Now that Mercer Island and Sound Transit have reached a settlement, the temperature on this dispute has gone down. Dan reported the key aspects:
- $4.5m-worth of new park-and-ride spaces (up to 200), plus 100 temporary spaces while South Bellevue is closed;
- an essentially status-quo level and pattern of bus traffic, aside from city-only buses;
- About $5m for congestion and safety projects, at the city’s discretion, and a Metro “last-mile” pilot project.
The new spaces will help, a little, but the fundamental issue remains. Even with the coming Link station, many residents rightfully despair of having a decent traffic-free alternative for getting off the island. There are several reasons for this predicament:
- An undersized park and ride (thanks to actions of previous Mercer Island governments, partially mitigated by the settlement).
- The appeal of this P&R to eastside commuters.
- Inadequate bus service from elsewhere on the Eastside, which encourages people to driving to Mercer Island instead. The settlement actually intensifies this problem.
- A road grid not suited to rapid feeder bus service
- The expiration of previous special express lane privileges. It would appear the agreement closes this issue, much to the relief of many disgusted outsiders.
Taken together, beyond a select set of early risers, the options to escape gridlock seem to be shrinking, not growing. While Mercer Island’s wealth shouldn’t exclude it from the same dynamics as everyone else, when combining it with the Link station there are opportunities to make the situation a lot better.
It’s not clear what specific projects the Sound Transit money will fund, or if the city will add any of its own. There is certainly a temptation to use it to buy off interest groups. But the core of the complaint is a lack of alternatives to congestion on I-90, and many potential projects won’t do anything to avoid that. Instead, there are some other projects (two of which are revenue-positive!) that would go far in addressing some of the five problems above.
1. Ask for a fee at the park and ride. Sound Transit would love to implement this at a spot where they won’t get blowback. Even a nominal fee would provide strong incentives for outsiders to park at other stations, and discourage Islanders with alternatives from driving and parking alone at the station.
2. Ask for tolling on I-90. In a similar dynamic, WSDOT is full of engineers who understand the merits of congestion pricing and are looking for a place to do it that is not poisonous. It will definitely help Mercer Islanders willing to pay for congestion relief. Indeed, a toll limited to the East span would be a boon for those headed into Seattle, and keep yet more outsiders from the Park & Ride.
3. Better station access. Better, safer bike and pedestrian pathways would open up the station to more residents given the same number of parking spaces.
4. Satellite Lots and Feeder buses. Just as Seattle voted to tax itself to improve its feeder buses, Mercer Island can do the same. Bringing most residents within an easy walk of a frequent bus is prohibitively expensive due to the road non-grid. On the other hand, Island Crest Way is a serviceable spine, most residents have cars to get there, and many lots are not full during peak travel times. Some (over-)investment in direct, extremely high frequency buses might make it an attractive alternative to praying for parking at the North end of the Island.
As Mercer Island’s special privileges erode, not everyone will come out ahead with the coming changes. However, Link is a huge opportunity for Islanders if their government remains clearly focused on maximizing station access. For all the hard feelings from the lawsuit, let’s hope they do so.
36 Replies to “Plan B for Mercer Island”
IIRC the issue wasn’t so much limiting the number of spaces as reducing the visual impact. That lead to underground parking which, being extremely costly, effectively reduced the number of available spots.
The new proposal at only $22,500 per stall is a relative bargain.
Making use of existing parking by leasing places like church lots makes a lot of sense. Options from there include not just van type feeder service but carpooling and ridershare (e.g. Uber). The carpool option would dovetail nicely with a pay to park policy that provided reserved carpool spaces for free. Putting a toll on the west bound lanes of the east channel bridge seems like a win win proposal. The only loser would perhaps be 520 and of course free “drive around” alternatives.
How about more places to park east of the water for the duration? Served by express buses with only two stops, their terminals and Mercer Island?
If I lived on either the East Side or Mercer Island, I’d consider this fair compensation for having to live there. Just kidding, Lake Washington Tech.
>> Just as Seattle voted to tax itself to improve its feeder buses …
Say what??? Seattle never voted to improve its feeder buses, it voted to improve its bus system (several times). It really is a stretch to consider either set of improvements to be aimed at improving the feeder buses. The only thing that could be considered a feeder bus system is the north end restructure, and that was done without a public vote. If you look at the RapidRide+ routes, a couple of them (Corridor 3 and 7) operate in a somewhat redundant fashion with Link, while most (1, 3, 4, 5 and 6) make as much sense without Link as with it. A better sentence would be
Just as Seattle voted to tax itself to improve its bus service, Mercer Island could improve its feeder buses and satellite park and ride system.
Right. If I recall correctly, there’s nothing in the criteria for determining extra service under prop 1 that had anything to do with whether the bus service as “feeding” a link stop or not. Some of the increased service surely does, but that isn’t (directly) why it was targeted for increased service.
Either way results in the same thing. Both Seattle’s and Metro’s goals are to get more service to Link stations, prebuild ridership in future Link corridors, and fill in gaps in the Link network. Voters didn’t specifically allocate money for “feeder” routes, but they this would be among the city’s goals when it negotiated with Metro over routes. In the first round it wasn’t as obvious because they chose to strengthen existing routes rather than add any new ones, so they had only the existing routes to work with. In the restructure Metro organized more explicitly around feeders, and the Prop 1 money followed it. An underlying goal was to addressed underserved corridors, but in practice this overlaps with link feeders a lot. Metro has been positioning the 49 as the main route on Capitol Hill for several years, and it serves two Link stations (CH and Westlake) and stands in for a third (U-District). Metro wanted to run it on Broadway-Madison and then it would have looked more like a feeder, but the city opposed that because it would contradict the Madison BRT corridor it was championing.
>> Either way results in the same thing.
No, not at at all. Sure, everyone wants to take advantage of the multi-billion dollar system system that is nowhere near capacity. But it is a stretch to call the RapidRide+ routes feeder buses.
Just compare them to what Martin is proposing for Mercer island. A series of buses that never leave the island, but connect the Link station to satellite park and ride places. My guess is over 90% of the people who take those buses will transfer to Link. That is a great example of a feeder bus.
In contrast, I can’t find a single RapidRide+ route that looks like a feeder bus. Of course people will transfer from the train to those buses. But people have always made transfers from other buses (and will continue to do so). That doesn’t t make them feeder buses anymore that the old 72 was a feeder bus back when Link only went from Tukwila to downtown. The buses are designed to serve various parts of the city, and Link is largely irrelevant.
Here, let’s go through the routes:
Corridor 1 — Madison. This crosses the path with Link, but doesn’t alter in the least to serve it. It is just as close to the ferry terminal as it is to Link. Does that make it a feeder bus to the ferry? Of course not; it is simply a bus serving a very urban area (First Hill and downtown).
Corridor 2 — This will serve Delridge and connect riders to downtown. If this terminated at SoDo, then you could call this a feeder bus. But it won’t, it will go where 90% of the riders want to go (downtown).
Corridor 3 — Looks a lot like the 7. Like the 7, it crosses paths with Link, but very few make the transfer. Ridership on the 7 is several orders of magnitude higher than ridership at Mount Baker station, and I’m sure some of the folks that ride Link from there just walk to the station. In short, Link is largely irrelevant to this bus, despite the route terminating by it. To be fair, this will go by a new stop (at Judkins Park) but that is only a very small part of this route, and hardly the impetus for it.
Corridor 4 — Rainier Valle to the UW. This is by far the most like a feeder bus route, but again, that’s not why it is being built. It is to connect various parts of the Central Area with the UW. Some may take advantage of this to get to Link, but most won’t.
Corridor 5 — Ballard to UW. Again, not really designed to shuffle people to Link. It is designed to do what that bus has always done — connect people along the Ballard to UW corridor.
Corridor 6 — The only Link service is Westlake and Northgate. But the bulk of the riders will be using it to connect somewhere in between. Downtown to Southeast Lake Union, Fremont to Ballard, or Aurora to Ballard. If anything, this looks more like a feeder for the E than Link. If this was really designed to feed Link, than it would go to 145th (making for a fast ride from Lynnwood, Shoreline, etc. to Ballard). But it doesn’t because SDOT (and Metro) know that it is more important to serve a place that actually has a lot of people, not just a train station.
Corridor 7 — Roosevelt HCT. This looks a lot like the 7. It doesn’t even go a few blocks out of its way to serve the station at Brooklyn. It might connect to the Roosevelt Station, but even that is up in the air, at this point (it may terminate at 45th). It is designed primarily to serve the corridor, not as a feeder for Link.
RapidRide C — More money 45 is also allocated to improve the C. This bus basically ignores Link, and is designed to get people from West Seattle to downtown.
It is a stretch to call any one of these bus routes a feeder. Most are specifically *not* feeders, despite the fact that just about every bus crosses paths. That is because just about every bus is bound to cross paths with Link — Link goes downtown. Again, the contrast between this and the Mercer Island buses is huge. So, too is the contrast between this and the feeder buses in the north end (that were the result of the restructure). But those routes didn’t get a dime from Move Seattle. Move Seattle put money into routes that largely serve the city independently of Link. They aren’t feeders.
Thanks for the corridor numbers because I’m not going to go back to a 2012 report to find out what they were.
The E and the 5 complement Link by filling a gap in its network that won’t be filled even in ST3. Some people will use them as if Link weren’t there but others will use them to get to Link. In that sense they function as feeders.
But we’re arguing semantics, how much feederish a route has to be before it’s a feeder. But I look at it differently. The entire network is being repositioned to revolve around Link and the RapidRide lines. So everything will feed into Link, and secondarily into RR, and RR will stand in where Link isn’t, and everything else will complement them. So it’s less interesting to me which routes are “feeders” in a narrow sense, than the fact that everything will lead toward Link, and people will use Link whenever its direction and distance is appropriate. I already use the 49 as a feeder, whether it’s intended to be or not.
With Move Seattle’s large (planned) proliferation of RR-ish lines, it’s almost more like RR is expanding to the entire network. The places where a consolidating pattern is most evident are the northeast, following the opening of UW Station, and West Seattle, following RR C. Ballard’s restructure “around” the D Line was hedged substantially by introducing the 40 as a very long all-local route running all the way through downtown. Of course this hedge was wise: the 40 was instantly one of the most popular routes in the city, but roughly nobody transfers to the D Line at 15th/Leary, and feeder service west of 24th died on the vine. The 40 seems in the spirit of old-Seattle bus routes, has succeeded in the way the best of these routes do, and eventually more speed/reliability improvements will come to it.
Relevant to Mercer Island, feeder prospects are a bit like the feeder prospects of western Ballard. Conceiving of the routes is easy: the major local commercial area is right on the way to the trunk-line transit! But there isn’t much density, corridors are topologically divided, and… people just don’t move there to ride the bus. 32nd lost off-peak service and Seaview lost all service in the midst of citywide growth in transit service. It’s not that I think the 204 or even the 201 are going away, but they’ll need to attract riders to gain a political constituency, and I think that’s a tall order.
The 40 is not particularly long. It’s shorter than the E or A or the north-south through-routes. South of 85th & 24th there’s no other viable alignment: 24th needs service, Leary Way-36th needs service, Westlake Ave needs service, people from all those want to go downtown, so why not connect them all together? North of 85th & 24th it’s not so clear. Should it go to Northgate, or elsewhere, or should another route do those? I have always thought the 40 should terminate or go east to Greenwood, and the D should continue north on Holman Road to Northgate. And that’s what Metro plans in 2025.
Another factor is that previously the 75 went from Leary Way to 24th, Northgate, Lake City, Sand Point, U-Village, and Campus Parkway. When the 40 was created the 75 was split at Northgate and the western half attached to the 40. Since then there have been a steady stream of complaints that the 75 should have been split at Lake City rather than Northgate. Because people do travel from Ballard to Lake City, or more generally from lower northwest Seattle to upper northeast Seattle, and it’s a bummer to transfer at Northgate and sometimes wait half an hour. Whereas a much smaller number of people come from Sand Point, so they can transfer at Lake City (although the most sensible proposal is to extend the 75 directly west to Aurora, as Metro is also planning).
So should the 40 bend back east from Ballard to Northgate and Lake City, or should some other route have that responsibility? I don’t know, but using the 40 is reasonable. It avoids the need for two routes to overlap on 24th, because the silliest thing is for a route to just peter out at 85th & 24th and force people to transfer where there’s nothing but a few houses.
I never said the 40 was a bad route. The 40 is a terrific route, which is why it’s been so successful. The Ballard restructure that created it wasn’t a bad restructure. It just wasn’t particularly oriented around feeding RapidRide. That’s a good thing, because only so many people could fit on those buses!
I thought by “very long” you meant it was too long to be reliable.
There’s no way to “feed” RapidRide in Ballard. The tails are too short. People don’t want to wait for a bus to go one or two miles and wait for another bus. That’s what doomed the 61, besides its intrinsic low density. And 15th & Leary Way is an unpleasant place for a transfer; it looks like it’s under an expressway viaduct… because it is. If the 61 had continued east to Fremont and perhaps a unique destination after that, it would have gotten more riders on 32nd and on Leary Way.
Mercer Island’s streets are vaguely similar to Ballard’s. Ballard has a few parallel streets going down to a Y, with the center right where the Y starts to narrow, and the D transfer point at the bottom. Mercer Island’s center and transfer point is along the middle street. The outer roads come together in a kind of peripheral look around it. This would allow several routes to serve all those parts and get to the center with just some minor backtracking. There’s no case where it would make sense for a route on one of the outer roads to go to Island Crest Way and force a transfer to another route to get to the station. That’s the situation you had with the 61 transfering to the D going to a major transfer point (Westlake). If the 61 went to a Link station somewhere, anywhere, it would be a different situation. The same principle was behind Aleks’ proposed reorg for south King County, where the 181 and 169 were extended to Rainier Beach station so that the majority of residents wouldn’t have to transfer at Kent Station or South Renton P&R and again at Rainier Beach station.
181180 I guess. Or not really. I mean a route from southeast Auburn to Auburn Station, Kent Station, and Rainier Beach. That would overlap with another route from a residential part of Kent to Kent Station and Rainier Beach.
When i90 is tolled, needs to cover Mercer island. Giving Islanders a free pass from East or from West ensures that the congestion charge won’t work.
Wsdot is dying to do more hot lanes, also.
Capping the number of buses was really shortsighted.
Inadequate bus service from elsewhere on the Eastside, which encourages people to driving to Mercer Island instead. The settlement actually intensifies this problem.
This gets to the heart of it. They don’t want people accessing transit on MI by bus or car. But you’re not a private island; other Eastside residents retain the right to freedom of movement. You have to choose one.
These are all good suggestions. I have a feeling, though, that some will meet with opposition. For example:
1) Tolling people on the east span means that every time someone goes from Mercer Island to Bellevue they pay extra.
2) Charging for the Park and Ride spot means that Mercer Island residents pay extra to commute to downtown.
Just to be clear, I like these proposals, and I think that a lot of Mercer Island residents will as well. However, a few won’t, and sometimes anything controversial is met with lots of angry letters and protests. After the dust settles, quite often people take the easy way out, which is to do nothing.
I personally think the best thing to do is push for the fourth option. Mercer Island lends itself to this, as you said. There are only a handful of arterials on the island, and most go right to the station. As it turns out, this is also a destination in itself, with the bulk of the commercial district, and several nice parks nearby. Very frequent service during rush hour (say, every five minutes) along with regular service all day and there would be no reason to drive all the way to the station park and ride. While this is expensive, it wouldn’t be horribly so, since there are only a couple main arterials, and the distance isn’t really long.
I also think that folks should try and reverse the part of the settlement that involves buses from the east side. This is the part that I’m sure will upset some residents, if they knew what they were missing. Not everyone from Mercer Island is going to Seattle or downtown Bellevue. Some are going to Eastlake or Factoria. They could have outstanding service (very frequent, very fast) if they simply allow it. Metro and ST should, at some point, simply propose it with an asterisk that says “If Mercer Island agrees to change the rules of the settlement”.
“this is also a destination in itself”
I wish more Islanders thought of downtown Mercer Island as a destination, rather than as something that must be kept small 1-2 story, as if it’s an evil that’s tolerated only because a city must have a business/government center, and we must contain it so it does as little harm as possible.
I’ve always believed in the idea of essentially starting LINK corridors with buses. Same spirit as starting regional transit. Reason I’d be willing to keep the 41 and the 550 in DSTT long as possible.
Providing that ST and KC Metro were able, and much harder, willing, to give joint ops enough wherewithal to keep them from blocking LINK to a standstill. Though by now, difference in dwell time has already made this impossible. Especially since Climate Change will unfortunately keep Hell from freezing over in our lifetimes.
Unlike transit lanes and signal pre-empt, which will only require Jenny Durkan to put SDOT into Angle Lake’s anchor business for general contemptibility ’til they cooperate. Upon which Olympia and I will forgive former piece of facism if you can also help the region restore our Constitutional liberty to drive rather than park on I-5.
But about Mercer Island itself, I wouldn’t rule out arrangements between Mercer Island and compatible employers to see to it that its own residents don’t all have to travel someplace else to work. In other words, finally start seeing some gain in joining the region connected by the transit system that they are, after all, paying taxes for.
Also- if giant hydrofoils are overkill….Mercer Island used to have ferry boats. Which might make Madison Park terminate Rapid Ride where it belongs.
The #1 way to reduce congestion on I-90? Toll it!! And not HOT lanes. I mean toll all the lanes just like on SR520.
And if you want to give MI a bit of a break for being so special, then toll WB I-90 on the main span west of the island, and toll EB I-90 on the East Channel bridge east of the island. That way a MI resident would only pay half the RT toll, and there would still be a disincentive for eastsiders to drive onto the island to use the P&R.
And I would still charge for the MI P&R because a lot of the usage is from MI residents that live within a mile of it. We shouldn’t be buying $22,000 parking spaces for people who don’t want to walk even a half mile.
I-90 cannot be tolled. It could have been tolled had it been established when the new bridge and the widening was completed, though it would probably have expired by now. Washington does have a “slot” in the value pricing program, but it’s currently used by the I-405 HOT lanes.
The VPP program is on indefinite “hold”; the FHWA website is quite clear that there will be no new projects approved under the pilot. The only other way to add tolling to an Interstate facility is to replace it (been there, done that) or significantly increase its capacity. We’re reducing I-90 vehicular capacity by removing the reversible lanes for Link. Of course that greatly increases the person capacity, but that’s not what FHWA lives for.
Where on the website does the website make the suggestion or insinuation that no more toll facilities will be approved? I took a glance and didn’t see anything.
The notion that I-90 can’t be tolled is totally bogus. The Feds are moving in that direction more and more every day, and the Trumpster administration seems to be really going down that path.
As far as not having a slot in the current program, who cares? The program is wildly successful and sure to be expanded. And the proper path is to bundle tolling on I-90 with tolling on SR520 anyhow, and that already has a slot.
The data is there to indicate that I-90 and SR520 operate as a combined entity anyhow. It is time we manage them in the same way. Toll them both and set the toll appropriately.
It would make the most sense to toll going toward the island and not from it. That would parallel the ferries, where tolls are charged toward the island, so that nobody ends up stuck on the island without money. And it would give Mercer Islanders an automatic 50% discount on every round trip, which is fair because they’re only impacting half the bridge (either east side or west side rather than both).
Yeah, that has always seemed to be a good way to implement a toll: westbound on the East Channel Bridge and eastbound on the floating bridge. That way you can more easily sell the toll politically, for the reasons you list. Plus you can also tell Islanders “any off-Islander who uses the MI P&R has to pay the toll.”
As for paid parking, I’d rather implement it at all the major eastside facilities (South Bellevue, Eastgate, Issaquah, Overlake, South Kirkland, etc.) than single out one just because it is smaller and crunched. We can adjust the price at different facilities to manage demand (e.g. Mercer Island would probably be higher than Brickyard), but I think we need to treat the parking as part of a larger integrated system and charge accordingly.
Best parking option I’ve see is something that allows people to buy passes for a reserve spot before, say, 8.30am. After 8.30am the garage then becomes first-come, first-serve for the rest of the day, including the reserved spots.
That way someone can pay a premium to guarantee a spot during the peak commute time, but off-peak (when the garages are rarely full) there is still free parking to encourage suburban riders to use the P&R for trips in/out of urban areas.
Agreed. Lack of midday P&R access is a huge deterrent to making transit useful for non-peak trips in a significant portion of the Eastside. I believe ST’s parking pilot program worked this way; spots were reserved until 9:30 or 10:00am, then were open to all for free.
Of course this gets into the discussion about the purpose of transit from lower-density suburbs (e.g. peak express-oriented to tackle peak congestion, or all-day focused to improve general mobility).
I definitely disagree with “Bringing most residents within an easy walk of a frequent bus is prohibitively expensive due to the road non-grid”
You would really just need 3 routes to provide frequent service to the station – you don’t need a full grid – just one on E Mercer, one on W Mercer and one on Island Way.
I think the argument is that bus routes like that would still leave plenty of people without a short walk to a bus. I’m not sure about most, but I can see a lot of people that would just be out of luck. For example, there are people who live on the south end of the island, and access their house via West Mercer Way, 72nd, then 78th Ave SE. As the crow flies, they are very close to West Mercer Way. But because the roads don’t connect, they would have a very long walk. There are other parts of town like that as well.
You also have the case where the roads diverge, like close to the high school. This is where a nice east-west bus could fill in the gap, but the road doesn’t go through.
Meanwhile, I’m not sure if you can justify three frequent bus lines, as you suggest. What Martin proposes makes a lot more sense. Just run two (as they have now) run them very frequently, and folks can drive to the nearest bus stop.
Mercer Island outside the ICW spine is down near the density of Juanita or West Lake Sammamish or Snoqualmie where Metro has been exploring replacing traditional all-day routes with “alternative service” subsidized but not operated by Metro. For instance, the Snoqualmie Valley shuttles where Metro provides the vans and startup money and a senior center operates them via donations. If Mercer Island wants 5-10 minute service to every block, or subsidized taxis, it will probably have to be something like that, with Islanders funding part of it. There are many possibilities. And what Islanders say in 10 years will be different from what they say now, just like what they say now is different than what they said 10 or 20 years ago. Everybody moves toward wanting or tolerating transit and urbanism, even if very slowly. Twenty years ago they would have said hell no to circulator buses and taxes. Now they’re cautiously favorable to buses and hesitating on taxes and a 4-story downtown. In ten years they may decide a city tax is no big deal because they really really want those buses, to get to Link all day, and hey who not ride transit to the city center, especially so my teenager doesn’t have to have his own car.
Some people on Mercer Island are actively talking about some kind of subsidized TNC to provide connectivity to the station. A few are even pushing driverless vehicles instead of getting Uber or Lyft or whoever to provide the service. The idea is attractive considering the road network working against making fixed-route transit service effective. There’s also been talk of expanding the 630 (Community Shuttle), and reconsidering its routing to better serve more people.
I would suggest to Mercer Island to ask for control of the parking.
Once that is done, Mercer Island could sell parking permits as if the whole city is on a neighborhood parking program. They could start with something like $30 a year for residents — and sell leftover spaces at $1000 for non-residents for an annual permit.
Many East Coast suburbs have been doing something like this for decades.
If Mercer Island wants to reserve the parking for island resident, they should pay for the infrastructure themselves instead of taking Sound Transit’s money.
Mercer Island is not unique regarding transit parking. Many stations have people from outside the community park at them. If other areas manage to cope with it, the Islanders should bravely soldier through it as well.
Mercer Island has asked for control of the parking, but why would Sound Transit (who owns the current facility) do that? Between the federal grants and the ST taxing district (or at least the East King subarea), many people beyond Mercer Island paid for the facility and should be able to benefit from it. Which is as it should be.
If a community wants their own private parking, they need to pay it themselves. To their credit, MI has (finally) started to realize this and is exploring other options for island-only parking.
ST did it as a part of the overall MI settlement. MI will pay for 51% of the new parking, which gives them control of the parking facility.
Sorry, I should’ve been more clear what I was talking about (on re-reading it is vague). I was talking about ST turning over the existing P&R facility to MI. That isn’t going to happen for a variety of legal and political reasons, even if MI could afford it (which it can’t). But new parking which is “mitigation” is a different matter (see: Northgate parking), and as you point out ST will only pay a minority of the cost.
This clause to the agreement as reported by Martin, “an essentially status-quo level and pattern of bus traffic, aside from city-only buses”, is deeply flawed and harms all parties. There is no reason for such a limit. The background noise of the freeway drowns out the bus noise. In 2023, service may be via quiet battery buses. The Eastgate and Issaquah markets should have improved service frequency in 2023 with East Link to make the network more attractive. The parties should find a way around this. Perhaps it is in how the counting is done. A direct route between South MI and Eastgate via the MI station would help.
Yes, all lanes of I-90 should be variably tolled, yesterday. The rates should be set to assure free flow travel.
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