Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal

University Of Washington Link Light Rail Station Image: Lizz Giordano

Eastside mayors want Metro and Sound Transit to relocate bus stops to improve bus-rail transfers before implementing service changes. The proposed restructuring would funnel Eastside bus commuters heading downtown to light rail at the University of Washington Station. That transfer requires riders to cross the busy streets of Montlake Boulevard and/or Pacific Street or use an out of the way walkway to switch between modes of transportation.

“Increasing commute times by 20 minutes while creating more mobility downtown will only incentivize single occupancy vehicles to drive to downtown Seattle rather than stick with public transportation,” wrote the seven Eastside Mayors in a letter to Metro and Sound Transit.

The Mayors want bus stops relocated to be adjacent to the light rail station and mobility improvements through the Montlake Hub. STB’s own Adam Parast showed one way to accomplish this in 2015 (pictured below).

“Sound Transit is supportive of improvements to the transfer environment at UW. King County Metro owns the bus shelters, and they are in active conversations about this with the City of Seattle and UW,” wrote Rachelle Cunningham, a spokesperson for Sound Transit in an email.

Metro estimates transfers currently take anywhere from 6-11 minutes, depending on direction and time of travel.

“The service concepts we’ve introduced would increase frequency on many Eastside routes, which would help reduce the time that riders would have to wait at the stop,” wrote Scott Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Metro in an email.

He said Metro is considering a range of changes, including relocation of stops, extending bus shelters, providing off-board payment and improving signage.

Continue reading “Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal”

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.

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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”

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.

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

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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”

ACTION ALERT: Attend Kirkland’s ST3 Open House!

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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.

Continue reading “ACTION ALERT: Attend Kirkland’s ST3 Open House!”

What the Eastside Wants in ST3

Riders wait to board ST Express buses at Bellevue's busy downtown transit center
Riders wait to board ST Express buses at Bellevue’s busy downtown transit center

Several Eastside cities (Bellevue, Redmond, Issaquah, Kirkland, Renton, Sammamish) submitted a joint interest statement to Sound Transit that lays out a shared vision for the ST3 project list. Each city also submitted comments with respect to their particular interests. The joint interest statement was developed in response to concerns that the draft PPL would serve the Eastside poorly, and that the relatively compact central Eastside needed a more comprehensive vision for regional mobility.

A plan for ST3, the Eastside cities argue, must do the following:

“Fund Eastside needs”: ST3 must fully fund investments necessary to meet Eastside transit needs. This is, of course, a shot across the bow of other regional leaders who have looked at the Eastside’s tax revenues as a funding source for spine expansion. Concerns about subarea equity were loudly voiced in several of the City Council meetings where letters to ST3 were approved.

“Connect regional growth centers within the Eastside”: Two projects are called out here; East Link to Redmond, and light rail from Totem Lake to Issaquah. Obviously, extension of East Link is the Eastside’s highest priority, and quite uncontroversial. BRT should be built between Totem Lake and Issaquah if light rail is beyond the financial capacity of the Eastside. Investments in Regional Express within the Eastside are also called for.

“Connect the Eastside with the region”: Here the cities advocate for strengthened connections with the neighboring subareas, including I-405 BRT and Regional Express. The statement is careful to call out how these are multi-subarea investments, implying that East King should not bear the entire cost of I-405 BRT. With the BRT corridor likely to extend from Lynnwood to Seatac, a large portion now lies outside the East King subarea.

“Provide an integrated regional transit system with access enhancements”: The cities are looking for a regional network that integrates ST rail, BRT, express bus and Metro bus services. They also call for TOD and non-motorized access planning as part of ST3. Performance-based initiatives for more efficient use of parking are supported, adding capacity as needed.

“Support system expansion”: This is a call for planning and studies for future system upgrades (and for ST to plan facilities like OMSF early in the process).

The individual cities submitted their own comments, describing their particular needs in greater detail:

Continue reading “What the Eastside Wants in ST3”

Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point

View post on imgur.com

A couple of days ago there was a great deal of discussion about the merits and costs of a Sand Point crossing. There are two things that a study would find out that everybody would like to know; the monetary cost of the crossing and the potential ridership over the connection. Unfortunately I can’t give any insight into those things. What I can to do is provide some tangible benefits based on travel time using Seattle Subway’s previous posts about the Crossing, Ballard Spur and Better Eastside rail.

Continue reading “Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point”