For Paul Zimmer, this is only the beginning of the line.
The Bellevue resident first learned of King County’s plan to rip out the Eastside railroad line and replace it with a bicycle trail last year. How bizarre, he thought. He had to do something.
With the help of a handful of residents, Zimmer handed out yellow fliers to businesses and homes that read, “Help save our railroad!”
With that, Eastside Rail Now (ERN) was launched and more than a year later, saving the railroad is virtually a done deal, Zimmer said.
Their simple plea to save the railroad has now grown into a grand scheme to transform the Eastside.
“The Grand Esplanade is an example of the potential that development of the existing rail line offers,” Zimmer said, whose organization hopes to get a commuter service started on the railroad.
ERNs most recent effort – the Grand Esplanade – is envisioned as a broad, elegant, moving walkway that would run one mile between Bellevue Way and 120th Avenue Northeast. It 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. The walkway would go across a graceful new bridge over Interstate 405 and past a signature commuter rail station to 120th Avenue.
The “miracle mile” of Bellevue running from Nordstrom to The Bravern is also on this alignment, which has been part of a limited walkway into the city, said Kirkland resident and ERN member Will Knedlik.
In addition, he said Bellevue is one of the least pedestrian-friendly cities in the world.
The Grand Esplanade is an opportunity to turn that around, while tying in the rail and bus transit centers to the city’s major destination shopping center.
Zimmer has spent most of his adult life in Japan that has an efficient train system and understands how walkable neighborhoods work.
He compares the Esplanade to Barcelona’s system, which includes a grand tree-lined walkway with sculptures through the city.
“We’re visualizing something that is really elegant, not just a wide path,” Zimmer said, looking at a preliminary sketch. “We tried to put in some lamps, sculptures along the way and maybe some nice marble curbs. This is something that a European capital would not be ashamed of.”
He noted the moving sidewalks would be covered by glass such as the walkways are in Hong Kong, which would protect it from rain.
At present, the organization has proposed the walkway land at ground level next to the Bellevue Arts Museum. But Knedlik would like to see the walkway go higher than just the street level and meet the main entrance of Bellevue Square. This would allow pedestrians to walk from the rail transit center all the way to Bellevue Square, so they could traverse the whole distance, or any part they wanted to.
“We would have one continuous pedestrian friendly access to every part of not only the existing downtown area, but also what is likely to become high density residential on the other side of the railroad tracks,” he added.
The estimated $20 million project would be funded by Sound Transit, which has taken in more than $650 million in excess tax revenues from the Eastside, according to ERN.
Eastside Rail Now has proposed the idea to the Bellevue City Council and Mayor Grant Degginger said this is something the city has thought about, Knedlik said. The group will come back to the council this fall with more refined plans.
“We don’t feel like we have all the answers,” Knedlik said. “But we really want to encourage other people in the community to say, ‘we have other ideas too.’”
The Grand Esplanade is one of many opportunities that the Eastside railroad presents. Though maybe not as grand, Zimmer foresees many more opportunities throughout the Eastside.
The group has proposed a rail extension to the University of Washington Bothell campus that could bring students as far as Everett and Tacoma to campus.
Carrie Wood can be reached at email@example.com or 425-453-4290.
For information, visit www.eastsiderailnow.org