One Center City options narrow

Near-Term Transit Capital Projects, Click for Larger View (OCC Advisory Group)

The One Center City plan for handling near-term disruption in Seattle downtown transit and traffic grinds forward. Anticipating the end of bus operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, staff are narrowing down the options. At last week’s advisory group meeting, we learned several project elements that are moving forward, and some that are not. It’s not clear whether the pared down program of operational improvements will be enough to prevent a substantial deterioration in service performance.

Meanwhile, the exit of buses from the tunnel, previously anticipated for September 2018, is likely to be delayed. On Monday, the King County Council Committee of the Whole approved an amendment delaying Metro’s vacation of Convention Place until at least March 2019. If the Convention Center doesn’t have its permits by June 2018, or if WSCC is not ready to take over the site by September 2018, then joint operations could continue until at least September 2019. The delay might allow another look at One Center City options that need more time for implementation.

What has been dropped?

The earlier proposal to terminate ST 550 at International District Station was dropped because of adverse impacts to riders compounded by East Link construction elsewhere on the route. The closure of the D2 roadway in late 2018 mean route revisions remain necessary, but the 550 will be operating through downtown on surface streets once the tunnel closes. It is not expected to operate on 3rd Avenue.

Continue reading “One Center City options narrow”

Reminder: SR 520 open houses

SR 520 service changes could mean more late evening service on Metro 255 and other Eastside routes

Several open houses are scheduled for the public to learn about new service on the SR 520 corridor. The first is on Wednesday evening in Kirkland, with others to follow through the rest of the month.

A particularly interesting opportunity is the open house at UW Husky Stadium on June 19. As well as the regular open house exhibits, staff members will guide tours of the bus-rail transfer experience.

Another way to participate is through the online survey which is open until June 30.

As we reported last week, Metro and Sound Transit are seeking public input on several service options on the SR 520 corridor following the closure of the downtown bus tunnel and other service-impacting changes. The revisions being considered will end most direct service to downtown Seattle across SR 520, but increase frequency and service connections on the Eastside.

Open house details after the jump.

Continue reading “Reminder: SR 520 open houses”

Redmond stations

Redmond’s preferred downtown station (Image: Redmond TRAIN study)

East Link to Downtown Redmond is scheduled to open in 2024, and the Sound Transit Board will update its preferred alternative on June 22. “Concept refinements” are now being considered. These are minor updates to the alignment including changes to station locations and the vertical profile of the guideway. Redmond last week approved a letter to the Board setting out what they hope to see.

In Downtown Redmond, a public process early this year considered four options: elevated vs at-grade, east (between 164th and 166th) vs west (between 161st and Leary). The Downtown Transit Integration (TRAIN) Study (large pdf), and public response, prefer the “East Elevated” option. That places the station opposite the Redmond Town Center parking garage. It allows easier bus-rail transfers because buses could approach both sides of the station, eliminating most street crossings for transferring riders. The shorter guideway for the East option reduces by several blocks the impacts to the Redmond Central Connector trail, and elevating the guideway eliminates vehicle and pedestrian conflicts if gates were opening every four minutes at peak.

Redmond’s second ST3 station is in Southeast Redmond in the Marymoor area. Here, the city prefers an at-grade alignment. Both affordability and trail connection considerations figured in that choice. Continue reading “Redmond stations”

SR 520 service change concepts released

Last evening, Metro and Sound Transit released service change concepts for revised bus service on SR 520. This kicks off the second of three rounds of public input, including an online survey and several open houses in mid- to late June. Because these are service concepts, they do not describe capital improvements in Montlake or elsewhere could be combined with either service option.

Ten routes, six Metro (252, 255, 257, 268, 277, 311) and four Sound Transit (540, 541, 542, 545), are included. Two all-day routes, Metro 255 serving Kirkland-Seattle and Sound Transit 545 serving Redmond-Seattle, carry two-thirds of current ridership. As expected, many buses that currently serve downtown Seattle would be rerouted to UW station freeing resources that would otherwise be consumed in downtown congestion. Changes would take effect ahead of the closure of Convention Place Station, currently scheduled for Fall 2018.

Either alternative improves cross-lake service for most riders, excepting those who prioritize one seat rides to downtown over all else. But the reinvested service hours target different priorities, and many riders will consider their individual circumstances in figuring which option they prefer. A notable highlight of the proposals is that both options include new service between South Lake Union and the Eastside.

Very helpfully, the Metro website separately describes the options, including pros and cons of each, for the major Eastside markets served: Kirkland, North Kirkland/Woodinville, and Redmond. Sound Transit’s website has maps for each market under each option: Kirkland, North Kirkland/Woodinville, and Redmond.

After the jump is my summary of the system-wide changes.

Continue reading “SR 520 service change concepts released”

The archaic community councils

Grocery store and strip mall in Kirkland’s Houghton neighborhood.

A familiar story is playing out in Kirkland’s Houghton neighborhood. The Houghton-Everest Business Center is a collection of strip malls and small offices, mostly over 40 years old. Retail spaces are antiquated and undersized. The pedestrian environment, dominated by curb cuts to parking lots, is unsafe. But it is just a block from Google’s office, less than a mile from downtown Kirkland, and served by every major bus route in the city. The area is primed for reinvention into a prosperous mixed-use neighborhood if the zoning allowed.

After years of discussion and delays, an obtuse proposal emerged that probably prevents any redevelopment. The current 30’ height limit will be selectively raised to 35’ on a few properties. The added five feet would only be available to developers who create a new grocery or drug store over 20,000 square feet. Even then, the economics of new buildings will be constrained by added design review, 10% affordable housing rules, residential density limits, a rule that no more than 20% of the upper floors can be office, setbacks of 15 feet above the second floor, added road access requirements, and more.

The Kirkland City Council has yet to review the proposal, but can only rubber stamp it (a first study session is scheduled for Tuesday). The undersized zoning changes are the creation of the Houghton Community Council (HCC). The HCC has veto power over land use changes in most of Kirkland south of 68th St, and will block any Kirkland Council action that differs from their proposal.

Community Councils (“municipal corporations” in state law) were authorized by the Legislature in 1967 to ease annexation into larger cities, and were generally viewed as transitional arrangements. There were never many, and most were dissolved over time even though state law does not require a sunset. Just two remain. The Houghton Council dates to the annexation of the city of Houghton to Kirkland in 1968. The East Bellevue Community Council (EBCC) was created when unincorporated neighborhoods were annexed to Bellevue in 1969. No recent annexation has included the creation of a Community Council.

Continue reading “The archaic community councils”

Agreement reached on Mercer Island access to I-90

I-90 floating bridge with Mercer Island in the background (Image: Joe Wolf)

Mercer Island has reached agreement with Sound Transit on access to I-90. The agreement means the express lanes can close permanently to auto traffic as scheduled this weekend. A planned hearing this morning in King County Superior Court on Mercer Island’s injunction to prevent the closures is now cancelled.

The agreement includes $10 million in traffic improvements on the island and replacement parking for the South Bellevue P&R lot which closed for East Link construction earlier this week. Mercer Island Council approved the agreement shortly before midnight last night after a 6 1/2 hour executive session. Approval from the Sound Transit Board is anticipated at the June 22 Board meeting.

The Seattle Times first reported the deal outline, and the offer sheet is here. A further readout is anticipated from Mercer Island later today. [UPDATE: Mercer Island’s press statement is here]. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff outlined major elements of the agreement at the O&A Committee meeting this afternoon.

The agreement includes: Continue reading “Agreement reached on Mercer Island access to I-90”

Seattle booms on

New housing on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue.

Seattle’s growth is still accelerating. Census estimates released yesterday show almost 21 thousand new residents in Seattle in the year ended July 2016. With 704 thousand residents, Seattle is once again the nation’s fastest growing city with 3.1% annual growth.

We’ve become accustomed to fast growth, averaging 15 thousand new residents in Seattle annually between 2010 and 2015. So it’s impressive how Seattle has stepped up its game to add even more residents. As Gene Balk observed yesterday, Seattle is only the second top 50 city to grow more than 3% in one year this decade (the other was Austin in 2012). 3% growth in a mature city is a big deal.

Demand for urban living is strong, as evidenced by high prices for homes in walkable neighborhoods all over the US. But most cities have a hard time delivering those homes. Curbs on urban growth push many involuntarily to the suburbs, and most metropolitan areas are still becoming more suburban. More so than any large American metropolitan area, Seattle has densified as it has grown.

Seattle accounted for a massive 58% of all King County growth in 2016. Seattle’s acceleration was matched by a slowing of growth in many King County suburban cities. Total growth in King County in 2016 was about the same as 2015. A few cities on the central Eastside performed well. Bellevue (+1.3%), Redmond (+3.2%), and Issaquah (+3.6%) all showed healthy growth rates. But the rest of King County had its weakest growth since the recession, and expanded just 0.8%. Continue reading “Seattle booms on”

Sunday Open Thread: Eastside Transportation Forum

Eastside leaders gathered in Bellevue on May 5 to review transit and other transportation projects coming on the Eastside.

0:00 Claudia Balducci, King County Council Member for District 6
5:57 John Howell (Moderator), Founding Partner, Cedar River Group
7:25 Ariel Taylor, King County Council Staff
18:10 Roger Millar, Secretary of Transportation, WSDOT
40:15 Peter Rogoff, CEO, Sound Transit
45:15 Ric Ilgenfritz, Executive Director, Planning, Environment, and Project Development, Sound Transit
1:03:35 Rob Gannon, General Manager, Metro Transit
1:08:50 Victor Obeso, Deputy General Manager, Metro Transit

The Overheated MVET Debate

If reduced MVET revenues impact project delivery, suburban parking projects are first in line to be delayed

Last night, the Washington House of Representatives approved HB 2201. The bill effectively resets the valuation schedule for the 0.8% ST3 portion of the MVET to the lower of the 1999 and 2006 schedules. The outcome is lower taxes for owners of cars less than 10 years old, and a refund for those who have already paid their 2017 car tabs.

Reversing voter-approved taxes, barely five months after the ballot, isn’t a great look. But it is within the Legislature’s authority (second-guessing of initiatives is not new). Democrats have responded to sincere voter anger. The MVET increase was greater than many expected even if voters who carefully read the ballot ought to have understood. Owners of newer cars are taxed against a scheduled valuation higher than their vehicle resale values. Even though Sound Transit has used the same schedule for twenty years, and never presented it otherwise, it just seems unfair.

If HB 2201 becomes law, Democrats expect it to correct the anomalous MVET valuations while delivering ST3 projects on schedule.

The bill creates a credit for taxpayers offsetting the difference in valuation schedules. Crafted this way, HB 2201 doesn’t interfere with Sound Transit’s bond program and doesn’t require defeasement of Sound Move bonds. It means the 0.3% Sound Move MVET, pledged against bond repayments on the now obsolete 1999 schedule, is not prematurely repealed and can remain in place until the bonds are paid off in 2028. Unlike some Republican proposals to simply switch schedules across the board, HB 2201’s credit does not increase taxes for owners of older cars.

The vote was 64-33, with all Democrats in favor. Republican reaction was mixed. Some are willing to accept any tax reduction; others decried that the bill didn’t meet their more ambitious goals. The bill moves to the Senate today where Republicans may make a play for larger tax cuts.

The revenue impact is modest. $780 million in revenues is 1.4% of the $54 billion program over 25 years, albeit front-loaded so the real impact is higher than the year-of-expenditure (YOE) calculation. The credits only run through 2028, after which the Sound Move 0.3% MVET expires and the ST3 MVET switches to the ‘lower’ valuation schedule.

Continue reading “The Overheated MVET Debate”

Who should use the park & ride?

Riders walk to a shuttle bus near Eastgate P&R

Every morning, dozens of riders board shuttle buses one block from Eastgate Park-and-Ride. All but a handful are coming from the parking garage, after storing their cars there for the day. This particular shuttle bus travels to Amazon’s Brazil building in South Lake Union. Other companies appear also to use suburban transit parking as pickup points. Unmarked white buses are frequently seen adjacent to other Eastside P&Rs.

A few riders arrive by bus. Absent direct shuttle service, many might take transit to work. So one may ask whether we should be concerned that publicly funded transit parking is being used by private transit services.

Maybe it depends on what we think these shuttle riders would do in the absence of shuttle buses. Would they use public transit, or drive to South Lake Union? Shuttle buses to South Lake Union are filling a gap in the transit market, albeit one Metro is endeavoring to serve.

At the same time, transit parking is expensive to build. At many locations, it is insufficient for demand. Utilization at Eastgate hovers near 100%, so shuttle riders may be displacing other transit users.

The wholesale parking market is increasingly competitive. Churches and other parking lot owners who have surplus parking on weekdays find it easy to lease space to nearby offices. Many office employers, squeezing more people into smaller spaces, use offsite parking and shuttles for employees. When Sound Transit went looking for parking in Bellevue to replace lost capacity at South Bellevue P&R, there were no nearby alternatives. Every lot in the area was already fully used. Residential neighborhoods near popular transit routes find an increasing number of ‘park-and-hide’ users.

Generally, we should welcome this. It means parking, on- and off-street, is being used more efficiently. The first step to moving beyond ubiquitous driving in the suburbs is to use existing parking more intensely.

But parking scarcity creates a search for less regulated parking. Where can I park for free without getting a ticket? Transit lots are lightly monitored and maybe more readily abused.

2016: Did growth outpace our willingness to build homes?

Growth accelerated in 2016, with more suburban markets leading the way

Census data released last week showed yet another acceleration of regional population growth. King County maintained a high growth rate, added another 35,700 residents in the year ended July 1, 2016. But neighboring counties saw higher growth rates.

Pierce added 18,600 residents, more than twice the average of the preceding five years. Snohomish added 17,500 residents, vs an average 10,900 per year between 2010 and 2015. Constraints on development in King County may be diverting new residential growth into the suburban cities of Snohomish, Pierce, and beyond.

Outlying counties also grew. Thurston County added 6,000 residents and Kitsap 4,300. Both were significantly higher than most recent years.

Measured as growth rates, King County grew 1.7% in 2016 (same as 2015); Snohomish grew 2.3% (vs. 1.6%); Pierce 2.2% (vs. 1.5%); Thurston 2.2% (vs. 1.3%.) Kitsap expanded 1.6%, well above recent norms though lower than a spike in growth in 2015.

Where did the growth come from? The Census breaks down the sources of population change. Natural increase (births – deaths) is predictably stable and contributed 28% of last years growth. Net international migration declined slightly and accounts for 25% of growth in 2016.

Domestic migration rates shifted dramatically toward suburban counties in 2016

47% of growth is domestic migration which grew spectacularly in 2016, everywhere except King County. The Census defines domestic migration as moves between US counties, and has not reported whether the increases in Snohomish and Pierce represent moves from King County or from elsewhere. Even if from elsewhere, many of these new residents may have preferred to live in King County. Both Snohomish and Pierce added more residents via domestic migration than King in 2016, and both more than doubled the pace of domestic net migration over the previous year. Thurston almost tripled.

There’s a clue in driver license data. New driver licenses issued to out-of-state drivers are a measure of gross migration from other states, whereas the Census measures net flows from other counties. The driver license data indicates a continued increase in gross migration to King from other states, but stable migrations from other states to neighboring counties. Follow the math, and it suggests migration from King to adjoining suburban counties. The shift toward suburban growth is local displacement of former King County residents.

It’s hazardous to read too much into one year of data. We also lack the city-level data for a finer analysis at this time. We’ll report on that next month. But the trend of the last few years – that King County would grow at a faster pace than its neighbors – decisively reversed in 2016.

We’ve reported before about the centralization of growth around Seattle and some of the central Eastside cities. High home prices and rents suggest no slowing in demand for housing in close-in communities. But the numbers hint demand for housing in King County has run up against outdated growth targets and other barriers to accelerating construction of more homes. Housing prices and rents are increasing regionwide, with large increases reported in once-peripheral markets like Issaquah and Marysville.

Growth has not slowed in King County. Central cities like Seattle and Bellevue have been rocketing through outdated growth targets for several years. But cities face no penalty for not increasing capacity as long as they are “meeting GMA requirements”, i.e. planning for a growth forecast that predated the boom. Zoned supports as many housing units as the GMA requires, but fewer than the market needs to supply. Easing barriers to market rate housing is politically fraught. The process of adjusting growth targets upwards is likely to work slowly through another comprehensive planning cycle.

Even though the region’s worst traffic is on long commutes from the far north and south, concerns about local traffic congestion can defeat efforts to create more housing in centrally located suburban inner suburbs. Will we look back at 2016 as the year exurban sprawl returned?

Several more charts after the jump: Continue reading “2016: Did growth outpace our willingness to build homes?”

Link Connections on SR-520: take the survey

ST 545 is among the routes that may be rerouted to UW station in Fall 2018 (Image: Atomic Taco)

King County Metro and Sound Transit have begun an outreach process to transit riders in the SR 520 corridor. Transit users and community members are invited to take a survey, running through April 2. Town halls will be held at University of Washington, in Redmond, and in Kirkland.  This will be the first of several opportunities for public input planned as service proposals evolve.

Six Metro routes (252, 255, 257, 268, 277, 311) and six Sound Transit Express routes (ST 540, ST 541, ST 542, ST 545, ST 555, ST 556) may be affected. Generally, the agencies are interested in truncating most service on SR 520 to the University of Washington light rail station. Several of those routes already serve UW, so possible service changes go beyond simply truncating the remaining routes to downtown.

Candidate routes for truncation at UW serve Kirkland, Redmond and Woodinville. A final proposal is also expected to include more frequent service on many routes, along with more service earlier or later or on weekends. New service between the Eastside and South Lake Union will be considered.

The immediate impetus for service changes on SR 520 relates to several construction projects in central Seattle including the anticipated closure of the bus tunnel and Convention Place Station by the end of 2018. Absent other changes, bus performance through downtown will be slowed significantly. The One Center City proposal truncates many bus routes at rail stations outside of the downtown core. Some of the changes are temporary remedies until Link extensions to Northgate and Bellevue are open.

On the other hand, changes to SR 520 bus service offer permanent benefits to riders if executed well. Rail to downtown is faster and more reliable than buses on I-5 and surface streets. The service hour savings can be redeployed to more frequent service on Eastside buses or service to more places. But understandable concerns about the efficiency of bus to rail transfers at UW remain.

Continue reading “Link Connections on SR-520: take the survey”

We have traffic because we drive so far

Afternoon traffic on I-405 near Canyon Park. Photo by SounderBruce.

We are regularly reminded that traffic congestion is growing across the region. The median Seattle metro area worker commutes nine miles to work. What if we could live closer to our workplaces? Drivers would drive fewer miles, and spend less time in traffic. Everybody who lives closer to work would contribute less to the congestion experienced by everybody else. This would reduce traffic even if everybody drives. But there’s a multiplier as denser places have higher transit (and walk, and bike) shares. Reduce travel distances by 10%, and there’s a more than 10% reduction in vehicle miles traveled.

Who has the longest and shortest commutes? The U.S. Census Bureau’s Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics has a handy mapping interface to their Origin-Destination Employment Statistics. I’ve charted the length of commute journeys for major cities in the region, per the PSRC classification of Metropolitan, Core, and Larger. (Here’s a similar chart for smaller cities).

The shortest commutes are enjoyed by residents of Mercer Island, Seattle, Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond. 75% live within ten miles of their work (vs. 52% for the region). Of course, these are the nearest cities to the two largest employment centers in the region. Commuters from more distant cities to downtown Seattle and downtown Bellevue must travel further.

Among the cities on the chart, the longest commutes are from the exurban communities of Maple Valley, Monroe, Arlington, Lake Stevens and Marysville. 71% of workers who live in those cities are more than 10 miles from their work. 31% are more than 25 miles away. These aren’t the very worst commutes in the region, however. Residents of some of the tiny mountain ‘smaller cities’ drive extraordinarily long distances to work.

Incidentally, Covington and Bonney Lake, both seeking larger city designation so they can grow faster, would have longer commute distances than most of the larger city peer group.

It will surprise few that people who live near Seattle and Bellevue have shorter commutes. But it invites an obvious question. Why is the regional growth strategy constructed around five Metropolitan Cities and 29 Regional Growth Centers? Why not draw more residential development closer to the two dominant business centers?

Continue reading “We have traffic because we drive so far”

Should Small Cities Grow Faster?

Downtown Snoqualmie

For over a year, regional planners have wrestled over growth plans with six small cities that are planning to ‘grow too fast’. Last month, the PSRC Executive Board tabled a decision on reclassification that could have eased the way for faster growth in Covington and Bonney Lake.

Six smaller cities, four of them in King County, are planning for growth that runs ahead of regional targets.

The region’s growth management strategy, VISION 2040, focuses most development within an urban growth boundary. Inside the growth boundary, the highest planned growth in each county is in “Metropolitan Cities” like Seattle and Bellevue. The next highest growth rates are planned for “Core Cities”, with progressively lower growth in “Larger Cities” and “Small Cities”. Small cities outside the contiguous urban area should grow more slowly than cities within.

In the last round of comprehensive plans, Six small cities created plans with growth capacity well above their regional targets. Four of these (Carnation, Snoqualmie, North Bend and Covington) are in King County, and two are in Pierce (Gig Harbor and Bonney Lake). In response, their plans were certified conditionally until they could come into compliance with regional goals. To date, the conditional certification has not impacted their access to grant funding, but might do so in the future.

Small cities have lower growth targets because they are typically further from major business centers. This means longer commutes that increase demands on regional transportation infrastructure. Unplanned growth impacts traffic in neighboring communities and on rural roads. The character of small towns is to be preserved. (Some small cities are indeed charming, others maybe less so). But slow growth strains the budgets of many smaller towns, dependent on an influx of new residents or businesses to fund existing services and infrastructure.

Continue reading “Should Small Cities Grow Faster?”

Eastside Park & Rides to Close for Link Construction

South Bellevue Park & Ride (photo by author)

Two park & rides on the Eastside will close in early 2017 for East Link construction. The South Bellevue P&R, with current capacity of 519 cars, is expected to close later in the first quarter. It will reopen in five years with an expanded capacity of 1,500 cars in a five-level garage. In the second quarter, the smaller Overlake Transit Center P&R will close for up to six years so it can be used for staging materials. Capacity at Overlake is about 220 cars. The future Redmond Technology Center Station will include a 320-stall parking garage.

Sound Transit will lease five new Park-and-Ride lots on the Eastside (in blue), and add capacity or service at several others.

Closure dates are dependent on construction scheduling and will be announced 60 days in advance. As the dates are confirmed, a more extensive public outreach effort will educate riders about alternatives.

To serve users during the closures, Sound Transit has expanded two existing leased lots and leased space at five new locations, accommodating 350 cars in total. All of the added capacity is at churches in Bellevue excepting one Renton location. The leased lots opened in December. That is less than a 1:1 replacement, but there is also unused capacity at some other Eastside locations such as South Sammamish, Houghton, Newport Hills, and Tibbetts Valley in Issaquah.

Buses will continue to serve South Bellevue during the closure. These include ST 550, 555 and 556, and Metro 241 and 249. The southbound stops will be relocated across the street. Road capacity will be reduced during some of the construction, but a reversible lane ensures two lanes can remain open in the peak direction throughout.

The closure of the P&R at Overlake Transit Center is being mitigated in part with ST Express service to nearby Overlake Village on ST 541, launched earlier in 2016. Sound Transit Express service on the SR 520 and I-90 corridors was increased in 2016, improving the frequency of service at several historically under-utilized lots.

Continue reading “Eastside Park & Rides to Close for Link Construction”

Trouble on Paradise Lake

This field off SR 522 is the planned site of a 360-unit apartment development.

Some years ago, I lived in a residential community east of Woodinville. It’s a typical late 1970s subdivision with houses on acre-lots surrounded by tall trees; the kind of place where deer graze in the yard by day and bears sometimes visit by night. After the Growth Management Act was adopted in 1990, the neighborhood was miles outside the King County Urban Growth Boundary. Zoning was amended to RA-5, effectively freezing pre-GMA development in place with five-acre minimum lots.

The neighborhood backs onto Paradise Lake Road, a winding rural road into Snohomish County. It was startling, therefore, to learn last week of a large apartment development on 17 acres of farmland alongside that road. The project comprises fifteen three-story apartment buildings with 360 apartments. Other than a church and middle school across the road, it’s a low density rural area with older homes on large lots.

A drawing of the proposed apartment complex shared by the developer at a meeting on Wednesday evening.

The rural area, it turns out, is bisected by the Maltby Urban Growth Area (UGA). It’s a long sliver of “urban” area along SR 522, mostly light industrial uses on the north side of the highway as it snakes up the hill from Woodinville toward Monroe. Five miles beyond Woodinville, the UGA was extended in 2005 for a church construction on Paradise Lake Rd. A neighboring landowner asked to be included in the urban area. For obscure reasons, the Snohomish County council agreed and rezoned the farm as Planned Community Business (PCB).

The zoning also allows multifamily. Hence the peculiar sight of fifteen three-story apartment buildings in a pocket of UGA surrounded on three sides by R-5 zoning, the 5-acre minimum lots that are designed to prevent development into the rural areas.

It is denser than many new developments in exurban Snohomish County, and will provide more homes than a comparably sized single family subdivision. More affordable too; though many residents will face long commutes, rents are about half the level of core urban markets. But it’s a textbook example of density in the wrong place. The only businesses are a pair of gas stations at the highway intersection, so every errand will involve driving. Roads lack lighting and sidewalks. The 720 parking spots required reflect a realistic estimate of the mode share and traffic impacts. The only bus in the area is the twice daily CT 424 which passes, without stopping, on SR 522.

The Maltby UGA extends for several miles along SR 522. ‘Urban Industrial’ uses are in purple, and ‘Urban Commercial’ in red. Pale green indicates rural areas outside the Growth Boundary. (Source: Snohomish County Future Land Use map)

What’s happened on Paradise Lake Road is an extreme instance of the development pressures along the edge of the UGA in Snohomish County. Around North Creek and other unincorporated communities around Bothell and Mill Creek, single family home development is booming. Land use is so inefficient that developers estimate they will soon run out of land within the UGA. Proposals are being floated to extend the UGA between Bothell and Mill Creek two miles east as far as SR 9 Woodinville-Snohomish Road.

What’s happened on Paradise Lake Road is an extreme instance of the development pressures along the edge of the UGA in Snohomish County. Around North Creek and other unincorporated communities around Bothell and Mill Creek, single family home development is booming. Land use is so inefficient that developers estimate they will soon run out of land within the UGA. Proposals are being floated to extend the UGA between Bothell and Mill Creek two miles east as far as SR 9 Woodinville-Snohomish Road.

Development on the rural edge generates severe traffic congestion, but is too sparse to support a significant transit share. Snohomish County’s Comprehensive Plan classifies Paradise Lake Rd and two dozen other rural arterials at “urban traffic levels”. LOS standards should act as a brake, preventing growth from running ahead of transportation capacity. In Snohomish County, low LOS standards permit low-intensity development to sprawl for miles into recently rural areas.

At two well-attended meetings this week, neighbors expressed frustration. Having been caught unawares of the 2005 rezone, their hopes may now depend on traffic issues. Paradise Lake Rd is the last signal-controlled intersection on SR 522 between I-405 and Monroe. A $100 million flyover is planned, but funded only for design (and only after 2025). Though local traffic congestion is severe, it does not yet appear to put the area in arrears under the LOS standard. The developer anticipates breaking ground in late 2017.

Kirkland in ST3, and Beyond

ST3 rail will terminate on the other side of this intersection in South Kirkland in 2041

The ST3 program is widely viewed as disappointing for Kirkland. The city wasn’t quite passed over: I-405 BRT will serve Totem Lake and NE 85th St in 2024, and rail will extend to South Kirkland in 2041. But most observers focus on the missed opportunity to connect Downtown Kirkland via the Eastside Rail Corridor. Why did this happen, and what are the implications?

It’s instructive to start at the beginning. In mid-2015, ST3 was anticipated as a 15-year package including rail to Redmond and BRT on I-405. Other Eastside rail investments would follow in ST4. Recognizing the risks of waiting, Kirkland developed a Bus Rapid Transit proposal with Sound Transit and Metro buses running in largely exclusive right-of-way along the ERC. The reduced capital costs, it was hoped, could fit within a 15-year program.

Destinations that can be reached via transit/walking in one hour from Downtown Kirkland. ST2 and early improvements to the Metro network deliver more than the ST3 program. Source: King County Metro

As a 25-year program came into view, the calculus shifted to potentially include a rail line between Kirkland and Issaquah. But Kirkland’s study highlighted several advantages of a busway. It could serve more destinations including Seattle (with four times the demand of a Bellevue-Kirkland service). It connected more activity centers within Kirkland, and eased the challenge of serving Downtown Kirkland. A busway might better balance trail uses, though not enough to appease South Kirkland neighbors who were determined not to have any transit passing their homes.

Kirkland was convinced of the advantages of BRT on the Corridor, but other stakeholders were less supportive. Sound Transit, improbably, estimated only about as many riders on the BRT in 2040 as the corresponding Metro routes today, emphasizing time penalties of deviating off the corridor to serve denser areas. The tortured history of BRT “alternatives” to rail on the Eastside ensured transit lobby groups would be skeptical. Issaquah worried about the implications of Kirkland BRT for its own rail plans. Even Bellevue placed a greater emphasis on I-405 BRT as a major north-south connection.

Continue reading “Kirkland in ST3, and Beyond”

Bellevue’s Transportation Levy

Representative projects to be funded by the transportation levy. Map: City of Bellevue

Bellevue has a progressive transportation levy on the ballot next month that will step up investments in neighborhood safety and connections. The levy augments baseline spending in Bellevue’s Capital Improvement Plan, accelerating local projects that would otherwise wait many years for funding.

Bellevue is growing quickly, and the growth has been accompanied by increasing public demands for better non-motorized connectivity as well as local congestion relief. The upshot is an $800 million deficit between the 20-year list of capital projects and projected revenue, much of that in transportation. A particular need for funding to accelerate safety, connectivity, and neighborhood congestion projects was identified.

The proposed tax rate is 15 cents $1,000 assessed value. The median Bellevue homeowner would pay $96 annually (on an assessed value of $640,000). The measure yields $6.7 million, or an estimated $140 million over 20 years. A second, similarly sized, levy for fire facilities is also on the ballot.

While not a very large program (about one-third the size of the Move Seattle measure in per capita/year terms), the mix of projects is impressive. There are no large highway expansions. Major planned efforts to extend the arterial street system in the BelRed area to coincide with the completion of East Link (where the City will seek TIFIA funding) are not included.

This measure, rather, supplements baseline capital funding to address the backlog of small locally-oriented projects that would otherwise be built over decades. 223 projects are identified as candidates, and the city’s interactive map shows projects spanning every neighborhood in the city.

Some story boards from the Bellevue Transportation Department illustrate the range of what would be funded. Priorities include:

  • New sidewalks and trails will be accelerated. Bellevue’s CIP has a 30-year backlog of identified high-priority projects, many of which will be supported through the levy.
  • Neighborhood safety. Candidate projects include 84 locations for traffic calming, 12 school safety projects, and 55 pedestrian crossings.
  • Bicycle facilities with 52 identified projects to provide 57 miles of new or upgraded bike facilities citywide. Funding Bellevue’s Bicycle Rapid Implementation Program would expand the city’s network of bike routes from 107 to 128 miles, but more importantly would improve the quality of these routes, reducing unmarked shared facilities (wide lanes and shoulders) from 65 to 35 miles and adding 23 miles of separated bike lanes.
  • Enhanced technology, including LED streetlights, video monitoring and analysis of accidents and near misses, parking and driver information systems.
  • Neighborhood congestion, largely signals and intersection improvements. Notably, capacity is not being increased via added lanes or new roadway.
  • Sidewalk and trail maintenance. This mostly comprises repairs and maintenance to defective sidewalks and trails due to root heave or aging. The city would also sweep trails and streets more frequently.

The measure is City of Bellevue Proposition No. 2, “Levy for Neighborhood Safety, Connectivity, and Congestion”, and deserves your support.