County begins to focus on Renton’s transit issues

Access to Transit study highlights needs for transportation, infrastructure

Renton and King County have worked together over the last several months to bring Renton’s increasing transit need to the table at King County Metro by looking at current data and planning.

Puget Sound Regional Council data predicts 346,208 weekday transit trips will start in Renton in the year 2025.

Now the county council has released the Access to Transit study, a Renton-focused analysis of what improvements are needed around existing or soon-to-be transit hubs, under the order of a proviso in the 2019-20 King County budget, requested by councilmember Dave Upthegrove.

The study suggests strategies for helping people get to buses safer and easier, and lists possible funding sources.

It does not offer any promises of implementing these strategies, which as stated in the study would “require additional evaluation, prioritization and funding allocation.”

Transportation planning staff at the city of Renton worked with King County Metro to create this blueprint of needs. One of the study’s unlisted accomplishments was creating relationships between staff and helping Metro understanding what Renton’s needs are.

“It’s a slog, it’s a piecemeal assembling of various government sources. But what’s different now is there’s a plan in place where there can be a shared vision between the city and Metro,” Upthegrove said. “Now the challenge is to go out and make it happen.”

This study will be important to inform those working on several major transit projects, which converge in 2022 and 2023, including the new transit center on Rainier Avenue North and South Grady Way, Northeast 44th Street Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) station, the RapidRide I Line and the continued possibility of a water taxi at Southport.

Metro staff defined six focus areas in Renton for the study, based off conversations with city staff about places where there is need for more pedestrian or bike access to the existing transit hubs, and hubs with projected growth; the new transit center, Sunset/Highlands, a future BRT station, Southport, the existing downtown transit center and the valley industrial area.

Renton Transportation Planning and Programming Manager Vangie Garcia said while this study didn’t cover all underserved transit areas, like the Cascade and Benson areas, those are addressed in an ongoing Metro study titled the “Renton Kent and Auburn Area Mobility Plan.” That study examines gaps in service and frequency of service in Renton, as well as flexible service — the idea of multiple public transit options.

The results of the study weren’t anything those who work and use transit in Renton didn’t already know, Garcia said. But it helped create a conversation with county/Metro staff about what those needs are. Many of the proposed projects listed in the study also reflect projects that were suggested in the city Trails and Bicycle Master Plan from May.

“Our streets are already built out,” Renton Transportation Director Jim Seitz said. “Transit is the only way we will be able to grow in the future.”

Transit future in question

Though Renton needs it, the future of transit is in question. Upthegrove said that Renton will lose transit services, not gain them, if Metro loses funding. He said that’s possible with Initiative-976 on the ballot in November, that limits car tabs to $30 a year.

“If it passes, it’s possible it could mean cuts to bus service in Renton instead of improvements,” Upthegrove said.

Metro estimates it could lose $119 million over the next five years if I-976 is passed. Sound Transit could lose $20 billion through 2041, Aaron Kunkler reported in September. Renton could lose 10,000 service hours of its main route to Seattle, Route 101.

In an interview with Renton Reporter last November, Upthegrove discussed issues with bus times and route problems in Renton, which weren’t included in the study’s scope. He said while service frequency and consistency were not under the proviso, he continues to talk to Metro about the problem for the whole county. Metro also added more route times in Renton in September.

Each of the six focus areas have specific sidewalk and road improvement projects named in the study, and broader conceptual solutions. For example, Focus Area 1, the new transit center, named the large blocks of surface parking along South Grady Way as a pedestrian barrier and recommended sidewalks or buffers along the north side of South Seventh Street, as well as visible crosswalks and mid-block crossing signals in that area.

Other needs highlighted by the study included;

•Construction of speed humps or diverters, markings and signage on Kirkland Avenue from Northeast Sunset Boulevard to North 16th Street.

•Redesign of the Interstate-405 highway interchange bridge as part of the Sound Transit BRT program, including the integration of shared-use lanes and pedestrian crossings.

•A shared roadway and bike boxes at the intersection of Houser Way and Lake Washington Boulevard to increase access to the waterfront and potential water taxi.

•Integration of bike lanes along Burnett Avenue between Second Avenue and Third Avenue

•And a shared roadway or bike lanes along East Valley Road to help with getting to buses for the industrial employment district.

More specific recommendations throughout the study are available here.

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