The Bellevue City Council adopted the 2019-2030 Transportation Facilities Project, a 12-year program that functions as one step in a multi-phased approach to improve transportation in the city, at its July 15 meeting.
The 2019-2030 TFP includes TFP-158, a bike-lane and sidewalk project focused on Southeast 16th Street between 148th Avenue Southeast and 156th Avenue Southeast. The project will entail the construction of five-foot-wide bicycle lanes outside of the 11-foot-wide vehicle lanes on each side of Southeast 16th Street.
A new gutter, curb and four-foot-wide planter and a six-foot-wide sidewalk between 148th Avenue Northeast and 154th Avenue Northeast will also be added.
TFP-158 is considered a part of the priority east-west bicycle corridor in Bellevue.
TFP-158, which is estimated to cost upward of $5 million, has received negative attention from both the public and city staff as the plan has undergone development and revision. Before the Bellevue City Council voted 7-0 in favor of proceeding with TFP-158 at its June 10 meeting, the project had been opposed by the Bellevue Transportation Commission and the East Bellevue Community Council.
At the June 10 Bellevue City Council Meeting, EBCC councilmember Hassan Dhananjaya spoke on behalf of his council, which recommended the removal of the TFP-158 project.
He invoked previous instances during which the EBCC had spoken out against TFP-158. At a July 2014, a community council member discussed the potential dangers posed by the steep slope of the street. Then in November 2014, the EBCC further discussed the inclusion of TFP-158 and ultimately opposed it.
During meetings on May 12, 2016, March 9, 2017 and April 12, 2018, the EBCC called on the Bellevue Transportation Commission to remove the project from the TFP. The commission recommended excluding TFP-158 from the 2019-2030 TFP on May 23, 2019, due to mixed support from residents.
Dhananjaya said cyclists in the Bellevue area were better served by bike lanes on Southeast 24th Street and Lake Hills Boulevard. He also said the EBCC concluded that having a bike lane on Southeast 16th Street was antithetical to the Vision Zero program, a Swedish transportation strategy recently adopted by the council to help eliminate avoidable traffic injuries and fatalities.
Bellevue City Councilmember Jared Nieuwenhuis said TFP-158 complies with Vision Zero.
“The proposed sidewalk and bike lanes on Southeast 16th Street pose no compatibility issues with Vision Zero,” Nieuwenhuis said in an email. “Adding facilities that meet engineering standards for walking and bicycling is an overall enhancement to safety and thus entirely consistent with the intent of Vision Zero. Additionally, city policies emphasize the importance of providing sidewalks along arterial roadways and creating connected routes to accommodate movement by bicycle across the city. Project TFP-158 advances both priorities.”
When the Bellevue Transportation Commission voiced its disinterest in pursuing the project last year, it approved the other components of the TFP but pointedly excluded 158 from its update recommendation.
“We are recommending removal of this project in response to opposition to the project voiced through the TFP update public outreach process,” the commission shared on June 14, 2018.
When asked in an email about what he and the council saw as most beneficial about TFP-158, Nieuwenhuis cited improved safety for people walking and biking, “including school-children walking to and waiting at bus stops, residents accessing nearby destinations on foot and people bicycling into and through the area.”
Niewenhuis added that at previous meetings, the Bellevue City Council mentioned safety as the predominating reason for the steady support of TFP-158. He also said the project is not related to the proposed Puget Sound Energy power line upgrade that is also proposed for that roadway segment, and that each project can proceed independently of each other.
Steve Kasner, who holds Position 1 on the East Bellevue Community Council, said the Bellevue City Council’s approval of 158 despite opposition is harmful to the local governmental process.
“This is a slap in the face to our individual communities when residents participate in the process and they’re just ignored,” he said.
Kasner has been against 158 throughout the years, and is not letting the recent development in the TFP hinder his resistance to it.
“There’s a process that we’re supposed to use that was totally ignored in this situation,” he said. “I will still continue this fight to not fund an unneeded and wasteful project.”
There has been further skepticism surrounding the approval of TFP-158 from the community. Former EBCC member Gerald Hughes is wary of the project’s necessity.
“It’s $5 to $7 million of our money, and it serves no purpose,” Hughes said, adding that the number of times TFP-158 has been an issue throughout the years concerns him.
Bill Capron, formerly an EBCC chairman, echoed Hughes’ sentiments.
“I personally see nothing wrong with it,” he said of the area being targeted by TFP-158. “There is plenty of protection for bicycles and pedestrians and all that stuff.”
Capron added that he’s troubled by the cost of TFP-158, especially when it’s tied to a project that has received so much heat.
“Nobody wants it, so why is it being approved?” he said, adding that he thinks the money being used for the project would be of better use elsewhere.
Within the next 12 years, the TFP is slated to receive about $388.1 million in funding through several sources.
A portion will be funded by the general CIP revenue, which is made up of part of Bellevue’s sales tax, long-term debt dedicated to capital improvements and business and occupation tax, and transportation-dedicated revenue, which includes real-estate excise and fuel taxes.
Combined, these categories are responsible for covering about 37 percent of the funding for the projects included in the 2019-2030 TFP.
The TFP will also be funded by a June 2017 loan agreement with the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will be used on five projects in the BelRed Mobility Management Area. It will account for about 26 percent of transportation funding.
The Neighborhood Safety, Connectivity and Congestion Levy will cover 7 percent of the funding and will be used on congestion-related transportation improvements. Nine (9) percent of funding comes from impact fees and other developer contributions, with 21 percent from contributions and grants chiefly from transit, state and federal government agencies.
Nieuwenhuis believes there are some misconceptions surrounding TFP-158. He noted that this also isn’t the first time this particular area of interest has had a connection to controversy.
“A misconception is that the city is pushing the sidewalk and bike lane, despite neighborhood desires,” Nieuwenhuis said in an email. “The existing segment of sidewalk at the east end of this roadway segment was constructed (in 2004) via the former Neighborhood Program. This program required that residents nominate and vote on improvements and they chose to add sidewalks on Southeast 16th Street. Additionally, sidewalks and bicycle lanes on both sides of Southeast 16th Street were recommendations of the East Bellevue Transportation Study, completed in 1992. During the council’s consideration of this project, the city received comments both for and against this project.”