After nearly a year of testing, Bellevue leaders have decided to keep bike lanes that run through the downtown core.

The separated and sometimes protected lanes, three-quarters-of-a-mile long on both sides of 108th Avenue Northeast between Main Street and Northeast 12th Street will be tweaked over the next few months based on feedback gathered during the pilot project.

Meanwhile, city transportation staff will begin growing the city’s bike network with an east-west connection, an expansion that comes as thousands more workers are expected downtown over the next few years.

Bellevue builds its first downtown bike lane. But there's a catch

“This demonstration project has proved its worth. It’s done it in a way that’s had minimal, if any, effect on traffic. It’s a protected lane. People who are in the bike lanes feel better about it. People who are driving feel better protected from a bicyclist,” Bellevue Mayor John Chelminiak said.

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“There’s a point at which you just have to accept the fact that it works. And this works,” he said.

Roadway users — people who bike, drive and walk — mostly agreed but were less enthusiastic.

Out of about 1,200 people surveyed before and after the lanes were built, 47% agree or strongly agree that the design “strikes the right balance to address the needs of all street users,” the Downtown Demonstration Bikeway Assessment Report says. Another 20% were undecided.

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For bicyclists surveyed, though, 87% reported feeling safer and more comfortable.

The bikeway is included in the city’s Pedestrian-Bicycle Plan, adopted by the Bellevue City Council in 2009, which envisions a connected network of biking facilities and goals for implementation.

Voters approved a 20-year transportation levy in 2016 that provides money for road projects, sidewalks and bike lanes. In 2018, the Bellevue Downtown Association recommended that bike lanes be piloted on 108th Avenue Northeast, a segment between the Interstate 90 and Highway 520 trails and is adjacent to the Bellevue Transit Center.

In approving the project, the City Council requested staff to conduct a before-and-after study and evaluate the bike lanes using data and community engagement in three general areas: safety, efficiency and livability.

By those metrics, the bike lanes measured up:

  • No police-reported bicycle collisions occurred on the corridor. One unreported collision was shared with the Transportation Department that was considered a nonserious injury.
  • People who bike along the corridor reported feeling safer and more comfortable, and people who drive and walk did, too.
  • Riding on the sidewalk decreased by 18%, as measured by video observations.
  • Vehicle travel times along the corridor changed by less than a minute.
  • Bus travel times did not change.
  • Average daily bike ridership increased by 35%.

What helped make the bike lanes survive and succeed, according to transportation officials and business leaders, was the approach.

Transportation staff used iterative design to create and build the project faster, collect data to understand the project’s impacts, make refinements to address issues quickly and recommend next steps.

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“The positive attribute of approaching projects in an iterative fashion is that you have the opportunity to test out ideas and learn from them,” said Bellevue transportation planner Franz Loewenherz. “In turn, you have that available to make refinements.”

Those refinements include installing bike signals at certain intersections, additional signage and planter boxes and pavement markings as well as producing brochures and videos to remind people of the rules of the road.

The project cost about $370,000. All the work is covered by the levy, Loewenherz said.

For some companies planning to move to Bellevue, retention of the bike lanes is a positive step in the city’s vision.

“We’re excited for the bike lane. We think it’s a bellwether for what Bellevue initially indicated that the area could be,” said Patrick Green, alternative commuting program manager for REI, which is relocating its corporate headquarters from Kent to Bellevue’s Spring District.

Amazon has also announced plans that would bring thousands of workers to downtown Bellevue by the end of 2023.

REI, Microsoft, Overlake Medical Center, Seattle Children’s and Bellevue Chamber of Commerce have all been involved in the design process through the Bellevue Downtown Association.

Not everyone is supportive.

At a council meeting in March, Bob Pishue, who works at Kemper Development, said congestion in the intersection at Main Street and Bellevue Way Northeast “has been exacerbated over the past year due to the installation of a bike lane, which took out a through lane [for car traffic]. Now we have queues going back all the way to 100th [Avenue Northeast].”

“Maintaining and maximizing capacity is the key,” he said.

Although the report did not review traffic congestion between Bellevue Way and 108th along Main Street, staff found that the average midweek travel time from Northeast Eighth Street to Northeast Fourth Street decreased from 2.5 to 2.1 minutes southbound and 2.6 to 2.3 minutes northbound.

Over the summer, council members will begin to discuss and decide the best street for an east-west bikeway connection.

“Downtown is a rapidly evolving landscape with a lot of construction activity and a lot of competing priorities for a limited amount of road and curbside space,” Loewenherz said. “It’s particularly challenging to make it all work successfully.”