Kirkland and Sound Transit agree on connections to NE 85th BRT station

Flyover animation of the I-405 BRT station at NE 85th in Kirkland (credit: Sound Transit/WSDOT)

Last year, Sound Transit and WSDOT shared their design of the three-level I-405 BRT station at NE 85th St in Kirkland. After prolonged negotiations, the City and Sound Transit reached agreement earlier this month on connecting the station area to downtown and surrounding neighborhoods.

At a forecast $260 million, NE 85th is one of the most expensive and complex stations in the ST3 system. Ridership forecasts are low. The City of Kirkland estimates 250-300 daily transfers at NE 85th in 2025. Sound Transit estimates fewer than 1,000 riders even by 2040.

Reaching or improving on those low expectations depends on bus and pedestrian/bike connections. The station will not have parking. Even the east edge of downtown Kirkland is separated from the station by 3,000 feet and a 200 foot elevation gain. The ST3 plan addressed this by budgeting another $45 million for bus lanes on NE 85th between the station and 6th St. Subsequent study found those lanes would be ineffective, freeing up funds for improved non-motorized connections instead.

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Reevaluating Woodinville BRT

Woodinville (Image: SounderBruce)

Work has begun on SR 522 BRT, with the first BAT lanes in Bothell coming online in late 2020, and Sound Transit’s Stride BRT service opening in 2024. Although phase 1 design recently concluded and the project is now entering the Conceptual Engineering and Environmental process, planners continue to evaluate how to serve the low-ridership Woodinville segment.

The BRT extends from the Shoreline Link rail station along NE 145th where Sound Transit will add bus queue bypasses and signal priority for transit at key intersections. On SR 522, the patchwork of existing BAT (business access & transit) lanes will be filled in to create an uninterrupted lane for transit from 145th to Bothell. In Bothell, the BRT is likely to operate on downtown streets, serving UW Bothell and connecting to I-405 BRT at NE 195th St.

Beyond that, there is a 3.5-mile segment to the Woodinville Park & Ride where the planned service is more basic. The ST3 plan does not fund any capital improvements east of I-405 and the buses operate in general purpose freeway lanes on I-405 and SR 522. The 10-minute headways west of I-405 drop to every 20 minutes into Woodinville.

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Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding

RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

The same day the Seattle City Council approved a design for the Roosevelt RapidRide and endorsed plans to seek federal and state funding for the project, councilmembers were given a dismal prediction on the future of federal transportation funding.

“It’s not a great picture,” said Leslie Pollner, a federal lobbyist for the city. She told councilmembers to expect significant cuts by the federal government in domestic spending, including public safety and transportation.  

The Roosevelt RapidRide project is expected to cost $70 million, with the goal of getting half of that funding from federal and state sources, said Councilmember Rob Johnson before the council voted to approve the preferred alternative Monday.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing in that the department will bring back to us a revised proposal,” Johnson added.

The vote committed the city to fully funding the development phase of the project at a cost of $4.3 million.

The Roosevelt RapidRide, estimated to decrease travel times by 20 percent, runs between downtown and the Roosevelt neighborhood via Eastlake and the University District. The project is one of seven RapidRide projects planned in the city in a partnership between the City and King County Metro. A previous STB post by Calvin Tonini describes the latest iteration of the project.

The city plans to apply for federal government dollars through a Small Starts grant program for both the Roosevelt and Madison RapidRide projects.

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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).

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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?
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ACTION ALERT: Comment on Tolling at the WSTC

Buses at Canyon Park on I-405
Buses at Canyon Park on I-405. Photo: WhenEliseSings

This Wednesday, February 17, the Washington State Transportation Commission will discuss toll rate options for several tolled highways in the Puget Sound. Among the changes that will be discussed are the recent calls from legislators to end tolling on I-405 on evenings, weekends, and holidays.

If you are in Olympia on Wednesday, you will have an opportunity to comment in person. Discussion of I-405 operations is scheduled for 3PM, with a public comment period at 4.45PM. As usual, the anti-tolling campaign is expected to show. Because they show up, they will appear to ‘represent’ the public unless countered.

Express toll lanes on I-405 have been an undoubted boon for transit users with faster and more reliable travel times. Notwithstanding the concerted campaign against the lanes, the ETL also helped general purpose traffic to move more quickly and more efficiently through the corridor. Sound Transit’s plans for I-405 BRT can not deliver promised results unless speed and reliability are maintained in the HOT lanes at all times that transit is operating.

Bending to political pressure, some legislators have asked to eliminate tolls after 7pm, on weekends and on holidays. Governor Inslee joined in this request at a press conference this afternoon. WSTC is responsible for approving such changes. Their first opportunity to consider the request is at Wednesday’s meeting. Whether or not WSTC accedes to this request, it is unlikely to be the last occasion anti-tolling advocates flex their muscles to reduce the effectiveness of the ETL.

At a minimum, WSTC must carefully review the effect on transit reliability of changing lane operations. Governor Inslee today acknowledged the benefits of tolling to transit users on I-405. Opening the express lanes toll-free to SOVs at “off-peak” times risks having transit and HOV users stuck in traffic. There is traffic after 7pm too. The revenue reduction would also reduce WSDOT’s capacity to invest further in the HOT lanes.

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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.

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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.

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ACTION ALERT: Attend Kirkland’s ST3 Open House!

Metro 236
Metro 236 near the Eastside Rail Corridor in Kirkland’s Totem Lake neighborhood

Kirkland residents and workers, and anyone else interested in the future of mobility in Kirkland, should attend the City of Kirkland’s ST3 open house tomorrow night (Thursday, Nov. 19).  The open house is at the Kirkland Performance Center in downtown Kirkland, one short block from Kirkland Transit Center, from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m.  Frequent Metro bus routes 234/235, 245, and 255, as well as other routes 236, 238, 248, and 540, all serve the location, with one-seat service from throughout the north Eastside as well as downtown Seattle.

Attending this meeting is critical because the city of Kirkland needs to hear support for rapid transit service along the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC) between Bellevue and Totem Lake, which is the only realistic option for fast and frequent transit that will serve Kirkland communities. Full background below the jump.

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Kirkland’s BRT Design

CKC_BRT2
Kirkland’s preferred option for BRT on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor

Last August, Sound Transit selected a Project Priority List to proceed to the next level of study for the ST3 ballot measure. Since then, the agency has been working with other stakeholders to evaluate potential projects. The City of Kirkland, having successfully advocated for a Bus Rapid Transit option on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), has worked with consultants to develop a more comprehensive vision for that service. The first details of their work were shared at a City Council meeting last week. The City is also working with agencies on light rail and I-405 BRT options.

Kirkland is balancing several policy goals. The City is pro-transit, and understands that BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor offers far better connections to Kirkland’s growing neighborhoods than the alternatives. But the corridor is also a well-loved place to walk and bike. With rails being removed to the north and south of Kirkland, the ERC is shortly anticipated to be a high demand bike corridor with the highest demand through urban neighborhoods in Kirkland and Bellevue. Walk and bike uses would benefit in obvious ways from integration with accessible transit. To these ends, Kirkland is eager to see a transit infrastructure that mostly hugs the eastern side of the corridor, maximizing the space available to trail users and preserving views to the west. Sound Transit originally anticipated transit would follow the legacy rail-bed down the center of the corridor, more closely encroaching on the trail which would be correspondingly pushed toward the edge of the corridor.

The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan envisions trails and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.
The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan has walk, bike, and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.

Kirkland bought a 5 3/4 mile section of the Eastside Rail Corridor in April 2012, known locally as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). In 2014, the City removed tracks and built a crushed-gravel interim trail along the former rail-bed. The City’s master plan for the Corridor envisions the interim trail eventually being replaced by paved permanent trails alongside transit, with a primary trail mostly following the center of the corridor, and a lower-speed pedestrian-only trail on busier segments. Sound Transit retains an easement on the Corridor for high-capacity transit, as do some other utilities. However, it is unclear whether Sound Transit (as easement holder) or the City (as corridor owner) governs the placement of transit within the corridor. In September, Kirkland contracted with consultants on pre-design of compatible transit infrastructure, seeking to demonstrate to both Sound Transit and other stakeholders that a balanced design is possible.

What they came up with was an engineering design that increased the space for trails at what appears to be reasonable capital cost. Preliminary concept design also looked at pinch points on the corridor in Kirkland and Bellevue. They developed engineering concept solutions through all of the tight areas that do not adversely impact the trail.

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