Photo by Flickr user Patricksmercy

Next Thursday, Bellevue will host an open house and scoping meeting on its newly-launched Downtown Livability initiative (.pdf), which is expected to address a range of topics, from building height limits to street-level pedestrian amenities.  While the City is still in the early stages of pre-scoping, there’s a fairly comprehensive list of analysis areas online (including street food, wahoo!).  The impetus behind the initiative is largely moving downtown Bellevue away from its current character as a monolithic office-oriented district to a more vibrant mixed-use neighborhood.

Design and planning wonks will appreciate what the open house will have to offer.  From the news release:

The open house will engage a wide range of stakeholders including property owners, design professionals, residents and the Downtown workforce. Participants can visit four display stations that will highlight enjoying downtown, downtown design features, mobility and a 3-D modeling of downtown.

Maps and visuals will examine many facets of downtown living which include public spaces, parks, building form and height, design guidelines, sign criteria, maintenance standards, the pedestrian corridor, and more. Staff will be available to take public input on the scope of the Downtown Livability Initiative. The public comment scoping period runs through December 31, 2012 and early public comment is encouraged.

While the initiative is separate from the Downtown Transportation Plan Update, both projects will be advanced in conjunction with one another, borrowing elements and work where appropriate.  Building mid-block crossings and through-block pedestrian connections, for example, will go hand in hand with the Livability Initiative’s design and wayfinding elements.  The project will also be complementary with ongoing Transit Master Plan work and East Link implementation.

The project reflects one of Bellevue’s most serious downtown planning efforts to-date, so ped/bike/transit and density supporters would do well to have a say in the process.  The open house and scoping meeting will be held at Bellevue City Hall Room 1E-108 next Thursday, November 29th, from 5 to 7pm.  Comments will also be accepted through email at

39 Replies to “Bellevue Launches Downtown Livability Initiative”

  1. I’m glad they’re trying. Bellevue was really built for cars, but I could imagine some imporovements to make it more walkable. Of course drivers won’t like these changes.

      1. Censorship of ideas is a bad road to travel too frequently in your quest for the perfect society, Sherwin.
        [policy whining]

      2. Mic, I wasn’t the one who censored your comments, but if you have an issue with our moderation, you’re free to e-mail us.

    1. For cars but also there are some super high end luxury condos populated by trust fund babies and the euro-chic…wonder what happens when daddy’s stock options run out…conversion to $1100 a month apartments?

      1. A low end formica & linoleum studio apartment in Bellevue or Redmond is $900, so those condos would be way underpriced at $1100/mo. Unless Microsoft downsizes or there’s a huge apartment building boom, I’d guess $1500 or higher; rents on the central eastside are insane by Seattle standards.

        But, uh, isn’t the point of a trust fund that it’s still around when daddy’s stock options run out?

  2. I just looked at this… Bellevue’s cycling plan is pathetic. It basically says, “Um, we’ll put up some wayfinding signs on the big arterial roads people bike on because they lack better choices.” Pretty soon there will be bike paths crossing Lake Washington on both I-90 and 520 and no sensible way to ride to downtown Bellevue from either. It makes pretty much the opposite mistake of Seattle’s cycling plan, which basically says, “CYCLETRACKS ON EVERY STREET never mind the budget or space constraints… yeah, we’ll never have a map that looks anything like this.”

    1. The best quote I’ve ever heard regarding Bellevue’s cycling and pedestrian plans: “At some point the decision was made to turn downtown Bellevue into a car sewer.”

      Sadly, the city of Bellevue is repeating past mistakes on NE 10th which has turned into a 3rd uncomfortable divider for pedestrians (NE 8th, NE 4th, and now NE 10th). Pedestrian signals there are inconsistent and punitive (many make you wait an additional cycle even if you press it only 1 second after the car signal turns green, for example).

      I used to enjoy biking on NE 10th which was calmer than 12th & 8th but no longer. It’s all pretty depressing if you get around by bike or on foot.

      1. It’s also pretty easy to find streets just outside of downtown with no sidewalks, let alone bike lanes.

      2. There’s a lot wrong with biking and walking in and around downtown Seattle too, largely because of design for maximum car capacity. But at least SDOT recognizes there’s a problem and is slowly doing something about it. Bellevue is going at it with utterly no vision. From I-90 to downtown Bellevue, at least one of 112th or Bellevue Way needs to have a quality bike facility, not just sharrows, because those are the routes without super-steep hills. 520 to downtown Bellevue, again, either 112th or Bellevue Way needs an upgrade. These streets, which in places go miles without intersections on one side or the other, would be easy to build cycletracks on. But Bellevue doesn’t see through current usage patterns. It’s a real shame.

        Even if they decide there isn’t room for bike facilities along Bellevue Way, there are nearby parallel routes without the really steep climb on 108th that just need signage. And in some spots a short section of path could help cyclists avoid steep hills and out-of-direction travel. Bellevue has no ideas.

      3. On that score, I’m actually a bit more hopeful. Since I moved over here 6 years ago, Bellevue has made steady improvements to pedestrian infrastructure in South Bellevue. There are still huge gaps and what has been built is sometimes a bit of a compromise (the multi-use path along 108th is too narrow in spots, with poor visibility in many spots due to vegetation).

        That said, Downtown is a cycling wasteland – confident vehicular cyclists need only apply. Other than bike racks, this picture shows the only dedicated cycling infrastructure in downtown Bellevue. Can you spot it?

      4. The multi-use path along 108th? You mean between I-90 and Bellevue Way? The only way that’s a multi-use path is if garbage cans are considered a use.

      5. Can’t argue with that. Luckily, garbage day is only one day a week and the section between I-90 and SE 30th, where I bike to, is wider and fairly comfortable to use. Beyond that, you’re kind of screwed.

      6. From I-90 up to Bellevue Way there really isn’t much traffic on 108th. North of there is where it gets dicey, and north of there is where Bellevue’s plan is a giant middle finger.

      7. One of the bike routes I sometimes take from Seattle to Redmond goes right through downtown Bellevue. I get off the I-90 trail at 108th, then take 108th all the way into downtown. It’s got a steep hill coming off Bellevue Way, but good shoulders and not much traffic. There’s sections south of Bellevue Way that don’t have good shoulders, but traffic there is even lighter, so I usually just take the lane.

        Once in downtown Bellevue, I then usually stay on 108th, then use either the 10th or 12th St. bridge to cross 405, then take 116th Ave north to connect with the 520 trail to Redmond.

        The 8th bridge I avoid at all costs. Crossing those 2-lane entrance ramps are extremely dangerous because it forces you to merge over into the center lane on a bike and have cars pass you on the right. 10th is much more traffic calmed than 8th and 12th has an extremely wide sidewalk you can ride on.

        116th Ave. is currently striped for 2 car lanes northbound and one lane southbound, plus a center turning lane. There is no bike lane or shoulder, but traffic tends to be pretty light. In fact, if Bellevue really cared about building a good bike network, the light traffic on 116th Ave. would make it an excellent candidate for a road diet, which would free up space for a two-way cycle track connecting the 12th St. bridge to the 520 trail.

      8. I agree about 116th.

        The problem with the steep hill is that it makes biking impossible for anyone that doesn’t have a shower at work. I do, and when I ride from Seattle to Kirkland through Bellevue I’m certainly planning to use it. But someone that lives in south Bellevue and works downtown could easily make that commute on bike without having to shower if there was a path in a flat corridor.

        Bellevue knows the real transportation corridors go around that hill, that’s why they built Bellevue Way and 112th that way. To come up with a bike plan that says the primary biking route will be 108th, as they have, is to write practical cycling out of Bellevue’s transportation future.

      9. The new NE 12th bridge has a nice multi use path that will be a good option for crossing 405 on a bike. Unfortunately it’s like all the rest of Bellevue’s bike infrastructure and connects with nothing. Steep hill on 116th? Garbage day is a hassel. I’m glad it’s Friday on 134th/132nd. People put the bins out a day ahead and often leave them out days later.

      10. Also, as far as I know, Bellevue has no plans to anything to improve the awful biking conditions on Northup Way between 108th and 116th. In a few years we’re going to end up with to great trails along 520 with a half-mile gap in between accessible only to the braver cyclists.

        From what I heard, if Bellevue does anything to Northup Way, it’s going to be widening the street to get more cars in. Biking conditions will be no better than today.

        Northup through this stretch also has no sidewalks and no safe crossing points. There’s a day care building and an office building across the street from each other and people are expected to literally get in their car to drive across the street in order to make it to the other side safely.

      11. Maybe what we can hope for is that on roads like Northup higher volumes of people on bikes using the sidewalks, scooting around by any means possible, locking up to whatever poles happen to be there, will ultimately rouse the city into action.

      12. I’ve noticed Bellevue is starting to adopt the Seattle-style semi-protected left turn signals (flashing-yellow cycle on a protected left while oncoming traffic has a green).

        However, I’ve noticed one huge difference in the way they’ve implemented it. Unlike Seattle’s setup, where during the left-turn-yield cycle pedestrians on both sides still have a “Walk” signal (and left-turn traffic simply yields to pedestrians in the crosswalk like at any other intersection), Bellevue’s set up will not give a walk signal during a flashing-arrow cycle. Pushing the button will insert a red left-turn arrow and a walk signal into the next light cycle.

        Right when I thought Bellevue couldn’t make their intersections any less pedestrian-friendly, they found a way. GG guys, gg.

      13. [Sigh] As long as the city insists of designing pedestrian signals where (if you use it legally) you have to wait a full signal cycle to cross the street, I am going to continue to ignore them and cross anyway, whenever the regular traffic light in my direction is green.

        I do like the idea of the semi-protected left, though. There are a number of intersections where doing this in Seattle would save buses that make left turns a lot of time.

      14. “Maybe what we can hope for is that on roads like Northup higher volumes of people on bikes using the sidewalks, scooting around by any means possible, locking up to whatever poles happen to be there, will ultimately rouse the city into action.

        First of all, what sidewalks? On roads like Northup, there are none. You either ride in the car lane or take a long detour.

        As to the effects of increasing bike volumes on those streets, I would say it depends. The biggest problem with putting bike lanes or sidewalks on Northup is that there is that the road simply isn’t wide enough and there isn’t room. To make space for a bike lane, the city of Bellevue would have to buy out land from adjacent parking lots and likely chop a few trees down too.

        For thru-bikers, the best solution I would advocate would be to extend the proposed Kirkland bike trail along the abandoned railroad tracks east of 108th, across 405, until it intersects Northup. Then, add ramps to allow access to the trail from Northup, just east of 116th Ave. From there, you can then convert the existing shoulder on the north side of Northup Way into a 2-way cycle track for about a tenth of a mile. That gets you to 24th St., where you can use the existing bike lane (this one, Bellevue did a good job on) to ride up the hill and connect to the 520 trail.

        This proposal would add only a small amount of additional distance over the current route, while eliminating that dangerous Northup Way segment. While it’s only a solution for thru-bikers – it doesn’t provide access to the businesses on Northup – it does make good use of the available land without requiring expensive property acquisitions.

      15. So actually… a bike path along the railroad tracks could provide a rear entrance to the buildings on the north side of Northup, and the bike path along the north edge of 520 (I think that’s planned, right?) could provide a rear entrance to the buildings on the south side of Northup. Of course that doesn’t solve the problem of crossing the street.

      16. a bike path along the railroad tracks could provide a rear entrance to the buildings

        Not really, there is a significant elevation difference.

        bike path along the north edge of 520 (I think that’s planned, right?) could provide a rear entrance to the buildings on the south side of Northup.

        Again, unlikely. I don’t think WSDOT plans to extend the bike trail any farther than 108th and access will be limited just like the current section east of 405. I haven’t seen any decent plan for connecting the two sections from Bellevue, WSDOT, King County (owners of that piece of BNSF ROW) or Kirkland.

      17. I’ve walked down those railroad tracks. There’s an elevation difference but a path would certainly be possible. All you really need is one path with reasonable grade at each end of the stretch between 108th and 405 and connections between the parking lots.

        It would take cooperation from the building owners, and anyone that builds on a street with such poor pedestrian access probably can’t be trusted, but it’s certainly not impossible.

  3. Rock and Roll clubs similar to El Corazon and Nuemos would do lots to raise the standards of livability, at least for bringing hipper demographics to Downtown Bellevue.

    At least they’ve got a comedy club drawing top name acts.

  4. Many of you just don’t understand Bellevue. We don’t want your kind here. Be happy with your sidewalks in Ballard.

  5. I am not anti-Bellevue. There are some wonderful neighborhoods on the eastside, and some fantastic mid-century architecture.

    However, downtown Bellevue just isn’t cut out to be “livable” – you can put up some kick-ass condos there, and people will buy them and live happily ever after, but those are the same sorts of people who would think nothing of getting in their car and driving five blocks to the QFC to pick up a loaf of bread, or getting in the car to drive to some gym to walk on the treadmill.

    The artificial center of its artificial universe is Bel Square, which is a temple to the automobile lifestyle, and has gotten so depressingly corporate in recent years that it might as well be in Omaha or Fresno, or New Jersey somewhere. (seriously, twenty years ago, Bel Square used to be mostly local stores. Nowadays, you’d be hard pressed to find any non chain stores in there). In that environment, of largely affluent people, shopping at largely homogenous stores and eating at largely homogenous restaurants, you are not going to find that special something that makes an area a neighborhood.

    “Livable” neighborhoods largely just happen, and are a mix of the old and the new, the rich and the poor, the practical and the fanciful. The more you try to pound square pegs into round holes, the more disappointed people end up being.

    1. Amen, I agree completely. Its homogeneous, corporate and auto-centric, thsts maybe cool for some, but its the opposite of what ‘livable’ has come to mean.

      Plus Bellevue simply is scaled for the car… in its wide streets, superblocks and glass office towers designed solely for 9-5 hours, good luck trying to change all those bones to a human scaled diverse vibrant place.

    2. One of the things I’ve noticed about downtown Bellevue is that if you drive there, you don’t spend one second outside when you arrive. You go straight into a parking garage that has a walkway to your building. And if you want to combine Lincoln Square with Bellevue Square in the same trip, you have skybridges.

      1. That’s not true. There are lots of surface lots in Bellevue and the rates are comparable to Seattle. If you only visit in the evening then you’ll go away with the impression that you have. If you’re an iron worker trying to park and work for the day then YMMV.

      2. Most of the time I’ve been to Bellevue it’s been a lunch trip with coworkers midday on a weekday. We drive straight to the garage for either Bellevue Square or Lincoln Square and walk right on – not as much as a whiff of fresh air the entire trip. Parking is either completely free or validated. Maybe employees who are there all day have to pay, but customers who are only parking for a couple of hours never pay.

        Getting into and out of those garages is fairly time-consuming. Given that our offices are right next to a B-line stop, I suspect the bus could be time-competitive with driving, once the parking is taken into account. However, I’ve never attempted to convince people to try the bus, mostly because I think it would be a lost cause. Part of the problem is money. When you go 4 people to a car, the gas is quite cheap. And even though most of us already have bus passes, there are several that don’t. And with free parking and all the car costs sunk, it’s actually cheaper to drive 4 people per car than to pay the bus fare for the 1/3rd of the people in the group that don’t have passes.

  6. While I agree that Bellevue could be doing much more to improve non-motorized travel, they do have a plan to improve biking conditions on Northup Way:

    Sidewalks and bike lanes will go a long way to fix the missing link. It would sure be nice to have a separate facility all the way along 520, but anything that improves the two-lane shoulderless blind curves is appreciated.

  7. I work, walk and bike in Bellevue. It’s basically terrible. Downtown has nice, broad sidewalks, but the pedestrian light timing is (as others describe) punitive. Biking in downtown is insane. There’s way too much traffic, and cars are simply not used to dealing with bikes on the road.

    We need a better biking connection from 112th ave NE, to the hill before 114th ave NE. Most of the major streets in downtown could be narrowed and have protected bike lanes on either side (or down the middle!).

    I do most of my biking through Bellevue (coming off I-90) on 118th ave SE/Lake Wash Blvd. SE. I tried once to go through the city proper. The hills were steep and the routes weren’t protected/signed very well. I would not even consider biking on Bellevue Way.

    All major intersections (including on the east side of 405 on 116th Ave. NE), should be all way pedestrian crossings. Ever wait to cross NE 8th at 116th ave NE? It’s a mind-numbingly long light. I can’t count the times I’ve almost been killed by right and left turning drivers at NE 12th and 116th ave NE. That big bridge just ends in nothing, on either side.

    My vision (and maybe it’s impractical) is to take a lane in each direction out of the wide Bellevue streets. Instead of putting a bike lane on either side and widening the sidewalk, I would put a planted and benched pedestrian mall down the center of the street with separated bike lanes on either side of that.

    I think that plan would make the scale of the streets seem smaller, and give people more places to hang out in the public areas, making the streets more lively.

  8. I tried to email my comments to the email in the article and got:

    Delivery to the following recipient failed permanently:

    Technical details of permanent failure:
    Google tried to deliver your message, but it was rejected by the recipient domain. We recommend contacting the other email provider for further information about the cause of this error. The error that the other server returned was: 550 550-Invalid recipient

    1. I was able to contact Julie Ellenhorn, the community outreach contact for downtown livability. She has activated the email, and should be ready to receive comments now.

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