The Bellevue City Council received a presentation from staff on the current state of the Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program and the issue of commuter traffic driving through residential neighborhoods at the April 2 study session.
As the city has grown, traffic in and around Bellevue has become more challenging. According to Karen Gonzalez, neighborhood transportation services manager, the Neighborhood Traffic Calming Program has been active in Bellevue for more than 30 years and has implemented more than 200 projects over that time.
Most of the requests the city gets for traffic calming are related to speed, pedestrian safety and spillover parking, she said. However, a new concern demanding the city’s attention is commuter traffic cutting through residential neighborhoods, mostly along Interstate-405.
Gonzalez defined the problem as motorists who don’t have an origin or destination in the neighborhood using it to bypass other arterials in the city. She said that GPS traffic navigation apps such as Waze or Google Maps are routing people through these neighborhoods for faster routes, but the increased traffic is causing a disturbance for the people living in those neighborhoods.
John Murphy, associate planner, said staff is looking at tools to address those problems.
“Our approach involves convening a group of 10 to 12 volunteers in the form of a traffic committee, that can provide us with firsthand knowledge on what the impacts of high levels of traffic in their community really are,” he said. “Having that firsthand knowledge is really pivotal in developing solutions tailored to that neighborhood. We don’t want to go into a neighborhood and say speed humps are the right tool for you because we said so; we want to make sure those tools are really appropriate for what the community values.”
To address the problem of commuter traffic, staff discussed four tools to mitigate traffic impacts in the neighborhoods: one lane zones, turn restrictions, partial closures and full closures. These tools have all been implemented in the city at various locations.
Turn restrictions, unlike the other three tools, would be time based instead of being in effect all day. That way access to a residential road would only be restricted during peak traffic hours and would not adversely effect drivers at other times of day.
Murphy said the staff has been looking into turn restrictions as that might be the most effective way to address the problem. Turn restrictions are regulatory, which means they can be enforced by police and citations can be issued if drivers violate the rule. They can also be implemented on a trail basis to see how the communities respond and collect data on how effective they are at keeping out traffic.
“Regardless of enforcement levels, one of the real key benefits that we see with turn restrictions is that the navigation apps will reflect them in their routing,” Murphy said. “When we put this turn restriction in at 108th and SE 16th, almost immediately on Waze it was not directing motorists through this neighborhood through four and seven, which is critical.”
Murphy said that the feedback the city has received in the current implementation of turn restrictions has shown that a large number of the violations come from people who actually live in the neighborhood where the restrictions are. He said logistic and legal roadblocks prevent the city from being able to grant exemptions for people living on these roads.
Staff will continue to work with neighborhood groups to address the growing concern around commuter traffic.