Transit-Oriented Development in North King County

Last year, communities along the 522 corridor formed a coalition to get a project on this November’s ST3 ballot. The coalition became known as 522 Transit Now. The coalition requested three projects: Bus rapid transit along highway 522 and NE 145th Street to connect to the future light rail station there, a study for future light rail along the corridor, and structured parking along the 522 corridor to accommodate new ridership. Sound Transit grouped the bus rapid transit line and parking into one project, which is now a candidate project for ST3. The light rail study is a separate project, but also a candidate for ST3.

The request for more parking has raised some eyebrows among the transit community, but parking isn’t the only thing that will get people to ride the new bus line. Development is also on the way (or, in some cases, already here). Bothell, Kenmore and Shoreline have all put increased focus on creating better spaces for people on foot, on bikes, or on transit.

Bothell may be most well-known for new mixed-use development, as the process began long before 522 Transit Now existed. Progress was obvious to anyone traveling through central Bothell, with new mixed-use development being constructed along the confluence of highways 522 and 527 in the past few years. Development isn’t limited to just this area: last summer, the city of Bothell adopted the Imagine Bothell comprehensive plan, which among other things will target Canyon Park for mixed-use zoning. Canyon Park is planned as the southern terminus of a second Swift BRT line,

Shoreline’s work for TOD has largely been focused around the 185th Street station, for which they adopted an ambitious zoning plan last year. More recently, the city has begun focusing on 145th. The initial plan is to make 145th a more multi-modal corridor. It’s currently dominated by car traffic, with very little biking and walking taking place due in part to substandard facilities (and the fact that 145th can be a very intimidating place to be if you’re not in a car). Planning is still ongoing and there is an open house tomorrow for those interested in attending. Outside of 145th, the plan is also to redevelop Aurora Square into a mixed-use area including housing, retail, office, hotel and entertainment space. Transit is the centerpiece of all these proposals.

In Kenmore, the city created its first Transit-Oriented Development district, with the city council voting for the measure in October. The new district follows the northern side of Highway 522 between 73rd Avenue NE to the west and the city limit to the east, just beyond 83rd Avenue NE. The goal of the district is to create a concentration of pedestrian-oriented mixed-used development supported by and supporting multi-modal transportation, including high-capacity transportation. More information on the district can be found here.

Under the plan, developers will have the option to develop under new TOD standards instead of existing standards. Current standards call for 48 dwelling units per acre and can range from 1.2 to 2.0 parking spaces per unit (though these are slightly lower near downtown), but TOD standards could change this to up to 150 units per acre and 0.6 to 1.0 parking space per unit. A developer must also provide affordable housing for income-eligible households for a minimum of 50 years. Ideally, new development will create a walkable community that stretches all the way from the Kenmore Park and Ride to the city limit.

You can’t really talk about Kenmore without also mentioning the Burke-Gilman trail, which bisects the city from east to west parallel to 522. The city is hoping to increase job growth immediately adjacent to the trail (the Kenmore Business Incubator on the corner of 522 and 73rd Avenue has been in place for a few years now). More focus on job growth could allow more people to get to work in Kenmore on their bicycles, in addition to more people using it to access new TOD development north of the highway. And most interestingly, the city is considering switching existing level of service traffic standards to a multi-modal level of service that includes people walking, biking, and riding the bus. They would use mobility units rather than strict levels of automobile numbers.

A final thing worth noting is that the push for this TOD district actually predates the 522 Transit Now effort – the proposal has been around for several years. The city is expected to continue pushing for TOD regardless of the outcome of ST3.

One big advantage that the 522 / 145th St. BRT project has is the fact that it’s not situated along a limited access highway and therefore has more potential for development. The cities along the corridor have recognized this and have made tangible steps to taking advantage of it. We may not yet know the status of this BRT project, but regardless of the outcome, the cities along the northern edge of King County are putting the effort into becoming places where the car is not the only option.

Thanks to Kenmore Senior Planner Lauri Anderson for answering my questions for this article

522 Transit Now

A month and a half ago, the city of Kenmore held a meeting in its city hall to rally its citizens to a cause: building support for more transit along the highway 522 corridor. The city council was concerned that the communities along highway 522 were going to be left behind in the 2016 Sound Transit ballot measure. The meeting was held to find like-minded citizens who were willing to volunteer to make a push for better transit along the corridor.

Why the interest in transit? Well, traffic volume has gotten measurably worse on highway 522 over the years, especially due to tolling the 520 bridge: 522 has seen a 9% increase in traffic as a result of people changing their driving habits because of the toll. Bus service has traditionally worked well, but overcrowding during peak hours is becoming a big problem, and off-peak headways are infrequent (if you miss the 9:30 PM bus from downtown, you could be waiting an hour for the next one). Bothell, Kenmore, Lake Forest Park and Lake City have all been adding additional housing along the corridor, which means even more transit riders. Improving our transit service is the clear answer.

Thus, 522 Transit Now was born. The organization is a coalition of city staff and volunteers (myself among the volunteers), working together to make sure we can get transit improvements along the corridor in ST3 as well as future ballot measures. The primary goal is to get bus rapid transit service along 522 from Bothell to the Seattle city limit, which will then follow 145th Street to connect with the future light rail station at 145th and Interstate 5. Looking ahead to the future, we want the corridor to be studied for light rail. 522 is an attractive corridor for light rail, since there is a lot of development potential, and it’s impossible for the light rail to simply run in the shadow of a giant freeway. Additionally, it would presumably connect to Lake City, one of Seattle’s urban villages not yet a part of the light rail network, so Seattle would also benefit from this.

Our first effort was to get citizens to respond to the now-completed ST3 survey, which many did: Kenmore was the top non-Seattle zip code to respond to the survey, and Sound Transit listed 522 BRT as a project they’re looking at in their meeting on July 23. Of course, the city of Kenmore doesn’t plan on going it alone on this, and city staff have been communicating with staff and council members in Shoreline, Bothell and Lake Forest Park, as well as local business owners.

Ongoing efforts include a petition, and we invite all residents of the Northshore area – or really anybody else who’s interested – to sign it. We hope to deliver the petition to the Sound Transit board by their August 27 meeting.

Members of the coalition also plan to appear at meetings. About a dozen volunteers were at Thursday’s meeting in yellow shirts, and we’ll be attending meetings on August 13 and 27.

We’re always looking for more volunteers. If you’re interested, you can sign up at the website.