Years before many other Sound Transit 3 projects even begin construction, bus rapid transit will be moving commuters along SR 522 between Woodinville and the future Shoreline light rail station at 145th St.
The BRT project, one of the early deliverables in ST3 and anticipated to open in 2024, might not have materialized without a push from residents and elected officials along the corridor. Not wanting to be left out of the third phase of transit expansion, a coalition from Woodinville, Bothell, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park and Shoreline attended Sound Transit meetings asking for better transit options.
“We weren’t slated to get anything out of ST3. We were not on Sound Transit’s radar at all,” said Mark Abersold, a resident of Kenmore who joined the five-city coalition. “We eventually want light rail in Kenmore, so we campaigned to get increased bus service and a light rail study.”
Abersold said it was Kenmore’s Mayor, David Baker, and city staff who recruited residents and nearby cities to join the BRT campaign.
“We knew Kenmore all by itself wouldn’t be a loud enough voice, so the city took the lead and created a coalition of five cities,” said Rob Karlinsey, Kenmore’s city manager.
“We got a big win out of ST3,” Baker added.
Years earlier, Baker and Karlinsey laid the framework for the BRT project, successfully lobbying for a place in ST’s 2014 Long Range Plan for “high capacity transit” along SR 522.
“That set the stage for ST3,” Baker said. “Now with HCT through Kenmore in the long range plan, we were able to ask for BRT through Kenmore in the ST3 plan.”
The successful campaign will bring nine BRT stations to the SR 522 corridor where buses will run every 10 minutes during peak and non-peak times. Also included in the ST3 measure is a small amount of money to study future light rail potential along the 522 corridor, as well as three new parking garages in Lake Forest Park, Kenmore and Bothell for the BRT project.
Though Baker says the city can’t do much to leverage ST3, the exurb is taking a stab at transit-oriented development (TOD). The city created a TOD district overlay along SR 522 “to reinforce pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development at intensities that support and are supported by multimodal transportation options.”
“If we are going to get BRT, we might as well zone for people to use it,” Abersold said. “The best thing we can do as a city is put more people within walking distance of the 522 BRT.”
For the TOD district, Kenmore’s city council approved a minimum density of 60 dwelling units per acre and a maximum of 150 dwelling units per acre. The plan also requires developers to build affordable housing when densities are greater than 120 dwelling units per acre.
The city also reduced parking minimums and maximums for the TOD district. For housing units, at least one parking space is required per unit, while the parking minimums for commercial and retail buildings were lowered by 75%. The city used the current minimum parking requirements set for outside the TOD district as the maximum parking rate developers can use inside the TOD district.
Abersold wants to see Kenmore also concentrate on infill development and continue the effort to make the city more pedestrian-friendly. In recent years, Kenmore has made investments in non-motorized improvements and created a year-round Town Square surrounded by apartments.
Baker eventually wants to see light rail circling Lake Washington on the north and south ends, bringing the system through Kenmore and Renton.
Beginning his first term on the Sound Transit board this year, Baker now holds a prime seat to help interlace the SR522 corridor and Kenmore into the light rail alignment.
“At some point you have to branch off from the spine,” said Baker. “It just makes sense to wrap the around the lake and pick up the industries along the way.”