Zoning along Northup Way and 116th Ave NE in Bellevue

When the RapidRide K Line opens on the Eastside in 2025, it’s hardly expected to gain the same fanfare as East Link will two years before it. Nonetheless, better high-capacity bus service is no less deserving of a sensible complementary land use policy that maximizes available development opportunities.

The full alignment has yet to be finalized but wherever it ends up being, the K Line faces the same fundamental challenge as the B Line: lots of single-family zoning and very little infill for redevelopment. While it’s not reasonable to expect any major planning effort for gangbusters TOD, there are a few upzone opportunities worthy of attention: NE 85th in Kirkland and Northup/116th in Bellevue.

The City of Kirkland is currently pursuing a station area plan for the NE 85th Stride BRT station. In the likely event that the K Line ends up traversing 85th between downtown Kirkland and Totem Lake, it will serve the dual purpose of providing a frequent connection to Stride as well as support development in the station area. The initial development framework calls for incremental infill and mixed use zones just outside the I-405 right-of-way.

The 85th interchange is already receiving hot attention between WSDOT, Sound Transit, and Kirkland. It’s slated to be one of the most expensive ST3 projects so it makes sense that the City will want to squeeze as much as it can out of the investment. It remains to be seen how much success will be found in planning around a massive freeway although the early concepts look promising enough.

The second less-heralded opportunity area lies between South Kirkland P&R and downtown Bellevue along Northup Way and 116th Ave NE. Although much of the corridor straddles the SR-520 and I-405 interchange, the topography decently shields surrounding areas from a lot of the freeway impacts.

The area along Northup is currently zoned for office and limited business uses. Along 116th, the area was rezoned as a medical-office district in 2009 when the Bel-Red Subarea Plan was adopted. Since then, the land use has remain largely unchanged in both zones, consisting largely of clinics, daycares, and other low-density office uses.

While the existing land use is the segment’s downside, the upside is that there is actually no residential in the corridor. That’s not to say that impacted businesses in the area won’t have clout in a major upzone but that we’re likely to see them mobilize to the degree other NIMBY efforts have. A few other pluses to upzoning the corridor include a fairly walkable pedestrian environment and good proximity to the East Link 120th station.

Although RapidRide K is still a few years out, preemptively planning for growth in areas with the highest buildable capacity is a good way to pick the lowest hanging fruit. If Bellevue and Kirkland want to prevent the K Line from suffering the same fate as the B Line, now is the time to consider maximizing development opportunity.

41 Replies to “Upzone opportunities for RapidRide K”

  1. Can you clarify what exact types of upzones you’re envisioning for the Northup/116th corridor? More dense office space or something else? I guess the question is, what are you taking “upzone” to mean in this particular context?

    Additionally, can you clarify the “fate” that the B line currently suffers? The portion on 156th is pretty well-travelled, though I’ll acknowledge the large, low-density residential portion on NE 8th St in Wilburton is sucky.

    1. I assume the development could be like we’ve seen elsewhere in Bellevue: converting low-rise commercial and industrial to 5-story apartment buildings with street-level retail.

      Offices wouldn’t make much sense. We should limit those to areas with high-capacity transit. We will have quite a few underdeveloped areas with Link service in a few years…

  2. Will Metro terminate the Bellevue-bound route 250 at Kirkland when the K Line opens, to prevent duplication of service to Bellevue? If not, why not run either the K Line or route 250 on 120th, which already has, and will have even more housing by the time the K Line is running? Or, is some other bus service already planned to run on 120th when East Link opens? I don’t think much can be done housing-wise with 116th, with all the medical and retirement facilities already there. At least not enough to move the ridership needle.

    1. The K was originally envisioned as serving Bellevue-Kirkland-Redmond, and the 250 was created as an interim route to prebuild ridership. But as the 250 got close to starting, Kirkland got a bee in its bonnet to send the K to Totem Lake to support its growth plans there. Remember, Kirkland is channeling major growth to Totem Lake to avoid having it in downtown Kirkland or 108th. Somehow Kirkland convinced Metro to have two RapidRide anchors and take it away from Redmond, and Redmond didn’t object.

      So originally the 250 was going to go away when the K started, and it still will. Something will have to replace the Kirkland-Redmond segment when that happens. Historically Kirkland-Redmond service was on NE 70th and 80th Streets more than on 85th, which sometimes had no service and sometimes had partial service. But now I think the cities and Metro have agreed to have it on the largest and fastest street, so I’m sure there will be some frequent Kirkland-Redmond service on it.

      1. Old Redmond Rd has lots of multi-family housing along the route including the DT Redmond portion. It’s certainly a lot more pedestrian and bike friendly than 85th. I’m not sure NE 85th is faster given the numerous long light cycles and congestion from Rose Hill into DT Kirkland. Both ends of NE 85th are devoid of just about any development because of the steep terrain and the sheer size of the road. Old Redmond Rd also has the advantage of serving Houghton P&R and the Google area development on 108th/6th St. It would be expensive in terms of land but some sort of transit only or at least que jumps would be a big help getting the “last mile” to Kirkland TC.

        Any route that goes from DT Kirkland to Redmond on NE85th would probably turn north on 148th which would allow RR-B to take a more direct route to Redmond TC.

      2. I ride the 250 between Kirkland and Redmond occasionally, and I’m a big fan of its direct route. If you time the schedule right, the bus is, for all practical purposes, as fast as riding an Uber.

        The stops in between, by the way, do get used. There are businesses on 85th, and nearly every trip has at least 1-2 passengers getting on or off somewhere between I-405 and 148th. Moving to 80th St. would simply create an overlapping walkshed with the 245, leave a big coverage hole to the north of 85th, and result in an overall slower route.

        I don’t believe Houghton Park and Ride is an important enough destination for transit to use in making routing decisions. There would be no bus to connect to except the 245, and nobody ever gets on or off the 245 there, at least during the times I have ridden it.

        As to the Google Campus, you can always get out and walk from 6th St. or Kirkland Way (via the CKC). You don’t have to transfer to another bus at Kirkland Transit Center. The walk is about 15 minutes.

        It is unfortunate that accommodating RapidRide K essentially means rolling back a good chunk of this spring’s service restructure, around the 248, 250, 235, and 239. I don’t see any other way to do it without coverage holes and/or route duplication.

        This is likely a sign that RapidRide K was planned before the north Eastside service restructure, and by the time the latter was planned, the plans for the former were already set in stone.

      3. Another point I forgot to mention is that the usability of I405 BRT improves significantly if the Kirkland/Redmond bus connects with it vs. crossing 405 a mile away. It means an additional option to reach downtown Kirkland, while saving a ton of time getting to Bothell or Lynnwood from Redmond.

        “Any route that goes from DT Kirkland to Redmond on NE85th would probably turn north on 148th which would allow RR-B to take a more direct route to Redmond TC.”

        Why? With East Link connecting downtown Redmond to Microsoft and downtown Bellevue, the straightness of the B line around Redmond TC becomes less critical, and the straight line corridor down 148th from 90th St. has value. And the Kirkland-Redmond route, which won’t have Link as an alternative, is fastest keeping its current route.

      4. I’m not a fan of the 250 as I’ve said before. There’s winners and losers with any reroute and for where I am it was a loser. Once East Link is extended to DT Redmond RR-B north of Microsoft makes no sense. I think going to Kirkland TC would be a terrific network using either Old Redmond Rd or NE 85th. I’d favor Old Redmond Rd but there’s reasons for both. I’m hoping the triple decker money pit BRT transfer at NE 85th never gets advanced.

        The reason Kirkland-Redmond should turn north on 148th is the same reason RR-B does it now. There’s large apartment complexes and offices on the route into Redmond that way vs nothing on 85th and it serves Willows, the library and City Hall. East of 148th there is nothing on 85th and never will be. That said, this portion of the route has virtually zero boardings any time I’ve ridden it.

      5. The 245 down Old Redmond Road is almost completely empty. The 250 down 85th does carry riders, and even has some consistent ons and offs along 85th between 405 and 132nd Ave. Yes, nobody gets on or off the bus after 132nd until downtown Redmond, but the bus gets through that section so fast, it doesn’t matter. It’s not necessary for a bus to serve busy stops every inch of the way. Sometimes, following a direct route between the most important activity centers is more important, and that is what the 250 does. And, it’s not like a stop serving a couple of apartment complexes along 148th would be that busy, anyway.

      6. The 245 down Old Redmond Road is almost completely empty.
        That could be said of most eastside routes even before the pandemic.
        consistent ons and offs along 85th between 405 and 132nd Ave.
        Yes, that was my observance prior to the reroute. Don’t know if the same people are able to use it or if it’s a different base but there are a lot of retail jobs along that stretch. It’s still a onesy twosy ridership though that won’t scale with the huge waste of money on rebuilding the 85th interchange mostly for cars.
        not like a stop serving a couple of apartment complexes along 148th would be that busy, anyway.
        I acknowledged that just because you serve MF development doesn’t mean you’ll get ridership. I’ve never been a fan of what I’ve called RR-B’s warehouse district routing. That said, it’s really not that much faster to stay on 85th. I drive that route a lot and it’s just not. DT Redmond is screwed up. They designed a 1-way bypass route that sort of worked before the whole DT changed and under pressure from business went back to two way streets but that was after destroying the original grid. Avoiding the whole mess is faster.

        Bottom line, the apartments (and office space) north of 85th don’t generate any ridership because they are inhabited by people that moved there with no expectation of using transit. The are apartment residents and employees change. So there is at least the possibility that ridership would increase. The “direct” route on 85th has no redeeming social value.

      7. By that argument, we should just not run eastside buses at all.

        If you’re going to run eastside buses, the first priority is connecting the denser neighborhoods that aren’t connected by Link (for example, Bellevue->Kirkland, Kirkland->Redmond). If the intermediate area does not generate huge ridership, the default behavior should be to follow the most direct route so that the actual riders get where their going fast, and the bus spends as little time in the low-ridership areas as possible. Not an indirect route that slows down trips between the actual ridership generators in a vain attempt to pick up one or two more people along the way.

        I’m not saying run an express route. You can still have bus stops along the most direct route where it makes sense, as the cost of putting in a pole in the ground is negligble. Just that the ridership potential at these intermediate stops shouldn’t be what determines the routes.

        In any case, 85th has more ridership potential than 80th anyway, due to retail jobs and future STRIDE connection, since it’s not like the houses south of 85th magically contain more transit riders than the houses north of 85th. It is also a route that’s been running for years and that people are used to using.

    1. I’d imagine once Eastrail and the OMF TOD are in place, some of the parcels between 116 and Eastrail will facilitate access, hopefully through some public easements, or just walk through a parking lot. I would imagine KC Parks will be keen to create new access points as the Eastrail project rumbles along.

      https://www.kingcounty.gov/services/parks-recreation/parks/trails/regional-trails/popular-trails/eastrail.aspx
      Looks like they have spent most of their energy on the Willburton tressle and the new 8th street bridge, but you are right – a connection to 116 between 12th and Northup Way would be nice. 22nd Place looks like an existing public ROW that’s not yet directly connected to Eastrail.

      At worse, you can use the future Spring Blvd extension to get between the Spring District and 116th.
      http://www.nbbj.com/work/spring-district/

  3. While the existing land use is the segment’s downside, the upside is that there is actually no residential in the corridor.

    That’s not really true. There are two massive senior living centers currently under construction on 116th. The completion of Eastrail, Bike 520 and excellent transit make this a fairly desirable place to live. Recent additions to the medical mile are the Childrens and UW Medicine facilities which represent a huge increase in density over the existing 1-2 story medical offices. The other major development is the new medical tower being added to Overlake Medical Center which will provide clinic space so that the existing low rise buildings can be replaced.

  4. Have we got a map showing at least the tentative route for the K-line? Because I’m wondering if it might possibly connect Downtown Kirkland with Bellevue Transit Center via Lake Washington Blvd. and Bellevue Way.

    Based on some walks a few years ago along the bike & hike trail called “The Cross Kirkland Corridor”, which actually is a railroad, I can visualize adding streetcars on the caliber of FHS and South Lake Union. Except not only assembled, but manufactured in the ST service area.

    And like in Stuttgart, each pulling or pushing a trailer with bike racks. And, when arriving where the trail goes by South Kirkland P&R, being lowered by a hillside-incline elevator to present bus-stop level. And Bellevue Way south from there, lanes, signal preempts and all.

    But no rush about it. Lake Washington Blvd and Bellevue way make a clean straight north-south corridor that’s both efficient and residential. If trolleywire’s a view-spoiler, those overhead battery chargers should be just fine.

    Mark Dublin

  5. What about converting the large surface parking area at the South Kirkland P&R into even more TOD at that location? For those who don’t know, there is already market rate and low income apartments at the P&R. And there is both a multi-level parking garage, and a ground level parking lot for transit users. With transit use, and P&R parking down for possibly years to come, perhaps the time is right to build housing on the ground level portion of the parking lot. Plus, they already own it, so no money has to be spend buying property, and nothing has to be taken through eminent domain.

    1. I don’t know what Paccar’s work from home policy is but allowing them to sell part of their airport size parking lot next door for development would be better. Heck, with the stub extension planned from the OMF-E to S. Kirkland P&R KW might even see employees using transit to get to work.

      1. It seems like a great time to take commuter parking lot at a P&R, that might be underutilized for years to come, and turn it into housing. But, it’s a bad time financially or funding-wise. Who is going to pay for a new multi-family housing project at the S. Kirkland P&R? Where will the money come from?

    2. That would be a good idea. But totally counter to Sound Transit’s apparent mission of prioritizing car traffic over useful transit.

      1. That parking lot is controlled by King County, as are most of the P&Rs in the region.

        They already converted some of the surfacing parking to structured parking to make room for some TOD. Coordinating with Kenworth for conversion of the remaining surface parking would be good, though there is a counter argument that the longer we wait into the future, the more likely we can simply replace surface parking with TOD, rather than need to build structured parking to keep the same # of P&R spaces.

        Existing TOD project:
        http://www.weberthompson.com/projects/603

  6. Can anyone tell us this: For any of our bus-lines, especially Rapid-Ride, Swift, and maybe the Route 7, do we presently have any signal-preemption equipment at all?

    Am I right that at least some emergency vehicles have this capacity? And if so, is there any way transit could get itself allowed into the same system?

    I’d settle for at least the ability for a bus driver to hold a signal green until their coach has crossed an intersection. Especially if their next stop is just the other side of the light.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The disappointing performance of RapidRide B is not surprising. It appears too ok be the easiest Eastside route to have converted to RapidRide — and Metro appeared to need a RapidRide route on the Eastside for political reasons.

      RapidRide K appears to be created for the same reasons.

      Personally, I’d like to see RapidRide B extended to follow ST Route 550 to South Bellevue when it gets cancelled upon the East Link opening. Does anyone know what happens to this segment of a Route 550 upon East Link opening?

      1. RR-B won’t be cancelled when East Link opens. Hospital Station will be a major transfer point to get to crossroads. The heavy lifting has always been Crossroads to Overlake & DT Bellevue. There’s certainly good reason to change the part of the route north of Microsoft. I could see it going to Kirkland TC instead of Redmond once Link is extended.

        Why go to S. Bellevue when there’s few boardings on that segment and it duplicates Link?

      2. Oh, I didn’t understand Al S’s “too ok to be the easiest RapidRide route”; I thought he was questioning the original alignment. No, the B won’t go away. It serves a unique transit market; Crossroads-Bellevue and Crossroads-Overlake. The Spring District is too far out of the way, and Link is limited-stop so it would need a local overlay anyway.

      3. The auto correct turned “.. to be …” into “ … too ok be ..” . My apologies.

        I’m not proposing canceling RapidRide B; I’m proposing extending it! I’m simply noting that Route 550 between the BTC and South Bellevue is probably going away when East Link opens and it would be a route fragment if it doesn’t go away. It seems like a logical routing to have a continuous bus from Bel-Red through Downtown Bellevue past the Bellevue Collection and Old Town that ends in South Bellevue. Bonus points if it extends to end in Factoria!

      4. This wouldn’t be an ST project. The P&R is Metro so the current apartments were mostly Kirkland & Metro(King County) with the blessing of Bellevue since the city boundary cuts through a corner of the P&R parcel. Development on the Paccar Kenworth lot would be private although there would likely be some public investment for a portion to be “affordable” housing. It would also be a great chance to increase the commercial development with things like food and services such as a UPS/FexEx store, etc.

      5. Oops, above post was supposed to reply to Christopher Cramer. Regarding RR-B extending south, I just don’t see how that makes any sense. There’s no there there from south of DT Bellevue to Factoria. Half of it would be on the freeway and most of the rest would be on Bellevue Way or 112th which is mostly single family, swamp or cliff. It would also be subject to horrendous traffic delays when patterns return to pre-Covid levels. Even now Factoria Blvd is a cluster you know what.

      6. The disappointing performance of RapidRide B is not surprising.

        Why is it disappointing? It performs extremely well, on all of Metro’s metrics. The only suburban bus that performs better than it is the A Line (in riders per hour or passenger miles per platform hour, peak/off peak/night). It is well above the F, and every other suburban bus route.

        Which is not to say that it performs as well as a lot of urban routes (1, 5, 7, etc.) but for a suburban route, it does quite well. It also passes by four future Link stations. I expect ridership to increase after East Link is built, as it will act as a frequent feeder. Along with East Link, the addition of the 405 BRT (and other express buses to Bellevue) should increase ridership on the bus.

        I’m not saying it is perfect. It could be straighter (I don’t think it is a coincidence that our most popular bus route is also the most straight). I would try and get rid of the little detour to serve Overlake Mall (although that would mean back filling with some other route). Overall, though, it is a pretty good route that will only increase in popularity.

      7. In regards to Al’s idea (extending the B), I agree with Bernie — much of Bellevue Way is nothingness. But the section of the 550 from about Bellevue High School to Bellevue Transit Center is definitely worthy. I wouldn’t bother with extending the RapidRide though, even after the 550 goes away. I would instead just move the 241 and have it go on Bellevue Way the whole way (basically duplicating the 550 northern tail). That is much better than the current route, as 108th has very little there. If folks want coverage on 108th (which is extremely low density) then just shift the infrequent 249 over there. That is a much better match of density and frequency.

      8. Yeah, RR-B is fine, and should do better once it has multiple direct transfers to Link.

        As for a Rapid Ride towards south Bellevue, SB Link station does provide a good layover spot, but the congestion on Bellevue Way and 112th is complete gridlock during rush hour, much worse than 8th b/c cars queue to get on the freeway, so I don’t think burning rapid ride service hours is worthwhile. There should be service on South Bellevue but that’s better done with a local route.

      9. I lived in two apartments full of nothingness at NE 17th and 28th. There were several apartments around, more than in most of Bellevue.

    2. Oops… I meant for this to be its own entry….

      I think the term is “signal priority”. “Signal preemption” usually refers to emergency vehicles.

      I’ve seen it work on Route 7. However, the wider the street, the harder it would seem to be effective because pedestrians (like those getting on or off a bus) need enough time to walk across the street. It’s waiting for that necessarily long countdown that seems to add the most time at a signal. That’s especially a factor where major streets (often with another bus route) cross a route.

    3. Some city in Australia or New Zealand has signal pre-emption for buses so they can get through congestion like emergency vehicles. Don’t hold your breath waiting for it in Pugetopolis.

      Switt may have signal priority. If the E or 7 do, it’s not enough to be noticeable. The 7 somehow manages to be lumberingly slow even when there’s little traffic. Except at 5am when it can get from downtown to Rainier Beach in twenty minutes.

      More TOD at South Kirkland P&R would be good, but it’s not on officials’ radar. Any more housing should address the lack of a store or other everyday needs in the area.

      RapidRide B serves the two highest-ridership corridors in Bellevue. The fact that it’s still pretty empty a lot of the time reflects Eastsiders’ general willingness to use transit. Extending it to South Bellevue makes sense. Metro will take over the south Bellevue Way corridor when East Link starts. Its latest idea is a Kirkland-Bellevue-Factoria coverage route on Lake Washington Blvd, Bellevue Way north and south, and Factoria Blvd.

      1. Mike, being a MASH fan since it was a movie, Loretta Switt has always had priority for me. A Polish girl playing an Irish American nurse named Margaret Houlihan. Though I know that ordering Loretta to do the shower scene would’ve sent the director to the infirmary with blunt-force and shrapnel, after they got the bayonet out.

        But your take on the Route 7’s possible speed is dead-on information we can use! On night shift, from Othello in, I could always get to Fifth and Jackson at least five minutes before the 107 I’d last seen when it crossed Rainier headed for I-5.

        The light-traffic lumbering has got to have a cause. Instruction Department, am I talking to you? Or could signal priority be fixable by somebody just fixing it? Balance sheet really really simple. What IS the cost, in wages, maintenance, depreciation and whatever else, of a single bus standing still or self-slow-ordering when it should be rolling?

        Calculation that The New Electric Railway Journal’s late royalist publisher Paul Weyrich and I both call CONSERVATIVE!

        Mark Dublin

      2. RapidRide B serves the two highest-ridership corridors in Bellevue. Extending it to South Bellevue makes sense.

        I disagree: https://seattletransitblog.com/2020/08/29/upzone-opportunities-for-rapidride-k/#comment-855849

        Metro will take over the south Bellevue Way corridor when East Link starts. Its latest idea is a Kirkland-Bellevue-Factoria coverage route on Lake Washington Blvd, Bellevue Way north and south, and Factoria Blvd.

        Makes sense to me. Basically that is what I propose: A slightly altered 241. The only major difference is that it is extended to Kirkland (a great idea). While this should be a reasonably popular bus, it won’t be as popular as the B, and thus won’t have the same frequency.

  7. Al S., thanks for giving me the correct word. Considering all the variables – which are also reasons for avoiding automatic vehicles that are not in their own elevator shaft- I didn’t expect this problem would be simple.

    But between adjustment of signal timing, some mechanism for system communication with the bus itself, and maybe most important driver-training, no passenger should have to wait ’til the red light goes green and finally lets their bus cross the street into the zone they’ve been looking at for five minutes.

    As driver and passenger, really hate that. Must also cost us a fortune in lost operating time.

    Mark Dublin

  8. Here’s a link to the interactive version of the zoning map. What I find interesting is that none of the area is zoned light industrial meaning that all the existing uses, like the Coca-Cola bottling plant are grandfathered in and will be vastly different when redeveloped. Even all the automotive repair and construction related uses are on land zoned “Office”. It’s pretty clear that virtually all of the land along the East Link alignment will end up being changed from “commercial” to allow mixed use.

    1. It was light industrial until the Spring District plans changed it. At least, I never saw a zoning map but that’s what was there. The Coca-Cola and Safeway plants were old even when I was a little kid. I never knew anybody who worked in that area, so they were already archaic in 1970s Bellevue and come from an earlier vision of the city, which must have been the early 1960s. In long past, Kirkland was the largest city in the Eastside and had oil refineries and probably other industries, so that’s a parallel.

      What’s in the zones still marked industrial and what’s so special about them? The largest one looks like part of Eastgate west of Bellevue College. I don’t recall anything there different from the rest of Eastgate. The other two are along 405/118th and have I think 1970s office towers. I suspect those are unchanged because of being dominated and sliced up b freeway ramps leaving few coherent lots for anything else. Is there something in particular in those zones the city is trying to preserve?

      1. One of the preserved light industrial zones is the City of Bellevue’s Utilities maintenance facility. Changing the zoning from industrial to office increases the “highest and best use” which means more property tax. The Coke plant is still in active use. Safeway still runs it’s distribution operation. The bread plant which became the Spring District wasn’t viable after WSDOT cut the rail line serving it. These large tracts are gold once the zoning changes.

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