More than 500 daily park-and-ride customers will be displaced, and probably face longer commutes, when the South Bellevue lot closes May 30 to make room for a light-rail extension to open in 2023.
You can chat with commuters for two hours in the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride lot without finding anybody who likes how transit agencies tackled the impending closure of its 519 stalls.
The popular lot closes May 30, to be overtaken by equipment storage, track installation and station construction for the new light-rail extension connecting Seattle to Mercer Island, Bellevue and Overlake.
Voters approved the route eight years ago, but for park-and-ride users, these kinds of hassles don’t feel real until they occur.
A shutdown on May 1, also for light-rail construction, removed 222 spaces at Overlake Transit Center, which like the South Bellevue lot overflowed most mornings.
Both park-and-rides will reopen, with more spaces, before rail service reaches them in 2023.
Sound Transit has tried to compensate by securing lots at eight Eastside churches with a total 367 spaces near local bus stops.
None of these is alongside any of the eight Sound Transit Express cross-lake commuter routes. The nearest one to South Bellevue is 2 ½ miles away at 2015 Richards Road. Most of them are alongside bus stops to downtown Bellevue.
Parkers heading for Seattle would need two buses rather than one.
Transit customers estimated they would forfeit 40 to 60 minutes a day, switching to other lots, making transfers or catching a slower bus closer to home that goes to Seattle or downtown Bellevue.
The primary route affected is the popular Sound Transit Express 550, linking downtown Bellevue, the South Bellevue park-and-ride and downtown Seattle via I-90.
The 550 and other Bellevue Way buses will continue to stop near the closed park- and-ride.
The South Bellevue closure will leave the huge 1,614-stall Eastgate park-and-ride next to I-90 as the closest hub to freeway buses. It’s officially 99 percent occupied.
“There’s no parking spots at Eastgate. We can’t squeeze 500 more cars into that lot,” said Amy Potts, awaiting her morning bus last week. “And the parking spots they’ve ‘added,’ they’re not anywhere near the 550.”
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As a result, people will drive to work even though they’d rather use transit, she said.
“It’s unacceptable,” she said, “closing this without a viable alternative for five years.”
Potts said she lives in the Crossroads area and drives to South Bellevue to catch her Sound Transit express bus to Seattle. She tried the King County Metro Route 212 Friday to and from Eastgate and said it was standing-room-only, and stuck in I-90 traffic.
Besides the dominant cross-lake crowd, the South Bellevue station attracts people who park free and hop a bus north to downtown Bellevue jobs.
The multiyear parking closures are another sacrifice, beyond the median $600 or so a year per household in taxes, in the service of the future high-capacity rail network.
“These kinds of major projects through heavily populated areas are difficult, but when it’s done it’s going to create progress for the Eastside, and for the region,” Sound Transit spokeswoman Rachelle Cunningham said.
“In 2023 they’ll be on a train and avoid congestion completely,” she said.
Several riders wondered why Sound Transit doesn’t find temporary stalls at churches near the South Bellevue hub.
The agency said Friday that it solicited 18 other Eastside locations, offering landowners $40 a month per space. While several rejected offers, three are prospects for park-ride use in the near future, Cunningham said:
• Chace’s Pancake Corral on Bellevue Way, for 35 spaces along Route 550.
• Eastshore Unitarian Church, just northeast of the I-405/I-90 junction, for 50 spaces near Metro routes on Richards Road.
• A Bellevue Way location with 50 spaces, still in negotiations, she said.
“We have worked, and will continue to work, to find more convenient parking for people,” Cunningham said.
Meanwhile, the agency is studying how to provide drop-off zones so that family or for-hire car services can shuttle people to South Bellevue, she said.
Free parking near the downtown Bellevue Transit Center is available for new van pools, Cunningham said. Metro has posted commuter options at justonetrip.org.
“I think we’ve gone to great lengths to assure people are aware of the change,” she said.
The Mercer Island park-and-ride will stay open throughout light-rail construction, even while a train station is added there, she said.
Contractors will try to finish a new, 1,500-stall South Bellevue park-and-ride garage within five years, or several months before trains begin in 2023.
Grace Li, waiting to catch a departing 550 bus Wednesday morning, said she procrastinated until now to consider options to get to her job in Seattle.
“No matter, ready or not, you have to move on, right?” she said.
For her, that means losing time.
Eastgate is closer to her house, but its Seattle-bound buses run on crowded downtown streets, whereas the 550 uses the speedier downtown Seattle transit tunnel.
Another option costs more money.
Hasan Abbasi said he and his wife park daily in the South Bellevue lot, after taking their child to a downtown Bellevue day care. He was glad when the lot closure was delayed in January, until May 30.
“We’ll miss it,” he said.
“I really like East Link (the new light-rail line). I like the idea we will have better public transit,” Abbasi said. “Just open up one more lot, that’s all I’m saying.”
Abbasi says he will now park near the day care in a private garage, for $160 per month, and catch the 550 at the downtown Bellevue Transit Center.
For him, that deal still looks better than driving to his job at Amazon in South Lake Union.