About this blog

My name is Bill Hirt and I'm a candidate to be a Representative from the 48th district in the Washington State legislature. My candidacy stems from concern the legislature is not properly overseeing the WSDOT and Sound Transit East Link light rail program. I believe East Link will be a disaster for the entire eastside. ST will spend 5-6 billion on a transportation project that will increase, not decrease cross-lake congestion, violates federal environmental laws, devastates a beautiful part of residential Bellevue, creates havoc in Bellevue's central business district, and does absolutely nothing to alleviate congestion on 1-90 and 405. The only winners with East Link are the Associated Builders and Contractors of Western Washington and their labor unions.

This blog is an attempt to get more public awareness of these concerns. Many of the articles are from 3 years of failed efforts to persuade the Bellevue City Council, King County Council, east side legislators, media, and other organizations to stop this debacle. I have no illusions about being elected. My hope is voters from throughout the east side will read of my candidacy and visit this Web site. If they don't find them persuasive I know at least I tried.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Case Against East Link

I emailed BCC this information rather than presenting at a "extended session" council meeting because it exceeded their 3 minute limitation on public comments.   My intent was to explain in detail why they should use their permitting process to stop East Link.  They never responded.

The Case Against East Link
East Link began more than 30 years ago when studies aimed at improving cross-lake commuting all agreed to add a 4th lane to the outer bridges.  Sound Transit’s East Link program divides the resulting 10 lanes into inbound and outbound light rail on the center bridge and an HOV lane and 3 general-purpose lanes on the outer bridges.
The number of riders each lane can accommodate is based on three factors: the frequency of the various traffic modes, their capacity, and their accessibility.  Light rail is deficient in all three.   Sound Transit has stipulated that light rail trains will have a minimum of 7 minutes between subsequent trains.  Each light rail train will have a maximum of 4 cars, each with 74 seats.
East Links biggest problem is lack of access.  Most 1-90 cross-lake commuters who wish to ride light rail will have to drive to the South Bellevue P&R, find a place to park, wait to get on a crowded train car where they will inevitably be forced to stand during the ride into Seattle.   As with Central Link, Sound Transit may decide to terminate some cross-lake bus routes at the South Bellevue P&R to boost light rail ridership.  It’s doubtful either option will attract many commuters.
Sound Transit neglected to seriously consider dividing the center bridge into inbound and outbound bus only lanes.  A bus only lane can easily accommodate 20 buses per minute (3 sec intervals).  This cross-lake capacity would allow new express bus routes between every eastside P&R and one or two dedicated drop off points on 4th Ave for morning commuters with one or two pick-up points on 2ndAve for the afternoon return routes. (Both 4th and 2nd Ave would be restricted to buses only during the peak commute hours to facilitate this service.)   The lack of intermediate stops would allow each bus to make 4 trips into and out of Seattle during the peak 3-hour morning and afternoon commutes.   Again, current routes would continue for those wishing access to or from intermediate stops.
Every morning two dozen express buses could reduce congestion throughout eastside by allowing an additional 6500 riders to leave their cars in P&Rs near where they live.  From their they would have a 15 minute ride directly into the city to drop-off points near where they work and have a similar return commute.  The number of express buses required for each P&R would be determined by surveying cross-lake commuters and could easily grow to meet future demand.  The entire eastside would benefit from the reduced traffic from those who switch to buses.  Seattleites would have express routes from designated pick-up points on 2nd Ave or other locations in Seattle to the Bellevue Transit Center. (other destinations if needed however 520 routes may be better for Redmond area)
The only limitation to future ridership will be a shortage of parking spaces.   Over the short term riders could be encouraged to car pool or be dropped off.   Shuttle buses could also provide rides from surrounding areas.  Over longer term current P&Rs could be expanded and new P&Rs added.
Sound Transit recently convinced a Kittitas judge to allow them to install light rail on the center bridge with claims adding a fourth lane to the outer bridge for buses and other HOV traffic would eliminate the need to use the center bridge for highway purposes.   Yet Sound Transit tells voters they need to spend billions and years installing light rail because a single lane on the center bridge doesn’t have enough capacity for buses let alone buses and HOV traffic.  Which is it?   Either the bus lanes have the capacity and light rail isn’t needed or they don’t have the capacity and the center bridge is needed for highway purposes. 
Sound Transit’s promises for fourth lane capacity on the outer bridge also raise another question.   Why didn’t they add the lane 15 years ago?  The cost would have been minimal and cross-lake commuters, particularly “reverse commuters”, would have benefited immediately.  Instead, Sound Transit just recently completed the Bellevue/Mercer Island portion and currently intends to delay the cross-lake portion until 2016.  
Their failure to add the HOV lane to the outer bridge has made it impossible to divide the center bridge into inbound and outbound bus only lanes.   Sound Transit has effectively blocked bus lanes that could have reduced congestion for cross-lake commuters and alleviated congestion throughout eastside.   Congestion that has only increased from commuters avoiding tolls on 520.
Sound Transit’s plans for installing light rail in South Bellevue would seem to violate federal environmental laws.  They currently plan on tearing out hundreds of trees and thousands of shrubs along Bellevue Way and 112th Ave to install light rail tracks and 5000-volt power lines.  Part of that route encroaches on the Mercer Slough Park. Federal law prohibits such encroachment unless there is no “feasible or prudent” alternative.  No one can reasonably argue the two-way bus only lanes on the center bridge don’t provide a “feasible or prudent” alternative.
Sound Transit plans for Bellevue business district are problematic.  They’re currently asking Bellevue to pay an additional 200 million for routing light rail through a tunnel rather than on surface streets.  Even with the extra funding the area would be forced to endure 5-6 years of disruption from all the activity associated with a huge trench running though city. 
Bellevue residents will have access to light rail at South Bellevue P&R, two stations in central business district, one station near hospital and two stations in Bel Red area.  The only station with a large area for parking is the South Bellevue station.  Most potential riders will have to live within walking distance of the stations or have some other means of getting there.  South Bellevue residents have not responded favorably to having light rail within walking distance in their neighborhood.  The non-parking stations may provide access to Bellevue from other areas, however few Bellevue residents will likely benefit. 
Bellevue already has good bus service.  In the morning, ST 550 leaves the South Bellevue P&R every 6 or 7 minutes, stops in Mercer Island and 1-90 in Seattle, and reaches International District in 13-14 minutes.   From there it makes stops on demand along 4th Avenue.  The bus returns along 2ndAve with the same stops to P&R before continuing to Bellevue T/C and beyond.
Current light rail schedules predict a 15-minute transit time between P&R and International District. Current bus transit times could be reduced because bus only lanes would allow direct bus service from Bellevue T/C, South Bellevue, and Mercer Island, eliminating intermediate stops.  Seattleites would benefit because of the express bus routes directly to and from the Bellevue T/C.  
Again, current routes would be maintained though some may be replaced with express routes during peak commutes.  East Link’s primary result will be Bellevue residents with access to light rail could choose to switch from buses.  Many may choose not to do so, preferring to sit on a bus rather than face the high probability of being forced to stand on a train.
Sound Transit proponents’ claims light rail would enhance development of the Bel-Red area are also problematic.  A South Lake Union type of streetcar system would be far less expensive, far less intrusive, and far more esthetically attractive.  It could run from 116th to 140th at street level with a transit center on 116th for access to buses.  (Similar to hospital station proposed by Sound Transit)   It would have far more stops for increased accessibility and also have the ability to easily adjust to local demand.
South Bellevue opposition to light rail through their neighborhood belies claims it will attract residents to an area.   Potential residents may also be deterred by Sound Transit plans for a large area set aside for employee parking, over-nighting of trains, and a large maintenance facility.   
In conclusion, East Link has been a disaster for cross-lake commuters and eastside congestion.  Fifteen years ago Sound Transit could have moved the HOV traffic to a fourth lane on the outer bridge and implemented inbound and outbound bus lanes on the center bridge.  The costs would have been minimal and all cross-lake commuters, but particularly “reverse” commuters would have benefitted.  As described earlier, the two-way bus lanes could have enabled improved public transit for all commuters and reduced congestion throughout eastside.
Instead Sound Transit chose to delay the HOV lane addition until 2016 when they shut down the center bridge to install light rail, making it impossible to ever implement the two-way bus lanes.  They convinced a judge the HOV lanes would be able to accommodate all the bus and HOV traffic.   However, every 2-person car pool vehicle reduces the lanes bus capacity.  Ten such vehicles every minute would halve the number of buses crossing the lake.  In the end Sound Transit will probably force the HOV traffic onto the other three lanes, slowing traffic for all the other commuters.
After 6-7 years of this outer bridge congestion, Sound Transit will complete light rail construction and initiate cross-lake service.   However, as described earlier light rail doesn’t have the capacity or the accessibility to accommodate a significant number of cross-lake commuters.  The vast majority of riders will probably be those who used to ride the bus.  Thus light rail operation will have a miniscule affect on outer bridge congestion.
The bottom line is Sound Transit intends to spend the next ten or more years spending 6-7 billion on a transportation system that will needlessly increase congestion across Lake Washington and do absolutely nothing to reduce congestion on 405 or 1-90.  The devastation it wrecks on Bellevue ruins the ambience of those who live near it and probably violates federal environmental law.  If there was ever a project that completely fails any sort of cost/benefit rationale, East Link is it.  Sound Transit needs to be “persuaded” to complete the cross-lake outer bridge modification and initiate two-way bus service on the center bridge as soon as practicable.  It’s the least they can do to for the areas commuters.
Bill Hirt
26115 170th SE
Bellevue, WA 98008

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