take Link to destinations beyond Bellevue. Ridership is growing network-wide and there’s increasing demand for P&Rs everywhere except the most remote ones. The target date is 2041, not 2017, so there’s good reason to believe that incremental demand will have increased significantly in twenty-four years, both due to traffic congestion and to people thinking that maybe they don’t want to drive so much after all. Also there’s TOD at the station and apparently there’s room to increase it, so those people will be riding without bringing a car.

        I also am ambivalent about transit being effective on the CKC. It won’t be much better than 108th, so maybe something can be done to improve 108th. Has anybody looked at widening it for transit/RAT lanes? (RAT=residential area transit) That would be cheaper than building/regrading the CKC.

      2. It’s also a transfer point, for either buses coming from Kirkland (like the 255) and for 520 buses between U District and Redmond.

        In theory, Metro could truncate all Bellevue-bound Kirkland buses at South Kirkland, to avoid the congestion of trying to get to Bellevue TC.

    2. You wrote that “The existing parallel bus corridor (108th Ave.) has almost no congestion and very few stoplights”. Let me stop you right there. That is absolutely, unequivocally not true. Try to get yourself from, say, Northwest University up to Juanita Bay during evening rush hour. Almost that entire section, including 108th Ave., is completely jammed up. Literally the only section where traffic appears to flow, is the couple hundred meters in front of Google, thanks to the timing of the light at 68th St. until you hit the four-way stop at Kirkland Way. If you want to keep going north, can either sit on Market Street and wait, or 405.

      Southbound/morning commute does not appear to have the same problem.

      1. I should say though, that I agree with you that the routing of the CKC isn’t optimal for solving this.

      2. Last year, on days I drove 108th, I took to timing the delays in PM peak northbound. It averaged a little under 4 minutes on the segment between Northwest and 68th (that’s about six minutes travel time vs 2 minutes it would have taken uncongested). As Jeffrey points out, there are more chokepoints north of there adding several more minutes.

        Whether or not one considers those delays to be acceptable, the bigger issue is that those arterials won’t scale. There’s very little room to add capacity for transit or cars. Even the capacity that could be added would fill up instantly by drawing traffic off I-405.

        One way or another, a scaleable solution comes down to exclusive ROW for transit, which is why the conversation keeps circling back to using the corridor.

    3. The chokepoints north of 68th St., a bus or train down the CKC would have to deal with anyway if it wanted to reach downtown Kirkland vs. just stay on the CKC all the way to Totem Lake. Again, what’s wrong with an ST Express bus running Totem Lake->downtown Kirkland->downtown Bellevue. With bus lanes added to 85th and direct ramps to the I-405 express lanes, the entire route should be mostly protected from traffic. It would still be too slow for thru-riders, so it would need to operate in addition to the 535, not as a deviation along the 535. But it’s still relatively cheap and doesn’t mess with the trail.

      For the record, I do, in fact, support the 2-mile extension of Issaquah Link to South Kirkland P&R, not out of expectations of huge ridership but because the marginal cost of adding it is going to be cheap along existing right-out-way, and South Kirkland P&R is a transfer that will be useful for connecting to other services. For example, if I were going from north Seattle to Issaquah in 2041, I would likely take a bus across the 520 bridge and connect to the Issaquah line at South Kirkland P&R, rather than go through downtown Seattle and do the backtracking to transfer at East Main St. Station. Nor am I too concerned about the impact of train tracks along the trail for that stretch. It’s all within the noise-shed of I-405 anyway, half of it will be abutting a Link O&M facility anyway, and there are no useful opportunities for east/west pedestrian access that train tracks would obstruct. Unlike the Save Our Trail folks, I believe the Link extension to South Kirkland P&R is a reasonable compromise. And, if traffic along 108th really does become unbearable in the next 25 years, the decision to terminate the line there can always be re-visited.

    4. A rail line through there never made sense. You simply don’t have the density anywhere along that corridor, nor would it connect to Seattle (unless you spent a huge amount of money, as you mentioned).

      But a bus corridor made sense, which is why the firm that was tasked to take a look at the project recommended it. It is a pretty cheap way to improve transit times. It doesn’t eliminate all of the bottlenecks, but it does eliminate a substantial one. Getting from Totem Lake to Seattle takes a while, and this would pretty much eliminate all congestion along there, while serving the area along the way and providing better connections.

      The cheap alternative is to simply add more express service, as mentioned. This is needed. There is no way to quickly get from Totem Lake to the U-District in the evening. This means that getting to just about anywhere in Seattle from there requires a car or a lot of patience.

      Even with added service, 405 and 520 is not great. The interchange requires getting out of the HOV lanes, which means slow speeds. That could be fixed. Ideally you would add a freeway station that would enable transfers between other express service (e. g. from Redmond) without a lot of back tracking. That is all expensive, though.

      But not as expensive, and lot more useful than what will be built for the east side in ST3. It does require a different mindset though. One that looks at value added across an entire region as opposed to simply “serving” arbitrary areas by having a train station in town.

  5. I agree that there’s typically not much traffic south of Google. The problem is getting into DT Kirkland. I rarely drive there during rush hour, but I’ve experienced waits of 20 minutes to get from 68th St to 85th St during rush hour. And I don’t believe these were particularly bad days.

    The problem, of course, is that the CKC does little to address that problem. But that doesn’t mean that Kirkland doesn’t need a good transit corridor into downtown. Certainly it’s a more worthwhile project than rail to Issaquah.

    The one nice thing about using the CKC is that you get a pretty good connection from Totem Lake (connecting to north 405 bus service) through Kirkland and into Bellevue. The Kirkland buses are slow – e.g., the 255 takes 40 minutes from Totem Lake to South Kirkland P&R whereas a CKC bus could probably do that in 15-20 minutes. So if you’re going into Seattle, there’s little incentive to use the local routes. The current express buses work well when they run, but they also can’t be used for local service within Kirkland.

  6. The Kirkland ST3 story has several lessons to ponder.

    – How should integrated transit planning occur? One problem was that ST3 alternatives were prepared outside of a municipally-organized transit plan without a bus integration strategy for 405 BRT or Metro routes that are local, or on 520.

    – How specific should ST3 have been? It’s possible that a less specific light rail strategy could have avoided the controversy by simply promising light rail from Bellevue to Kirkland and not specifying any corridor. That way, travel time savings and ridership and Metro integration could have been optimized and a better consensus could have been achieved given more time after the vote.

    – Is the standard of limiting alternatives to a new one at the last month before a vote healthy? It still amazes me that we didn’t begin with 15 system alternatives. It amazes me that the one in the ballot was not presented or even studied until the last month before being set.

    I have to wonder if trail activists would have gotten so upset if they had a better effort to be part of the solution rather than demonized as part of the problem.

    1. Ultimately Sound Transit should have started in the 1990s with a complete regional+local transit plan using the cities’ existing transit master plans as a guide. Then we would know where the trunk stations would be, in which phase each one would be, and what kinds of feeders they would have. Then cities could plan for HCT at particular locations in particular timeframes, and people would know if they moved to a location off the line what kind of feeder access and crosstown buses they’d be getting from there. That’s more or less what Vancouver and Germany do, plan things out for all modes ahead of time, and that’s what Jarrett Walker said he wished ST2 had done at least for its phase. But the political environment ST was in was completely different from that: people wanted something now, the cities didn’t have transit master plans or they had outdated assumptions, discussing feeder tradeoffs ahead of time would have set off a years-long “Me, no me, no keep my parking lanes” that could have adversely impacted or aborted the projects.

      Sound Transit takes some blame too for not at least advocating a more comprehensive approach up front. What it did was make Long-Term Plan that’s essentially a list of corridors it might possibly want in the next seventy years. Each phase it chooses a few corridors to do, but the rest is left as a menu of things that “might or might not be worthwhile someday”. In other words, it didn’t do the more detailed planning work of deciding, e.g., how important is a Lake City/Bothell light rail line? How critical is 45th? Will they be done? When? Without that the cities don’t know whether they can count on HCT or not, so they plan for the worst which means assuming it won’t happen. That leads to worse land-use decisions and outcomes. Before 2009 there was no light rail on the ground, so the public either had never had experience with urban rail or had only seen it in other cities. Now it’s on the ground so they can see how they use it or would use it, and they see the advantage of being within walking distance of a station. But it’s still theoretical in Kirkland and Bothell and Wallingford, so even though they can experience it other places they don’t fully grasp what it would mean in their area. That unfortunately leads to people making bad decisions beforehand, decisions they wouldn’t make after it was open, but by then it’s too late. That’s where a lot of up-front planning would help.

      Another issue is the cost of this planning. It would be several times more than ST has done so far, or what it typically does before a ballot measure. Voters would have to agree to spend that money beforehand, before the lines have been approved. But ST believes the public only wants to spend a little bit for sketches before the ballot measure, so all the Alternatives Analyses and design work and feeder network happen afterwards if the line is approved. So it would require not just planning, but front-loading costs, costs that would be wasted if the line is rejected. The public has some trouble with that; it would rather have just the minimum planning ahead of time. Breaking that cycle is what would be necessary to get to a pre-planned complete network.

    2. Good points.

      >> Is the standard of limiting alternatives to a new one at the last month before a vote healthy?


      >> It still amazes me that we didn’t begin with 15 system alternatives. It amazes me that the one in the ballot was not presented or even studied until the last month before being set.

      I agree.

      >> I have to wonder if trail activists would have gotten so upset if they had a better effort to be part of the solution rather than demonized as part of the problem.

      Great point, and part of the overall problem that you mention. It all comes down to lack of planning. Mike is right, planning is expensive. But building light train lines is way more expensive. If we want to create a bus network, then sure, just redo the routes and have at it. But light rail costs literally billions of dollars. If Kirkland can afford to hire transit planners to design a bus network, then planning really isn’t that expensive. I can’t help but think that part of the problem is that we (now) live in a software town. Software is extremely easy to fix later. But projects like this aren’t that way. These are measure twice, cut once type projects. Except they really are measure dozens of times, cut once. Again, we are talking *billions* of dollars. We should consider all the alternatives, and we should have solid data to support or reject the case of each one.

      This includes using 405 instead of the CKC. This would require new bus only ramps. It would be faster for some, and slower for others. Work with the Save Our Trail people to point out why that alternative doesn’t pencil out (or if it does, then simply pick that alternative). If the CKC keeps popping up as the best choice, then work with the group to make sure that the buses are electrified through there (a simple task, really). You aren’t going to satisfy everyone, but you at least mitigate their biggest concerns.

      Kirkland, of course, was not unique in that regard. There weren’t 15 alternatives suggested for Everett or the south Sound area. Even for Seattle, there was a real shortage of alternatives studied. It is crazy considering the money that will be spent.

  7. By the time the South Kirkland opens, local transit service will look different than it does today. Technology of driverless shuttles like Easymile and Citymobil are the first generation of how technology will create large catchment areas of 1-2 miles from any light rail station by having these quiet, slower-moving, frequent vehicles on regular streets act almost like sideways elevators. I expect that South Kirkland will be one place where several will be based.

    1. Don’t count your chickens before they’re hatched. Driverless local buses are theoretically possible and there have been some small steps to prove them in a Kirkland-like environment, but it’s too soon to depend on them, or to design a transit network assuming they’ll work out.

      1. Funny. Every town in Africa has a bus station we’d call a huge outdoor market, with so many vans you can’t stand there 30 seconds before the driver’s assistant fare-collector reaches out of a moving one and grabs you. Which as yet driverless vehicles don’t.

        So is not the real truth that the only advantage which driverless vehicles have for function and frequency is that not only do you not have to pay minimum wage, but none at all? Meaning that we already have technology for van service under discussion.

        Fair argument that Metro is hoovering up all the drivers to operate line-haul. Curable by paying van drivers comparable wages and benefits. Principles of accounting, as opposed to ideology, take notice of the red ink, some of it dripping out of gunshot wounds, resulting from people massively long-term unemployed.

        But meantime…Idea!: Why not go in with UW psych and sports medicine departments to fit van drivers with sensors that will transmit their driving reflexes, including subconscious, to finally program computers well enough it’ll be safe to entrust passengers to them.



    2. Here is a recent article of them operating in mixed-flow traffic in Helsinki:

      There are many countries in the world that have been actively testing them. They are not theoretical at all! The technology is there, and it’s mainly a matter of when public confidence in the vehicles grows to a point where they are almost demanded. At that point, it will be a matter of manufacturer supply and demand.

      I think that most riders would choose to get on a waiting driverless shuttle and leave within 10 minutes than wait for up to 30 minutes for a driver to come along and pick them up.

      I actually wonder more about whether or not the technology will be obsolete by the time South Kirkland opens.

    3. I’m with Al – in the vague, magical future of driverless shuttles, S Kirkland can serve a large catchment area. 2041 seems like plenty of time to figure out the details, so I’m optimistic.

      1. But it doesn’t remove the fundamental geography of the region. If you have an automated bus (i. e. very cheap to operate) and it starts at Totem Lake and is headed to downtown Bellevue, why is it going to South Kirkland? If it is heading to Seattle, why is it stopping in South Kirkland? Even with Juanita, it is probably better to cut over to the freeway. You really have a small, fairly low population sliver that can be served. They will be served, of course, by being asked to get off the bus and transfer to a train right before the bus comes to a freeway. That just doesn’t add up to a lot of people (certainly not a train full).

      2. Because traffic. The driverless van doesn’t have to waste time sitting in 405 traffic if it can zip in and out of South Kirkland. If the trip pair is Totem Lake to Bellevue, then yes, just take the BRT; the relevant catchment area is only west of 405, and likely not much north of 85th.

  8. Ultimately, ST3 is a bet on future development at the East King’s five PSRC growth areas – Totem Lake, Redmond Downtown, Redmond Overlake, Bellevue, and Central Issaquah – at the expense of non-growth nodes like downtown Kirkland.

    Issaquah to Kirkland rail won’t open until 2041. Looking at current land-use, density, and population centers is missing the point.


    I don’t think Kirkland really isn’t missing out on anything – they are still getting HCT to serve their growth centers in Totem Lake and Rose Hill. CKC BRT can still happen as a city-county project. Downtown Kirkland is getting bus-only lanes on NE 85th – a mediocre solution, but probably the best option short of a rail or bus tunnel under the TC.

    The region isn’t missing out on anything in terms of setting up for a ST4 The S Kirkland station still allows for a N Lake Washington cross on 520, via Sandpoint, or farther north. A Kirkland to Bothell rail line is still on the table, possibly including DT Kirkland, or we can just improve 405 BRT.

    1. What is Totem Lake getting? Fast service to downtown Bellevue. Guess what? They already have that. What they don’t have is all day fast service to Seattle. This won’t change that. Metro will, eventually, run more buses on 520 (assuming Totem Lake does grow) but Sound Transit won’t help fund the bottlenecks (the 520/405 interchange) nor even the service.

      1. The high frequency of BRT makes for an all-day easy transfer to East Link at Bellevue TC – that’s your fast service to Seattle. No need to navigate the 520 interchange, the bus stays in the 405 HOT lane the entire way.

  9. Think about it, Al. Don’t the words “simply promising light rail from Bellevue to Kirkland and not specifying any corridor” belong in the “Against” statement in the Voters’ Guide? Because on the Cross Kirkland Corridor, transit of any kind is a matter of specifics to the inch.

    Brian Bundridge, as a locomotive engineer, can you tell us the maximum train speed that section was designed to carry? Train or bus, fastest safe transit speed between Totem Lake and South Kirkland Park and Ride might be easy pedaling on a bike.

    asdf2 and David, the hardest detail for anything but a bicycle with a lot of gears will be what that line has to do past South Kirkland Park and Ride. The rail line the trail becomes has nothing worthy of a single station between there and its closest approach to Downtown Bellevue.

    A line of this “caliber” could do reserved signal-pre-empted street running down Bellevue Way.
    Won’t link (again) the 1900 streetcar-carrying urban hill-climbs in coal country. Since we’re logging country and not mining, lowest bid would probably be signed by the vendor for our LINK elevators.

    For the cost of ramps and bridges, the passenger elevator going in right now could take care of the vertical ride to rail-head below. Remember, one major design intent is to inculcate habit of transit riding starting at the age when primordial car-or-train choice takes root.

    Which could be sufficient for the line’s best, and very important, use. My last comment on CKC said “scenic railroad”- but in ST service area Truth in Advertising requires an elevated line between 40th floor stations in several Seattle skyscrapers.

    Better description: “Several linear miles of landscaped forest preserve with a trail through it with a streetcar line alongside it. Pushing flatcars full of bike-racks.”

    Whose regional transportation function will be what the MLK line will be sooner: Local service for something Rapid nearby, likely elevated light rail along I-405 just uphill from the trail, on its elevated way south and east.

    But the CKC line’s real purpose is to continue another very old tradition. (Well, yeah, it’s a link…)

    Routes 2, 11, and 27 terminate at one of them. Route 1 runs along another one. Truth was, though, they were really designed for touring by car. Which in those days were still as innocent as expensive bicycles. And even had chain drives. And an occasional loop for a buggy-whip…though -also a link- which in 1903 those chains went coast to coast before breaking one.

    The Olmsted parks were built by a city that could never imagine our present wealth. But the exponential population and economic trends of these last several years could easily give ST-After-Next both the wherewithal and the demand for the park space that will make CKC transit make sense.

    Meantime, easy and affordable way to give the Trail its Transit. Present Waterfront plan includes small electric buses that will comfortably fit the trail and its neighborhoods, and handle the grade from the Kirkland Library to Google. And can possibly pull a bike trailer. Should be room on the purchase order.

    Mark Dublin

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