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Some Misconceptions about the SR 522 BAT Lane Project and CORE

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Recent comments have made clear that some in our community have some misconceptions about the Sound Transit Stride 3 dedicated bus lane project and CORE itself. Here are some of the misconceptions together with clarifications.

The 391 trees slated for removal represent less than 1% of the LFP tree canopy and some of them are stumps or dead. Sound Transit is working with LFP on a tree replacement strategy, so what is the big deal?

It is true that 391 trees makes up a very small portion of the tree canopy in LFP but these trees are mostly in public right of way. Lake Forest Park has a longstanding tree preservation policy which reflects community values. The 2010 LFP Community Forest Management Plan states that “In Lake Forest Park, ‘Forest’ is our middle name”. That report underscores the value our community places on preserving our natural environment, cites the many benefits of trees and sets goals for tree canopy cover in LFP.

An August 2023 Sound Transit Tree FAQ lists 391 trees slated for removal in LFP by category. A detailed inventory of Lake Forest Park trees affected by the project is included in Sound Transit’s 90% technical drawings (Book 3, Page 96). The 391 trees slated for removal includes only 33 trees less than 6” in diameter and does not include the substantial removal of shrubs and other vegetation. The removal list does include eight dead trees, but it also includes the removal of 48 large “landmark” trees. MIT suggests that a single mature tree can remove 50 pounds of carbon from the air annually. Forests typically have 100 to 200 trees per acre. The United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization defines a forest as at least 1.24 acres. Trees in a forest must be at least 16 feet tall, and the tree canopy must cover at least 10 percent of the land.

Of the four cities (LFP, Shoreline, Kenmore and Bothell) that span the S3 project, 66% of tree removals are in LFP (Source: August 2023 Sound Transit and Trees fact sheet) even though LFP makes up only 13% of the project distance. There are no stumps in the tree inventory. Read our blog about how replacement of trees and vegetation around our community has created “heat islands” that are increasingly hazardous to our health.

Although Sound Transit has agreed on a general concept of tree replacement, it’s important to note that most replacement trees would have to be planted in other locations in LFP since the new expanse of concrete doesn’t allow sufficient room to replace trees at the location of removal. The city has proposed some general locations which are quite distant from the Bothell Way corridor. It’s also important to note that replanted trees would not provide the benefits of the mature trees that will be removed for many years. In fact, the 20% of LFP residents who are 65 years of age or older will likely never see benefits of the mature canopy that will be removed at the start of the project.

General traffic on Bothell Way will be speeded up since the buses will have their own dedicated lane.

Sound Transit has never said that the $600 million that they will spend on this project will do anything to speed up general purpose traffic on the LFP segment of Bothell Way. Their goal is to provide a transit alternative to using your car. The 2022 Puget Sound Regional Council Regional Transportation Plan says that transit use will increase by 2050 but so will traffic congestion. The report says that transit riders make up only 5% and that proportion will increase to only 9% in 2050 (Figure 44 Daily Trips by Purpose and Mode). It further states that total vehicle miles travelled will increase by 19% and Total Daily Vehicle Hours of Delay will increase by 53% (Figure 43 Overall System Performance). A 2020 Seattle Times editorial encouraged legislators not to remove the word “congestion” from the list of criteria used to allocate transportation funding. The article says, “Even if more goes to transit, 67 to 75% of trips will still be in cars in 2050, and less than 10% by transit.”

Just before the 2016 ST3 vote, the Washington Policy Center published “Claims that light rail expansion is an effective way to reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality are unfounded”. The report states:

“However, environmental groups like Sightline say that transit does not reduce traffic congestion. Even Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl admits that more light rail will not provide congestion relief. She said, ‘We’ve never said we will reduce congestion.’”

“We’re building additional capacity to give people options to get out of traffic. With 1 million people coming, I don’t know how anybody can realistically say we have a way to reduce congestion,” said Shefali Ranganathan, executive director of the Transportation Choices Coalition. Pro-ST3 ads often show clogged freeways and lamentations. “They’re not able to get away with saying they’re going to solve congestion in this one, but they’ve implied it through visuals,” contends opponent Maggie Fimia.

Having the bus in a dedicated land for the 1.2 miles of our segment won’t really affect general traffic congestion since there will only be one bus every ten minutes. Ridership on the 522 bus is still down 64% from pre-pandemic levels and it’s doubtful that Sound Transit will meet their projected target of a 2,000% increase in ridership by 2040. It will be hard to convince people to leave their cars when it will take longer for LFP residents to get downtown or to UW after the dedicated bus lane is finished. Sound Transit has already acknowledged that these trips will take longer than the old 522 Express and 373 Metro. since they will have to transfer to light-rail, rampant and unsolved light rail performance issues will make the trips even longer.

The dedicated bus lane will improve safety on Bothell Way

Apparently, the assumption here is that the BAT will act as a buffer protecting pedestrians. But to achieve the 10-minute intervals, there will be more buses going 40 mph in the dedicated lane adjacent to where pedestrians will be walking, cars will be taking right turns and turning into or out of their properties. The dedicated lane will widen a highway that is already hard for pedestrians to cross safely.

The west side of the highway as designed will be unsafe for people or animals who get stuck there, as there is nowhere to go. On that side of Bothell Way, the Jersey barrier is typically 2’ off the road and 6” in front of the wall. There is no escape. The wall varies in height from 4’-16’, with an average height of 8’-10’ over nearly 4,000 linear feet, only punctuated by intersecting neighborhood side roads at 38th Avenue NE, 39th Ave NE, and 165th Street, before the wall ends near 41st Avenue NE. This is a very aggressive and potentially dangerous highway as proposed by Sound Transit.

Also, the medians primarily are concrete with no landscape or amenity. Combined with the concrete retaining wall, they promote a concrete corridor, which contributes to a stressful roadway experience, due to the lack of landscape buffers and greening (see UW Safe Streets).

Calling Bothell Way the gateway to LFP is a stretch. It's an important road that Sound Transit will improve with this project.

Though Bothell Way is not the heart of LFP, it’s the way most people enter our city. It’s an arterial highway that clearly divides our community. The Sheridan Beach Community Club (SBCC) has roughly equal numbers to the East and West of the highway. Children of East side SBCC must cross the busy highway to get to swim meets and other activities at SBCC. The New York Times reports an increase in efforts to mitigate communities divided by highways. A community group has advocated for a lid over I5. Make no mistake, Sound Transit will make a wider highway and is not currently supporting speed-limit reductions proposed by the LFP City Council.

CORE's proposed wall illustration is misleading - it won't be that bad

It is true that CORE made an illustration of the proposed wall that does not accurately depict the varying wall heights, but detailed data on wall heights is not available. Despite years of "public engagement", Sound Transit has never provided our community with a 3D rendering that will show how the entire retaining wall will look. The only rendering was done in the 2021 Visual and Aesthetics SEPA report, and that was of a small section of wall in the Southern Gateway where wall heights are lowest. The SEPA report went on to say:

“…the combination of mature tree removal from foreground views and the installation of extensive retaining walls along SR 522 (between 38th Avenue NE and a location north of NE 165th Street) would reduce the natural harmony of the project corridor”.

“…in Lake Forest Park, specifically in the vicinity of NE 165th Street, the combination of tall retaining walls and the removal of characteristic tall trees in the foreground could be perceived as less compatible with the existing visual character, and residents of Lake Forest Park have expressed high sensitivity to tree removal. Therefore, on SR 522 in Lake Forest Park, adverse visual impacts would result at locations where both large retaining walls would be installed and tall conifer trees would be removed.”

Why should I believe CORE's claims? What expertise do they have?

CORE volunteers (comprised of your neighbors) have been pouring over dozens of reports, technical documents, and other materials for many months. Many of these were from public records requests made to Sound Transit and the LFP city government. CORE volunteers construction engineers, the former head of Seattle Metro, a retired manager of Data Science teams at Microsoft, multiple accountants, retired City Council members, small business owners, and PhD's in Chemical Engineering from Stanford and Applied Physics from Purdue University.

The project won’t increase traffic noise levels

This misconception, fortified by the flawed Noise and Vibration Technical Memorandum, deserves its own blog post. So, stay tuned for an analysis of how this conclusion could be reached when 220 more daily bus trips roll down an expanded highway where trees and vegetation have been replaced by a concrete wall echo chamber.

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