Transit integration at Mercer Island continues to move forward, but rough water appears to be on the horizon. When we last checked in, Sound Transit and King County Metro had presented three infrastructure options, the Limited, Improved, and Optimal Configurations, which could facilitate 12, 16, or 20 buses per hour, respectively. Since that time, the Mercer Island City Council has identified additional concerns and discussed the Interchange again with City staff on July 16, 2019.

Mercer Island Station construction, June 2019. Sound Transit photo, via Facebook.

One of the significant factors is that King County Metro was not a party to the Settlement Agreement that ended litigation and other Link-related disputes between Sound Transit and the City. However Metro’s “concurrence” is required for the Transit Interchange, and the Settlement Agreement allows for changes to the Transit Interchange to achieve that concurrence. As previously reported, Metro identified issues with the Transit Interchange as described in the Settlement Agreement and proposed changes that would allow Metro to concur. Notably, new information presented to the City Council included a letter from King County Metro to Sound Transit (page 16 of the linked PDF) stating that Metro cannot concur with the Limited Configuration (e.g. the configuration explicitly described by the Settlement Agreement, with a capacity of up to 12 buses per hour) because that configuration does not allow appropriate layovers and pickup/dropoff locations.

Apart from the configuration options, the City Council identified several other concerns that they wish to explore further. These include:

  • Pedestrian crossing volumes and safety at the North Mercer Way and 80th Avenue SE intersection.
  • Public and rider safety due to increased passenger volumes relative to today.
  • The timeline for decision-making.
  • Continued questions about the need for the Transit Interchange, and whether South Bellevue can be the interchange point instead of Mercer Island.
  • Identification of alternatives to address potential impacts noted above.

The number of pedestrians crossing at the North Mercer Way and 80th Avenue SE intersection was estimated to average approximately 30 pedestrians per crossing sequence, assuming a 90-second signal cycle. However as passengers would arrive in buses at regular intervals and not a continuous stream, pedestrian crossing demand may be unevenly distributed. Today, pedestrian crossing demand is fairly evenly spread out in the AM and PM peaks with bus riders accessing the Park and Ride or nearby homes and offices; the Transit Interchange would add a significant number of pedestrians in the AM peak due to buses dropping off passengers on the north side of North Mercer Way (far side of the street from the light rail station), while the PM peak is unlikely to be affected much as bus loading would occur on the south (near) side of North Mercer Way.

Public safety is a concern with the number of new passengers using Mercer Island to transfer between bus and rail. There has been a lot of talk on Mercer Island social media (mostly Nextdoor) about public safety related to increased transit usage, and while a certain amount of this is noise, the discussions required the City’s police chief to directly address the issue. While refusing to commit to any specific need 4 years in advance, the police chief noted they may need to keep a couple of bike officers near the station, and this could negatively affect patrol coverage of the rest of Mercer Island. The current shortage of officers (Mercer Island is short 4 officers now) could exacerbate this, but with the station opening 4 years into the future the current shortage doesn’t have a specific bearing beyond noting the general challenges of allocating police resources.

The City Council and some citizens expressed a fair amount of confusion over the timeline for a decision. Sound Transit released a graphic showing the various steps in the process. While some citizens (and at least one Councilmember) believe no decision is needed until 2020 at the earliest, Sound Transit continues to advance the design of the Transit Interchange, and intends to begin 60% design this fall, with final design completed next summer. Construction would begin in early 2021 to have the Transit Interchange physical infrastructure complete by the summer of 2022, in time for the earliest possible East Link opening date (East Link’s schedule contains months of “float” and an early opening similar to U-Link remains possible, but impossible to forecast with East Link currently only 55% complete). Sound Transit appears to consider the schedule fairly tight with minimal flexibility, while some citizens believe Sound Transit is needlessly pushing forward and plenty of time remains for further discussion.

The City Council voted to allow the City Manager to spend up to $50,000 on engineering consultants to both confirm Sound Transit and Metro’s assumptions and assertions, and to help identify other alternatives that could reduce or change the Transit Interchange’s impacts. The City Council has come to realize that the 77th Ave SE option (memorialized in the Settlement Agreement) comes with some hefty drawbacks, including increased property acquisition (notably 2 residences) and traffic impacts on North Mercer Way. The 80th Ave SE option (specifically rejected by a prior City Council) would heavily impact the 80th Ave SE overcrossing of I-90, but would isolate the majority of impacts to that overpass. When the Settlement Agreement was signed, the City Council at the time decided that keeping more in line with past agreements concerning the various I-90 overpasses and lids, specifically their landscaped nature, was a critical factor. However as the 77th Ave SE option has moved deeper into design the current City Council has decided to take another look at the 80th Ave SE option. Whether Sound Transit and Metro would agree to switch at this point is unknown; the 80th Ave SE option only reached a conceptual design level, and Sound Transit now has a 30% design for the 77th Ave SE option and is soon advancing to 60%. Anecdotal information suggests Sound Transit and Metro favored the 80th Ave SE option at the time of the Settlement Agreement even though it is more physically constrained, because it works better operationally and avoids private property impacts. Buses drop off and load directly in front of a station entrance, without street crossings, and bus circulation, while tight, does not conflict with pedestrian and car traffic.

Mercer Island appears to have little leverage here due to the tight timeline. In addition, Mercer Island staff noted that Sound Transit likely has the legal authority to unilaterally impose the Transit Interchange should the City either oppose or simply not approve the Transit Interchange, however a collaborative process remains a goal of all parties (and is memorialized in the Settlement Agreement) so such an outcome remains unlikely. Nevertheless, at this time the City Council appears headed toward a confrontation with Sound Transit and Metro.

You can view the video of the City Council meeting on Youtube. The Transit Interchange discussion begins at 5:07:00.

27 Replies to “Mercer Island bus-rail connection still in flux”

  1. They’ll never give up on trying to have the transfer be at South Bellevue, will they? I mean, it’s not like it’s going to turn into 3rd and Pike because some Eastsiders transfer there.

    1. I think that the majority of the City Council and most citizens understand the Transit Interchange is coming, the City already agreed to it, and Metro and ST have also said South Bellevue’s bus capacity is already spoken for, however a (vocal) minority continues to push for South Bellevue instead.

      1. I haven’t heard that South Bellevue’s bus capacity is already spoken for. The agencies were discussing Mercer Island and South Bellevue as if it could be either one. Did they overestimate South Bellevue’s capacity? What is this other horde of buses that’s filling it? Neither agency has said which routes would be where, so how can you say South Bellevue is filled?

      2. Metro and ST haven’t specified exactly which routes are going to South Bellevue, but have stated “Finally, Metro has already planned to completely fill the capacity for bus transfers at South Bellevue Station and cannot plan for additional routes there.” (from the answer to #4, page 2, of I would speculate we’re looking at the 111, 114, and 249. The 554 and 241 would pass through without laying over. ST possibly plans to truncate the 560, 566, and 567 there, although Bellevue TC is more likely. With limited capacity on Mercer Island, some I-90 corridor buses may need to go to South Bellevue as well. However at this point we’re stuck taking Metro’s word for it, as they won’t commit to specific routes/destinations until they start the outreach process for the East Link-related restructure in 2021.

      3. I’ll add that I-90 bus routes going to South Bellevue are better suited to continue into Downtown Bellevue. It also reduces the travel time for those riders using I-90 buses to transfer to Link headed to Downtown Bellevue and Redmond.

      4. Part of ST’s latest draft SIP talked about post-Stride service, and mentioned that ST 566 would likely remain during peak and take over the freeway stations from the 560, filling in the holes that 405 Stride leaves (two freeway stations, downtown & north Renton), and continue to Overlake (I think more unlikely). I highly doubt the 566 will end in S. Bellevue, especially with fast ETL lanes coming that could take the bus to NE 6th almost as fast as it could get to S. Bellevue Station. 567 is a Sounder connector designed to be fast and reliable enough to connect to Sounder trains. I would guess that the 567 doesn’t change at all.

    2. Yeah, when I read “public safety concerns” at first I thought it meant pedestrian overflow vs. car conflicts that might annoy Mercer Islanders by making them slow down or institute traffic calming. Then I saw the discussion was often on Nextdoor and realized it was code for “people from the Rainier Valley might transfer here”. Which has it’s own further layer of coding…

      1. Ped vs. car conflicts is kind of an issue. I left it out of the article because it was long enough already, but some people were concerned the permissive left turn (e.g. left turning cars yield on green) from 80th Ave SE to westbound North Mercer Way that coincides with the walk signal for pedestrians was dangerous and would result in collisions. City staff said yes, the concern is legitimate, and also that it is easy to fix: make the left turn movement separate from the ped movement. It results in some car delays (a few seconds per car in aggregate) but vastly increases safety.

        Your assumption about Nextdoor discussions is fairly accurate.

      2. People from Rainier Valley can already take the 550 to Mercer Island. And if they’re planning a crime they’d bring a getaway car. And in case the islanders are unaware, the people coming from Rainier Valley include lawyers and professionals who have condos in the valley and work on Mercer island.

      3. Seems fair. Rainier Valley wants to keep out Mercer Islanders from gentrifying their neighborhood. And Mercer Island wants to keep out Rainier Valley residents from their neighborhood.

        Sam. Author, Blog Commenting for Dummies.

      4. Nextdoor is a window into the souls of the perpetually terrified.

        And yes: “public safety related to increased transit usage” = “those people.” It’s always meant that. It means that in Mercer Island; it means that in Madison Park; it means that in Georgetown (DC) and Marin County and The Woodlands and La Jolla and….

        I lived in a Mercer Island-esque neighborhood for several years and was on Nextdoor long enough to at first find the constant “there’s a suspicious person walking down the sidewalk / eating a sandwich / in an ugly car / at the bus stop” amusing, but it quickly became disgusting and I dropped it. There’s an entire subforum on a sports board I frequent devoted to stuff people post like that on Nextdoor.

    3. If the NIMBY’s were smarter, they’d be pushing for 80th. Folks transferring there would be at least one — and in most cases two — street crossings from any actual bits of the REAL “Mercer Island”

      Jes’ sayin’….

      1. yeah, they’re very short-sighted. It’s an opportunity for sustainable dining/retail in the town center, as this would bring 10k people daily to the island, without consuming any parking. There is plenty of room for win:win solutions that give the region transit capacity AND benefit the island.

        80th Ave + Sunset highway, with buses circulating clockwise around the lightrail station, seems like the best solution. Buses would all pick up/dropoff on the same side of the street as the lightrail, so no pedestrians crossing – which is both a safety and congestion concern. It would reduce conflict with the “proper” route for the I-90 trail, so that fewer bikers would divert from there onto residential streets to the north. It would also keep pedestrians further from residential neighborhoods, if you’re the type of person who sees that as good thing.

        80th Ave could be closed to thru traffic, left for just buses and carpool lane access.

    1. They had a study session beginning at 5:00pm to discuss the Aubrey Davis Park master planning process. The regular meeting began at 7:00pm. But yeah they were there for a loooong time and even admitted they were getting a little punchy toward the end.

  2. Is there a diagram of what the 77th street version would look like? I see the one for 80th street but without anything to compare it too it’s kind of useless.

  3. This is another example of how pedestrian circulation to/ from buses is an issue at every station. Regardless of how this situation resolves, I would suggest that we push to heighten pedestrian circulation around all stations to be carefully designed. It only takes one element — an escalator, an elevator, a narrow walkway or stairs, a street crossing or even bad lighting — to create a circulation problem. Those problems are always more expensive to fix once Link opens (like UW Station access issues).

    I also would just flag that there could also be a looming drop-off/ pick-up issue. It’s just one more station access issue that points to the need for though access analysis. Specifically, I would like to see a report on access like this one developed for the existing and future Link system:

    Without numbers to react to, parties revert to fear-based or fantasy-based speculation. That’s generally not a good thing.

  4. I’m a bit confused by this post, although admittedly this isn’t one of the Link projects I’ve been following all that closely of late. I was under the impression that the 2017 settlement agreement stipulated that the bus drop-offs/pick-ups were all to be on the south side of North Mercer Way. Has there been an another modification made since the last addendum to the FEIS/SEPA documents?

    Under section 4 of the 2017 settlement agreement, “Bus/Rail Integration”, there was this stipulation:

    “4.3 The Parties have further agreed on the following additional modifications to the 77th
    Avenue SE Configuration; provided that, the City will not unreasonably withhold its approval to changes in one or more of the below provisions based on Metro operational concerns:
    (a) In order to reduce impacts on traffic flow on North Mercer Way, all pick-up/drop-off of passengers will be on the south side of North Mercer Way.
    (b) Other than in an emergency or due to equipment malfunction, bus layovers are limited to no more than fifteen (15) minutes and then only during the afternoon peak period (3:30pm – 7:00pm). Except as to buses running entirely on electrical
    (battery) power, there will be no idling of buses other than during actual pick-up and drop-off of passengers or while waiting in traffic.”

    1. You are correct. There has not been a formal change to the Settlement Agreement to date. The current process that is playing out is to implement the relevant portions of Section 4.1 (“…To the extent that King County Metro buses are necessary to coordinate service, the Parties agree that the 77th Avenue SE Configuration cannot be implemented without King County Metro’s agreement. The Parties will work collaboratively with King County Metro to obtain its concurrence where necessary and document such concurrence as appropriate.”) and Section 4.3 as you noted.
      Since Metro (King County) wasn’t a party to the Settlement Agreement, they have some power here to force changes via concurrence. Metro is outright saying the configuration as described in the Settlement Agreement doesn’t work for them.

  5. It’s my understanding that WSDOT ruled out the original 80th St configuration because the lid/bridge structure was not engineered to carry the load from the proposed bus volumes/layovers that were being considered at that time. That said, the number of buses now being considered in the 77th/North Mercer Way configuration is less, so it would be worth looking into the feasibility of using 80th again.

  6. Thanks for the reply. I guess I should have been clearer about my sense of confusion over the issue stated above. The SEPA addendum that addressed the bus/rail integration issues for the MI Station was finalized in April 2017 I believe. The executive summary stated the following:

    “77th Avenue SE Configuration: For this configuration, buses would be routed in a counter-
    clockwise direction along N Mercer Way and turn around at a new roundabout at N Mercer Way and 77th Avenue SE. Buses would use the westbound 80th Avenue HOV off-ramp and the eastbound 80th Avenue HOV on-ramp. The configuration would include roadway improvements,
    bus drop-off and pick-up areas, and bus layover areas on both sides of N Mercer Way and the west side of 80th Avenue SE. There would be about 320 buses stopping daily on Mercer Island with this configuration.”

    That was in April 2017. Then the aforementioned settlement agreement was finalized around October 2017 and it makes that contradictory stipulation in section 4.3 that I quoted previously.

    Thus I can’t help but wonder why this is just getting Metro’s attention now at this point in time. Furthermore, even with the configuration change that Metro is saying is operationally unworkable (as you’ve indicated in your reply above), shouldn’t said configuration refinement specified in the settlement agreement between MI and ST have prompted yet another SEPA addendum?

    1. I’m not sure what happened while posting the above comment, but it was intended as a reply to the OP’s reply to my comment above.

    2. What happened is that Metro wasn’t party to the Settlement Agreement because they weren’t involved in the litigation over the I-90 Center Roadway and other related items. The precise terms weren’t publicly disclosed until it was essentially approved. Metro never had the chance to weigh in at that stage.

      I consider it unlikely another SEPA Addendum would be necessary at this point. Sound Transit would (probably rightly) argue that the impacts of the Transit Interchange as described in the Settlement Agreement, and as altered to achieve Metro’s concurrence, are substantially similar (note: not precise legal language on my part) to the impacts identified in the SEPA Addendum.

      1. “The precise terms weren’t publicly disclosed until it was essentially approved. Metro never had the chance to weigh in at that stage.”

        True, but Rogoff signed the agreement way back in early Nov 2017. Metro has had plenty of time to weigh in since then. It’s not like this all just became known now in the summer of 2019.

        “Sound Transit would (probably rightly) argue that the impacts of the Transit Interchange….”

        Ah, there’s the rub. It really all depends on what the deviation entails. If ST wants to make such an argument, then they really should do so THROUGH a new addendum. That’s an appropriate purpose for its use and it would protect them somewhat from a more serious environmental review challenge.

  7. Metro is attempting to improve the transfer. the original bi-lateral agreement may have been infeasible, as well as imposed long walks on Eastgate and Issaquah riders. (why was there a bi-lateral agreement?). The seams would be wide. Earlier concepts considering bus riders boarding and alighting on 77th and 80th avenues SE that are at the station entrances; that would have reduced the walks (at the cost of buses using different MI arterials. note that buses are growing more quiet over time. how many will be electric in 2023?

    re South Bellevue as a transfer point, speed and reliability should be considered. buses using the 142nd Place SE center access ramp, funded by Sound Move, use the center of I-90. the access ramps for South Bellevue are on the outside. this would slow the trip. it would be better to go directly between the two inside ramps at Eastgate and MI.

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