Planning for Seattle’s East Link Station

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North Rainier Station

Rendering of the future “North Rainier Station” (Sound Transit)

University Link is under construction between downtown and Husky Stadium.  The line from there to Northgate is going into final design and engineering.  And Seattle is also getting a new light rail station on the East Link between downtown and Redmond.

East Link has already been approved by the Sound Transit Board, although there are continuing discussions about design refinements in Bellevue.  It will run from downtown Seattle along I-90 across Lake Washington to Mercer Island, Bellevue, and Redmond.  Riders will find it easy to get on at downtown stations:  the long range plan is for trains from the north to split when they leave downtown, with alternate trains serving the airport and the eastside.

But riders will also have a chance to get on at a new station to be located in the I-90 right of way near Rainier Avenue.  This station will be the first one to be sited in Seattle at a location that is not in an urban village, and will present unique challenges in designing access and in determining what kind of transit oriented development will be possible in the vicinity.

Recognizing that early planning is critical, the Council has approved Resolution 31386, calling for DPD to begin a station area planning process for the provisionally named ‘North Rainier Station’.  Even the name can be confusing, as what is now the Mount Baker Station is located in the North Rainier Neighborhood Planning area.  That area is close enough to the new station that interaction between the two station areas will be important to assess.

The City is committed to finding ways to ensure that development around light rail stations supports ridership and takes full advantage of the transit opportunities that light rail development will provide.  It is important to begin this planning work early in order to limit incompatible development, review options for effective implementation of appropriate planning and zoning, and ensure that there is effective community engagement.  A station associated with a light rail line in a freeway alignment will be challenging to integrate into the community.

For all of these reasons, now is the time to begin work on this station, even though light rail service will not be operational for almost ten years.  The Council has asked that this begin with a plan for community outreach and station area planning around the planned North Rainier Station, to be provided to the Council by August.  We want this plan to include specific timelines and planned staff commitments that will allow planning to be conducted in time to influence decisions by Sound Transit about the configuration and design for the station.

We are also asking that the plan include a timeline for adopting a station area overlay district for the North Rainier area and station area zoning that will limit the development of new auto-oriented uses in the vicinity of the proposed station.

Seattle has many unique opportunities to integrate housing, jobs, and light rail transit to develop walkable communities that will thrive around light rail stations.  The North Rainier station is particularly challenging, but we have time to creatively consider and develop options that will make this station work for people in the vicinity and for others who would like to use it to ride light rail.  Seattle and Sound Transit continue to develop stronger connections and joint planning efforts for great communities.