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.