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October 19, 2017

BE Studio – TOD at Kent/Des Moines

During this Autumn quarter, Associate Prof. Rick Mohler is teaching an interdisciplinary BE studio examining Sustainable Planning, Design, and Development strategies for TOD (Transit Oriented Development).  Teaching with Rick are Al Levine (Real Estate) and David Blum (Urban Design & Planning).  They are looking at the future Kent/Des Moines light rail station as a catalyst for suburban transformation.

Why This Project?

The Seattle metro area is among the fastest growing regions in the country.  Fueled by economic opportunity, abundant natural resources and a desirable quality of life, this growth fosters both daunting challenges and exceptional opportunities.  Seattle, the 20th largest city in the country by population, has the country’s 6th worst traffic congestion and the highest per capita car ownership of the nation’s 10 most densely populated cities.  The area’s rapid growth, coupled with increasing economic inequality, has led to a housing affordability crisis in which home ownership eludes an ever growing percentage of the populous and one in five renters spends more than half of their income on housing. 

However, these challenges also offer exceptional opportunities for positive change.  Sound Transit is funded to expand to a 116-mile regional system that is five times larger than it is today eventually reaching Everett, Tacoma, West Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellevue and Issaquah by 2041.  This offers the potential to reduce the upward pressure on housing costs by making more land more easily accessible to employment and other services. By reducing reliance on the automobile, light rail can reduce traffic congestion, carbon emissions and eliminate the cost of owning a car thus making more income available for housing.  By encouraging mixed-use development in close proximity to light rail stations what are now auto dependant oceans of asphalt and strip development can be transformed into vibrant, walkable and diverse communities with a strong sense of place and identity.  By expanding and diversifying urban centers beyond the few that currently exist the pressure on regional housing and transportation costs can be reduced while improving our region’s quality of life for a broader spectrum of our population.

Kent/Des Moines Station

The Kent/Des Moines Link light rail station is scheduled to open in 2024.  The station alignment is more or less centered between I-5 and SR99 between S. 236th and S. 240th Streets in what is known as Midway.  In addition to Link light rail, the King County Metro Rapid Ride A Line runs along SR99 with stations serving the north, central and southern area of the site.  The site slopes gently downhill to the east from SR 99.  Highline College is due west of the station site on the other side of SR99 and was influential in establishing the final station alignment.  The site area is bounded by Kent Des Moines Road to the north, I-5 to the east and SR99 to the west.  The site’s southern boundary is less well defined and subject to the design strategy employed.  However, a successful TOD strategy will entail making strong pedestrian and bicycle connections to areas outside the site boundary and especially Highline College to afford access to the station and connect the new TOD development with surrounding neighborhoods.

Working with Sound Transit, the City of Kent and local professionals with interest in the project, the studio will pursue proposals that promote a strong vision for Transit Oriented Development at the station.  At the same time, the studio seeks to address the reality of conditions on the ground and be responsive to the concerns and goals of both Sound Transit and the City of Kent.   While the physical, social, economic and political conditions are challenging, both institutions are deeply committed to positive urban and environmental change and a strong vision for community life in the 21st century.  As a result, the potential for a fundamental and very visible urban transformation both at the immediate site and along the Sound Transit and Aurora Avenue corridors is substantial.  As students, you are on the ground floor of an opportunity to explore one of the grand challenges of today, not only as an academic exercise, but as a ‘real world’ project with civic benefit.