I have enormous respect for Jonathan Golob’s writing at The Stranger, and I sense we share a lot of the same values. However, I can’t imagine hating his hit job on Bellevue any more than I actually do.
And then, we’re off. Slowly. Creeping. Down 8th St, I notice the vestigial sidewalk—clear of pedestrians. Walking in Bellevue—I imagine as I wasn’t bold enough to try—strikes me as a life-threatening activity… Coming off I-405, the buildings here don’t seem to have entrances, just gaping maws for underground parking structures—maws already filled with car emesis squeezing in and out of the street.
Like an heiress bragging about her business acumen, many Seattlites are prone to take credit for a built environment they inherited. All of the acclaimed neighborhoods in Seattle, with the possible exception of South Lake Union, acquired their character in an era where cars were a somewhat attainable luxury rather than something automatically issued to you on your 16th birthday.
Modern Seattle is just as able as anyone else to mess up new development with outrageous focus on cars. After all, one recent foodfight has been over a proposal to somewhat reduce the public subsidy of some parking and increase the tax on other parking. You may have heard that there’s a debate about spending $4.2 billion — including $900m of unrestricted city authority — to maintain highway capacity in a downtown bypass, a fight the green side is losing decisively. This project will also replace a roadway grade-separated from pedestrians with one on the surface, and add two huge, neighborhood-destroying portals on either end.
I can understand Golob’s aesthetic preference for non-chain restaurants, and at times I seek similar businesses. But I’m at a loss as to what legitimate environmental or public-policy objective is involved, nor what sneering at chains will accomplish. Meanwhile, there are tons of good, small-scale eateries in Bellevue once you get out of the malls, much like none of Golob’s favorites are in Pacific Place.
Most importantly, in the struggle to make our metro areas more sustainable Bellevue is not the problem. There is a narrow issue of light rail alignments, where in my opinion a very vocal neighborhood and a certain moneyed interest have led the city astray. This kind of thing happens everywhere, and I think Bellevue’s institutions in particular haven’t caught up with its size. Nevertheless, the problem is not dense, mixed-use downtowns with a little too much emphasis on driving; the problem is Redmond Ridge and Snoqualmie Ridge and Marysville. Bellevue is also making a serious effort at encouraging biking, has a high transit share, and has ambitious development plans for the Bel-Red light rail corridor. We need more Bellevues.
I don’t mean to suggest a false equivalence between Seattle and Bellevue. The median voter and median politician in Seattle are a bit greener; it would be shocking if it were not so. But there’s a whole lot to be done in Seattle before residents have any right to be smug about what sister cities are doing. Those tasks aren’t made easier by alienating attacks on the lives people have chosen for themselves.