For a year, planners will measure impacts from the bike lanes, including vehicle-travel delays, traffic volume, parking and the number of bicycle trips. Then the city will decide whether the lanes should be permanent.
The city of Bellevue is cherishing small wins.
On Tuesday, the city celebrated the first bike lanes spanning the length of the downtown corridor with free rides on electric-assisted bicycles, helmet giveaways and a ribbon cutting.
The project is modest: The three-quarters-of-a-mile bicycle lanes on both sides of 108th Avenue Northeast between Main Street and Northeast 12th Street are a test.
For one year, transportation planners will measure impacts from the bike lanes, including vehicle-travel delays, traffic volume, on-street parking and the number of bicycle trips.
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Planners will share those results with Bellevue City Council members, who will decide whether to make the lanes permanent, possibly after some changes.
The pilot project represents a newer way of thinking about potentially controversial transportation projects: testing an idea in the real world, identifying flaws in the design and getting feedback to make changes before it is put in place permanently.
“In the public sector, it’s very nascent,” Alex Cowan, a faculty member at the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business who teaches product design, said about this type of prototype design method commonly used in software development.
Franz Loewenherz, Bellevue’s transportation planner, is confident a bike lane, in some form, will remain, but he expects the community to weigh in on what needs to be considered.
“We’re going to learn from this experience, and the final design of it may very well look different from what it is today,” he said.
The idea for the bikeway originated in the city’s 2009 Pedestrian-Bicycle Plan, adopted by the Bellevue City Council, that lays out the vision for a connected network of biking facilities and targets for implementing the program over time.
Voters approved a transportation levy in 2016 that provided money for road projects, sidewalks and bike lanes, including the 108th Avenue Northeast bikeway.
The lanes are separated in some sections from vehicles using lane dividers, temporary curbs, planter boxes and green pavement markings. Cost is about $370,000 — cheaper than some bike lanes in Seattle.
The cost for a permanent bikeway would depend upon a final design, Loewenherz said, but features of the temporary lanes could be incorporated into permanent lanes.
The biggest difference in planning these news lanes, Loewenherz said, was the role played by the Bellevue Downtown Association (BDA).
“If it’s a project downtown related to transportation, we want to be involved,” said Patrick Bannon, president of the BDA.
The BDA concluded that any bikeway project should:
• Collect data to make necessary adjustments.
• Minimize reductions to vehicle travel times, on-street parking and access to property.
• Support existing and future bike projects.
• Coordinate with transit and ride-share services.
• Ensure a safe and comfortable place for people walking, bicycling, taking transit and driving vehicles.
• Incorporate effective outreach before and during implementation.
Bannon is satisfied the plan contains all of the elements the BDA recommended.
Seattle has notoriously struggled with gaining consensus for some projects that include bike lanes on main arterials.
In Bellevue, several corporations, including Microsoft, REI, Overlake Medical Center, Seattle Children’s and Bellevue Chamber of Commerce worked through the BDA to provide feedback.
Taldi Walter, communications and government-affairs manager for REI, described the process as “candid, open and creative.”
“It’s an important step forward in creating a connected bike network,” she said. “This project will provide transportation alternatives to employees, members and customers.”
REI will move its headquarters to Bellevue in 2020.
Bellevue also unveiled its bike-share program Tuesday with 50 electric-assisted bikes under a pilot permit with Lime. By the end of the week, there will be 100 e-bikes. By the end of August, Lime can supply up to 400, and the city has allowed up to 1,200 e-bikes by the end of the year.
No major project is without its critics.
The new configuration removes a southbound vehicle lane in some places and eliminates a couple of northbound right-turn lanes. Parking will also be moved near the transit center.
Bellevue refers to these changes as “trade-offs” in reports.
In a letter to a member of the city’s transportation commission, Bellevue resident Stu Vander Hoek wrote that the new bikeway “will be creating an untenable situation for everyone in downtown Bellevue.”
“The projection numbers don’t show enough people riding bikes to merit donating those lanes,” he said.
Still, in an interview, Vander Hoek said he is eager to see the results a year from now.
“Am I open to change? Yes. Am I open to being told I am wrong? Yes,” he said.
That is what is different about this project.
“Having it conditioned as a demonstration project helped quite a bit in terms of mitigating concerns that it was in forever and never to be changed,” Bannon said.
However, a bikeway may need more than one year to measure whether it has been successful, said Dale Bracewell, Vancouver, B.C.’s transportation planner. Vancouver has built a network of connected bike lanes downtown that has boosted ridership in recent years.
“You still might expect some increase in the first year, but to really do a pre-post evaluation, it might be healthier to wait at least three if not five years,” he said.
Loewenherz said he plans to continue this prototype method going forward.
“Having that mindset of trial and error and refinement is probably going to become increasingly the norm as we adapt not just to changing land use but also to changing technology and its role in society,” he said.