Bellevue to follow Seattle's bike path obsession

May 23, 2019

You would think, given the increase in traffic congestion in our region, that many cities would be looking to relieve the gridlock on their streets. While we expect a city like Seattle to continue removing lanes in its effort to squeeze cars out of downtown, it is a little surprising to see the city of Bellevue pursuing what appears to be a similar goal.

Described in a recent blog by the Eastside Transportation Association, officials are aggressively pursuing bike lanes in downtown Bellevue, with plans to take away lanes from drivers to accommodate even the most inexperienced riders.

Last year, the city took away lanes on 108th Ave NE, a road used by thousands of drivers and bus riders every day, for just 25 new bike trips per weekday. Now, city staff are attempting to take away lanes on Main Street as well.

The official bike plan approved by the City Council says that bike lanes should reduce congestion. However, common sense says removing car lanes and adding bike lanes on Main Street will make traffic worse, and city staff have admitted as much. In fact, only 0.5% of Bellevue commuters take bikes to work.

Even in Seattle, it is clear that lane capacity is critical for our growing region, and cannot be given away to modes that do not carry the great majority of commuters. In 2017, a tanker truck carrying butane rolled over on I-5, causing massive backups on the highway and local arterials during the evening rush hour. The Seattle Times editorial board wrote an article saying that the city’s “decisions about traffic must include cars.”

“Major incidents will keep happening, and their effects are worsened because Seattle eliminated numerous arterial lanes in recent years. This reduced capacity hurt on Monday. Lanes were replaced with bicycle paths. The problem isn’t adding bike paths, it’s that the city did so by reducing general traffic capacity. This makes the street network less resilient and capable of handling surges — and more dependent on I-5.”

The intersection of Main Street and Bellevue Way is already one of the worst in the city. Removing already scarce road capacity at a time when downtown is experiencing never-before-seen growth is counter-intuitive when trying to attract new business to the city.

At the very least, the city should ensure a robust public process when it comes to replacing car lanes for bikes. We can “share the road” with bikes but taking away lanes from drivers requires involvement from all of those who use downtown, especially our neighborhoods and residents.

We agree with the ETA that rather than pushing ahead without engaging the public fully in the process, "there should be a public hearing process, increased neighborhood involvement, and ultimately a public vote on whether the community wants to take away lanes from the traveling public."