Transportation commission moves ahead with Main Street bike lane project

Alternative 2.1 sees support and opposition.

The Bellevue Transportation Commission voted unanimously at its July 29 meeting to approve a summer 2019 installation of a Main Street bike lane, with an amendment to monitor and evaluate its performance, traffic impacts and potential need for corrective action.

“I believe in listening to what the community has to say, being a community member myself for 22 years,” commissioner Lisa Leitner said, adding that the Bellevue Transportation Commission is “tasked with making the best decision out of the choices we are given.”

The decision comes after four meetings across March 28, May 23, July 11 and July 29. The commission, which is overseeing the implementation of the 2009 Pedestrian and Bicycle Transportation Plan, had previously been guided by the Bellevue City Council to “advance the implementation of Bellevue’s planned Bicycle Priority Corridors to facilitate continuous bicycle travel along a connected grid of safe facilities throughout the city and the region,” a recent commission letter states.

The meeting on the July 29 specifically responded to a May 13 direction by the Bellevue City Council to evaluate the alternatives to fill the gap between the bicycle lanes that currently exist on Main Street, specifically between 108th Avenue Northeast and Bellevue Way.

The Main Street bike lane plan, referred to as Alternative 2.1, was the primary point of discussion at the meeting. Also approved was a motion to analyze the east-west connection potential of Northeast 2nd street in comparison to Main Street, which was an included topic of interest in the submitted transmittal letter.

According to the letter, 2.1 would broaden Main Street’s current buffered bicycling lane from 105th Avenue Northeast to 107th Avenue Northeast. On the latter avenue, the eastbound buffered lane begins waning away from the curb, leading it to briefly turn into a non-buffered striped bike lane between the eastbound travel lane. A new right-turn lane would be added on eastbound-to-southbound turns onto 108th Avenue Southeast.

Alternative 2.1 would additionally augment the striped bike lane that already sits on Main Street from 106th Avenue Northeast to 108th Avenue Northeast in the westbound direction. Ultimately, 2.1 would ensure the security of the westbound travel lanes.

The Bellevue Transportation Commission regards 2.1 as a “modest improvement” in relation to the overarching goal for the corridor. It should also be considered a temporary, “quick-build” bike facility that upgrades connectivity and safety while bigger-scale, in-the-works projects come together.

The public and private sectors — through capital projects and conditions of development approval, respectively — will eventually have the ability to make improvements to the bike lanes on Main Street, too.

Public reception to Alternative 2.1 was varied during the public comment portion of the meeting. Some praised the opportunities it would provide while others voiced their concerns about a possible negative impact on Main Street congestion and business.

Community member Christopher Randalls, who voiced his support for both Alternatives 1 and 2, was in favor of expanding access to bike lanes in Bellevue. As someone who recently had to forego the use of his car after it broke down, Randalls said he has been appreciative of the options the bike lanes provide the public and how easy they are to use for newer bikers.

“We need more people to take alternate modes of transportation, like biking and transit, both for sustainability and health of our city and to reduce our city’s greenhouse gas emissions in line with the city’s climate collaboration,” Randalls said. “I say this not to demonize cars and especially not to demonize their drivers … But it’s easy to feel like one has to drive when it feels like the entire urban landscape is built around the car. It’s imperative with the threat of climate change that we need to reduce vehicle miles traveled. To do that, we need to change how we think about our streets … I look forward to being able to navigate downtown more safely in the future, and I look forward to having a lot more people join me.”

Business owner Don Perinchief, who is the treasurer of the Old Bellevue Merchant Association (OBMA), read a letter from the association. The OBMA includes the owners of 80-plus businesses, most of which reside on Main Street.

Perinchief said he and his association peers agree that congestion on the roads paired with the difficulty of finding parking and the large number of incoming Amazon workers means the commission should reconsider Alternative 2.1. He believes that the commission should at least consult the OBMA about its plans, as there is growing concern that more traffic might detrimentally impact some of its businesses.

“I had the opportunity to sit and look out every day at what’s going on from a traffic standpoint,” Perinchief, who is the co-owner of a kitchen-supply store called Whisk, said. “The amount of cars going through that area and the amount of congestion is horrific. The amount of cyclists, by percentage, to be on Main Street, is minimal.”

While Alternative 2.1 moves forward, the evaluation of a potential Northeast 2nd Street bike lane is slated to take place through summer 2019 and spring 2020.