By BRAD HAVERSTEIN
Bellevue may have decided to make the 108th Ave NE bike lane it built last year permanent, but when it comes to expanding the city’s downtown cycling network the Bellevue Transportation Commission seems to be at odds with City Council. On May 23rd the Commission split 3-3 over whether to add bicycle lanes along two blocks of Main ST between Bellevue Way and 108th Ave NE, despite the fact that City Council strongly supports the project. Following the split, the Commission voted to delay further discussion, but did not choose a specific date to revisit the plan, leaving it unclear how the process will move forward.
This is the second time that the Commission has punted consideration of extending Bellevue’s downtown bicycle network. City staff first proposed the Main ST project at the Commission’s March 28th meeting, but the issue was tabled after the Commission’s 4-2 vote to retain the existing protected bicycle lanes on 108th Ave NE.
The decision to delay comes after Commission Chair Lei Wu has received specific instructions from Bellevue City Council to evaluate options for Main ST and choose an alternative. At a May 13th study session the full Council discussed the proposal with Wu and expressed unanimous support for moving forward with an east-west bicycle facility. Since City Council strongly supports piloting more bicycle lanes, why is the Transportation Commission dithering on its responsibility?
Speaking of the Transportation Commission’s vote to retain the existing bike lanes, Mayor John Chelminiak said:
What the transportation commission is doing, or at least a majority of the transportation commission is doing, in my mind, is helping the council and the city of Bellevue implement adopted policy of the city. And that’s the job of a commission. The job of a commission is not to consistently second guess, its to implement adopted policy.
Mayor Chelminiak went on to add that this is an opportunity to add bike lanes to Main ST since one of the general traffic lanes which would be converted has been closed anyway due to construction without causing significant problems.
I would say move ahead with a decent amount of speed because my daughter was still in school in 2017 when that lane got blocked. It hasn’t changed anything, it’s been blocked because of construction. I think take advantage of that fact and, since its been blocked lets get a bike lane in there and see how it all works.
In the Commission’s debates Wu seems to be the swing vote. She voted with Loreana Marciante, Clifford Chirls, and Scott Lampe to retain the 108th Ave NE bike lane, but voted against the Main ST project on May 23rd, specifically citing the need to wait for the Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA) to meet on June 5th to discuss its position. What’s strange is that the BDA’s meeting was apparently called with the expectation that the Transportation Commission would have finished its deliberations and prepared a recommendation for City Council. From the BDA website:
On May 23, the [City of Bellevue] Transportation Commission will consider two alternatives or no action for extending bike lanes along Main Street. The recommendation will be transmitted to Council for review on July 8. The BDA Transportation Committee is convening on June 5 to review the Commission’s work to determine if a recommendation should be processed through the BDA Board in advance of the July Council meeting.
Also strange is that the date of the June 5th BDA meeting was well known when Chair Wu presented to City Council on May 13th. Wu’s slides even listed the BDA meeting as part of the project timeline, showing it occurring after the Bellevue Transportation Commission meeting, and no mention was made then of a need to delay the Commission’s discussion.
The BDA has been supportive of implementing a downtown bicycle lane network in the past, and wrote a letter to the Commission supporting the retention of the 108th Ave NE bike lane. From that letter:
Strengthening multimodal connectivity in a measured way is consistent with past BDA positions and its 2019 adopted Downtown Access Strategy…. Acknowledging a mode is only as useful as its system’s reach; it’s important to continue advancing connectivity for modes that currently operate in isolated stretches.
It’s unclear whether anything that results from the BDA’s June 5th meeting will break the deadlock on the Bellevue Transportation Commission. Its also unclear whether Bellevue City Council has invested the commission with the authority to kill plans to extend the downtown bicycle network entirely. What is clear is that this level of acrimony and debate is out of proportion with the scope of a project that adds only two blocks of painted bike lanes. If Bellevue wants to realize its vision for cycling in downtown, it will need to find a way to accept community feedback while still moving forward with implementation on a predictable schedule.
Brad Haverstein tweets about local transportation, particularly on the Eastside.