King County Metro has begun preliminary design for RapidRide K connecting Totem Lake, Kirkland, Bellevue and Eastgate. Some details emerged in a pair of recent briefings in Kirkland and Bellevue.
The line is anticipated to open in 2025. As mapped in Metro Connects, the long range plan for expanding Metro service, the K Line would replace portions of route 255 from Totem Lake to the South Kirkland Park & Ride, current routes 234 and 235 between South Kirkland and the Bellevue Transit Center, and Route 271 between Bellevue Transit Center and Eastgate.
Planning for RapidRide K has funded by a WSDOT Regional Mobility Grant, and just over half the planned $90 million budget for capital improvements is covered by Metro local funds. The $43 million balance is expected from an FTA Small Starts grant. Metro intends to seek other grant funds and partnership opportunities for capital improvements that could support a more robust service. At the Bellevue Council meeting this week, Metro staff made clear that they will be looking for the cities to bring something to the table, and is not necessarily depending on the uncertain FTA process.
Suburban cities have mostly not provided supporting investments for RapidRide to the extensive degree seen in Seattle. However, Bellevue did contribute significantly to the RapidRide B implementation in 2009. An interlocal agreement committed Bellevue to implement transit signal priority and capital improvements with Metro promising 10,000 additional service hours in Bellevue.
Two route decisions appear in play in Bellevue. One is in downtown, where the route will operate through the transit center and Metro will be looking for the most efficient path.
The other is near Bellevue College area where Metro could greatly speed buses with a more direct route through campus. Today, buses make a slow and very circuitous path through the College. Metro, City of Bellevue and Bellevue College are working on a three party agreement to begin design on a roadway running about one mile along the west edge of campus between SE 24th St and the Eastgate Park & Ride. Each is contributing $100,000 to studying this option though construction remains unfunded. The study will include a land survey and preliminary design and engineering to establish estimated costs for the project so it can be readied for grant applications.
Planning in Kirkland is complicated by the interplay of the future RapidRide and Metro 255. To avoid duplication, the 255 and RapidRide will not follow the same pathway. Awkwardly, Metro 255 has many more riders than the routes being replaced by RapidRide, perhaps making the prospect of RapidRide service unwelcome to riders who prefer their direct Seattle service over better service to Bellevue. With this in mind, there are two major alignment decisions within Kirkland.
Between South Kirkland and Downtown, the options are to serve the current 255 pathway on 108th Ave and 6th St, or to serve the 234/235 pathway along Lake Washington Blvd to Lakeview Blvd and State St. The 108th pathway serves more destinations, but the Lake Washington path is a little faster. The city appears to favor having RapidRide on 108th and shifting 255 to Lake Washington Blvd.
North of downtown, the long range plan indicated RapidRide would serve Market St to NE 124th St. Metro 255 would be truncated so it only operates between downtown Kirkland and UW station. Acknowledging that wouldn’t be well-received, the city favors an alternative RapidRide alignment following Central Way to NE 85th St to 124th Ave NE, and Metro 255 remaining unchanged on Market St.
(Metro briefly considered a third alternative with a Redmond terminus similar to the recently approved Metro 250 route. It was dropped from consideration earlier this summer before serious planning commenced).
Having 255 and RapidRide both serve Totem Lake would consume service hours not anticipated in Metro Connects even if they are on distinct pathways. This complicates the math of finding hours for RapidRide service.
Initial analysis found similar ridership and equity and social justice performance across the Kirkland options for RapidRide. Travel time and an analysis of destinations and activity centers narrowly favor the 108th Ave path south of downtown and the 124th Ave path north of downtown. In each pair of options, most destinations are at the points where they overlap, so the differences in analysis are not so large.
At Monday’s Bellevue Council meeting, Bellevue Mayor John Chelminiak praised the initiative as an opportunity to implement the ‘abundant access’ principles of the Bellevue transit master plan. He also delivered some timely warnings. The Bellevue transit center will be unable to handle every single bus as transit to downtown becomes more frequent, making it more important that transit be prioritized on other nearby streets. Chelminiak also warned about the effect of congestion in Kirkland on RapidRide performance. Many streets there are severely congested, particularly in the evening rush hour. “Working with the City of Kirkland will be really important and perhaps a difficult discussion to have with Kirkland”.
Metro is targeting a preferred alignment by late 2020 so the alignment ordinance can be transmitted to the County Council in January 2021. An FTA Small Starts grant application could then follow in August 2021.