Earlier this year, Metro started planning for the Kirkland-Bellevue-Eastgate RapidRide, set to open in 2025. An early question was where to locate the northern terminus. Metro’s Long Range Plan developed in 2016 includes a representative alignment connecting downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake via Market St. Since then, the North Eastside Mobility Plan (NEMP) outreach revealed a stronger demand for east-west connections. As a result, the March 2020 service change will create a new Metro 250 route with Bellevue-Kirkland buses continuing to Redmond.
Metro’s preliminary analysis appears to have suggested Redmond would be a better end point for RapidRide, a finding consistent with the recent analysis for the North Eastside restructure. After urging from the City of Kirkland, however, they are ending work on the Redmond alternative and focusing only on options serving Totem Lake.
At a meeting of Kirkland’s Transportation Commission last Wednesday, Metro staff conceded there were “some advantages” to the Redmond connection. The materials shared include a list of technical analysis criteria without detailing how any of the alternatives performed. The Redmond endpoint, they said, would be further studied only if it provided “distinct advantages”. In the end, Metro argues that the “overall difference between options is not large enough to warrant shifting from Metro Connects terminus in Totem Lake”.
The upshot is no further staff work on the Redmond RapidRide option. When Metro engages with the community this fall, bus riders will be asked to consider only alternative paths to Totem Lake. Ironically, the intent to avoid duplication with Metro 255 means riders on Market St and Juanita risk losing direct service to Seattle if an overlapping path is chosen.
Kirkland views Totem Lake as the locus of future development in the city, even though transit ridership in the neighborhood remains stubbornly light. The Transportation Commission concluded RapidRide to Totem Lake was preferable because “it provided better connections for the Kirkland community”. Some commissioners were concerned with “equity” implications of more service to Redmond over Totem Lake when Redmond has planned light rail stations.
These are parochial concerns not shared by local bus riders who want access to many places, not just another option for travel to Totem Lake. If one includes I-405 BRT, future bus riders might have three well-served bus routes from downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake.
Kirkland staff analysis in June described three options.
- Option 1 is the Metro Connections’ representative alignment. RapidRide buses continue north on Market St from downtown Kirkland to Juanita and onwards to Totem Lake via NE 124th St. This would overlap the current Metro 255 route, and Kirkland staff admit it means the 255 would be truncated at downtown Kirkland. That would be wildly unpopular, but the alternative is an extraordinary amount of overlapping service in an area not productive enough to support so many buses.
- Option 2 would mimic the Metro 250 route recently approved by the County Council, following Central Way and NE 85th from Kirkland to Redmond. It connects Kirkland to all of the NE 85th St corridor, and to fast-growing downtown Redmond. It would connect I-405 BRT with a larger east-west audience, allowing many more riders to access the BRT station with frequent bus service.
- Option 3 would also connect downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake, but via NE 85th St and 124th Ave NE in the North Rose Hill neighborhood. It would also connect to I-405 BRT at NE 85th, but for a narrower audience than the Redmond option. It would be relatively fast and reliable, as 124th Ave was recently widened. But its main purpose seems to be finding a path to Totem Lake that doesn’t overlap so obviously with 255. With fewer significant destinations, ridership is likely to be lower.
A map in the Kirkland staff analysis (option 1 on page 5) suggests one way out. If RapidRide operates on Market St, Metro 255 could be revised to serve NE 85th St to Redmond.
Similar trade-offs will arise in South Kirkland. The Metro Connects map envisions RapidRide following the current 234/235 pathway on State St and Lakeview to Lake Washington Blvd. This avoids an overlap with Metro 255 service. If the RapidRide shifts to 6th St/108th Ave as some in Kirkland want, Metro 255 will likely shift the other way to serve the State/Lakeview path.
At the suggestion of the City of Bellevue, Metro is also evaluating running buses on 120th Ave in Bel-Red as a higher density corridor than the previously assumed 116th Ave.
A helpful metric for any prospective bus route is land use along the corridor served. Helpfully, Kirkland staff have analyzed this, and it’s not close. Here’s the mix of anticipated land uses along the three alternatives, with Option 2, the Redmond corridor, serving more commercial and higher density residential destinations. The Totem Lake alternatives, 1 & 3, predominantly operate in low density single family neighborhoods.
The decision to reject a Redmond connection before allowing bus riders to have a say is difficult to explain on the merits (which we reviewed in this earlier post). After all, the NEMP outreach heard from thousands of riders, and heard strong demand for improving the east-west connection. It’s scarcely three weeks since Metro recommended, and the County Council approved, continuing Bellevue-Kirkland buses to Redmond in 2020. Already, Metro is taking that option off the table for Bellevue-Kirkland buses after 2025.
The next steps are a briefing to the Kirkland City Council on August 7, with ongoing staff work and public outreach in the Fall. The $90 million project is already about 50% funded and federal grant applications are anticipated in 2020.