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$18 million Bellevue project would convert vehicle lanes for bikes

The city of Bellevue is considering an $18 million project that would convert vehicle lanes in various local arterials into bike lanes, a move city officials believe would reduce biker fatalities and improve non-vehicular commuting without negatively affecting traffic conditions.

However, opponents are arguing that the project would achieve none of those objectives.

Under the proposed “Bike Bellevue,” the city would create a 15.11 mile-long bicycle network in downtown, Bel-Red, and Wilburton neighborhoods, in most cases by removing at least one vehicle lane on the road from 11 corridors.

According to city documents, the project would “greatly expand the number of employment opportunities, schools, transit stations and stops that people can comfortably get to by bike within the project area.” The city estimates the project, when completed, would facilitate between 825,000 to 4 million bike trips a year, while reducing vehicle miles traveled by between 1.2 to 10.8 million miles annually.

Critics say the city is embellishing the perceived benefits. According to the city’s own estimates, the project would add just 210 bike trips within those corridors and 375 bike trips citywide. Only 13 new bike trips would be for commuting.

Testifying at a recent Transportation Commission meeting, Kemper Development Transportation Director Mariya Frost said that “the plan does more to increase traffic congestion and worsen conditions at intersections than it does to actually increase bike ridership, much less do anything for people living below the poverty line who will not bike to work. Worse still, some of the plan designs create serious safety concerns for all road users.”

According to city documents, the removal of these vehicle lanes won’t negatively impact traffic. In fact, the city claims that even with population and employment growth, traffic levels in those corridors will actually go down. The city bases its claim on traffic volume data gathered from those areas, arguing that six of the 11 bike corridors have either seen no increased traffic or decreased traffic.

However, Frost told the commission the data doesn’t paint an accurate picture of the situation because it’s based on combined average traffic levels in both directions.

“In other words, peak demand in one direction on a busy afternoon is offset by moderate traffic in the opposite direction,” she said, “and this then represents whether the road is fully utilized. Instead, staff should compare directional demand to directional capacity during peak hours of the day, which is when we need to accommodate vehicular traffic the most.”

The city is accepting public comments and feedback on the proposed designs through Nov. 15.