Opinion

Revisit vision for Town Center, I-90 lane closures bring freedom | Island Forums

A better vision is needed for Mercer Island and the North-end Town Center

Parking is an issue in the Mercer Island Town Center. We all recognize that parking is a problem.  What are the causes of the problem?  We are told that 47 percent of the Park-and-Ride is used by non-residents commuting to Seattle.  Do we know what percentage of street and commercial parking space is being used by:  Resident commuters from the South-end, people working on the Island, off Island commuters to Seattle, apartment dwellers that don’t want to pay for parking in their building and apartments that were not required to provide enough parking?  Is the Eastgate parking garage used to capacity?  If not, why not?

Light rail will exacerbate the issue. A new light rail station is planned for Mercer Island.  Rather than just being a stop, this will be a major station requiring additional parking for cars and for buses waiting for light rail to arrive.  We are told that Mercer Island is more “direct.”  It is a straighter line but is it faster and more efficient?  How do we discourage everyone from driving to the new station?

By 2021 the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride and bus stop will be replaced by a four story parking garage and bus terminal.  Light rail to Mercer Island and Bellevue is expected to start 2023.  Why is the South Bellevue location not used by buses coming from the east on I-90 as the primary link to the light rail?  It is easier and faster (three miles less per round trip) for buses to get off I-90 at the Bellevue Way exit, before they reach the traffic starting at the East Channel Bridge and going across the Island.  The Reporter noted that the cost of the bus terminal on Mercer Island would cost between $8 million and $18 million depending on which option is chosen. The Mercer Island location is expensive and disruptive, while the South Bellevue location would be more efficient, less disruptive to business and residents and would save $8 to $18 million.  The South Bellevue location will not be a destination, but a transfer point and would make for a faster trip to Seattle and back, by avoiding the I-90 congestion in both directions.

To add to the problem, Metro has announced reduced bus service on the Island due to a lack of demand. Is this a case of bad supply so the demand is low?  Do we need better bus service on the Island to get to the light rail station and downtown?  Perhaps parking at the South-end with smaller buses making more trips would help.  The city could run a more efficient and less expensive system compared to Metro.

The initial attempt by the city to address parking, we are told can be solved with a parking garage downtown.  Is that what we want in our Town Center?  We need more businesses to service the community and places for customers to park.  To address this need for parking the city attempted to organize the purchase of the Walgreens property for Youth Theatre Northwest Cultural Center and Parking.  It is not surprising that it was not successful.  Thanks to Farmers Insurance allowing the use of their parking garage for events, Youth Theatre Northwest and the Cultural Center are to be built at Mercerdale Park.  The City Council seems to be accepting the bus terminal idea on Mercer Island in an attempt to get money from Sound Transit to provide funds to create additional parking.  Where can a parking garage be located and how would it be policed to solve the parking problem?

John Scherzo

 

Closures bring last hurrah for unfettered I-90 access

Make no mistake; last week’s I-90 commute definitely looked like a headline for the good old days. As stories of traffic mania circled around Seattle due to the construction closure on I-90, those fortunate enough to be living on Mercer Island were the beneficiaries of living downstream from the construction project.

While people in Issaquah and Bellevue and many other places had to put up with hardship, the residents of Mercer Island, at least in this particular instance, seem to be in the catbird seat.

Traffic volumes westbound on I-90  were way down, even at eight o’clock in the morning.  Normally an average of 68,000 cars a day make the trip into the city. Traffic flowing from Mercer Island into Seattle seemed to be moving at full speed.  Is this the last time we ever are going to be witnessing such light weekday volumes and such easy flow?

A few weeks ago, Sound Transit told the community that construction on the two “transit only” middle lanes of I-90, the ones to be reserved for light rail, will begin in 2017. For the next two years, we can expect to see normal traffic volumes, but it seems unlikely that we will ever again see traffic flowing as easily as we did last week.

Every day, thousands of cars use the center lanes, including many single drivers.  When construction (constriction?) starts, all traffic will be diverted onto the main line, composed of three general purpose lanes and one HOV lane.  Instead of five lanes for Mercer Island drivers, there will be three, unless you carpool.

Unless there is a large shift toward taking the bus, and later the train, this looks to be a fairly congested solution.

But not last week.  Islanders could bask in the glory of the good old days, when cars could streak across the bridge with abandon, or at least at 60 m.p.h.

Those of us who travel know that there are people who live in smaller cities, places like Boise, who can actually drive unimpeded along highways as if it was 1955.  Remarkable.  But the rest of us know that the future looks different.   So enjoy, have a sip of Italian limonata, feel the astringency of some future loss, sing along with Willie’s On-The-Road-Again anthem and smile.  Just be sure to keep your ORCA card nearby.

Geoff Spelman

 

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