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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.

93 Replies to “Bellevue is Not the Problem”

  1. IMO Downtown Bellevue is very walkable, it does not require a brave soul to walk there. I’ve been there with and without my car and have gotten along much better without it in bellevue.

    I think it is more difficult to drive there because there is soooooo much traffic. and besides you don’t get to enjoy the 6th st. pedway or downtown park when you’re in a car. or the awesome granite bases of the high-rises!

    1. You don’t know Bellevue at all then.

      Have you ever been to the prosaically named “Downtown Park”?

      http://goo.gl/dVjP

      It’s a walk in and of itself. But if you want more, continue on through the “old town” and into the original housing areas along Meydenbauer Bay.

      1. I have been to Downtown Bellevue Park, quite a few times, and I loved it, it is a very nice, open space of land with a beautiful view of the skyscraper-core. I hope some day the parking lots disappear under it, and they complete the circle.

        I very much loved walking in Downtown Bellevue. I would go there a lot more (when I’m home(thus on vacation)) if it was easy to get to, but as I no longer drive it does make it very difficult to get to. (This is partially due to the fact that I don’t want to take busses, if I can’t take a train or my bike to it, I won’t go)

        I ride busses every day in Chicago (because I tend to be lazy, and because for the next few months I cannot bike due to medical problems) they are a COMPLETE Waste of time. The el beats them hands down, even when it’s broken (which is often)

        That is not a long walk at all. A long walk is 6+ miles, to people who live in cities walking is nothing to them. Everyone I know in the city I now live in walks two or three miles to go somewhere and thinks nothing of it. They all originally being from non-dense parts of the country are amazed at how much they are willing to walk and how they don’t notice or care how far something is.

  2. besides that it must have one of the largest skylines for any city up to two times as big as it! their downtown is really huge! and that is something we need more of! dense high-rise development that puts people 5 blocks from where they work. (they’ve built a ton of condos)

  3. “…a proposal to somewhat reduce the public subsidy of some parking and increase the tax on other parking.”

    On what are you basing your claim that parking in downtown Seattle is “publicly subsidized”?

    1. Street parking is significantly cheaper than garage parking in the same areas for the same amount of time — the going market rate — therefore street parking is subsidized.

      1. How do you know how much people pay to park in garages? Whenever I park in a downtown garage I pay nothing, because the business I am patronizing validates my parking. So, I park in downtown parking garages for free. Does this mean that the city is over-charging for on-street parking?

      2. Norman, if a business validates your parking then they are the ones that pay for it. The business then distributes that cost equally to all their customers through higher prices (regardless of whether the customer used the parking token or not), and probably eats some of it in terms of lower profits too.
        Assuming they could still get customers there (like with a new light rail line perhaps), Bellevue Square could charge lower rents to their tenants (=lower prices/higher profits) if they sold off or developed some of the 20 acres of downtown Bellevue real estate they have dedicated to ‘free’ parking.

      3. If businesses do pay when they validate parking, do you believe they acutally pay the hourly rates posted on the signs at those parking garages?

        I don’t care what the city charges for on-street parking, personally, since I don’t park downtown much. I do my shopping where I don’t have to pay to park.

        But, I would like to know what the actual “market rate” to park downtown is. I don’t believe people are paying those rates you hear about, like $9 per hour. Private garages post those rates because they don’t want short-term parkers in their garages — they want people to park in those garages all day. The rates they post for short-term parking are to discourage short-term parking, and I believe it works very well. I don’t think there are many, if any, people paying $7 to $9 per hour to park in those gargaes.

      4. I’d like to see some evidence that the hourly rates are high because the parking concessions don’t want short-term parkers. If they can get the $7 to $9 from them, I’m sure they’re happy to take it.

        They would however, like to fill up their spaces with monthly contracts and all-day parking, and they attract the latter with “early bird” pricing. A lower all-day rate is just a volume discount. To the extent that they can’t keep all the spaces full all day, they’ll take the short-term users.

      5. I would like to see some evidence that there are many short-term parkers paying $7 to $9 per hour to park in a garage.

      6. Isn’t the fact that street parking is hard to come by in Seattle (and if Norman is right, that few people are paying $7-9an hour for a garage) an indicator that the street parking rate is below market value?

      7. Norman, who said people were paying $7-$9 per hour, besides you?

        In my experience parking in a downtown garage is usually from $4 to $6 per hour for short-term parking.

        You can go to the Seattle Parking Map and get the current 2 hour rate for garages and lots downtown; http://web1.seattle.gov/sdot/seattleparkingmap/

        When I checked the area around Westlake Center the low was $6 and the high was $19 for 2 hours. The average for 35 lots and garages was $10 for 2 hours. So it looks like the market rate is around $5 per hour, or twice what the city charges for on-street parking.

      8. And if you look at pricing in the financial district using that same map the average hourly cost goes up to $7.

      9. It’s worth pointing out that street parking *is* short-term parking, so even if the garages are using high rates as a disincentive, it’s still a useful point of comparison.

        That said, I don’t particularly care what the garages charge. It’s obvious that demand far exceeds supply to anyone who’s ever spend 10+ minutes circling the block waiting for a space to open up. Thus, price is below market rate.

        If people choose not to park in garages even though they’re “free”, that just means that street parking is more desirable than garage parking, in which case street parking *should* cost more than garages. If the price differential is high enough, then people will start to park in garages instead, and we’ll be making better use of our scarce resources.

      10. The fact is there are many onstreet parking spots within a few blocks of the downtown core which are empty almost all the time:

        http://www.flickr.com/photos/51332149@N02/sets/72157625026324059/

        I believe there are many more onstreet parking spots in Seattle which are mostly empty all the time than there are parking spots in the downtown core. The north-south streets don’t have much public onstreet parking through the downtown core. 5th Ave., for example, for several blocks has no parking on either side, where it is only 3 lanes wide. There are several blocks of 4th Ave in the downtown core which have only a few parking spots on one side, and none on the other.

        So, the number of onstreet parking spots which are actually available in the center of downtown is not very large, which means raising the rates on those spots won’t generate much money for the city.

        The real problem in the downtown core is that onstreet parking is free and unlimited for anyone with a disabled parking permit. So many spots are taken up for many hours each day by people parking for free. This is the real “subsidized” street parking.

        Get rid of free unlimited parking for people with disabled permits, then see what the parking situation looks like. I predict you would have a much easier time finding parking spots in the downtown core, and that the city would make a lot more money from onstreet parking.

        As long as the city allows people with disabled parking permits to use onstreet parking for free, you can’t really make any determination of what “market value” for onstreet parking actually is.

      11. I’ve never even looked for street parking in Seattle, I always go straight to a garage. Is the price of on-street parking REALLY THAT big of a deal?

        Also, I agree, that if garages can stay full with rates more than double what on-street parking is, then on-street parking ought to be more expensive, but I must say, look at the backlash that parking meter prices have caused against Mayor Daley in Chicago. While agree, raising the price makes sense logically, it will very likely piss almost everyone off.

        This city is FUMING about 2.50 an hour because it used to be much cheaper apparently.

      12. To be a bit contrarian. You could say that public streets are a public common and thus shouldn’t be up for sale or rent.

        Now reasonable people acknowledge that cities require revenue to maintain the public commons and provide the other services that cities provide. So some happy medium or compromise is erected. The citizens tolerate parking tolls on some city streets that allow the city to collect revenue streams and regulate demand for that space. But when a city gets zealous in its application of these types of tolls, the citizens get angry and they revolt.

        Zealous is when a city SELLS the public commons to a private company (for 75 years) which then immediately doubles the parking rates, increases the enforcement to 7 days a week and extends the hours well past normal business hours. Couple that with increased enforcement of neighborhood parking that requires cars to be moved with short notices and you have a situation that is ripe for political backlash. This is what has happened here in Chicago. The anger at this is so palpable that the entrenched political machine has taken a big hit and the venerable Mayor Daley will not seek reelection next year (personal reasons aside).

        I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. You war on the car at your political peril. The reality is, car ownership will become increasing untenable due to external economic forces and not government coercion. No need to spend political capital by making it more and more inconvenient to operate a car in your city. Instead, invest in improving transit and biking and walking but not at the expense of people’s freedom to drive.

      13. Norman: If the business pays for your parking, then your parking is still subsidized. The business pays the lot owner instead of you. The total market price for the parking stall, however, is still higher in the private garage than the on-street parking. The difference between the two is the amount the the city is subsidizing on-street parking.

        No private lot owner would willingly charge under the market rate, and if they did, they would be either stupid or subsidizing the price of your parking for some other end, as happens in the case of validated parking. When it is no longer profitable for a business to validate your parking, they cease to do so and let market rates prevail (for example, the garage next to Meridian 16 used to offer validated parking for movie goers. They stopped presumably because they weren’t making enough money off the deal). In this case, the city is supporting allowing parking rates to go up closer to (but still subsidized compared to) the actual market rate.

        If your business wants to subsidize your parking, they’re more than welcome to pay you to park on the street. There is absolutely no real difference between them giving you a stamp to receive a discount on parking in a garage and giving you a couple bucks to cover what you put in the meter. Just because the transaction that gives you “free” parking is hidden doesn’t mean that someone hasn’t paid for it.

      14. Norman, thanks for the hints on available street parking in Belltown. I think most people don’t look that far north so they don’t realize it’s there, or they think it’s too far to walk. That suggests that the price is not the primary deterrent.

        Regarding the Westin picture, are you saying that the garage rate and the street rate are the same, and that the garage is well-used but the street is empty? That could suggest that hotel guests are different than shoppers, and have a particular preference for hotel parking.

        Regarding disability permits, you can’t be serious. I know somebody who has one of those. She says Seattle instituted free parking for permit holders because it doesn’t have enough disability spaces. She doesn’t go downtown much but on Capitol Hill, the waterfront, Fremont, etc. She’d rather ride the bus but it’s difficult to walk to the bus stops, she gets unfriendly stares taking her walker on/off the bus, and she’s been hit by a car more than once when crossing the street. At Seattle Center street parking is so scare and distant she uses the garage disability spaces, which she pays full price for. Street parking makes the difference whether she can visit me at my apartment or a local restaurant, and when we’re out it seems silly to pay $3 in parking for a quick $10 meal or a quick hop to the drugstore: better to go somewhere that has free parking.

        So I’m all for increased parking rates to discourage driving in the city, but it creates significant problems for getting both my disabled and non-disabled friends to meet me in the city, even for simple events like a drink at the pub or a movie. For them to stash their car at a P&R and take a bus downtown and transfer to the neighborhood would add 30-60 minutes to their trip, which they’re not willing to do, they don’t know the bus routes, etc. So we either have to go to a free-parking neighborhood, or circle the streets looking for a space, or I have to spring for a space at a pay lot (which I’m more prone to do now because it beats circling for a space).

    2. “On what are you basing your claim that parking in downtown Seattle is “publicly subsidized”?”

      Let’s start with the fact that roads *to* the parking garages in downtown are subsidized with an enormous amount of general fund dollars paid by all residents of Seattle, regardless of whether they own a car or not.

      As has been shown many times, user fees in the form of gas taxes, MVET, parking taxes, registration fees, and even sales taxes on cars do not get close to covering the full cost of roads in Seattle.

  4. Growing up in Bellevue, today’s environment is night and day compared to 30 years ago. For a sense of what Bellevue was like then, look at Lynnwood today. Sure, there are still lots of missing teeth – but the transformation is remarkable and one more round of development after this recession should fill in those gaps.

    There were not even sidewalks on some of the major streets back then. Now there are sidewalks, and pedestrians – who’d have thought.

    1. Now if Bellevue only had some alternative music clubs like the equivalents of Nuemos, El Corazon, and Chop Suey, as well as performance art theaters like On the Boards in addition to the light rail, then you’ll really be able to say it has arrived.

      1. I think that will come shortly as the number of available living spaces in DT Bellevue has grown from virtually zero to 5-10k in just the last few years. But really the market for this in the greater Metro area is pretty well saturated. The club business is a tough nut to crack. Clubs opening in Bellevue will pull business away from those in Seattle.

  5. For those that didn’t read Golob’s cliched piece, here’s a sample:

    “Eastsiders distinguish themselves by driving with less skill and courtesy than even Seattleites, embodying the principles of the modern conservative fully in their driving: I am the most important person here. Your needs are a waste, particularly when they conflict with mine. I will step on your neck (and the neck of any other thing living or dead) to get my needs met.”

    This is the writing of an ignorant, undeveloped mind.

    This article is nothing more than his bias against conservatives masquerading as a Bellevue driving & parking article.

    And Duke admires this guy?

    1. Or just someone that does not drive that much. I often find myself feeling this way when viewing the entire drive culture (not just poor Bellevue), especially during commute hours. However, this guy does need some editing to be less insulting; though it is the Stranger…that’s their thing.

      Ultimately, I think Martin’s assessment is accurate: Seattle is in no position to shake our “green” fingers at anyone. The great majority of this city lives in their single-family home in neighborhoods where doing anything but getting to work via a mode of transport other than car is really difficult. And then they use that as an explanation for why we need freeways through downtown and need to keep parking free or super cheap. Those that don’t currently live in such a situation, more than likely aspire to do so. Maybe when they have kids, cause that’s when you are suppose to get a single-fam home?

      1. “The great majority of this city lives in their single-family home…”

        I think the percentage of Seattle residents living in detached, single-family homes gets overestimated. According to the 2005 American Community Survey from the Census Bureau, 137,197 of households lived in detached one-family homes, out of 278,495 total households. That’s 49.3 percent.

      2. “I think the percentage of Seattle residents living in detached, single-family homes gets overestimated…”

        Perhaps if you look at it strictly on a number-of-households basis. I think Wes’ point was directed more at land use. I can’t locate the numbers at the moment (and need to head off to work), but the 49.3% of households do occupy a very comfortable majority of Seattle’s land area.

      3. Wow, didn’t realize only 50% of households in Seattle are in SF detached homes: good to know. Daniel is correct, in a way. My assertion was based upon the distribution of land use and would have been more correct if I said, “The great majority of Seattle is single-family homes in neighborhoods where doing anything but getting to work via a mode of transport other than car is really difficult.” Your point is valid, though. That leaves roughly 50% of Seattle households that live in neighborhoods where homes are closer together and, theoretically, support better transit service and greater retail densities.

    2. Your conservative victimhood complex is showing. It’s just a terribly-written article about driving, a hastily-written hit piece. I shared Martin’s reaction when I first read it.

    3. There are places where status seems to have an effect on driving. I’ve spent time in the Hamptons where there are three general “waves” of traffic each morning. First the black expensive fast sedans that head toward the City, then the white vans and pickups of workers that are coming into the community, finally the SUV’s, wagons and vans distributing kids.

      At a 4-way stop, these different classes of vehicles sort out who’s first not by arrival time, but by status – because the workers vehicle timing intersects the last of the black sedans and the first of the wagons. You’re turn is last if you’re driving a white van or a pickup.

      Fascinating to watch.

  6. Martin:

    You’re far too easy on Bellevue.

    While I agree it’s nowhere near as bad as gated, golf course, cul de sacs in Newcastle, Kemper-ville still has enourmous issues.

    Their transportation plans favor maintaining huge one-way couplets and ped-hostile free-turning movements in it’s downtown. Their LOS is car-based. Poor housing/jobs balance has led to their average employee commute distance being double that of Seattle (>15mi compared to 7mi, if I recall correctly). So many of their zoning codes are still stuck in the 1960’s as to make it nearly impossible to build good walkable, bikable, human-scale development.

    As for bicycling, their Kemper-approved council, which continues to waste tax-dollars fighting the better light rail alignments, is de-funding bicycle facilities on 108th. The proposed improvements on 108th were part of the rationale for not making other streets more accommodating during recent construction (a la Complete Streets, another thing they don’t have and assert they don’t need.)

    1. You mentioned Kemper Freeman and cul de sacs, but you just needed to work Surrey Downs into your comment for the trifecta.

    2. I would rather bike on low density streets in Bellevue, which are spread out, have wider margins, and have multiple routes to get to any destination, than the 2 foot margins and bumper to bumper high speed traffic of Seattle avenues.

      1. Well, I commute by bike 20 miles a day (have for years), and I disagree. It is the wide roads which make drivers comfortable at the high speeds which are dangerous to cyclists.

      2. I’d have to disagree too. Seattle arterials are generally uncomfortably narrow for the posted speeds, keeping drivers attentive. Also, having other bikes around makes drivers more generous. Wide lanes, turn signals and unused crosswalks let drivers drift off so that when they do encounter a bike, they’re hostile and inattentive.

        This isn’t a dig at Bellevue in particular, just the unintended consequences of last century’s traffic engineering.

      3. Have you ever actually ridden a bicycle in Bellevue, Bailo? I have and I absolutely prefer riding in Seattle.

      4. I’m going to agree with both John & Jake here. There are many places in Bellevue where riding a bike is very comfortable – even downtown. The problem comes when you are forced onto a higher speed arterial because of very large hills or lack of viable alternatives.

        One excellent example: I ride through Bellevue on 108th and NE 10th and have never been honked at on those streets. However, to get to the base I have to traverse NE 12th for 4 blocks and there the story changes. Despite 2 lanes and commuting at off-rush hour times, I’ve been honked and multiple times and had several close passes. Something about that street’s design encourages people to drive faster and assume that bikes shouldn’t be there.

        I’ve biked in Bellevue since the 80’s and it *is* getting better. That said, I’m really nervous about all of those empty condos in downtown. Once those get filled up things could get really bad if all of those residents choose cars over other modes of transport. NE 10th could really become uncomfortable given the scale of development in that area.

    3. Are you sure of that regarding zoning codes?

      What’s your basis for saying that? Look at newer buildings – where the street clearly is or will be pedestrian oriented the buildings have storefronts, courtyards, entries and often a finer scale of building design and materials.

      Where a street will never be a strong pedestrian street – such as the east end of NE 8th near I-405, or streets parallel to the freeway – the buildings tend not to have space for sidewalk uses that will fail. Not much different than 6th Avenue in Seattle for example up tight against I-5.

  7. Well I’ll say that when I worked in Bellevue, it is actually quite walkwable. There are fewer streets, alleys, and driveways to cross in Bellevue making it a bit safer than walking in seattle IMO. But, the perfect storm is to transplant someone who drives in Bellevue and place them in Seattle; they will up one way streets the wrong way and peel out of driveways without looking for peds. However, I will say that cyclsts in Bellevue (if there are any) are much more courteous than Seattle. I think the whole bike box is a waste of money, I see more bicyclsts rolling through intersections and cutting off peds in a crosswalk when they have a red light.

    Anyways, here’s a fun video courtesy of Almost Live (seattle sketch show of the 80s and 90s). “The architecture of the eastside is classified as post-modern taco time…”

    1. I have worked in Bellevue in the past and I often took long walks in “the City”. I loved the little delis near the Bellevue Transit Center. Also the cuts through parking lots and parks that could take me to Bel Square Mall. Another place to haunt is the old John Dantz theatre an former bowling alley that got turned into a huge Barnes and Nobel with lots of neat eateries.

      One irony I have mentioned in the past is that when people talk about “walkability” they mean everything is within half a block of their condo. I quipped that this is hardly “walking”. In my exurb of Kent, I will walk for blocks and blocks, or take long walks along the Green River or Soos Creek trail.

      When people really did “walk” to the general store, they would walk for miles, not blocks. The spread out nature of the sururbs actually makes them more “walkable” for people who really want to get in a walk than cities where people walk two blocks to sit and have a coffee.

      1. Walking in the suburbs can only be supported by an infrastructure ( sidewalks, trails, shoulders ) otherwise its an adventure

      2. Walking in Bellevue is perfectly fine, provided you don’t mind being treated as a 2nd class citizen at crossings. The amount of time you waste waiting for a “Walk” sign is staggering. At least on a bike I can take advantage of the city’s favoritism towards cars – provided I’m a little brave and assertive…

  8. Bellevue does have a lack of good restaurants. I do like a number of family owned places but in general there are about 6 good ones of those and that’s it. Which is really too bad.

    Cycling in downtown Bellevue also sucks rocks. No shoulders and a road grid that says if you are going from Seattle to Kirkland, or Renton to Kirkland you have to go through downtown Bellevue. That said, the back roads are great, quiet, low traffic, lots of speed bumps that hinder car traffic and not bicycle traffic.

    Bellevue gave up it’s Lake Washington access in the 50’s and only recently bought a small piece of it back at the cost of millions. Yet it does not compare to Kirkland or Seattle’s access. Still the swimming beaches are good if crowded.

    The Surrey Downs folks are fighting a losing war. Had the thrown their weight into the original Sound Transit technology wars 15 years ago it might have made a difference, but now, they are just making a worse mess of a poor choice. (steel rails on steel track.)

    Kemper Freeman is a major hindrance in the transition of the city from a car culture to Rapid Transit and human powered transit. It’s only within the last 5 years of so that the city stores opened toward the street and not just inside the mall.

    Cul de Sac’s are a problem but most of Bellevue is not laid out that way. Just look at google maps of the area South of NE 8th and East of 140th. Lots of grid like patterned streets.

    1. Interesting you mention that area east of 140th. The Lake Hills development was a model of new living in the 60s and was targeted at Beoing engineers building 707s. You could argue that without those suburbs as well as ones in lynnwood and renton, Seattle would not be nearly as large as it is today. I digress, the Lake Hills development may be gridded, but if you’ve ever driven over there you’ll realize that most neighborhood streets have no sidewalk and are extremely wide. Only lately have the major collector streets been given bulb outs and sidewalks.

      An interesting note, much of the suburban land use and design was not totally due to the automobile, a great amount was related to the notion that if out nation was attacked by nuclear bomb, it wouldn’t wipe out that many people as if they were all living in urban areas. Much less, with cities looking the way they were during the coldwar, it wouldn’t be that effective to target them, where can you target then to maximize damage?

      Anyways, my $0.02

      1. I disagree with your “nuclear war” argument. The book “Last Aid” shows that in a modern nuclear engagement with typical hydrogen bomb yield levels, everything within a few dozen miles of the urban center would be totally, utterly destroyed. Assuming total war, I mean.

      2. “If you have ever driven”… I actually ride my bicycle and walk those streets. The low traffic volumes in the neighborhoods make sidewalks unnecessary and sidewalks in general are really poor for bicycling.

        I don’t know why people associate sidewalks with bicycling, they may be ok for kids riding a block or two, but as a commuter, they are dangerous. People backing out of driveways don’t expect riders at 15mph+, cars turning right don’t anticipate the speed of the cyclist they just passed and turn right in front of you.

        I’d rather have wide streets so that cars can pass me.

        As for survivability of an modern atomic blast, one has only to look at the WW2 city blast zones in Japan to see what a crock thinking that suburban neighborhoods are safe. Besides, if you didn’t die in the first shock wave, you’re likely to die from the radiation in the next few days.

  9. It’s a classic mistake to reinterpret one thing with the paradigm of what you are used to.

    So, The Stranger leaves a “city” and goes to visit “a city” in the exurb.

    The assumption is that one dweller in a centralized dense area would go to find the equivalent in another area. It’s sort of like a New Yorker coming to Seattle and judging it on how good the bagels and lox are, rather than the skiing.

    People in exurbs, such as myself in Kent, don’t spend hours and hours in traffic trying to get to one centralize place. Our lives are spread out, diverse. What are the public areas? Yes, there are many — but for many the public area is the home. People have larger homes, more spread out, and they use them for entertaining, business, play time. The home becomes the public place, and it is there to be used. As opposed to dweller in a tiny condo who is constantly roaming the streets looking for “something to do” in his “real city”.

    1. You got it in the first part. City dwellers have different values than suburban dwellers. City people like the “the neighborhood is my living room” motif. They like seeing their neighbors at the parks and on the sidewalks and in the cafes instead of being isolated in their rec room. They like walking to the supermarket and library instead of having to drive there. They like the frequent transit. They don’t miss Wal-Mart.

      Suburbanites value a large house with its own yard. But not all of them do. Some of them want a walkable neighborhood or frequent transit, but they can’t find an affordable place like that close enough to work. Roughly a third of people want to live in a dense environment and another third could go either way, but some 80% of the housing in the suburbs is low-density, so there’s an imbalance of supply and demand. That means that at least 13% of Americans are living in lower density than they desire, and the number is probably much higher. By “high” I don’t mean just Manhattan and Capitol Hill, but also Wallingford and downtown Bellevue.

      What we need is larger islands of density, and dense corridors, with rapid transit between all of them, and satellite buses to the surrounding low-density neighborhoods. Think Reston Town Center in downtown Kent. East Kent can stay the way it is, with one BRT line to downtown Kent and Renton.

      1. It’s not just different values, it’s what is the best fit for different times in your life. Suburbs and detached housing makes good sense with kids, so you can imagine spending a couple of different times in your life in that living situation – when you’re a kid, and when you’re raising them.

        In between, a dense, urban environment offers lots of reasons for a young professional to live that lifestyle – easy access to job opportunities, opportunities to meet people, etc. Later in life, an elderly person can be trapped in a suburban home when their ability to drive diminishes a denser living situation affords opportunities for more social interaction.

        I know these are gross generalities, but how people sort out their living circumstances is much more complex than one’s values dictating a single, life time housing decision.

      2. I have to say, I really don’t like this meme. Suburbs and detached housing do not “make good sense with kids”. I hated growing up in a detached house in the suburbs, and I’ve sworn to myself that I’ll never put my own kids through the same torture.

        There are people, both young and old, whose ideal density is something like Redmond. There are people who want to live on Capitol Hill when they’re 25, and Sammamish when they’re 45. But there are lots of people whose ideal density never really changes, and they live in Capitol Hill when they’re 25 because that’s where their friends live, and Sammamish when they’re 45 because moving to the suburbs when you have kids is “what you’re supposed to do”.

        There are already thousands of forces in society telling people that they can’t be happy in a city with kids. Let’s not get in the trap of repeating that meme. It’s much more interesting, and useful, to focus on the people whose lifestyle choices are *not* endorsed by today’s society, and to figure out whether there’s something we could be doing to better support them.

      3. Before the mid 1960s, families with children lived in the apartments on southwest Capitol Hill. So you don’t “need” a single-family house to raise children, even if most people insist on it. Before the mid 60s, a 2 BR house or apartment for two parents and two kids was the norm.

        I’ve heard that the law now requires a separate room for each child, and a minimum square feet per child. Is this true? If so, it’s a departure from Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, Death of a Salesman, and the Brady Bunch, where shared rooms were the norm. And many people point to these shows as the ideal suburban living conditions.

  10. I think two issues are being conflated, culture/beliefs/values and mode share.

    Jarrett has a great post about the fundamental attribution error, which essentially boils down to “My decisions are based on my situation, but other people’s choices are based on their culture, the kind of people they are.”

    I think this is what Martin in trying to get at. That’s not to say there are many other things I don’t like about Bellevue but I think when talking about the built environment and how it affects behavior you have to keep in mind.

  11. “Bellevue is also making a serious effort at encouraging biking”

    Just like to point out that downtown Bellevue has 0 bike lanes. I appreciate them trying but so far it’s all talk no action on that front.

    1. I prefer biking through DT Bellevue more than DT Seattle. Seattle may have bike lanes, but these bike lanes are on very busy streets with turning cars. To ride through DT Bellevue, they have a dead-end road set aside for cyclists to use, which comes back through to 112th to allow you to continue on your way.

    2. That’s not true. There are bike lanes but they’re disconnected and often poorly laid out. However, I can get into the city by bike from the northeast (NE 12th street) and to City Hall (110th Ave) at 6PM no problem. Or from Kirkland P&R 112th into the city isn’t bad at all. I’m very uncomfortable riding in Seattle unless I’m with a group that knows the roads. Then I find it’s easy to follow a wheel through areas I’d never try to ride by myself. I think it has more to do with an area you’re comfortable with but riding a bike in DT Seattle is far more complex and I think requires a much higher skill level. Plus you’ve got the hills and in general much worse pavement conditions to deal with. There’s a reason there’s only old farts in lycra riding around Bellevue and Seattle is all hipsters on fixies :=

      1. OK, I’ll try to get out the cell phone camera next ride. They (bike lanes) are fairly useless and in general what BV seems to miss is that if it doesn’t actually connect or go somewhere then it’s pointless. Lately I’ve been riding home and then driving to meetings at City Hall because ’tiss the season’ to get bike lighting sorted out. Plus the construction on NE 12th is a PITA. It’s been on my agenda though to provide the Transportation Commission with a photographic representation of why “all their planning” is a failure.

      2. The city recently repaved SE 36th from Factoria Boulevard to 150th SE. I was really hoping that they would use the opportunity to widen the uphill bike lane because it’s a major route from the I-90 bike trail. Did they? No, of course not. It’s the same gutter with a bike logo on it that it was before, but the center turn lane is still a spacious 12 feet wide, even though there are limited places where traffic can even turn left. Bellevue has some fantastic trails and a great park system, but it seems like in the past decade they’ve been unable to add much to it. They still haven’t sorted out West Lake Sammamish Parkway, even though they’ve been talking about it for years and Redmond has done their half.

      3. Attend the transportation committee meetings. I’ve made the same point about Redmond getting their part done. The current Bellevue funding plan is lame. In fact even if they build what is planned it’s still lame and overly expensive. It all boils down to ped == bike. The “plan” which is funded only partially and drags on for years, perhaps decades, hinges on a “multi use trail” that will only serve to alienate pedestrians and bikers but push most cyclist onto the street anyway making that conflict even worse.

      4. Bike lanes downtown:
        2nd Ave and Western.
        2nd Ave is more dangerous and it’s easier to take the street. Or just use 1st. Western’s climbing lane is good. Never had a problem on that unless it’s someone opening a door which is quite easily spotted on that slow stretch.

        I do agree that it does take some skill building to ride downtown. I have no problem with it, but it did take some getting used to. Now I think downtown is actually safer than riding outside of it – drivers are moving slowly due to the traffic grid (lights) and are paying attention to their surroundings more for the most part.

        And Most downtown cyclists I see are commuters, like me. This stereotype of cyclists is uninformed. If you ride with any regularity you will notice many different people riding many different types of bikes. Just like there are many different types of drivers driving many different types of vehicles.

  12. I find it interesting that the person who wrote this piece finds walking in Downtown Bellevue to be so dangerous. It leads me to believe that they’ve never attempted to walk around places like Boston or Washington, DC. I’ve spent a lot of time walking around both Seattle and Bellevue, and find both to be reasonably safe.

  13. I take it as satire. Jonathan admits he knows little about Bellevue, just what he happened to notice on this trip. And he chose the widest streets and biggest parking garages to visit. Most Bellevuites do not live downtown, and the traffic discourages them from going downtown more often than they have to. The sidewalk on NE 8th at 405 is windswept and boring and you have to turn sideways to get to some crosswalks, but it’s not unsafe. You just have to watch when crossing the off-ramps, the same as with Montlake and Olive Way. It’s some challenge to bicycle, but less scary than 4th Avenue in Seattle, and the sidewalk is empty during rush hour.

    There is no reason for Eastsiders to shop at Seattle malls or vice-versa. It’s not just the parking but the fact that you have to cross the bridge and that means traffic. The main stores and products are the same, only a few specialty shops are different.

    Kemper believes that his target customers — and those that keep Seattle alive — will shop at whichever place has the least traffic and free parking, and they won’t take transit to shop ever. Even if they take transit to work.

    1. “Kemper believes that his target customers — and those that keep Seattle alive — will shop at whichever place has the least traffic and free parking, and they won’t take transit to shop ever. Even if they take transit to work.”

      Which has nothing to do with his opposition to all day convenient Light Rail and support for commuter buses I’m sure.

    2. I don’t think Kemper opposes the existence of transit. He just doesn’t want it getting between the freeway exits and parking garages used by his target customers. And he doesn’t want tax dollars paying for transit when they could be better deployed on widening streets. He probably doesn’t object to the buses adjacent to the mall, and thinks they’re necessary for commuters. But he thinks light rail would block the streets and create more traffic jams, which would discourage his customers from driving to the mall. He’d probably be perfectly happy if light rail ran on B7+tunnel every two minutes and were privately funded. He just doesn’t want it near the shopping district or tax dollars going to it, or displacing bridge lanes.

  14. I’ve had trips like Golob’s to the Eastside and similar observations. Its an op ed piece, not a call for jihad against all things not of Seattle

  15. Downtown Bellevue really does suck for pedestrians. There is very little retail on the ground floor facing the street, which is the main thing that attracts pedestrians. In addition, there are several very wide, fast streets, and the blocks are huge, which is a big impediment to encouraging walking, as discussed by Jane Jacobs. They need to break up the superblocks, lower the speed limits and put in things that force traffic to go slower, and require ground-floor retail all along the skyscrapers. As it is, when I walk around Downtown Bellevue even on a weekday afternoon, the sidewalks are all empty amid the towering skyscrapers. It’s creepy. I know Bellevue can do it; there are a few places in Downtown Bellevue that do have plentiful ground-floor retail, and they seem to be pretty successful. Plus, Downtown Bellevue park is great. I hope that Downtown Bellevue can become vibrant, as well as dense, in the future.

    1. Old Bellevue is a good example of this. Now, if they would just figure out how to make that area a pedestrian mall – *THAT* would be cool. Once the park goes in you’d have an amazing pedestrian zone linking the shops in Old Bellevue with the waterfront park and the downtown park.

      If Kemper would redevelop the South side of the mall to have more street level retail, similar to the more recent developments along Bellevue Way, that would be a bonus but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one.

      Rerouting traffic in the area would be a major challenge though – A lot of traffic on Main Street is cutting through to Medina and even 520 via Lake Washington Blvd. Sigh…

      1. Well I think having car traffic on Main is fine, as long as it is kept slow. In general, if there’s not overcrowding on the sidewalks, I support keeping cars, as they do bring business to the retail along there. But again, as long as they are not prioritized over pedestrians.

      2. No problem there; traffic on Old Main is often very slow. There are plenty of pedestrians around, and with the mid-block crossings, vehicle speeds are kept down.

      3. The plan for Main is to make it two lanes with a center turn lane and build a new half diamond interchange to the south at NE 2nd to handle the majority of the car traffic. Main should get bike lanes on the up hill stretch from the freeway and sharrows downhill. Of course a C9T entrance from 112th will likely botch this.

  16. I’ll will pile on to Martin’s contrarian point. Sure, Bellevue is different than Seattle, especially in culture.

    Yet economic development groups in Sun Belt cities would love to have a downtown as vibrant and built-up as Bellevue’s is. Phoenix, Tampa, Charlotte – these cities have downtowns that not only rank well below Seattle, they rank below Bellevue. Downtown Bellevue accomodates the car, but it also has a well-developed and well-used transit center. Downtown has “world class” shopping, entertainment (if movies or bowling are your thing), and high-rise luxury condos galore. Its super-blocks were laid out early in the 20th centery when grids were still in fashion, so it can transition into a urban neighborhood better than most edge cities, such as Tyson’s Corner in suburban Virginia.

    The Seattle metro is lucky that so much office space has been concentrated into downtown Bellevue (where it can be served effectively by light rail), instead of sprawling in mid-rise office complexes along all the interstates, which is the most common form of office in many metros. Bellevue provides a model that other suburbs in the regions, such as Lynnwood and Federal Way, can and are aspiring too.

  17. As a former resident of Bellevue (1990’s), I think Bellevue is a very nice place to live and, current crop of politicos notwithstanding, it is a very well run city.

    My most recent visit last month had me spending a whole afternoon showing a visiting friend of mine the eastside. I showed him the “fossil record” of how downtown Bellevue developed from small single family houses that were converted to businesses, then to strip malls, then high rise developments. I showed him the significantly increased density and the noticeable pedestrian traffic at all hours in the downtown core. I showed him the aesthetics enforced by city building codes including low signage, and landscaping. I showed him the wide boulevards, tree lined streets, planters, artistic noise reduction panels, with plenty of pedestrian infrastructure. As my friend is an avid bike enthusiast, I showed him some of the off road bike paths.

    I showed him the revived mall that is Crossroads and how it is so the anti-Bel-Square. How a dead mall was resurrected to be a community space, where the average folk can go and hang out, play chess, visit the library, have a wide variety of ethnic cuisine to choose from. It is a little gem tucked away in East Bellevue.

    And then I showed him the fantastic wilderness and open space areas of Bellevue including blueberry farms, forest land, all with walking trails that help you forget you’re in the middle of a 120,000+ person city.

    I also commented on the increased congestion that has come along with the growth. I think Bellevue will benefit greatly When Link Light Rail arrives on the eastside. I hope the city makes the best of it rather than trying to make the worst of it.

  18. the problem is Redmond Ridge and Snoqualmie Ridge and Marysville.

    Redmond Ridge isn’t so bad. Yes it creates a traffic burden on Avondale but the neighborhood itself is quite nice. It’s a great place to ride a bike. For some reason there is almost zero traffic on the neighborhood roads plus Trilogy (aka Weyerhauser) retained most of the original trail connectivity and there are a number of gravel connecting routes that allow you to get from the Redmond Watershed to the Tolt Pipeline. Could it be better, perhaps but it’s actually not a bad model. The bigger problem is how the Issaquah plateau was allowed to develop without road or transit infrastructure to support it.

    Bellevue is also making a serious effort at encouraging biking,

    I can’t really agree with that statement. Half hearted would be generous. The transportation commission and the council equate ped==bike. There are a few examples where things got done right but it seems to be more by accident than design. The clueless plans for Northup and the boondoggle NE 15th/16th arterial planned for Bel-Red are prime examples.

    We need more Bellevues.

    Thanks, but one’s enough for right now := Bellevue, Redmond and Kirkland may seem like seamless extensions to Seattlites but each has it’s own good and not so good. While I sometimes wish we had a full time City Council I’m glad that we’re not all rolled into one big districtless omelet. I think the eastside model allows more effective citizen participation in shaping the environment albeit perhaps less efficient that the Seattle monolith.

  19. When you patronize Kemper’s properties (and there are many in Bellevue) you endorse the old-thinking of auto-centrism, and by default you “drive with bin Laden”.

  20. I’d also like to note that the one big bicycle store in Bellevue, Greg’s, is easier to get to via car than transit or bicycle. You could ride if you live West of Belleuve Way, but for those who live East of 405, it’s not easy to get to. So I find myself either not shopping there, or driving to it when I do go. I would have thought that the owner of a business that caters to bicyclists would have thought this out better but apparently not.

      1. It’s already there, World Cup Service Center at 13804 NE 20th St. From the 520 bike trail take the exit that drops you down behind Cash and Carry then use 140th to get over to NE 20th. Best of all, while you’re waiting to get your bike fixed you can trundle down the road a bit and test drive a new Bentley, Maserati, Lotus, etc. And there’s even economy cars like BMW if you’re just in the market for a grocery hauler :=

  21. This is such a good point! Us fussy “Local/Authentic/Indie/You’ve Never Heard of It = Better” Seattle snobs (and I say “us” on purpose) don’t have to *like* Bellevue or want to live there to understand it’s better to have people live in Bellevue than Issaquah. I hope B7 doesn’t happen, but even if it does, it’ll increase transit use. I think it’ll increase bike traffic, too – it’s much easier to put a bike on a train than it is a bus, especially because it won’t be soaked when you get to your destination.

    So. Bellevue, you’ll never get any of my restaurant or shopping money, now that I’m carless, but I still salute you for your density!

  22. The hit job on Bellevue is a classic case of the Westside having more prejudices about the Eastside than the other way. Has anybody from Seattle recently gone to the movies in Lincoln Square on a Friday, or walked through Bellevue Square any evening? These places are *packed,* and not with white people.

    The Stranger isn’t being edgy with this kind of crap journalism — they’re being as whiny as Fox News. How boring.

  23. Martin,

    Are you missing the point? Bellevue unlike some of the other localities that you mentioned are in direct competition for County transportation dollars. Those are transportation dollars that end up subsidizing parking garages and roads are they not?

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