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Thoughts on 520 and consultant report

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I wanted to share some thoughts on the consultant report while they are fresh on my mind. 

  • Require that the state manage 520  to maintain Seattle’s standard of performance.  I propose requiring that the HOV lanes move at a minimum of 45mph during rush hour 95% of the time, and we require the state to report back to us on the performance every three months.  If the performance drops below the standard in any quarter, the state would be required to take mandatory action within six months, such as increasing the toll or HOV requirement until the performance standard is met.
  • Design 520 for future light rail.  We heard the consultant say WSDOT is currently interpreting the light rail-ready language to mean that it may require massive retrofitting at a some point in the future.  This is completely unacceptable to me.  If this is a 75 – 100 year plan, we should insist that the corridor is designed with the assumption that future light-rail will be built.
  • Never  more than 6 lanes in the corridor. The state needs to agree to permanently freeze 520 into 6 lanes, including future BRT and light rail alignments. At no time in the future should the bridge be widened or restriped to accommodate more than six lanes.
  • Reduce the number of lanes dedicated to on- and off-ramps.  The urban interchange is an improvement over the slip lanes, but it is still massive. The current seven lanes is already a pedestrian no-man’s land, and increasing it to eight lanes of traffic crossing Montlake at 520 is a design only Kemper Freeman would love (see NE 8th and Bellevue way).  For Westbound 520 at Montlake, three off-ramps lanes would replace the one current lane. How many cars does the state expect to dump onto our streets?  Today, we heard the consultant say much of this is designed as storage to avoid back-ups on 520.  Rather than building new lanes, we should ask the state to develop a demand management plan that would accommodate the following: No more than two westbound off ramp lanes, two eastbound on ramps lanes, with one lane designated for HOV on both, and one lane westbound general purpose on-ramp, and one lane eastbound off ramp for general purpose traffic to and from I-5 at Montlake.  We should also ask for specifics on how they would manage demand such that a 4 lane portage bay viaduct would work.

Working within the state’s time frame and moving forward with pontoon construction is important, but it is not as important as getting this 75-100 year project right from the beginning.  I am certain that if we put our collective political will behind a better design for Seattle,  we can achieve our goals within a reasonable timeline.  We need to ensure that no one is using the EIS process as an excuse to build a bridge that doesn’t work for Seattle.

The Council is holding a special meeting on Thursday night in chambers from 5:30-8:00 PM. Sign up for public comment starts at 5 PM, but doesn’t begin until 6:15 PM, after the consultant’s presentation. I hope to see you there.


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Comment from Bill Bradburd
Time April 6, 2010 at 12:33 am

Mike, 520 is a bad corridor for a major light rail investment. Between UW and Microsoft there is absolutely nothing worth serving with transit on the corridor. Overlake is already getting light rail, so why build more on 520.

Bus service is way more flexible to branch out and serve all the various suburban places on the east side.

Light rail costs too much per mile.

Dedicated BRT/HOV lanes with dedicated ramp to the UW light rail station. And please, no arboretum exit.

And as others have advocated – MSFT needs to start adding high density housing around its campus.

(but truth be known, my heart’s with the ‘let it sink’ crowd.)

Comment from Mike O’Neill
Time April 6, 2010 at 4:18 pm

When did Microsoft become a government agency responsible for building high density housing? Microsoft doesn’t control the Redmond and Bellevue Zoning and Planning Boards. If Microsoft did, I suspect the company would have allowed construction of office buildings taller than three or four stories to make the campus more dense and compact. The municipality of Redmond is the cause of this.

Nor does Microsoft own the land surrounding it. And frankly, I think Microsoft shareholders would have grounds for a very winnable lawsuit if Microsoft broke away from its core business–building software–and turned into a real estate management company, buying up surrounding land and building residential properties for its employees (which couldn’t be much taller than the buildings already surrounding campus due to Redmond’s zoning restrictions). Besides, MSFT employees like me who want to live in high density housing already do: in Capitol Hill, Belltown, Queen Anne and downtown. We have absolutely no desire to live in the middle of nowhere in Redmond, even if it is in a taller building. Which couldn’t be built anyway.

The right thing to demand of Microsoft is to address the most important factor in transportation mode choice: free parking. Make the parking paid, and provide a subsidy (tied, of course, to our travel planning system so you don’t get the parking subsidy if you’re out of town). Drivers who take the bus or bike or carpool once or twice a week would keep the cash. This would be much cheaper in the long run than building another 5,000-space underground parking garage (at a likely $200 million to $300 million price tag).

As to the alignment of light rail, taking light rail from points just north and south of the UDistrict where most of Microsoft’s thousands of Seattle employees live (not to mention the employees of the many companies with which we do business) would result in a ride of 20 or so minutes, as opposed to forty or more looping south through downtown, back through Bellevue and into Redmond. That’s not a recipe for success, making a transit line take as long or longer than a drive in an SOV.

Comment from Bill Bradburd
Time April 6, 2010 at 9:31 pm

@Mike– Sadly, I misrepresented my point re MSFT – there should be higher density housing around MSFT – and all major employment centers. If our future “wise” advocates can ask for density around light rail stops, the MSFT campus should not be exempt. Up zoning seems to be the practice here in Seattle…

As for someone (the thousands) who lives remote from their workplaces, this is the root of the car and congestion problem. A “choice” to live someplace remote from their work produces a commute problem. Period.

Here in the city we are being sold on TOD as bright future of vibrant centers of culture, retail, restaurants – a place to live and play just a rail ride or walk away from work. That should be the future for the area around MSFT as well, right.

Demanding that the region build transit to service the needs of the employees of one company (and its suppliers) seems to not quite right – verging on corporate welfare. Maybe MSFT and its employees should contribute more towards that alignment via a heavy parking tax as you suggest. And Sound Transit could sell naming rights.

Either that or we go with a more efficient BRT model – certainly a more prudent approach to serving the unfortunate distance between Capitol Hill and Redmond, and passing through the environmental and exclusive enclaves the route would need to traverse.

As for the longer ride using the existing alignment on I-90, I do not feel much sympathy. Let alone the feeling that we should spend a billion dollars to fix it…

Comment from Mike O’Neill
Time April 7, 2010 at 5:13 pm

@Bill: Do you use mass transit yourself?

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