Friday, October 19, 2018

The Eastside Rail Corridor

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Eastside Rail Corridor Map

The Eastside Rail Corridor is an abandoned railway formerly owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF). The railway corridor stretches from Renton to the King County/Snohomish County border with a spur off of the mainline into Redmond. When BNSF abandoned the line in 2007, the right-of-way was sold to the Port of Seattle. King County made a subsequent deal with the Port of Seattle to swap Boeing Field for the railway corridor and then began to handover portions of the corridor to other jurisdictions and agencies like Kirkland, Redmond, and Sound Transit.

With freight service permanently suspended throughout most of the line, cities and agencies began to plan for alternative uses of the right-of-way. The two natural uses that standout for the right-of-way are transit or a regional trail. The City of Kirkland has already chosen to construct a trail using a segment within their jurisdiction. Trackage in Kirkland has already been removed in some places, but removal was delayed for a time due to a lawsuit by a freight company. Meanwhile, Sound Transit has already acquired a section stretching from NE 8th St to NE 16th St in Bellevue for the future East Link light rail line. Redmond also is working hard to construct their Central Connector.

Transit Potential

The transit potential for the line is generally poor. The ERC unfortunately largely bypasses key activity centers like downtown Bellevue, central Kirkland, and Factoria. By extension, this also means that density and development potential resulting from transit along the corridor is relatively low, short of significant land use changes. For instance, Sound Transit recently completed a corridor study that indicated that bus rapid transit on I-405 would be a much better investment for the corridor in the short-to-mid-term.

However, some parts of the ERC provide excellent connections between cities. In the segment from Renton to Bellevue, I-405 and the ERC basically follow the same linear path and never being at distance of more than 2,000 feet apart. Few density pockets exist along this segment of the ERC, except for Factoria–which neither the ERC or I-405 serve well. Should high-capacity transit be constructed between the two cities, it should deviate from the corridor of I-405/ERC to better serve the Renton Highlands, Newcastle, and Factoria.

A particular challenge for any reuse of the ERC is the Wilburton Trestle located in a segment between Factoria and the future Hospital Station for Link Light Rail (located at NE 8th St. in Bellevue). The trestle, as currently constructed, is not suitable for transit use because of the narrow width of the trestle. This alignment also suffers from its lack of direct access to downtown Bellevue–short of double-backing from Hospital Station, an option which is not particularly optimal for a light rail system.

Grandview Cut
The Grandview Cut, in Vancouver, is being used by both freight trains and SkyTrain’s millennium line. Photo by Arnold C via Wikipedia.

The best path between Bellevue and Kirkland would be a split for East Link. This junction could conceivably be located at Hospital Station. Trains could continue along the ERC to 7th Ave S (where Google’s Kirkland Campus stands) to reach downtown Kirkland. The benefit of this alignment is more than just downtown Kirkland. In this segment, the ERC jogs northwest toward downtown Kirkland meaning that it has the opportunity to directly serve both South Kirkland Park and Ride and the Houghton commercial district. These two activity centers have considerably more development potential than the entire I-405-running alingment. Meanwhile, it’s also conceivable that the ERC could be use for rapid transit from downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake, at which point the railway alignment could re-emerge to I-405. Trains could easily go express on I-405 in order to reach Bothell and Lynnwood.

In sum, the ERC’s best potential for high-capacity transit lies in Kirkland and portions of Bellevue while the remainder of the corridor simply is incapable of generating enough ridership to justify a heavy investment in HCT.

Choose Alternative 4 for the University District

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Editor’s Note: For a more in-depth primer on the University District Urban Design Framework, see our background article on the project.

Mixed Density in the U DistrictThis is a pivotal time for the University District. The neighborhood is undergoing many major changes, including a new light rail station, an improved Burke-Gilman Trail, expansion of the UW’s West Campus, and dozens of mixed use projects in the heart of the neighborhood. The University District will be growing rapidly over the next 20 years. As the light rail station opens, and the network expands to Lynnwood and Bellevue, the University District will only grow more important as an educational, shopping, employment, and residential center, for students and long-term residents alike.

Over the past few years, the Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been developing an urban design framework for the University District. The University District Urban Design Framework (UDUDF) will play a huge role in shaping the University District’s growth over the coming decades. DPD has proposed three alternatives for accommodating the University District’s expected growth. Alternative 1 would distribute housing and development throughout the neighborhood, with moderately taller buildings near the light rail station. Alternative 2 would focus development into high-rises around the light rail station, while making fewer changes to the rest of the neighborhood’s zoning. Alternative 3 would make no changes at all.

Between the two growth-friendly alternatives, Alternative 2 is the clear winner. High-rise development will make excellent use of the new light rail station, and new towers will not be out of place in the Seattle neighborhood with the two tallest buildings outside of downtown. Alternative 1 would lead to unnecessarily small buildings in the center of the neighborhood, which we would be stuck with for a very long time. Alternative 2 will likely preclude any mid-rise redevelopment of many properties on the neighborhood’s fringes, but a later rezone could fix that problem.

Having said that, we believe that the best approach would be a combination of these two alternatives. The combination, which we’ll call Alternative 4, would pair Alternative 1’s neighborhood-wide rezoning with Alternative 2’s high-density core. Alternative 4 would be able to accommodate additional towers and mid-rise development toward the center of the University District, while encouraging more modest redevelopment of underutilized and blighted low-rise properties along the fringes of the neighborhood. The neighborhood core could become a strong anchor for research and development organizations, local services, offices that serve the University of Washington, and any private businesses that want space outside of downtown Seattle. The University District’s convenient location and light rail access will make it a highly desirable place to live (even more than today); the more housing (and variety of housing types) that the neighborhood can accommodate, the better.

Alternative 4U District Alternative 2 Map

We urge you to express your support for Alternative 4 as the best possible approach, and Alternative 2 as the best approach in the existing UDUDF.

Whichever alternative(s) you support, please make sure to send your feedback to DPD. You can submit comments to the project planner, Dave LaClergue, through June 23, 2014.

UPDATE: For a high resolution version of Alternative 4, please download the PDF (courtesy of Oran Viriyincy).

University District Urban Design Framework

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U District FLU Map For the past few years, the Department of Planning and Development (DPD) has been developing a design framework for the University District. The University District Urban Design Framework (UDUDF) is a broad-based effort to revise and realign neighborhood plans, policies, and goals on transportation, land use, historic preservation, open space, greenhouse gases, and more. As part of the UDUDF effort, DPD has evaluated three different alternatives for accommodating the significant growth slated for the neighborhood in business, education, and housing (~14,000 new residents).

DPD will eventually recommend a specific set of preferred zoning changes to implement the framework’s policies and goals. The three alternatives are very different in how they accommodate growth. Alternative 1 moderately increases heights and encourages a greater mix of uses throughout the neighborhood. Alternative 2 encourages dense high-rise development toward the center of the neighborhood, while making modest changes in a few other portions of the neighborhood. Alternative 3 leaves the current zoning in place.

Seattle 2035: Key Directions Event

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Editor’s Note: In case you missed our previous coverage of Seattle 2035, check out our last article on the update process.

Seattle 2035

The Seattle Department of Planning and Development (DPD) will be holding an event next week to talk about the “key directions” to the Seattle 2035 Comprehensive Plan update. Essentially, key directions are themes like land use, transportation, housing, and the environment that DPD believes deserve a much more in depth discussion on. Policies and goals within these areas will be explored at the meeting. DPD will also give an update on the Seattle 2035 schedule, background on the Comprehensive Plan, and an overview of some changes that could make the Comprehensive Plan a much simpler document for the public to understand.

To keep things interesting, DPD wants the event to be active. Two food trucks (Athena’s and Quack Dogs) will be at the pavilion to dish out food to the masses while DPD will offer raffle tickets and prizes to participants. Interactive stations will be set up as well so that the public can identify and prioritize options for the Plan alternatives.

If you’re interested in helping to shape the future of Seattle, be sure to attend this active meeting opportunity at the Seattle Center. The event details are as follows:

Seattle 2035: Key Directions & Chow Down
Tuesday, 24 June
5.30pm-8pm
Next 50 Pavilion (North of the Monorail)
Seattle Center

Broadway Extension Open House Debrief

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Central Part

Last night, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) held an open house for the Broadway Streetcar. The project would extend the First Hill Streetcar to the north by an additional half mile, adding 2-3 new stops. It would also extend the Broadway cycletrack along the same route.

Much of the information about the project was repeated from previous open houses, but there were a few new tidbits of information:

  • The proposed terminus at E Prospect St will have a center lane platform, rather than a curbside platform supporting bidirectional traffic. Previous renderings showed a single lane extending past E Roy St riding in the shoulder.
  • The turn-around track will be placed in a center lane on 10th Ave E past E Prospect St, similar to the final stop on the SLU Streetcar.
  • North of E Roy St, the cycle track will split into two individual protected bike lanes, one on each side of the street.
  • North of the E Prospect St terminus, the bicycle lanes will revert to sharrows. The width of the center platform at E Prospect St precludes any protected bicycle lanes through that stretch.

For streetcar riders, the center platform will be a nicer experience than a one-sided terminus. Yet the width of the new design effectively precludes any protected bicycle lanes between E Roy St and E Prospect St. Many people would like to see a continuous cycletrack between Yesler Way and E Roanoke St. But unless the E Prospect St terminus is redesigned yet again, the new design makes the Broadway Streetcar (or at least its extension from E Roy St to E Prospect St) considerably less desirable for them.

Cross Sections

Full Size

Terminus Options

Event Reminder: Broadway Streetcar Extension Open House

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Broadway Streetcar ExtensionTonight from 6pm to 8pm there will be an open house for the Broadway Streetcar extension at Lowell Elementary. This will be an opportunity for the community to review the progress on the design and funding options for the extension. The Broadway extension will expand the First Hill Streetcar from its current terminus near Seattle Central Community College to at least Roy Street and potentially as far north as Prospect Street near Volunteer Park. Design of the final alignment is anticipated to be completed later this year.

Besides simply delivering a streetcar extension, SDOT will extend the Broadway Bikeway (a bi-directional cycletrack) parallel to the streetcar extension. For this reason bicycle advocates have also taken some in this project. Details about the selected track alignments and cycletrack will be presented along with funding options for the construction. Staff who are working on this project will also be on hand to answer questions that community members might have about the project.

We encourage our readers who have a interest in the streetcar, the cycletrack, or related developments to stop by this open house and find out more. And then afterward, drop by Roy Street Coffee & Tea (a 3-block walk) to meet up with other members of The Urbanist.

Broadway Streetcar Open House
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
6pm to 8 pm
Lowell Elementary Cafeteria
1058 E Mercer St

WSDOT’s Repair Plan for Bertha

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Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and their contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) went on a media blitz yesterday to explain their plans and progress to fix Bertha. If you’re not familiar with the saga, the short version is this: WSDOT launched the project 6 months delayed, their contractor busted the tunnel boring machine, then “fixed” it, then really busted it, and now they have a plan to really fix it this time–albeit over one year later.

Above is one of three videos that WSDOT pushed out yesterday on their effort to fix Bertha. The video gives a simplistic overview of how WSDOT will have STP dig the vertical shaft, remove and replace the TBM’s cutter head, and get Bertha moving again. WSDOT also posted videos the launch pit and the underground walls of the pit. And last night, they issued the following statement:

STP’s work plan, which is illustrated in a new animation, contains four major repair and enhancement elements:

  • Replacing the damaged seal system with a more robust system
  • Replacing the main bearing
  • Installing enhanced monitoring systems
  • Adding steel to strengthen the machine and accommodate the new seal system

Other major enhancements of the work plan include:

  • Widening the openings at the center of the cutterhead
  • Improving the soil conditioning injection system
  • Installing bit- and wear-resistant steel on the cutterhead
  • Extending the length of the agitator arms in the mixing chamber

“We are committed to the success of this project,” said Seattle Tunnel Partners Project Manager Chris Dixon. “We’re confident these repairs and enhancements will enable this machine to successfully tunnel beneath downtown Seattle. We won’t resume tunneling until we’re certain Bertha is up to the task.”

STP will provide WSDOT with additional supporting information about rebuilding the machine in the coming months, in accordance with the design-build contract, to demonstrate how the repairs will meet the contract’s performance and technical requirements, including:

  • An analysis demonstrating that the machine’s structure can withstand all loads from the surrounding ground and its own operation
  • Seal design details and background calculations
  • Design of revised conditioner injection systems and cutterhead openings
  • Updated operations plan including enhanced instrumentation and monitoring for key machine components

It probably comes as no surprise to many, but we strongly oppose the SR 99 tunneling project. Not because we don’t like tunnels, but because there’s a lot to lose. We have no doubt that WSDOT is committed to completing the project–at this point, it has to at any and all costs. But that means that we are making serious trades in order to accommodate a project that we just don’t need. And here’s why:

Unfortunately, WSDOT is literally toying with people’s lives, raiding very scarce transportation dollars, and making a skeptical electorate even more skeptical of state government. If it were up to us, we’d kill the project right now and use the monies saved on 21st Century transportation system instead.

Ambitious Training

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Ambitious training–Sound Transit is doing just that and in spades. With the unfurling of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) last week, ST’s leadership has given us urban/transit nerds a taste of what may be proposed in a future ST3 package.

2005 Current Plan Alternative

2005 LRPTo the right, we see the 2005 Current Plan Alternative map for light rail and high capacity transit (HCT) with the alignments outlined below.

Light Rail

Potential light rail corridors in the Current Plan Alternative.

A. Tacoma to Federal Way

B. Burien to Renton

C. Bellevue to Issaquah along I-901

D. Renton to Lynnwood along I-405

E. Renton to Woodinville along Eastside Rail Corridor

F. Downtown Seattle to Ballard1

G. Ballard to University of Washington1

H. Lynnwood to Everett

HCT (mode not specified)

K. University of Washington to Redmond via SR-5201

L. Northgate to Bothell on SR-522

1Portions of these corridors could be constructed in tunnels.

We’ve known for some time about most of these corridors, but what we didn’t know before was that some corridors could be constructed by tunnel. In the 2005 LRP, there was no mention of that potential. This gives further credence to the hopes that Downtown to Ballard and Ballard to the U District will in part, if not wholly, be achieved via tunneling. NW Seattle needs another route across the ship canal. And not just any new route, but one that is quick and hassle-free. Everyone in North Seattle can agree that going east-west, west-east is a pain considering the distance and inevitable congestion. Light rail in a tunnel mitigates both of these current pains.