Light-rail ‘vision’ elevated track would run along I-405 – From the Seattle Times

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It seems the hoary old elevated, tunnel, or at-grade debate continues in Bellevue Washington, which is across the lake from Seattle.

The success of LRT is to be able to penetrate into city centres cheaply, on-street, where the transit customer wants to go, which is something that a certain rookie Bellevue councilor doesn’t want to admit. Elevated transit is an eyesore and is built only if there is no other alternative for construction and we don’t have to go very far to understand this, with the elevated SkyTrain light-metro shows us every day. Lack of sales of Vancouver’s orphaned SkyTrain metro system certainly points to the fact that being elevated makes SkyTrain as popular as an ‘Edsel‘.

Even stranger is that SkyTrain, first designed to be elevated to mitigate the cost of subway construction is being touted for a subway to UBC!

What tunnel/subway and elevated advocates seem to forget is that at-grade/on-street LRT attracts the most customers because it’s convenience. It is the convenience factor of light rail that has made it so successful and elevated light-metros, like SkyTrain, obsolete. Sadly these lessons take a very long and expensive time to be learned.

In the end, the ‘vision’ for elevating LRT in Bellevue probably has nothing to do about speed of of transit service or customer convenience, but the quaint custom of locating new stations near daddy’s land.

Light-rail ‘vision’ elevated track would run along I-405

Rookie Bellevue City Councilman Kevin Wallace is proposing an elevated light-rail track along Interstate 405 rather than a tunnel or surface track into downtown Bellevue.

By Mike Lindblom – Seattle Times

Trains on downtown Bellevue streets would delay cars. A tunnel costs more and requires ripping up streets during construction.

Rookie Bellevue City Councilman Kevin Wallace believes he can solve both problems.

Wallace proposes the “Vision Line,” an elevated track that would run alongside Interstate 405, with a stop not in the heart of downtown but on its east fringe, near Meydenbauer Center.

But the council’s first choice is a tunnel, something it officially endorsed last year, Mayor Don Davidson said. The underground option would run through the epicenter of downtown, stopping at Bellevue’s bus center before the tracks elevate toward the hospital district, east of the freeway. Other options include surface routes that turn from Main Street north into the office district.

“The interest in the Vision Line is more of a fallback, if it [a tunnel] doesn’t work out,” said Bellevue Councilwoman Claudia Balducci, newly appointed to the Sound Transit governing board.

It’s not a fallback for Wallace, who joined the council after its endorsement of a tunnel.

“From my perspective, the goal is to provide good light-rail service, but in a way that protects Bellevue businesses from construction impacts, as well as its roads,” Wallace said from his office near the freeway.

Wallace, 38, is the son of longtime Bellevue businessman Robert Wallace, who owns an office near the proposed I-405 station, as well as property in Bellevue, Seattle and other cities. The councilman is president of Wallace Properties, the family business, which owns property where the proposed trackway entering the station would sit.

Sound Transit and Bellevue leaders will meet Thursday to discuss light-rail route issues. Voters in 2008 approved the $2.8 billion route from Seattle’s International District to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Overlake, as part of a three-line regional system. Service to Bellevue is scheduled to begin in 2020.

The upside to Wallace’s Vision Line is an estimated savings of $430 million compared with a tunnel, says a study to be published Monday by Sound Transit.

The downside is a likely loss of ridership.

The freeway station would cut the predicted 2030 Eastside ridership by 2,500 — there would be 51,000 daily boardings with a tunnel, and only 48,500 with the Vision Line, the Sound Transit study says.That’s mostly because fewer workers and condos would be within a five- to 10-minute walk of the station.

A surface or tunnel route does the best job of reaching downtowners but would be a slightly longer ride for regional commuters, the study says.

A surface or tunnel option would collect and drop off light-rail riders next door to the Bellevue Transit Center. But a walk from the proposed Vision Line station to the west end of the transit center is four blocks, or about 460 steps. The distance is similar to the passageway from Sound Transit’s SeaTac / Airport Station to the terminal, but it’s up a hill that gains 60 feet of elevation.

So the station would need a moving walkway to downtown, Wallace said.

Councilman Grant Degginger said he’s concerned that a thick, 70-foot-high trackway called for in the Vision Line plan would look like the Alaskan Way Viaduct. “Is that the look we want for the gateway to downtown?”

Changing his mind

When voters approved the $18 billion regional plan for light rail, cost estimates in Bellevue were based on elevated tracks through downtown. Bellevue officials immediately denounced that idea, but Sound Transit staff warned that a tunnel could require $500 million extra. Microsoft endorsed a cheaper surface route — to conserve money and improve the odds that construction will continue to Redmond.

Just last summer, Wallace was pro-tunnel, insisting money could be saved or found. Now he says: “The fact is Bellevue already has a $100 million deficit in the capital budget,” so city funding for rail would drain money from roads and other public works. And the recession has eroded Sound Transit’s sales-tax forecasts.

Equally important, he seeks to keep tracks and a tunnel entrance away from the residential Surrey Downs area south of downtown, which supported his campaign last fall.

Instead of a Main Street station that would uproot businesses next to Surrey Downs, he favors a second freeway station where Southeast Eighth Street meets I-405, with an expanded park-and-ride facility.

Wallace Properties owns office buildings and parking lots in the Vision Line route. Because Sound Transit would condemn that area, he says, other alignments actually are better for the family business. Taxpayers would reimburse property owners, including the Wallaces, at market value, as determined by appraisals, negotiations or by the courts.

Looking in

Wallace says transit should promote or serve redevelopment. Some Seattleites raised the same point to justify the South Lake Union streetcar, to locate Rainier Valley light-rail stops, and to propose shifting the future First Hill Streetcar east to 12th Avenue in central Seattle.

In Bellevue’s case, the Auto Row just east of I-405 has been designated for mixed-use retail and dense housing. A footbridge across the freeway would reach those areas, he said.

This amounts to drifting a few blocks from Bellevue’s proven transit market to chase a prospective transit market. Wallace replies the redevelopment is likely to come sooner than the trains do. Sound Transit’s study did not include a footbridge over I-405, which would add cost. It likely wouldn’t affect the ridership stats much because the east-of-405 users would gravitate to the Hospital Station anyway, said East Link project director Don Billen.

Several bus riders interviewed at the transit center Friday were unaware of the political debate over a four-block difference.

“They’re going to bring light rail here? Cool!” said Qin Xiaochuan, awaiting the 550 bus to Seattle. “Walking is very healthy, as long as it doesn’t take half an hour or more.”

Some people laughed at questions about where they’d prefer a station that’s a full decade away.

Next to freeway

Wallace’s concept has taken a pounding in pro-transit blogs. Dan Bertolet at Publicola.net argues that a freeway station is unwise because I-405 prevents development and access from the east.

Balducci says the new Sound Transit study reinforced to her that to reach the most downtown employees, “it’s far better for a station next to the transit center, than for a station along I-405.”

Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman, a longtime rail opponent, supports Wallace’s concept. Freeman is part of a group suing to block Sound Transit from putting trains on I-90. Bruce Nurse, a vice president of Kemper Development, said that nonetheless, the firm realizes voters backed light rail. So Freeman now is looking to the Vision Line as a way to avoid tracks or construction that would block downtown roads and businesses.

Sound Transit’s study says that Bellevue traffic will be so congested anyway by 2030 that, if traffic signals are timed for trains, a surface line would slow east-west travel by less than one minute.

http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2011011433_visionline08m.html

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6 Responses to “Light-rail ‘vision’ elevated track would run along I-405 – From the Seattle Times”

  1. David Says:

    What an asinine plan!

    Let’s put the train out by the freeway so everyone has to transfer to a bus or some other mode to get downtown. Like that’s going to attract passengers.

  2. voony Says:

    that is the problem of the “one size fit all” solution adopted in Seattle.

    They want both address local and regional market with a single solution:
    they will end-up with a serpentine train , with not enough stop to address local need, and too much detour to provide an efficient regional transit link.

    …A bit like if Vancouver had decided to build a train connection from Richmond to Vancouver via Arbutus Village…

    Zweisystem replies: Yes LRT using the Arbutus Corridor would have cost about one third to build than RAV and carry more people. Again, you use speed as a criteria for attracting ridership, but if this was true, why then forcibly cascade the passengers from the 300 & 600 series (South Delta/Surrey) of buses onto RAV? If your notion that speed trumps all, there would be popular demand for the timetable change, not near universal disapproval.

    Just a note, if the RAV project had used the Arbutus Corridor, it would increased journey time by about 5 to 7 minutes, but service a larger population, which would have translated into higher ridership.

  3. David Says:

    The population along the Arbutus route is noticeably higher than along Cambie.
    There are significantly more businesses within easy walking distance of the Arbutus route than the Cambie route.
    Arbutus has 4 high schools and two community centres versus one high school, a college, a community centre and a mall on Cambie. Call that even.
    Cambie does have hospitals, but they’re not within walking distance of a station by most definitions.
    The southern end of the Arbutus route is closer to YVR meaning that airport to downtown travel time would be similar.
    Cambie is going to be force densified and much acrimony will result. Arbutus was already undergoing the transformation.
    Cambie is a few minutes faster for people coming from south of the city.

    Woohoo, one relatively unimportant victory for a line that cost far more than it should have, doesn’t (and may never) extend far enough south and cannot without massive upgrades ever carry enough passengers to justify even the original construction costs.

    Zweisystem replies: That about sums it up!

  4. voony Says:

    Yes David sums it up all.

    All the pros for arbutus are of local interest (high school, community college…)

    as opposed to regional one (College, hospitals, BTW, VGH is quite a piece of cake, sure it is a long walk, but just one bus stop away from Cambie)..and obviously forget to mention that Central Broadway Corridor is the second largest concentration of job in Lower Mainland (not after Arbutus, but after DownTown 😉

    “Cambie is a few minutes faster for people coming from south of the city”

    yes and that concerns also 200000 Richmonites, and still counting,…

    …ridership numbers speak for them

    PS: Why would you like extend to south: isn’t it important to preserve our agriculture land?

    Zweisystem replies: Voony, it is obvious you really have not read anything on the subject of public transport and lack any insight into ‘rail’ transit. Hospitals are poor generators of transit ridership and Langara students are using cheap tickets which are bankrupting TransLink. Your rhetoric is pure TransLink and it leaves me with the opinion that you are a TransLink troll, whose job is to misinform and pervert discussion.

    Now, if you are claiming 200,000 people used the RAV/Canada line yesterday, you are exaggerating the truth to such an extent, as it is to be unbelievable. Sorry old chum, you may be able to fool the people with your nonsense, but you can’t fool Zwei. Best return to Skyscraper where the rest of TransLink trolls wallow in self delusion.

  5. David Says:

    The portion of Central Broadway with the highest demand runs from slightly west of Arbutus to slightly east of Cambie. The Arbutus route is at one end, the Canada Line at the other. Same difference.

    I also noted places within “easy walking distance”. The key point being that no transfer to a bus is necessary. Like it or not, once a bus is needed to complete the journey the only passengers you’re going to get on your rail line are those who are willing to take a bus. That number is far smaller than those willing to ride a train or even a combination of trains.

    As for branching and extending farther south, the point is to take transit to the people, not force them to seek out a bus and transfer. Canada Line serves almost none of the 130,000 people who live in Richmond because it doesn’t go into any of the residential areas of the city. It dumps everyone in the commercial heart of Richmond and makes them wait there for a bus to get home. In cases where an area is served by two bus routes, passengers can’t simply wait in one spot and take the first bus that comes along because the two routes stop in different places. I’ve read plenty of complaints about that inconvenience.

    Somewhere I’ve read a post from voony that criticized the Seattle Link for trying to serve both local and long distance travellers with a single solution and failing both groups. That’s exactly what Vancouver has done wrong three times in a row. Light metro cannot serve both groups. We must stop TransLink and Victoria from making that mistake again.

    Rail for the valley proposes that the first service brought into operation be an express service that’s focused on a single group: the inter-city passenger. By utilizing existing freight railway lines and transitioning to on-street operations in town, the tram train offers high speed and convenience to the long distance traveller at low cost to the taxpayers.

    Rail for the valley proposes that local tram services branch out from the main line giving people an all-rail option for getting across town or across the entire region. While some tram lines would stay within the city to serve local travellers, others would operate as local lines in town and then switch to express operation on the main line giving people a zero-transfer service all the way from downtown Vancouver to low density residential neighbourhoods throughout the valley.

    Broadway LRT plus express all the way to Chilliwack and local branch lines in Surrey, Langley and Abbotsford could all be built for the price of the proposed UBC subway.

  6. David Says:

    Oh come on, Vonny’s comment about VGH being one stop away from Broadway-City Hall doesn’t mean you should actually _take_ the bus one stop; it’s an easy walk. http://maps.google.com/maps?hl=en&ie=UTF8&ll=49.262183,-123.119252&spn=0.003648,0.013733&z=17

    Zweisystem replies: Sad fact is, it is a very difficult walk for the elderly and the mobility impaired. In fact Zwei had to take his mother to VGH two times weekly for treatments for over a year. Driving was the only option and using a metro would have completely out of the question.

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