The ST3 program included, at the suggestion of the City of Renton, a new transit center with a 700 stall park-and-ride in South Renton near the intersection of I-405 and SR 167. Relocating the downtown transit center, however, left observers questioning how much transit would serve downtown in future. Mayor Denis Law, among others, viewed a relocated center as a positive step for downtown.
“The current location does not provide adequate public transportation services for Renton residents; nor does it meet the needs of businesses and commuters in the valley area of the city. As downtown redevelopment continues it will also pose challenges for buses to navigate. This new transit vision will lead Renton into the next phase of our community’s growth, both in our downtown core and at the new transit center location.”
The downtown transit center, in the view of the city, was not compatible with plans for a pedestrian-oriented downtown. There were issues with crime, and drivers to the parking garage added to downtown congestion. The city intends to restore two-way traffic on South Third and South Second streets, revitalizing them as neighborhood streets rather than commuter routes.
Planning to improve Renton’s downtown has moved forward. With it has come a more worked-out view of future transit service. Renton now intends to maintain a downtown transit center, but with several operational modifications to reduce supposed impacts to downtown.
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).
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.
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, Seattle, South 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.
The City of Renton is proposing to relocate its transit center as part of ST3. The new center would be located at Rainier Avenue South and Grady Way, just north of the intersection of I-405 and SR 167. It would replace a smaller downtown transit center, adding much more parking and easing access for park-and-ride commuters from the south and east. However, it is likely to eventually reduce service for Renton’s downtown and developing North Renton neighborhoods.
The new center would be more accessible for buses or drivers approaching from SR 167, and could include 1,500-2,000 parking stalls, potentially the largest transit parking facility in King County (Eastgate has 1,614 stalls). It would be funded, in part, by giving up a deferred ST2 project to build HOV ramps from N 8th St. The property is a disused former auto dealership, and is adjacent to an existing 370-stall Metro park-and-ride. Renton officials perceive potential for transit-oriented development, though that would require a far-reaching overhaul of the area’s current development pattern.
Commuters who drive to buses would prefer a transit facility closer to highways and with more available parking. The current center is perceived as having an adverse effect on downtown. Buses and drivers to the transit center parking add to downtown traffic (Metro leases 150 stalls in a city-owned structure). When the downtown transit center was opened in 2000, the hope was that it would draw commuters to downtown businesses, but few stay long in the area. Now Renton is studying a festival street on S 3rd St, and restoring two-way traffic on S 2nd and S 3rd, making them arguably less suited to commuter bus service.
The downtown transit center is served by two ST Express routes (560, 566), Rapid Ride F, and a dozen other Metro routes. How many of those routes would continue to serve that area? Renton believes it can maintain local Metro service through downtown, but would prefer the primary location for transfers be elsewhere. It’s unlikely Metro or Sound Transit would wish to serve downtown so intensively once the transit center is relocated. Indeed, Metro opposed locating a transit center in downtown when it was first built, not wanting to have buses navigating downtown streets. Many commuters who would rely on the new transit center will view downtown Renton as a detour and will prefer their buses get on the highway as promptly as possible.
Routing buses through downtown Renton supports service to growing mixed use neighborhoods in North Renton such as The Landing. Just last week, construction started on Southport, a large new office complex near Boeing and The Landing. The N 8th St HOV access project was supposed to ease their access from The Landing to I-405. With an expanded transit center south of downtown and easy highway access there, it’s likely that future service will skip downtown and the growing northern neighborhoods.
I-405 BRT is not intended to serve downtown Renton. The recently published templates described local access to the BRT only via the N 8th St HOV ramps. Moving the access point further south would require more out-of-direction travel for riders from downtown/north Renton to Bellevue. The connection would, at least, be frequent as long as Rapid Ride F continues to serve North Renton. Sound Transit staff indicated at the January 7th meeting that the idea is being studied in conjunction with I-405 BRT. The move was endorsed by several Eastside cities in a joint letter to Sound Transit last week. Local comments, responding to the comprehensivecoverage by the Renton Reporter, have been mostly positive too, despite concerns for downtown access.
Much current transit access in Renton is oriented around park-and-rides, and the change will be well received by commuters from south and east of I-405. Nevertheless, this looks like a doubling down on Renton’s sprawling current land use. Renton is proposing an enormous investment in parking at the expense of service to the city’s few dense (or, at least, densifying) neighborhoods. Within a ST3 package that looks some decades into the future, one hopes that Renton will thoroughly consider the implications for the city’s development.
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 lanes. Segment 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.
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.
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: