Point/Counterpoint: Does Kirkland need an ST3 transit investment? By Dan Ryan

Kirkland Views is hosting a series of three online debates about the future of the Cross Kirkland Corridor and public transportation. David Greschler (SaveOurTrail.org) and Dan Ryan (KirklandPlaces.com) will present opposing arguments on these pages. The purpose of this series is to enhance the public understanding of complex issues. Your comments are welcome below each article.

Read the opposing argument here.

Dan Ryan

Dan Ryan

Next month, Sound Transit will reveal the draft system plan for the ST3 ballot measure. At about the same time, King County Metro will reveal its Long Range Plan. Taken together, we'll have a complete view of how transit will develop in Kirkland and the region over coming decades.
The roadmaps will show:

  • Sound Transit’s complete regional rail and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. This will include transit on the Eastside Rail Corridor between Bellevue and Kirkland, connecting up to six of Kirkland’s busiest neighborhoods to the regional system. It will also include BRT on I-405 linking Totem Lake to points north and south.
  • Metro’s plan for improved bus service across King County, including Rapid Ride service on major routes, and more frequent service between more destinations, including many in Kirkland.

These come against the background of rapid growth everywhere in the region. Last year, the region added 63,000 people and 76,000 jobs. Kirkland has added 1,300 residents a year since 2010. Growth is welcome in many ways, but one also sees impacts in traffic congestion and housing unaffordability as new residents take on ever-longer commutes.

How will people move around a busier region? The good news is that transit use is growing twice as fast as population. Last year alone, Kirkland’s busiest bus route, Metro 255, grew ridership by 9%, and Metro is adding peak-hour buses to relieve over-crowding.

Building the regional rail and BRT network is the work of two decades or more. At first, Metro will take the lead to accommodate increased ridership in Kirkland. But there are limits to what can be achieved with buses sitting in the same traffic as every other car on the road. Look out two decades into the future and we know we need to do more.

The higher capacity transit that Sound Transit is building will deliver greater speed, reliability, and frequency. Rail, or BRT in its own right of way, will connect Kirkland to the region. 

Our two-lane arterials are not a solution that will work as the city grows. They hardly work today, for cars or buses. Even the transit fans among us know the pain of a long wait for a slow bus. Or a bus that is late because it got stuck in traffic.

The better transit works, the greater the number of people who will use it. The city can grow without choking on congestion. Kirkland benefits from all the regional investments – most Kirkland workers commute into Seattle and Bellevue. But we’ll benefit more with high quality transit connections of our own.

I sometimes meet people who know me as a writer on transit issues, and they’re surprised to hear that I drive to work more often than I take the bus. My car gets me there in half the time of today’s bus. I’m not an advocate for slow buses. We’ve outgrown the era when that was good enough. We need to make transit a great choice for more people.

David Greschler

David Greschler

I agree with Dan. If buses moved faster, more people would use them.

But as I said in my initial write-up, an old freight railway path that completely misses downtown Kirkland is not going to solve that problem. 

In fact, going from Totem Lake to the Bellevue Transit using BRT on the Trail will take 35 minutes.

How is this possible? Just look at details of Sound Transit’s BRT plans. Half the time it uses existing roadways, which gets you back to the slow bus problem:

Click to enlarge

- Its first two stops use existing roads to reach Kingsgate and Totem Lake.

- It then has one stop on the Trail at 112th

- It then uses existing roads again when it goes off the trail onto 85th street and Central Way and drives into the Kirkland Transit Center.  

- Then it continues using the existing roads up Kirkland Way where it crosses 6th street to 9th street to get back on the Trail so that it can backtrack to 6th street for its fifth stop. (I’m sure it would be lot faster to take a right on 6th)

- Then it heads to South Kirkland to the Park and Ride (which most people use to go into Seattle, not Bellevue) and then into Bellevue.

If you lived near Totem Lake would you take this to Bellevue? Not likely. Today if you take the 535 ST Express bus from Totem Lake at the height of morning rush hour at 8:35 am, you’ll get to the Bellevue Transit Center at 8:47 am – only 12 minutes!

This is my point: a north/south corridor sounds great in theory. But when you look at the details, you realize this one doesn’t go anywhere useful for a bus or light rail.