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By Vic Bishop, ETA Legislative Committee Chair

Congestion relief in Bellevue is under attack.

The long-standing policy “Strive to reduce congestion” in the City’s Comprehensive Plan was eliminated by the Bellevue City Council on Monday night, October 25, 2021. Instead of retaining the key policy needed to ensure the number one issue facing Bellevue is addressed, the Council replaced it with “manage congestion”. The difference is very important for our mobility needs. For example, building a new turn lane reduces congestion. Converting a traffic lane to a “Bike Only” lane manages congestion.

The Eastside Transportation Association (ETA) has been following this issue since June 2021. At that time, the City’s Transportation Commission recommended removal of the concept of ‘reduce congestion’ entirely from the Comprehensive Plan. Then the Planning Commission held a Public Hearing on this issue in July. The vast majority of comments at this hearing were in support of the City retaining Comprehensive Plan Policy TR-2 “Strive to reduce congestion.”

Subsequently, the Planning Commission reversed the Transportation Commission’s recommendation, and forwarded their recommendation to the City Council to continue to include reduce congestion in Bellevue’s core policy document.

On Oct. 13 ETA asked all seven incumbent councilmembers, and three additional council candidates, to respond to three Yes or No questions prior to the October 25 Council meeting:

1. Do you support retaining the long-standing policy of “reducing congestion” in the Comprehensive Plan?

2. Do you support increasing the budget for the Transportation portion of the Capital Investment Program (CIP) to reduce congestion?

3. Do you support investing the Transportation portion of the CIP in rough proportion to the citizens actual use of the streets, sidewalks, transit facilities and bike lanes/trails?

Three responses to ETA’s questionnaire were received by October 22: Councilmember Jared Nieuwenhuis, and candidates Gina Johnson and Ruth Lipscomb. Only question one was a part of the discussion at Monday’s meeting. Councilmember Nieuwenhuis and candidate Johnson answered Yes to question one and candidate Lipscomb responded with a qualified narrative that mostly says yes with exceptions. The other six councilmembers and the third candidate did not respond, after repeated requests.

The City Council took a straw vote to change ‘reduce’ to ‘manage’ congestion on October 25th. The results were:

Yea – Mayor Robinson, Councilmembers, Stokes, Zahn and Barksdale

No – Councilmembers Nieuwenhuis, Lee and Robertson.

In summary, Councilmembers Jared Nieuwenhuis, Conrad Lee and Jennifer Robertson, along with candidate Gina Johnson, have publicly stated they support Bellevue retaining the Comprehensive Plan Transportation Policy “Strive to reduce congestion”. In addition, candidate Ruth Lipscomb offered qualified support for this policy.

There is still an opportunity to have Bellevue retain the long-standing Comprehensive Plan Policy of striving to reduce congestion, if the current Councilmembers choose to do so before the final adoption of any changes.

As it currently stands, the preliminarily approved wording (paraphrased) of the revised Comprehensive Plan Policy TR-2 is:

Improve mobility and manage congestion while striving to improve the quality of the travel experience for all users.

The ordinance approving final language of amended policy TR-2 is scheduled on the December 6 council calendar.

ETA supports reducing congestion in Bellevue and will work to replace ‘manage’ with ‘reduce’ in the final language. We urge your support in this effort.

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