Last year, Sound Transit and WSDOT shared their design of the three-level I-405 BRT station at NE 85th St in Kirkland. After prolonged negotiations, the City and Sound Transit reached agreement earlier this month on connecting the station area to downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.
At a forecast $260 million, NE 85th is one of the most expensive and complex stations in the ST3 system. Ridership forecasts are low. The City of Kirkland estimates 250-300 daily transfers at NE 85th in 2025. Sound Transit estimates fewer than 1,000 riders even by 2040.
Reaching or improving on those low expectations depends on bus and pedestrian/bike connections. The station will not have parking. Even the east edge of downtown Kirkland is separated from the station by 3,000 feet and a 200 foot elevation gain. The ST3 plan addressed this by budgeting another $45 million for bus lanes on NE 85th between the station and 6th St. Subsequent study found those lanes would be ineffective, freeing up funds for improved non-motorized connections instead.
The steep grade made many skeptical that riders would trek uphill to the station by walking or biking alone. The City commissioned a technical study was conducted for a gondola. A funicular was considered for a time. More recently, the City explored a ‘transitway‘. This would have been a bike/ped path parallel to NE 85th, but it would have been engineered to also accommodate autonomous shuttles in the future. The shuttles would require a pathway engineered to support greater weights. It would be not less than 18’ wide so users walking or on bikes could safely pass the autonomous vehicles.
In the end, the agreement settles on a less ambitious set of improvements that will meaningfully improve non-motorized access while realizing savings for Sound Transit. These include:
- Transit queue jumps in both directions at 6th St and Central Way. With transit signal priority, these deliver most of the speed and reliability improvements that could have been gained with complete bus lanes to the station.
- A parallel ped/bike connection along NE 85th St at the same grade as the street. At 12′, the path would not be engineered for shuttle vehicles, but would be a direct path from the station area to downtown. This is likely to be a cantilevered structure on the south side of the street.
- A pedestrian connection through the NW quadrant of the station area to NE 87th St. From there, it’s a short walk on 7th Ave to the Cross-Kirkland Corridor.
- A drop-off area also in the NW quadrant of the station area.
- A third eastbound lane on NE 85th east of the station. Sound Transit identified this would be necessary to manage traffic volumes exiting the station area and the highway ramps.
Whether any shuttle service operates between downtown and the station remains a future decision for Kirkland. Sound Transit will not fund or operate such a service. The drop-off/pickup area facilitates a shuttle stop with access to downtown and the Cross-Kirkland Corridor via 7th Ave. Kirkland envisions an on-demand shuttle, but it seems more likely that fixed route buses on NE 85th will do most of the work of getting riders between downtown and the station.
Some comparatively minor disagreements remain over connections into the neighborhoods around the station. While sidewalks on 85th serve pedestrians arriving along the east-west access, walkways across the WSDOT diamond would ease access from adjacent neighborhoods. Sound Transit agreed earlier this year to advance these through the environmental process, but not to fund them. The agreement this month resolves funding for the NW quadrant. Two other pathways, on the NE and SE quadrants, are candidates for funding in the system access program.
The agreement means a considerable cost saving for Sound Transit over the $45 million outlay envisioned in ST3. A partnering agreement is expected to be approved by the Sound Transit Board as early as next month.