Bellevue prepares for autonomous vehicle transit

The CommutePool service (image: City of Bellevue)

Bellevue is planning a “CommutePool” network of autonomous rideshare services. The goal is to launch the service in 2019, connecting riders from southeast King County to major employers in Bellevue and Kirkland.

Last week, Bellevue and Kirkland jointly submitted a $3 million grant application to the US Department of Transportation’s ATCMTD program (Advanced Transportation and Congestion Management Technologies Deployment). That program funds model deployments of new technologies for transportation safety and efficiency. A decision on the grant is expected by October. The project also anticipates matching funds from both cities and contributions from major Bellevue employers in the Commute Trip Reduction program. Employers already pay for employee use of vans, so this can be an important source of matching funds. The projected cost of launching the program is about $9 million.

Riders will access the system via a smartphone app which Amazon will develop. The app can select pick-up and drop-off locations, find available parking at park-and-rides or leased parking areas, and reserve seats at specific times. Luum, a Seattle firm actively managing commute options at many Eastside firms, will coordinate the program at participating businesses.

The CommutePool service would connect SE King County cities to major employers in Bellevue and Kirkland (image: City of Bellevue)

Bellevue would like to operate the service with autonomous vehicles, but could lease non-automated electric vehicles as needed to start service by mid-2019. An RFP to obtain vehicles is likely soon after the grant is approved. Waymo plans to purchase 82,000 autonomous vehicles for deployment beginning 2019, and General Motors have also said they will deploy autonomous vehicles commercially next year.

In Bellevue, the CommutePool vans will serve major buildings and designated curb pick-up and drop-off locations.

The proposal has buy-in from many of the largest Bellevue and Kirkland employers. Employers with some 33,000 employees on the Eastside have signed letters of commitment to support the program.

Continue reading “Bellevue prepares for autonomous vehicle transit”

Reimagining Wilburton

Alternative 2 from the Wilburton DEIS (Image: City of Bellevue)

Bellevue is considering an upzone of the Wilburton area east of Downtown across I-405. A draft EIS, currently open for public comment, examines much greater height and more intense urban activity. The Citizens Advisory Committee is also looking broadly at development standards and public investments to improve the livability of the city’s traditional Auto Row.

The area, despite being so close to downtown, is relatively underdeveloped. Apart from a hospital cluster in the northwest, it’s largely a mix of auto dealerships, big box retail, and older strip malls. Existing zoning generally allows development between 35 and 70 feet (excepting the hospital where allowed heights range up to 200 feet). That has not been enough to induce much developer interest and Bellevue anticipates little future growth under the no-action scenario, with the current 3.6 million square feet of development expanding to just 4.2 million by 2035. Continue reading “Reimagining Wilburton”

Microsoft’s expansion in the suburbs

Microsoft’s planned campus revamp (image: Microsoft)

Microsoft announced last week a major investment in their Redmond campus, expanding their footprint to accommodate up to 8,000 more workers, but also renovating and reinventing their campus. 12 older buildings will give way to 18 taller ones with a net addition of 2.5 million square feet.

Urbanists, and other observers, were quick to notice an apparent contrast with Amazon which has built its headquarters in Seattle and avoided suburban offices. Many Bay Area tech companies, after having started in the suburbs, are putting down roots in cities too. Several regional companies like Weyerhaeuser and Expedia have decamped to Seattle. Microsoft doesn’t appear to have ever considered such a move, and is confident that it can create an urban vibe within its historic footprint. Continue reading “Microsoft’s expansion in the suburbs”

Can Sound Transit make room for a homeless shelter in Bellevue?

This concept design shows a reconfiguration of the TOD area to accommodate a shelter (in orange). (Image: Kevin Wallace)

Bellevue is planning a permanent men’s homeless shelter in the city. After a proposed location in the Eastgate area drew controversy, the City considered two alternative locations including one near the planned Sound Transit Link maintenance facility in the Bel-Red area. Sound Transit has opposed this because it is within an area to be marketed for TOD after it is no longer needed for construction staging.

With active construction already underway on East Link, Sound Transit claimed the dispute may imperil the East Link timeline if unresolved.

A nonprofit group, Congregations for the Homeless, has operated a shelter in Bellevue for several years. In recent years, it was in a Sound Transit owned building in Bed-Red that was no longer available once OMF-E construction commenced. More recently, they’ve operated out of a temporary facility on 116th. That building is substandard and cannot be operated year-round, adding to the urgency of a permanent site. For a while, the City appeared to have found a site at the County-owned Eastgate Public Health Center, across the street from the Eastgate park-and-ride. [This paragraph updated for clarity about the history of the CfH shelter in Bel-Red. Comment below]

The reaction of neighbors at Eastgate has been negative. Though not immediately adjacent to homes, Bellevue College is nearby and there are townhomes a few hundred feet away. In April, the Council approved a letter of agreement with the County to consider the Eastgate site, but also asked staff to study two other candidate locations including Bel-Red. This effectively deferred a Bellevue decision on the preferred location, while allowing work with partners to proceed at Eastgate.

Continue reading “Can Sound Transit make room for a homeless shelter in Bellevue?”

Downtown Bellevue to be rezoned

The rezoning will increase capacity near I-405, rebalancing growth in other neighborhoods.

Bellevue is nearing approval of a comprehensive update to downtown zoning. It could mean taller buildings up to 600’ in some areas of the downtown core. It’s the culmination of a multiyear process to improve downtown livability, improving the pedestrian realm and fostering a more distinctive skyline. Approval by the City Council is anticipated this Fall.

Despite fairly significant increases in allowed height, the zoning update is not intended as a major increase in developable capacity. Buildings may be much taller, but not much greater in mass. Increases in FAR (floor/area ratio) are limited in most of downtown. The goals are slimmer and more diverse building forms, and more public space and sunlight at ground level. Many in the city leadership view downtown buildings as too uniform, making for a sometimes dull skyline.

The most unambigous upzones are in the OLB zones between 112th Ave and I-405, and around the future Downtown Link station. This area is conspicuously under-zoned today, with height limits of just 75 to 90 feet. Those would increase to 200 feet south of NE 4th, and 350 feet north of there.

Elsewhere, the rezone redistributes growth within downtown, often equalizing what are now different height limits for residential and commercial towers. The net impact is to encourage more residential towers in the corporate-heavy center of downtown, while making office development easier in some areas around the core that have recently seen mostly residential development. That’s something of a policy reversal. Previous zoning had encouraged office development in the tallest part of the “wedding cake” with more residential on the outer areas of downtown.

In the center of downtown, permitted height would increase from the current 450 feet to 600 feet. But, maximum FAR limits would remain unchanged. Other restrictions on building form will encourage slimmer residential buildings, particularly if developers take advantage of the height increase.

Continue reading “Downtown Bellevue to be rezoned”

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”

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”

Displacement is a Thing, Sometimes

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Highland Village Apartments in Bellevue. Photo by Author.

Sightline had an interesting report recently about displacement of older (presumably more affordable) homes by new development. They looked at 19 apartment complexes built in Seattle (all of the 8+ unit developments the King County Assessor considers as built in 2016). Those developments created 1,764 new homes while displacing only 21 older homes, a compelling 84-to-1 ratio. 12 developments on former commercial sites did not displace any older homes at all.

That’s great news, but what’s this? In Bellevue, the King County Housing Authority stepped in to buy a 76-unit apartment complex that was to be demolished for 87 town homes. Rents at Highland Village Apartments average $1,200 per month, well below the average Bellevue rent of $1,930. The KHCA spent $20 million to buy the complex, located on NE 8th St between Downtown Bellevue and Crossroads. The KHCA will now renovate the apartments, maintaining rents near their current level.

Before_After2
Before and after in Kirkland. The newer buildings are technically multifamily, but appeal to buyers in the single-family market. (Before: Google Street View, 2011. After: Photo by Author).

The Sightline report reminds us that development generally expands supply and is mostly good for affordability. But the story of Highland Village is hardly unique. It may be more typical in a certain kind of pricier suburban community. Highland Village look like hundreds of other older multifamily developments in this region. Two stories; on an arterial but not in downtown; surrounded by surface parking; in a low-rise neighborhood where the zoning will not permit much greater height or density (and perhaps not the market either). Rents are lower because the buildings are depreciated. Older small single family houses may get more sympathetic news coverage because they appeal to boomer nostalgia, but older multifamily units are the most affordable unsubsidized homes in most cities.

Like Highland Village, many older apartment buildings are ripe for redevelopment to higher-priced homes.

Continue reading “Displacement is a Thing, Sometimes”

Bellevue Chooses Development over View Corridors

Bellevue's City Hall
Bellevue’s City Hall. The protected views would have been from the balcony and a public area inside.

Last month, Zach explained how a view of Mount Rainier from Bellevue City Hall had become a roadblock to rezoning of several redevelopable sites near the East Main Link station. Last week, the Bellevue City Council voted 5-1 to not retain the view corridor. While the rezoning process is not over, this decision makes it much more likely that the East Main station walk-shed will support much higher development densities.

Bellevue is engaged in several rezoning efforts. The East Main Citizens Advisory Committee (CAC) is reviewing the area immediately adjacent to the East Main station. The Downtown Livability CAC has made recommendations for areas which include the Sheraton site northeast of East Main, and most directly within City Hall’s view of Mount Rainier.

The goals around the station are commendably ambitious. Current height limits of 75-90 feet may be increased up to 200 feet at the Sheraton site, and up to 300 feet on lots to the south (including the Red Lion across from the station). The current FAR of 3.0 on the Sheraton site, and just 0.5 further south, would increase up to 5.0.

Bellevue City Council Chambers, and an adjacent balcony and interior concourse, enjoy a view of Mount Rainier over these sites. Current zoning doesn’t allow buildings tall enough to impinge on those views, but preserving the view would require that portions of the Sheraton site in the view corridor be built up to no more than 91 to 117 feet, and portions of the Red Lion site be no taller than 123-148 feet.

Council Members opposed to mandating a view corridor cited the detrimental impact to likely development. Kevin Wallace, in an earlier meeting, described the view corridor as “extremely close to a regulatory taking” because it had not been considered before developers began planning for the site.

Continue reading “Bellevue Chooses Development over View Corridors”

ST3 Must Include a Provisional Light Rail Extension into Kirkland

A two-mile rail connection to Kirkland would connect all the major cities on the central Eastside in ST3.
A two-mile rail connection to Kirkland would connect all the major cities of the central Eastside in ST3.

The debate leading up to the adoption of the ST3 draft system plan on March 24 was politically fraught on the Eastside. After Sound Transit and the City of Kirkland failed to reach agreement on use of the Eastside Rail Corridor, the Board elected to build neither rail nor BRT on the corridor in Kirkland. Since then, however, Kirkland has worked with Board Members on a rail extension from Bellevue to South Kirkland. The ST3 program also includes a study of future high-capacity transit through Kirkland, leading to a record of decision.

Rail to South Kirkland has changed the calculus around future transit in Kirkland. The environmental study is, strictly speaking, flexible with respect to both mode and alignment. But the starting point of a rail station at South Kirkland makes it almost inevitable that ST4 will include a rail extension into Kirkland and onward to Totem Lake.

With light rail to Kirkland more inevitable than ever, why stop short in ST3? A mere two-mile extension would bring rail to 6th St, serving the fast-growing Google campus which is expected to grow to several thousand employees. It would be within walking distance of other fast-growing employers in downtown Kirkland.

Sound Transit must add a provisional project on the Eastside to extend the rail line into Kirkland.

Some have pointed out, accurately, that the ST3 package includes significant investments in Kirkland. Nevertheless, transit users are understandably unenthusiastic. South Kirkland falls short of the major centers in Kirkland where most riders access transit.

Won’t Save-our-Trail challenge a rail extension? Save-our-Trail is opposed to the South Kirkland station and any environmental study of transit on the corridor. So their opposition is inevitable either way. Meanwhile, the narrowness of their support has become obvious. Public comment on the draft plan from Kirkland was overwhelmingly pro-rail, and Save-our-Trail were unable to solicit more than a dozen opposing comments despite an intensive campaign.

Neighbors and users of the trail are not well-served by political uncertainty or delays in extending transit. The earliest possible design work on compatible transit will deliver certainty, allowing the trail to be developed without the risk of later relocation or disruption.

Kirkland has a successful urban core that is the envy of many growth centers that will see transit investments in ST3. Had the political process played out more agreeably, Kirkland would have been connected to the high-capacity transit network in ST3.

Please let the Sound Transit Board and your Council members know they must finish the rail line to Kirkland.

How Much to Invest in I-405 BRT

Sound Transit has agreed to add a BRT stop with 200 surface parking stalls at NE 44th in Renton

After Sound Transit released the draft system plan in March, some Eastside cities were unhappy it included a smaller investment in I-405 BRT than they had sought. Bellevue and Renton pushed for something closer to the “intensive capital” BRT with more parking and more stations using express toll lanes.

Some Eastside cities penned a joint letter, describing the proposal as comparable to ST Express service with improved headways, and demanding a much larger investment with more inline stops to create a BRT that is “the equivalent of light rail on rubber tires”. The attempt to forge a coalition of the I-405 corridor cities fell flat. Several East and South King cities did not sign. Some who signed were small cities that do not border I-405. None of the Snohomish County cities participated.

The amended system plan made some concessions. Sound Transit had agreed in March to relocate Renton’s downtown transit center to a more freeway-accessible location with 700 parking stalls. Renton pushed to expand the new South Renton transit center to accommodate 2,000 cars, and to add a second BRT stop at NE 44th St with parking for another 700. While the Board agreed only to 200 parking stalls in a surface lot at NE 44th St, the added center-line direct access facility adds $170 million to the cost of the BRT. An even more remote station with expanded parking at SE 112th in Bellevue was not included. Kirkland, taking a different approach, negotiated for more TOD in Kingsgate, reducing by 200 the planned parking expansion there.

I-405 BRT had lots of institutional momentum. The master plan for I-405, approved in 2002, envisions a BRT line with inline stations along I-405. To this end, Sound Transit has built transit centers and center ramps to the HOV lanes. WSDoT has created the express toll lanes north of Bellevue where buses could move reliably. With WSDoT now funded to extend the express lanes to the south, many observers expected a large investment in BRT on the corridor in ST3.

The plan ran up against uncomfortably low ridership numbers. Modelling suggests only 12,000 riders in 2040, and that the ridership isn’t increased at higher investment levels. A pared-down BRT, much of which runs in general traffic lanes, attracts as many riders as the ‘Cadillac’ version.

Recognizing that the proposal for higher investment levels didn’t stand up to close scrutiny, the Sound Transit Board in March advanced a draft system plan with just $735 million in capital investments, less than any of the options considered in the 2014 corridor studies. The low capital plan leveraged existing highway infrastructure with better and more frequent buses. Where center stations already exist, the BRT would run in the ETL lanes. Elsewhere, buses would run in general purpose lanes (or on the shoulder in a few locations north of Bothell).

Continue reading “How Much to Invest in I-405 BRT”

Our Improbable Growth Targets

Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate.
Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing of growth in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate (year 2000 population=100%).

Recent Census data showed another year of strong growth in Seattle and Bellevue. Everett and Tacoma grew more slowly. This raised a familiar question: why are regional plans so out of step with recent experience? Seattle grew 2 1/2 times faster than either Everett or Tacoma in the last five years. Bellevue and other cities on the Central Eastside are also developing quickly. What would cause a reversal of these trends so that Tacoma and Everett can grow into their ambitious 2040 goals?

Regional growth plans are a mix of forecasting and policy-making. The State Office of Financial Management produces state and county forecasts. OFM population forecasts determine targets for housing growth, which are apportioned between cities by PSRC and county planning processes. In each county, the largest ‘Metropolitan’ cities (Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Everett) are allocated a portion of the anticipated growth. Other cities are allocated lesser shares of expected growth, as are unincorporated areas within the Urban Growth Area (UGA). Few unincorporated urban areas remain within King County, but many fast-growing suburbs in Pierce and Snohomish are unincorporated. Lower targets are set for rural areas outside the urban boundary.

The median housing target sets the floor for zoned capacity. Cities and Counties must zone for sufficient developable capacity. Some cities zone for greater capacity than required; others do the minimum to stay in compliance. Much planned development is within Regional Growth Centers.

Benchmarking recent data against the PSRC’s Land Use Vision puts the forecasts in context.

Pierce and Snohomish Counties have grown faster than King for decades. But King County recovered more quickly from the recession. Maybe it’s premature to conclude the ‘normal’ suburban growth norm won’t reassert itself. But other center cities in the US are also outpacing their suburbs. If the flight to the suburbs is really over, should we expect King to lag its neighbors in the future?

State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical trends of faster growth in the suburbs
State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical norms of faster growth in the suburbs.

King County, having recently outpaced forecasts with urban-focused growth, is expected to revert to the mean. Some of the reversion is just bureaucratic inertia as complex multi-jurisdictional planning processes play catch-up. The 2040 forecast implies a slowdown across King County with just 0.55% average growth over the next 25 years. That compares unfavorably to the 1.85% average countywide, and 2.4% in Seattle, observed over the last five years. This slow pace would restore the past balance between the counties.

Growth is to slow slightly in Pierce and Snohomish, but will outpace King County. Pierce and Snohomish planners are predicting dramatic changes in how their counties grow.

Continue reading “Our Improbable Growth Targets”

Another Year of Rapid Growth

Seattle and Bellevue continue to outpace regional growth targets
Seattle and Bellevue continue to outpace regional growth targets

Last week, the US Census Bureau released 2015 population estimates by city. To nobody’s surprise, Seattle continues to grow rapidly, having added 15,300 more residents in the year ending June 2015. Seattle has grown by 74,000 residents (12.1%) in just five years. Seattle, for the third year in a row, is among the five fastest growing cities in the nation. Seattle, with 684,000 residents last year, is now the 18th largest city, overtaking El Paso and Detroit.

Seattle’s growth was 44% of the 34,800 residents added in King County in 2015, or 41% of the 179,400 added in King County since 2010.

Among cities larger than 50 thousand population, only Bellevue (+2.4%) and Marysville (+2.5%) grew faster than Seattle (+2.3%) last year. None have grown faster than Seattle over five years. (A few smaller exurban communities have posted higher growth rates).

Bellevue added 3,200 residents in 2015, bolstering its role as a major employment center for the Eastside. Tacoma added 3,300. Everett added 1,200. Nine other cities added over 1,000 residents, including Issaquah which saw a 5.8% growth spurt and almost 2,000 new residents.

Renton, growing more slowly, nevertheless saw its population exceed 100,000, becoming the sixth city in the region to reach this milestone.

Continue reading “Another Year of Rapid Growth”

Extending Rail to South Kirkland

Transit-Oriented Development at the South Kirkland Park-and_Ride, pictured from the adjacent rail corridor.
Transit-Oriented Development faces the parking garage at South Kirkland, pictured from the adjacent rail corridor (photo by author).

Sound Transit and Kirkland are considering a possible light rail station at the South Kirkland Park-and-Ride. After the draft system plan was released on March 24 without the hoped-for service to Kirkland on the Eastside Rail Corridor, the Eastside Board members wrote the city suggesting study of a short rail extension to South Kirkland. Staff analysis on both sides is underway.

Preliminary analysis envisions extending the planned Issaquah line from Wilburton to South Kirkland along the ERC. The travel time to Bellevue would be 7 minutes. The extension would cost $307 million, serving 2,500 daily riders, perhaps truncating some Metro routes. A 500-stall parking structure would add another $28 million to the capital cost.

The symbolic relevance of the proposed station is obvious. For Sound Transit, it suggests the Issaquah-Totem Lake rail line will be completed in ST4 (the draft plan also includes an environmental study of transit on the corridor). For Kirkland too, it’s an affirmation the city will finally see high-capacity transit in ST4, though rail rather than the BRT which the City expects would be more productive. For homeowners who opposed transit “on the trail” in ST3, it means transit plans were not defeated, only deferred.

Pending a future transit package, how would the spur line fit in the network? After all, this could be the terminus of the rail line for a long time. There are some obvious questions:

Is South Kirkland a viable destination? The planned station mostly targets riders arriving via Metro routes from the north, along with drivers to the expanded parking facility. Current local land use is primarily office with extensive surface parking and little near-term redevelopment in the pipeline. On the other hand, proximity to Bellevue will surely help redevelopment before rail service begins (anticipated at the very end of the ST3 program in 2041). Zoned heights on the Kirkland side of the station max out at 65′. But, with few residential neighbors and an adjacent highway, the path to more aggressive zoning may not be difficult.

Added parking comes with well-understood trade-offs, but replacing some of the existing surface lot with a 500-stall garage would hardly be decisive. Both Kirkland and Bellevue (the P&R is mostly within Bellevue city limits) should be having a land use conversation, even if Sound Transit’s immediate analysis must rely on current PSRC projections.

What does the transit network map around a South Kirkland rail station look like? Most riders to Seattle would prefer a cross-lake bus to UW station in any scenario. Kirkland-Bellevue riders will be served by Rapid Ride (by 2025 per the Metro LRP). Would that be improved upon by having riders exit the bus to a train, with the associated transfer penalty?
Continue reading “Extending Rail to South Kirkland”

Kirkland’s Compromise ST3 Offer

The nearest point on the CKC to downtown is 0.5 miles away and surrounded by low-density uses.
One reason to favor BRT is that the nearest proposed light rail station would be 0.5 miles from downtown and surrounded by low-density uses.

On Tuesday evening, the Kirkland City Council approved a letter to the Sound Transit Board offering a compromise to resolve the impasse over transit on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). The letter (significantly revised from the draft Zach reported on Saturday) seeks an investment in trail access from Kirkland to the Wilburton Link Station and Kingsgate BRT station. These trails would be designed to accommodate transit, carefully signaling the integration of transit and other uses on the corridor. At the same time, ST3 would fund planning and development for high-capacity transit on the corridor, leading to a record of decision for transit in the next regional package.

The “Kirkland Compromise” includes:

  • A Regional Trail connection from Sound Transit’s Totem Lake terminus to Sound Transit’s Wilburton Station in Bellevue along the CKC and ERC. This would be a fully developed permanent trail built to the specifications of the Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan in Kirkland and King County’s ERC Regional Trail Master Plan in Bellevue.
  • Trail planning aligned with transit planning to clearly define a future transit envelope in the CKC and ERC in Bellevue. Planning the trail and transit together ensure the trail would not be disrupted in the future.
  • Design money allocated for transit design on the CKC/ERC to achieve a record of decision.
  • BRT on I-405 to include an inline station at NE 85th along with transit service directly connecting downtown Kirkland to Redmond along NE 85th in exclusive lanes.

The Compromise commits all parties to future transit on the CKC, even if delayed (Kirkland reiterates its preference for BRT on the Corridor in ST3). It accelerates development of Kirkland’s primary walking and biking corridor, and advances access for walk/bike to I-405 BRT at Kingsgate and East Link at Wilburton.

Continue reading “Kirkland’s Compromise ST3 Offer”

The Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail Starting to Take Shape

In the shadow of Bellevue’s Wilburton Trestle, King County Executive Dow Constantine announces the draft master plan for the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail on February 29 (Photo by Author).

Last week, King County Parks published a draft master plan for the Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail. The County aims to develop a permanent paved trail on over 16 miles of the corridor.

As the trail plan enters a public comment period, Sound Transit is finalizing its own draft system plan. That will clarify how portions of the corridor may be shared with transit. Across the Eastside, efforts to bring the corridor into public use are accelerating. Legacy freight tracks will be removed in 2017, and trails are being expanded. Snohomish County has agreed to buy 12 miles of corridor and is expected to build a trail alongside the active rail line. A once contentious political debate over rails vs trails has been mostly replaced by a consensus that the ERC will serve both (though it still echoes in Kirkland where transit opponents have coalesced around “Save Our Trail” rhetoric).

Since being rail-banked in 2009, ownership has resided with several jurisdictions. The cities of Redmond and Kirkland mostly own the segments within their respective city limits. Sound Transit owns a 1-mile section where East Link will be built. The balance of the rail-banked area is owned by King County. The County is also the trail sponsor in the Sound Transit area. Sound Transit and other utilities retain easements along the ERC. Owners and stakeholders collaborate through the ERC Regional Advisory Council.

Here’s a flavor of what’s going on: Continue reading “The Eastside Rail Corridor Regional Trail Starting to Take Shape”

East King County’s ST3 Letters

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Transit Center in Downtown Bellevue (Photo by the Author)

This summary of ST3 feedback from East King County (including North King other than Seattle) is the fifth in a series of ST3 feedback summaries. See our previous coverage of Pierce County, SeattleSouth King County, and Snohomish County. A future installment will look at other Stakeholder Organizations.

The Eastside’s ST3 input is well coordinated. As happened last July, several Eastside cities signed a joint letter describing shared goals. Cities along the SR 522 corridor also submitted their own joint letter endorsing BRT on SR 522 and NE 145th St. Read together with the cities own letters, there’s an impressive consensus about what an Eastside ST3 package needs to look like.

Joint Letter of the Eastside Cities

The Eastside cities introduce their priorities by noting how they are “reshaping our regional growth centers and downtowns into dense, mixed-use, urban centers that need frequent and reliable transit service to sustain economic growth and viability. ST3 has the potential to create transit connections within the Eastside, and provide connections between the Eastside and the rest of the region”. The letter goes on to remind the Board that “the Eastside will be making a significant tax investment into the package” and looks forward to seeing commensurate investments back into the Eastside.

The Eastside’s five priorities in ST3 are:

  • E-01: Completing the East Link spine to Downtown Redmond. This is so uncontroversial that no explanation was apparently necessary.
  • E-02: Fully implement Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on I-405, from Lynnwood to SeaTac. A version of I-405 BRT between the low and intensive capital versions is recommended. The scope needs to “provide sufficient access for the line to operate as an efficient BRT facility”. That means an inline station at NE 85th Street in Kirkland, direct access to Tukwila Sounder Station, at least one additional location south of I-90, and a dedicated transitway with inline flyer stops. The latter implies a significant investment in South Snohomish County where the BRT would otherwise run in mixed traffic north of SR 522.
  • E-03: Light rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah via Bellevue. In an acknowledgment that BRT may have advantages in Kirkland, the joint letter caveats that “this project must provide flexibility and be scalable to meet ridership demand and the needs of the communities served”.
  • E-04: A new transit center in Renton at Rainier Ave S and S Grady Way. This project would replace the downtown transit center.
  • N-09 and N-10: BRT on 145th Street and SR 522 to connect with North Link.

Continue reading “East King County’s ST3 Letters”

ST3: Kirkland-Issaquah Light Rail

E03Map

Not so long ago, prospects for an ST3 investment in rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah seemed remote. There were too many competing priorities within a 15-year ST3 program, making a deferral to ST4 likely, and motivating examination of BRT between Bellevue and Kirkland. In an extended program, it’s suddenly feasible, but the proposed alignment has weak connections to the most important destinations.

The project is a 17.5 mile rail line from Totem Lake to Central Issaquah connecting nine stations. From the north, the line generally follows the Eastside Rail Corridor, briefly interlining with East Link near Wilburton station. This is also a transfer point to East Link trains serving downtown Bellevue or Seattle. Near the historic Wilburton trestle, the line transitions to the east side of I-405 and then to I-90 in Factoria. Beyond Factoria, the line generally follows the I-90 median to a terminus in Central Issaquah.

There are eight new stations, four each on Segment A (Totem Lake – Wilburton) and Segment B (Wilburton – Issaquah).

Segment A serves four stops in the Kirkland area. An added stop at NE 112th St means this is one more than the previous studies, improving access within the southern part of the Totem Lake neighborhood. Other Kirkland stops are at NE 128th St (adjacent to the freeway BRT station), at NE 6th St (southeast of downtown), and at the South Kirkland P&R.

Segment B also serves four stations (after Wilburton); in Factoria, at Eastgate, at Lakemont Blvd, and in Central Issaquah. The Factoria and Lakemont stops are new to this study. The Factoria station, near Richards Rd on the north side of I-90, will improve access along the Eastgate/I-90 corridor which seems too sprawling to be well served via Eastgate alone. While the location isn’t ideal for Factoria riders, it’s perhaps as close to Factoria as the line can get while avoiding the environmental and engineering challenges of Mercer Slough and the I-405 interchange. The added stop at Lakemont would be a park-and-ride facility.

Kirkland may not be impressed by a Kirkland-Bellevue rail segment lacking walkable access to the downtown of either city. Issaquah, on the other hand, intends to concentrate future growth within the Central Issaquah area adjacent to  the planned station. Travel from Issaquah to Seattle via Wilburton may appear circuitous, but no more so than express buses terminating into Bellevue Transit Center.

Continue reading “ST3: Kirkland-Issaquah Light Rail”

ST3: Bus Rapid Transit on I-405

I-405 BRT Corridor Options

There has long been a regional consensus that I-405 Bus Rapid Transit would be a part of the ST3 program. But that general agreement has hidden a fuzziness about the form it would take. The December 4 workshop saw a range of options presented. The studies make a compelling case for a low-cost version of I-405 BRT, but complicate the case for doing much more. The eye-popping conclusion is that a range of investment levels between $340 million and $2.3 billion all produce the same ridership.

Staff presented “low capital” and “intensive capital” representative models. In between are a long list of a la carte options. There are two alternatives for a southern terminus; one at Angle Lake, the other at Burien TC. The “low capital” model leans heavily on existing infrastructure, and is less ambitious than any of the options examined in the previous set of studies in 2014.

Low Capital BRT

Staff analysis helpfully breaks out cost and performance by segment. Segment A, Lynnwood TC to Bellevue TC, is the most productive with up to 10,000 riders, about 60% of all the ridership on the BRT. 10 of the 19 miles are served via general purpose lanes on I-5 and I-405 (other than limited shoulder-running southbound on I-405). Only the portion between Brickyard and Bellevue can be served via HOT lanesSegment B, Bellevue to Renton, runs entirely in HOT lanes, but achieves fewer than 1,500 riders. That would include a deferred project to build HOV direct access ramps at N 8th St in Renton.

Beyond Renton, there is little new investment. Segment C, Renton to Tukwila International Boulevard Link Station, would run in HOT lanes on I-405 and general purpose lanes on SR 518, achieving a respectable 3,500 riders with little cost other than vehicles. From TIBS, the service could continue to Angle Lake via BAT lanes on SR 99 (Segment D1), or to Burien Transit Center via general purpose lanes on SR 518 (Segment D2).

The total capital cost under $350 million is modest for the ridership, mostly because the highway infrastructure is largely existing or funded through WSDOT. 28% of the cost is for parking.ST3_i405BRT_Elements2

Intensive Capital BRT

The ‘intensive capital’ option adds several stations and upgrades others. It eliminates much of the interaction with general purpose lanes via added ramps in the north and BAT lanes in the south.

Continue reading “ST3: Bus Rapid Transit on I-405”

ST3: Kirkland-Bellevue Bus Rapid Transit

At the December 4 Board workshop, Sound Transit staff shared their latest study of Bus Rapid Transit along the Eastside Rail Corridor between Bellevue and Kirkland. The study parameters incorporate many suggestions from the City of Kirkland. Ten miles of mostly at-grade BRT guideway connect nine at-grade stations: three are in the Totem Lake area, two around downtown Kirkland, one at South Kirkland, and three more in Bellevue.

E06_MapThe corridor BRT is well-integrated with regional services. It would connect to I-405 BRT at Kingsgate/NE 128th, to East Link LRT at Wilburton Station, and to regional bus services at the Bellevue Transit Center. An alternative configuration at Wilburton might have an elevated station.

The study acknowledges the need to accommodate the existing trail on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor, and a future trail on the Eastside Rail Corridor in Bellevue. It specifies that the rail would be on the east of the corridor with trail uses to the west.

Continue reading “ST3: Kirkland-Bellevue Bus Rapid Transit”