FAQ: Downtown Bellevue's Grand Esplanade

Q: What is the reason for this FAQ?

A: There has been a great deal of interest in the Grand Esplanade that was proposed by Eastside Rail Now! for downtown Bellevue. This FAQ answers some of the many questions that have been asked about it.

Q: What is the "Grand Esplanade"?

A: It is a broad, elegant, tree-lined walkway that would extend from downtown Bellevue's existing pedestrian corridor (which runs from Bellevue Square to the Transit Center) eastward, past City Hall on the south and The Bravern and Meydenbauer Convention Center on the north, across a graceful new bridge over the I-405 freeway, past a signature commuter rail station to 120th Ave., and perhaps eventually all the way up the low rise to the east. It is a 21st century solution that provides a variety of important benefits, including increased mobility and environmental enhancement, at minimal cost.

Q: What is the relationship between the "Grand Esplanade" proposal and the Eastside Railroad?

A: Downtown Bellevue's Grand Esplanade is an example of the many creative opportunities that the Eastside railroad offers for preserving and enhancing the quality of life on the Eastside. Specifically, it would provide a convenient, quick, safe and attractive pedestrian connection between a station on the railroad and the existing downtown core to the west of the I-405 freeway. It would also serve areas to the east of I-405 that would likely see high density development as a result of the launching of commuter rail service.

Q: Who first proposed the "Grand Esplanade" and when?

A: It was first proposed by Eastside Rail Now!, and it was formally announced in May 2008 to the Bellevue City Council and the Sound Transit Board of Directors.

Q: How did this idea come about?

A: Soon after its inception at the start of 2007, Eastside Rail Now! proposed creating a pedestrian bridge over I-405, and south of NE 8th Street, to connect a new station adjacent to the existing track with Bellevue's downtown core west of I-405. Subsequently, it was determined that NE 6th would be the best location for such bridge for several reasons, particularly the fact that it would become an extension of the existing pedestrian walkway. Familiarity with pedestrian promenades in Europe as well as with Hong Kong's extremely successful outdoor escalator system also influenced this proposal.

Q: How far would the Esplanade extend?

A: Inclusive of the existing pedestrian walkway, it would extend all the way from the rail station to Bellevue Square in the west. To the east, it would logically extend at least to 120th Avenue, and possibly eventually up the low hill to the east of 120th.

Q: Would the distance between the station and downtown be too far for most people to walk?

A: The distance from the proposed station to the current center of downtown is about one half mile. This is comparable to the distance between King Street Station, which is used by Sound Transit's Sounder commuter trains, to much of downtown Seattle, and it is considerably shorter than the distance between commuter rail terminals and downtown employment concentrations in a number of other U.S. cities, such as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Moreover, Bellevue commuters would have the advantages of a shorter walking time and of not having to spend time waiting for buses to take them to and from their downtown destinations because of the moving sidewalks. In addition, the station could actually come to be in the center of downtown in the future as the downtown expands eastward.

Q: Because of the growth of Bellevue's medical district and the large number of employees and visitors, wouldn't it be better to have the commuter rail station north of NE 8th Street (in back of Whole Foods) rather than at NE 6th Street?

A: No. Although the medical district is clearly becoming an increasingly important regional destination, the likely location of all future downtown employment and other activity needs to be taken into consideration. The Eastside railroad passenger station location as proposed in the Grand Esplanade plan would be closer to the center of such activity as a whole because of the vast amount of potential for high density commercial and residential development south of NE 8th Street. Moreover, the Esplanade plan calls for the south end of the rail station to be just north of the NE 6th Street (as shown in the drawing). Because the station would have considerable length in order to eventually accommodate trains as long as perhaps eight cars, the north end would be a relatively short walk from NE 8th Street, and thus also a short walk from the medical district. Pedestrian access to the medical district from the station could be enhanced by construction of a new, signal-controlled crosswalk across NE 8th Street near the rail crossing, and perhaps eventually by an underpass.

Q: Why is it called the "Grand" Esplanade?

A: The term grand is used because the concept calls for much more than just an ordinary pedestrian bridge and walkway. It could be something truly elegant, for example with (a) an attractive, high quality paving material, (b) large trees lining the edges, (c) elegant lighting fixtures and (d) outdoor sculptures along some of the edges. There could be substantial benefits to making it truly elegant, not only to the quality of life but also to the local economy.

Q: Could the Esplanade be connected to other pedestrian walkways?

A: Yes, most definitely. It would be connected to nearby sidewalks. Moreover, it would become an integral and core part of Bellevue's extensive trail network.

Q: Would there be any additional functions for the Esplanade, other than serving as a route for commuters from a rail station to downtown Bellevue?

A: Yes, the Grand Esplanade would have multiple functions in addition to serving as a commuter route. They include (a) bridging the I-405 freeway and promoting the expansion of downtown to the east of I-405, (b) providing an elegant entrance to the city center, (c) adding a functional park-like space to downtown, (d) providing a key segment for an eventual extensive Eastside trail network and (e) connecting with any light rail line station that is eventually constructed in downtown Bellevue. Moreover, it would likely become a major tourist destination in itself because of its uniqueness.

Q: Are additional amenities envisioned?

A: Yes. One would be nearby quality (and, hopefully, not chain) restaurants and coffee shops with both indoor and outdoor seating. Another would be free WiFi, perhaps an extension of Bellevue's existing free outdoor WiFi service.

Q: Could the Esplanade also be used by bicycles?

A: The Grand Esplanade is intended primarily for use by pedestrians. However, it could also be suitable for use by other forms of non-motorized transportation, subject, of course, to speed limits and other normal safety measures.

Q: Is the moving sidewalk a necessary part of the Esplanade?

A: No, the moving sidewalk system is not an absolutely essential for the Grand Esplanade concept. However, it is worthy of serious consideration because of the important benefits that it could provide. Obviously, such benefits should be weighed against the costs of construction and maintenance as well as against the benefits and costs of the alternatives (e.g., circulator buses on ordinary streets).

Q: People need more exercise. So why have the moving sidewalks?

A: Nobody would be required to use the moving sidewalks, which would occupy a small strip in the center of the Grand Esplanade and would be paralleled on both sides by conventional pavement of some sort. Rather, they would serve as an alternative to the proposed downtown shuttle bus service. They would be used mainly by people who were in a hurry (as people could walk on them) and by people who want to minimize their walking (due to illness, injury, etc.)

Q: How far would the moving sidewalk system extend?

A: The most important segments would be westward from the rail station across the freeway and to where the bus station is currently located.

Q: How would the moving sidewalk cross streets?

A: The moving sidewalk system would consist of segments between cross-streets, as is done on the Hong Kong system. Thus people would exit a moving sidewalk segment at the end of each block and walk through the intersection. At the start of a new block they could then resume their ride on the next segment of moving sidewalk.

Q: Wouldn't the outdoor moving sidewalk be costly and difficult to maintain?

A: There would be a substantial cost of construction and maintenance. However, alternatives, such as circulator buses, would also have a substantial cost. Hong Kong's experience has shown that such a system can be quite practical.

Q: Are the proposed glass roofs a necessary part of the Esplanade?

A: Roofs are not essential, but they are certainly worthy of serious consideration. This is because they could add significantly to the convenience and comfort of using the esplanade by providing protection from the rain, snow and ice. They would also help protect the moving sidewalks from the elements.

Q: What has been the reaction to the Grand Esplanade proposal?

A: It has generally been quite positive.

Q: Has there been any opposition, and for what reason?

A: Extremely little, even as more and more people become familiar with the concept. The few negative comments to date have been with regard to the proposal for the moving sidewalks.

Q: Why do some people object to the moving sidewalks?

A: They explain that most Americans need more exercise and thus should be required to walk. Of course, this overlooks the fact that some people are just not in sufficiently good shape to walk, at least on some days, due to injury, illness, etc. It is like saying that all Sounder commuters getting off at King Street Station in Seattle should be required to walk to their final destinations rather than ride buses. The nice thing about the moving sidewalks is that they increase everyone's range of options, that is, allowing them to walk, to stand on the moving sidewalks, or to walk on the moving sidewalks.

Q: Wouldn't it be better to have a gondola instead?

A: Aerial gondolas are an interesting concept and can work well in some situations, mainly where there are just two points to be connected and where surface solutions are impractical. However, it is not clear that a gondola would provide any clear advantages in terms of convenience, cost, etc. in the case of downtown Bellevue. The most fundamental need in downtown is for a route on which pedestrians can freely enter and exit at numerous locations and can use immediately without having to wait for the arrival of a vehicle, whether it be a gondola or a bus. Also, the Grand Esplanade would serve a variety of functions, as outlined above, rather than just connecting two points as a gondola would.

Q: How would the Esplanade proposal relate to Sound Transit's proposed light rail line through downtown Bellevue?

A: The Grand Esplanade would add to the convenience for users of such light rail line by providing them with easy east-west access through the downtown. Its role in promoting walking and the use of the Eastside railroad could also contribute to ridership on the light rail line.

Q: What would be the likely effect on real estate values?

A: The effect would be profound. In combination with the commuter rail station, the Grand Esplanade could make the sparsely used land to the east of I-405 as valuable as the land in the present downtown core to the west of I-405. It could also increase property values in other parts of Bellevue, because it would help make the downtown area as a whole a more convenient and attractive place in which to do business, visit and live.

Q: How much would the Grand Esplanade cost?

A: It depends on how it is constructed. In its simplest form, the cost could be comparable to that of a conventional street of similar length at the same location.

Q: How would the Grand Esplanade be financed?

A: There are several possibilities, including use of existing budgets for streets, parks and transit. It could also be financed through a levy on nearby commercial property, whose value would likely increase greatly as a result of the rail station and the Esplanade. Another possibility is to use a tiny portion of the vast amount of sales tax revenue that Sound Transit has collected from the Eastside.

Q: What would be the environmental effects of the Grand Esplanade?

A: It would encourage more walking and less driving, particularly in conjunction with the start of commuter service on the Eastside railroad. It could also add a lot of greenery to downtown, particularly to an area which now consists largely of ugly parking lots.

Q: Is the Grand Esplanade consistent with Bellevue's long-term plans for its downtown?

A: Yes, it is consistent in several important ways, including the city's expressed desires to (a) make the downtown area more "pedestrian friendly," (b) construct additional crossings over I-405, (c) improve downtown circulation, (d) maintain and enhance Bellevue's park-like atmosphere, (e) reduce traffic congestion, (f) promote the use of public transportation and (g) reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Q: What are some of the other creative opportunities that use of the Eastside railroad offers?

A: There are many. One example is providing direct rail access to the University of Washington/Bothell campus via a short extension of an existing spur that leads northwest from downtown Woodinville. Another is construction of a branch line from downtown Bellevue to the existing tracks in downtown Redmond in order to provide direct rail service to Microsoft's headquarters and to the soon-to-be-redeveloped Overlake area. A third example is a connection west of Renton to Sound Transit's new light rail line to provide rail service from the Eastside to Sea-Tac airport. Still another is transformation of the South Kirkland park-and-ride lot into a high density residential and commercial transit-oriented-development (TOD) that incorporates a major rail-bus transfer point.

Q: Why wasn't this idea developed by government officials?

A: Government officials do not have a monopoly on creativity, only on taxpayers' money. Thus, they sometimes tend to not only be unimaginative but also to promote the most costly "solutions" rather than the least expensive and most beneficial alternatives. An obvious example in our region has been transportation planning. Thus, there will always be an important role for grassroots groups such as Eastside Rail Now!

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This page created February 15, 2009.
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