Eastside transportation: putting the pedal (bike trails) to the metal (rail transit)
All manner of modes of transport received a boost on the Eastside. The future is coming together for bike riders, light rail and commuter trains.
Times editorial columnist
All the heavy lifting under way to promote and provide Eastside transportation options received some welcome jolts of energy.
The announcement Tuesday of Google’s expansion of its Kirkland campus nicely complements city plans to build an interim bicycle trail on 5.75 miles of the Eastside rail corridor.
Earlier in the day, Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett repeated the city’s commitment to a future dual use — rail and trail — on the section of the corridor purchased by the city. Voters last November approved money for trail construction.
Google’s new corporate landscape acknowledges the future dual use, with a skybridge over the rail corridor.
Triplett emphasizes the rail bed will stay in place. The 8-to-10-foot-wide bike path will be covered with crushed rock. It’s a sliver of space in the 100-foot-wide corridor. For the trail, the operative word is interim.
Rails and ties are, however, coming up, and that is not good news for the Eastside TRailways Alliance, co-chaired by Snohomish Mayor Karen Guzak and Woodinville City Councilman Les Rubstello.
The new alliance is promoting two ideas that ultimately rely on the Kirkland piece of the rail corridor staying in place. The first initiative seeks to raise $6.2 million to improve the tracks and bridges between Woodinville and Snohomish.
Guzak explains the dinner-train concept would be reinvented with a “tasting train” of local produce and wines. Reviving freight traffic is a goal. Part two would be a “temporary repurposing” of the corridor to haul construction material and equipment, and demolition debris that could be recycled for trail construction.
For Guzak and others, Kirkland’s bike trail creates a gap for both tourist promotion and commuter access that could ultimately loop all the way to Everett.
The basic tension is between the Eastside TRailways Alliance, which has a grand vision, and the city of Kirkland, which has a plan in place and is moving ahead.
Farther south, the Bellevue City Council is still basking in the rosy glow of a rare 7-0 council vote to approve a land-use overlay for the Sound Transit light-rail alignment through the city.
The overlay was a work in progress for months. It incubated in an ad hoc three-member panel of the council, and eventually took final form through multiple staff and council revisions.
The final document eliminates what some saw as calculated delays, speeds up property acquisitions and provides design guidelines. A big project with lots of land-use and code-compliance issues will now have a measure of predictability and certainty.
The land-use overlay keeps light-rail plans moving ahead for Bellevue and literally down the line, toward Redmond.
Last Friday, a federal court ruling knocked aside another potential impediment. A lawsuit brought by an amalgam of interests, operating as Building a Better Bellevue and Friends of Enatai, suffered a judicial smackdown.
The lawsuit alleged various violations of federal law, and went after federal transportation agencies and Sound Transit.
U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour barely gave the lawsuit a medium hello. His 20-page opinion is a wholesale rebuke that basically said the plaintiffs got it all wrong.
For example, the plaintiffs asserted Sound Transit had unreasonably avoided consideration of other transit modes, such as bus rapid transit, that might have had fewer environmental impacts.
“This argument is a non-starter,” the judge wrote. “The choice of light rail over bus service was the result of years of analysis and deliberation.”
So it went through pages of the judge’s brisk ruling.
The Eastside is ripe for transportation options. Small steps translate into big strides.
Lance Dickie's column appears regularly on editorial pages of The Times. His email address is email@example.com