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Regional leaders ask for more time to find Northgate bike/walk bridge funding

A possible bridge design. Image from SDOT.
A possible bridge design. Image from SDOT.
Signatures on the letter. See the full text below.
Signatures on the letter. See the full text below.

A group of regional elected leaders, including two members of the Sound Transit Board — Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien and King County Councilmember Larry Phillips — have asked the agency to disregard the July 2015 funding deadline for the Northgate bike/walk bridge, Publicola reports. After the project failed to win a competitive TIGER grant from the Federal government, it appeared doubtful that full funding for the project would be secured before the deadline.

With more time, the group of leaders says they are “confident” the city and region will find the funding to complete it. From their letter:

Because the bridge would shorten the distance from the future light rail station to North Seattle College by almost a mile, Sound Transit staff estimated that this bridge would increase its light rail ridership by 5 percent.1 Ridership would likely increase for King County Metro as well and increase the transit-oriented development potential in the area. The bridge will cost about 1 percent of the construction cost for the Northgate Link Extension.

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With additional time and greater focus from city and regional leaders, we are confident we can find the remaining funding necessary to construct the Northgate Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge. Potential funding sources include new and greater commitments from Northgate stakeholders; cost-savings from a smaller parking garage; regional, state, and federal grant opportunities; and the cost-savings from the University Link Extension.

We have reported many times on why the Northgate bike/walk bridge is a smart investment, both for the neighborhood and for regional transportation. It would dramatically expand the number of homes, jobs and classrooms within an easy walk or bike ride from the planned light rail station.

It would also provide a rare comfortable crossing of I-5, which cuts a giant trench through the city and creates a terrible impediment to biking and walking. The crossings that do exist are often very uncomfortable and flanked by dangerous highway on-ramps, like this one:

Image from SDOT.
Image from SDOT.

It’s going to take a lot of work for Northgate to become the vibrant walkable and bikeable neighborhood it could be, but this bridge is a huge piece of that puzzle.

In the original deal, Sound Transit pledged $5 million for the bridge project if Seattle matched their funding and if complete funding were secured by July 2015, a deadline that, in terms of major project funding, is approaching fast. If funding is not secured, Sound Transit pledged to spend their $5 million on other biking and walking access projects instead.

But that funding deadline was originally set to ensure that a connection from the station to the bridge could be properly included, the letter says. That initial design work has been completed since the deal was made and the station connection has been accounted for. Since that issue no longer requires a quick deadline, it should be dropped so there is more time to find the rest of the funding.

If funding is found quickly, original schedules said the bridge could be complete by early 2018, years before the station opens in 2021. Obviously, delayed funding could push the bridge opening back.

A TIGER grant would have been awesome, but winning such a competitive grant on the first try was a bit of a Hail Mary. And now that the recent Federal budget deal cuts TIGER even further, it would be wise for the region to come up with a Plan B for funding the project.

A sea of parking surrounding Northgate Mall.
A sea of parking surrounding Northgate Mall.

Sound Transit is planning a giant parking garage that would cost tens of millions of dollars even though the station will essentially be in the middle of a sea of surface parking lots surrounding the mall. Perhaps the garage could be cut back to find extra funds for the bridge. After all, without the bridge more neighbors will be compelled to drive and park in the garage (or, of course, not take light rail at all).

The city’s next transportation package could also be a chance to include funding for the bridge. Bridging the Gap expires at the end of 2015, but there is still a whole lot of work left to do on Seattle streets. Other regional and state grants might also be good options for completing funding.

Here’s the full text of the letter:

Northgate Bridge 2014Dec19 ToSTboard by tfooq

Related posts:


20 responses to “Regional leaders ask for more time to find Northgate bike/walk bridge funding”

  1. Josh

    How much could good bike/ped access reduce the demand for parking at the station?

    Not everyone will bicycle, of course, but if the garage is modified to provide excellent bicycle parking (covered, secure, well-lit) near the station, could the garage not serve just as many *people* with fewer parking stalls for cars?

    One of the serious blights of most Sound Transit facilities is the complete lack of commerce on-site. (What other country would tolerate transit centers without coffee and news on the platform?) Bike parking should at least include bike-oriented vending machines – spare tubes, cheap plastic ponchos for people who didn’t expect rain, copies of the local bike maps…

    Give bicycles something close to the level of service we provide motorists, and you’ll see more people on bikes, fewer cars needing garage space, and all the other health and economic benefits that go with that change.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I love that commerce idea, Josh. If ST created space for businesses at stations, I wonder how long it would take for some entrepreneur to start selling bike stuff like that. Probably not long :-)

    2. Charles B

      One of the biggest benefits of this bridge would be to offer quick access to shopping on the other side of the bridge with a safe crossing point. Right now the crossing at busy freeway on ramps leaves many people feeling like they have no choice but to drive by car to places.

      This would also increase demand for shopping options on both sides of the freeway as people could walk back and forth safely without a car to shop. This could also reduce some of the local demand for car based shopping trips, especially on sunny days.

      1. RossB

        I agree. This is being put in because of the light rail, but it would be good for a bunch of reasons. If you work on one side and live on the other, it makes your (walking) commute a good one. Likewise with shopping or medical appointments.

    3. RDPence

      I’m quite confident that all transit parking at Northgate will be full to capacity within a matter of weeks, if not days, after opening for service. Like the Tukwila International Blvd Station parking lot, only on steroids. Persistent ongoing congestion on I-5 through north Seattle will force a shift to the train, and many of those motorists (like it or not) will be looking for places to park their car.

      So don’t be thinking of reducing parking demand by adding the bike/ped bridge. The real world doesn’t operate that way.

      1. Breadbaker

        I think you’re misconstruing the idea of reducing demand. Right now, people who attend North Seattle or live near it, if they want to go to Northgate and/or Northgate Transit Center, basically have to drive (the photograph accompanying the article is a bit misleading; the worse part of the onramp is on the west side of I-5, just about where the photo was shot; walking or biking through it is dangerous 24/7, even in bright sunlight and dry pavement, neither of which we have a lot of right now). Yet these people live or attend school quite near to Northgate and the Transit Center. Yes, their places in the parking lots and garages might be taken instead by commuters and shoppers from further north, but turning Northgate into a place they can access the way I can just walk five blocks to my local QFC is a serious win for everyone regardless.

      2. Josh

        If anything that costs tens of thousands of dollars is given away free, you’ll probably find plenty of takers. That doesn’t mean you should design your transit system around perpetual giveaways of expensive resources.

        Many of those people choose to be motorists because there’s plenty of free parking available at the train. If there isn’t free parking available, they don’t quit their jobs and stay home. They find other ways to get to transit, or they find other jobs closer to home, or other homes closer to work, or put up with the congestion on I-5.

        To the extent we can optimize efficient use of public financing, we can serve more people by encouraging people to take the lower-cost solution.

        Another obvious choice that’s rarely used around here is to charge for parking at transit center garages. Not enough to cover the cost, of course, that would be prohibitive, but enough to encourage people to consider alternatives.

        I used to pay monthly for parking by the Auburn Sounder station. Not a huge fee, just enough that there were always permit spaces available, which saves the time to drive around and find free parking. (Then, when my car was in the shop for a few weeks, I realized that, living only four miles away, it was faster to bike straight to the platform than to drive, park, and walk to the platform.)

        You’ll never get everyone to bike, of course, but it’s certainly reasonable to shift 5-10% of commuters within a 4-mile radius from cars to bikes.

      3. Transit parking all over greater Seattle fills up every morning. There are lots of places we could build parking spaces where they’d be used, immediately, on a large percentage of weekdays — TIBS, South Bellevue, Mercer Island, Northgate, Lynnwood, even Edmonds’ and Puyallup’s Sounder stations. We could buy transit rides by way of parking spaces, two per weekday per stall.

        But where are the most-used transit stations? Not just in Seattle, but around the world? They’re in places that are surrounded by destinations and homes, where the use of transit is supported by the attractiveness of walking between those destinations and those homes and the stations in every combination. They’re in places where when you walk down the street you feel like you’re somewhere. That’s greater Seattle’s greatest shortage, not parking spaces. A pedestrian bridge over I-5 is not enough to get Northgate there. But because it brings the homes and college west of I-5 closer to the major retail, offices, and homes east of I-5, it’s part of the infrastructure Northgate needs to move that way long-term. Part of what will make pedestrian access from all sides a priority for new developments. That’s what will move the needle for transportation sustainability. Even as people accustomed to driving everywhere make lots of noise about P&R capacity transit ridership depends more on land use and walkability.

        The real world needs fewer long commutes. The real world needs pedestrian errands to be convenient. For public safety and health, for the environment, for social justice, for infrastructure maintenance costs. In the real world Sound Transit is hell-bent on building a light-rail spine all the way from Everett to Tacoma, and even if it runs out of public support before it gets there it’s already committed to build a lot of stations near I-5, most of which make Northgate look like Manhattan. A transit line serving a string of nothing-but-P&R stations is an extraordinarily limited system, a waste of the real-world money and effort we’re all spending on it. We can’t afford to miss any opportunity to invest in a walkable Northgate, and that’s more important than any amount of parking we could ever build.

        That last bit about importance might sound like a value judgment but I think there’s a difference of kind in play. Transit parking is a fungible good. It can be offered on any nearby land and (especially if we take off our Seattle blinders and look at the wider world) by any land owner. A walkable public realm is a common good. It requires comprehensive public infrastructure (but mostly pretty simple infrastructure unless you have to deal with stuff like freeways in the way) as a baseline, and depends on various private actions as well. Actually even the fungibility of parking is greatly enhanced by a walkable public realm. Look at train stations in older suburban downtowns… especially those outside of west-coast crazyland… but even at Edmonds’ Sounder station, where the name “paid parking” dare not be uttered, ST expanded parking capacity by renting existing spaces from a nearby business that didn’t need them during 9-5er hours. Just one more thing you can do if there’s an urban fabric that supports walking, and you can’t do if there isn’t.

      4. RDPence

        Wow. Thanks for the great comments, all. I agree with them all, for the most part ~ I was merely disagreeing with the suggestion that the ped bridge would allow Sound Transit to build less parking at Northgate Station.

        I agree that there should be a reasonable charge for parking in high demand locations, something in the range of $1 – 3 per day. And yes, the I-5 corridor is ill-suited to a proper rail system, one that should be serving present and future urban centers, not park-and-ride lots.

      5. RossB

        A few things to keep in mind with parking at this particular station. First off, the locals opposed it, and said very clearly that they didn’t want to spend the money on it (by law, though, they had to — and that gets complicated). They also said they really wanted the bridge. Second, this is a transit center, which means just about all the buses in the area go there. Third, driving there is no picnic. There is often a lot of congestion getting there. Fourth, this is not the end of the line for Link. There will be stations to the north of there (145th, maybe 125th, etc.). These will have parking lots and there was no opposition to parking lots there. Fifth, unlike a lot of places, it is pretty flat around there (to the northeast) which means that folks from a fairly long ways a way (e. g. Pinehurst) would bike there, if there was a safe and pleasant way to get there.

        This is in contrast to a lot of station. For example, I have a friend who lives on Phinney Ridge, around 60th. He rides a bus to Redmond every day, but parks in the Park and Ride at 65th. It is just too far to walk, he doesn’t feel like ending his day by puffing his way up a hill (especially in the winter) and the bus connections there are really bad. That is because, unlike Northgate, there is nothing special there. But a person in Lake City, for example, will probably just take the bus (which will travel quite frequently to a station). Along Northgate Way there will be lots of buses (there are right now). I think it is quite likely that people will park and ride, but do so next to buses, not the Northgate Park and Ride. For example, if you lived a dozen blocks north of 125th, then parking along 125th and then taking a 41 (which would, ideally, connect very quickly and frequently with a station) makes just as much sense as driving through the congested Northgate area to find a spot in the Park and Ride.

        With the bridge, this becomes especially true. Although buses do travel fairly often between the school and the transit center, they are stretched a little thin through there. Driving between the two spots is not that bad (while biking is a bit of a pain). So the bridge basically means that a bus doesn’t have to travel that distance, and the “other side of the station” (the college) becomes its own transit center, with frequent buses serving it.

        So, while you are probably correct, these will probably fill up (since they are free) the demand will be substantially reduced because of a bridge, and the demand is not huge to begin with.

  2. Mark

    I case every one on here and the transportation planners in city government
    have not noticed North Gate already has a bridge overpass that works good
    for biking and walking..
    Its called N92 street…
    It goes from North Seattle College to North Gate Mall..
    Its already built and already works..

    1. ChefJoe

      It also is pot-holed like a war zone and sidewalks along 1st ave only went in recently in many areas.

      1. commenter

        yes, it has sidewalks. yes, it is a road, bikes can go on it. yes it has potholes, like so many of our roads do the normal solution is to fix them.

    2. Josh

      Of course, the new bike/ped bridge is proposed up at 103rd, not 92nd. That’s over a mile of detour, down and back, more than 20 minutes on foot for a vigorous able-bodied pedestrian, much longer for many elderly or disabled pedestrians. Not a huge barrier for bicycling, but it eliminates more than 95% of potential pedestrians.

      92nd is a good demonstration that pedestrian crossings of I-5 can work, but a lousy substitute for new crossings near where the demand exists or soon will exist.

      At the moment, there’s already a large gap between 92nd and the Northgate Way underpass. 103rd is right in the middle of those two, and would be a well-used pedestrian crossing even without the new transit center.

      1. seriously it’s 0.6 miles.

        actually, just went there and found that there are zero potholes, there are sidewalks, and omg, it is only 0.6 of a mile from the transit center (100th) down first across on 92d and west to NSCC entering at the corliss driveway entrance then going thru the parking lot to an end point at a building called college center. so, it’s 0.6 miles, not 1.25 miles as is commonly stated. the bridge is not proposed at 103d but basically at 100th. the proposed bike bridge is also not .25 miles as stated, it is 400 feet of span, plus about 900 to 1000 feet of ramp at both ends — .43 to .45 miles. so the benefit is .6 miles minus .43 miles or 898 feet. the distance shortening is 0.17 miles. not one mile. this is a major misrepresentation of fact. also, the bridge requires a steeper grade and higher elevation point to cross than 92d, so what you gain in the shorter distance is also paid for so to speak by having to gain more elevation. it’s apparently about 60 feet higher than the grade on the east side. the freeway itself is higher than the grade on the east side of the freeway. the route to 92d gains some elevation too but it’s almost not noticeable. now, this is called a bike ped bridge but any cyclist is not put out by going a mile anway much less 0.6 of a mile. as far as the usage projected, who knows what that is based on, but they say it will bump up ridership by 5% so with 15K projected riders it’s about 750 a day using the bridge. htis is questionable because with only 897 feet of benefit, perhaps there will be no bump in ridership. is that “well used” if it’s 750 pairs of feet a day? well let’s say one third are bikes who just don’t need it to begin with, that’s 500 a day. so the idea is spend $53 million to benefit 500 people a say with a slightly shorter walk — a cost of $70,000 per person.

        this is not a rational proposal. what bothers me most is the unfactual nature of the claims plus the groupthink and wagon circling and refusal to use true facts to look at other things, I think it’s great to spend $35 million, but seriously, you could build like 200 two bedroom apartments and just give those 500 people housing units with the capital cost paid for — that would be a great way to subsidize education at NSCC. or a circulator jitney. a $35 million bridge to save you less than 1,000 feet is not rational.
        unless you feel that “well because cars waste so much money, we get to waste money too.”

      2. RDPence

        The south entrance to the Northgate Link Station is midway between NE 100th and NE 103rd, and measuring from that point south to 92nd and over the NS College, according to Google maps it’s no less than 0.8 miles. Not sure how you figure only 0.6; maybe you ought to send a correction to Google pointing out to them the error on their mapping.

  3. commenter

    they say this will cut the walk or bike ride from 1.25 miles to 0.25 miles but — (a) did they measure northgate way when 92d street seems shorter, possibly only 0.8 miles? (b) can improve northgate way or 92d for far less than $35 million. also, connecting to the entire area is key, $35 million buys lots of circulator bus hours. (c) the bridge is mainly for bikes, they can um, ride their bike 1.25 miles, no problem. (d) in fact the long ramps of 900 to 1000 feet on each side mean the bridge is not 0.25 miles more like .4 or .5 miles, throw in the 45 foot elevation gain and it’s not a huge improvement over going over 92d. even the sdot presentations say it’s a 8 to 10 minute walk over the bridge. a 1.25 mile or 0.8 mile walk using 92d is not that much longer. (e) just use all NSCC for TOD anyway, that would add many more riders than this bridge. they say it will enhance ridersihp 5% at this station. clearly, circulator busses running over to aurora, stopping at the meridian northgate way center, the library, lake city, nscc, etc. would also add many riders and serve many more people. to say it increases ridership by 5% is like saying it helps 800 people a day, which is not many. this capital project is like $40K per person benefitted. is this the only way to spend money or is this just what we have all decided to do.

  4. 0.8 is far less than 1.25 miles.

    I got 0.6 miles using my 1999 volvo odometer feature. hard to compare with your measurement as you don’t state your end point, but anyway, when you say it’s 0.8 miles I think that’s more or less fair, the end point and starting point are always a bit debatable, right? but then in going to 0.8 miles, this is still a major factual misrepresentation in that it’s far less than 1.25 miles. How is this not a problem for the other data and conclusions?
    This basic data point — the walk distance with no new bridge — means the “net shortened path” from a new bridge that includes 1800 feet of on and off ramps plus 400 feet of span, isn’t that much. it’s still like, oh, 0.4 miles only. and so the projected minutes of walking saved and projected usership are also much overstated.
    apart from the walk distance being false, the other major point here is it’s not true to say the route over 92d is somehow horrible for peds. it’s not. 92d is great. no huge freeway ramps, zero potholes, nice sidewalks the whole way. little car traffic, too, nothing like most downtown streets or most arterials. it’s actually little used. and no 60 foot elevation gain is required, as would be the case on the bridge. the elevation gain on 92d is much more gentle and is lower compared to the arching bridge with long ramps that are themselves blocks long — leading to a point 60 feet higher than grade level.
    so if the net shortened path using your 0.8 miles is just .4 miles the time saving is just minutes (a vigorous walker who goes 4 mph a– call it “transit oriented walking speed”) — say about 7.5 minutes then to net out the elevation factor which equates to a few extra minutes worth of deterrence on the new bridge the net saving is equal to some 5 minutes. So, the idea here is to spend $35 million to save about 500 peds (though this is overstated, see above) about 5 minutes each. $70,000 capital investment per pedestrian. To save 5 minutes each. You could buy each one a top of the line BMW, half of a 2 br apartment, or a 9 person van with part time driver. Each person benefitted.
    Does this seem rational to you?
    would it not be better to just build 200 2 BR apartments for the students over the transit center just west of 92d on the nscc campus, and rent them out at operating cost only which would be like $400 a month each?
    if you adjust the $70K/per person benefitted for the reduction in distance to be based on 0.8 miles likely it’s more like “this bridge costs more than $100K per pedestrian benefitted with a walk that’s a few minutes shorter.” this is a mini bertha — a project to pour concrete to say we are doing something when it does not pencil out in terms of cost and benefit. note too that the huge bridge structure with two huge off ramps wipes out lots of space that could be TOD — it’s sprawl-y. like a highway ramp system, it just eats up space. better would be sell off rights to build towers all over the nscc campus including the space between 100 and 103; then build towers on the east side at transit center and have a inter-tower bridge for peds, with elevators for ADA compliance, and make the developers pay for it. really ramp up the TOD. or, giving students $35 million worth of orca cards would be better. or use the $35 million for six little jitney busses (like at whistler) running loops to aurora and 15th, aurora and 106th, hit nscc, the light rail station, downtown lake city way etc. this bike bridge started as a reaction to ST wasting money on a garage when of course no garage auto parking spaces need be built at all or need be built by ST — or need be free to car drivers if built at all. if we truly espouse TOD we should be planning to add thousands of units in the catch basin here, including say 600 at the mall, 300 over the transit center and 2,000 in the vast underused space at nscc. we could start by using the $35 million to build about 300 units at the part of nscc that adjoins 92d — just west of 92d — from there it is a nice 0.4 miles to the transit center, isn’t that close enough? isn’t it better to build 300 units of much subsidized housing, rent it out at operating cost only, instead of one bridge that only helps about 500 peds a day by shaving off 5 minutes from the walk (using their flawed and mis-stated net shortened distance calculation to accept their projected ridership increase)? or, use the $35 million to build say 1,000 units that are rented out at operating cost plus another $600 a month per bedroom, ie much lower than market rates? the proposed bridge is a waste of money, a waste of space that should become TOD, and a wasted opportunity to really leverage the massive light rail investment that somehow got us a station where there is no way to cross I 5, a decision that could be criticized at length, too, but is already made. Another alternative is to make the developers building 1,000 or more units put in a tunnel under the freeway lined with little shops like they do in nyc with the underground commerce filling port authority coffers with nice rental incomes. when you “have” someone for a 7 minute walk, it’s a marketing opportunity pedestrians love to buy a coffee or a set of earplugs or sit at a table for ten minutes to have a vegan wrap or bagel. thousands at this station will be walking 0.6 miles to to nscc, or 0.8 miles to the mall north end, or 1.0 miles to the other destinations surrounding the area from the health buildings to the library to the apt. units over on northgate way. heck, use the $35 million for housing and you should be able to make $4 million a year forever. you could fund jitneys with that. this bridge is a very small minded proposal based on flawed data.

    1. RDPence

      Unreadable comment. Get thee an editor, ASAP.

  5. […] a pedestrian and bicycle oriented crossing of I-5 for the Northgate Link Station, is at risk of losing its funding in the summer. The Sound Transit Board placed an artificial time limit for the City of Seattle and […]

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