Updated: Jun 14, 2019
10 Key Takeaways:
Traffic is rated as the #1 “Biggest Problem Facing Bellevue,” per the City’s official Budget Survey, with respondents rating it three times higher than the #2 problem, housing affordability.
The official transportation program shows three neighborhoods (MMA’s) failing traffic standards by 2030, while the number of intersections that fail traffic standards more than doubles.
Though Bellevue is adding necessary road capacity in many areas, Downtown is experiencing rapid growth while road capacity is failing to keep up.
City staff is pursuing two “demonstration” options to add more buffered bicycle lanes on Main Street, and both involve taking away lanes from the traveling public on a vital East-West connection.
The “pilot” and “demonstration” projects are being implemented as permanent fixtures. For example, the year-long 108th Ave NE pilot project was considered permanent by the Transportation Commission after just five months of data collection and a few more months of operation.
Like on the 108th Ave NE project, the City Council may choose not to vote on giving away road capacity to alternative, less popular modes, like bicycles. Instead, these decisions have largely been relegated to the Transportation Commission.
At the May 9, 2019 Transportation Commission meeting, staff said that the May 23, 2019 meeting would focus on Vision Zero and the Bike Share “pilot,” further stating that taking away lanes on Main Street would be a focus of the June meeting. Yet the May 23, 2019 meeting agenda has now changed to focus solely on the lane reconfiguration of Main Street.
The official “Pedestrian and Bike Transportation Plan” says that proper bike and pedestrian accommodations should “reduce congestion,” yet the city’s scientific study shows traffic getting worse along 108th Ave NE and along Main Street, with congestion being exacerbated with the taking away of travel lanes for bicycles.
Other intersections, like on Bellevue Way and Main Street, have degraded after changing the roadway configuration and adding a lane for bicycles.
Main Street should not be considered for reductions until NE 2nd Street is expanded per the adopted Downtown Transportation Plan.
The City Council should require a robust public hearing process, increased neighborhood involvement, and ultimately a vote when taking away lanes from the traveling public. Additionally, we urge the Council to hold a public hearing and vote on the city’s Multimodal Level of Service guidelines – which has yet to be officially adopted but used to justify projects. In addition, we urge the Council to update the decade-old Bike and Pedestrian Plan to make it more relevant to current and projected Downtown development.
The Eastside Transportation Association (ETA) is comprised of community members, business members, transportation professionals and policy experts. Our goal is to increase mobility, improve our quality of life, and retain East King County’s economic competitiveness with a world-class transportation system consistent with current and future land use patterns and travel demand. The ETA is considered a valuable educational resource for state lawmakers, local representatives, media, businesses and the general public - who depend on a viable transportation system to improve the movement of people and goods.
Bellevue’s Traffic Problem:
Downtown Bellevue, along with Bel-Red and the Spring District, is experiencing rapid growth in both office, residential, retail and hotel. As a result, traffic congestion continues to get worse as limited road capacity is met with increasing demand for automobile trips. In fact, the scientific and official City of Bellevue Budget Survey rates “Traffic” as the top biggest problem facing Bellevue.
In addition, out of 39 separate issues, like fire and police response, “Downtown Traffic” had the lowest satisfaction rating of all services mentioned as "above average importance" to Bellevue residents.
The Bellevue Chamber of Commerce’s 2018 survey also rated traffic congestion as the “Top Business Challenge” of businesses on the Eastside, outpacing other challenges like healthcare costs and taxes.
Despite the importance of traffic to residents and businesses, the City’s official Transportation Facilities Plan Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement shows, by 2030, that three “MMA’s,” (essentially neighborhoods) will fail traffic standards, and two others nearly fail.
In addition, the number of city intersections that fail standards more than doubles, from 15 failing intersections today to 37 by 2030.
On 108th Ave NE traffic congestion is expected to grow dramatically. The TFP SEIS shows that traffic goes from a 0.68 volume to capacity (V/C) ratio at 108th Ave NE & NE 4th Street to a 0.95 V/C by 2030 (driver frustration increases as V/C exceeds 0.80). For an example, Bellevue Way and Main Street is currently at a 0.96 V/C.
Main Street Bike Lanes:
Even through traffic congestion is expected to increase, the city is aggressively pursuing bicycle lanes Downtown. These lanes would take away regular travel lanes and convert them to bike lanes. While the bike lanes are called a “demonstration project” or “pilot project,” the city considers these words to mean permanence. For example, the 108th Ave NE bike lane was supposed to be a year long pilot project, but the Transportation Commission endorsed the permanence of the project after just five months of data collection. Though the intention of the bike lanes were to attract riders, data show the 108th Ave NE bike lanes only carried 25 new bike riders a day. And on a road accomodating more than 11,400 vehicles a day. 
The underwhelming results should lead public officials to question whether taking away lanes from buses, drivers and freightmovers for bikes accomodates current and future land uses and adopted city plans.
The official bike plan for the city, the “Pedestrian & Bicycle Implementation Transportation Plan,” specifically states that “Effective bicycle and pedestrian accommodations…reduce congestion.” Yet the Main Street proposal would make traffic worse at key intersections.
Previous lane configurations on Main Street have also come at a cost. In Bellevue’s annual “Concurrency Report,” the intersection of Main Street and Bellevue Way has become a bottleneck since reconfiguring the road by replacing a through-lane with a right-turn lane and adding a bike lane.
Commission and Council Action – Public Process:
The discussion about Main Street bike lanes came as a surprise to both Commission members and the general public. At the May 9th Transportation Commission meeting, staff reported the Main Street bike project discussion and Commission recommendation wouldn’t occur until June – yet with less than a week before the May 23rd meeting – the Transportation Commission agenda reflects a renewed urgency toward the Main Street lane reduction proposal, as it is the sole item for consideration on the calendar.
Like the bike lanes on 108th Ave NE, the City Council opted not to vote on taking away lanes on Main Street, instead leaving the choice to the Transportation Commission and city staff. This does not allow the traveling public, businesses and Bellevue residents adequate time to review the available data and information, in addition to holding a spot people’s busy schedules to secure the adequate child and family care, time off of work, or contend with other necessities of life to be able to comment.
The ETA urges the Council and Commission to allow for an adequate public process so that all members of the public can provide feedback and commentary on this important proposal. The underlying “city document” guiding these choices, the Multimodal Level of Service, has still yet to receive a public hearing and vote by the Council. This important driver of our transportation future needs to be fully vetted by Bellevue residents to determine the direction the City is taking on transportation issues in Downtown and other neighborhoods across the City.
Any consideration of reducing capacity on Main Street should come after the City expands NE 2nd Street per the adopted Downtown Transportation Plan.
 “2018 Bellevue Budget Survey,” City of Bellevue, 5/11/2018, at https://bellevuewa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_4779004/File/Finance/Budget%20Survey%20Reports/2018_Budget_Survey_Report.pdf.
 “2018 Eastside Economic Strategy Guide,” Bellevue Chamber of Commerce, at https://cdn.ymaws.com/www.bellevuechamber.org/resource/resmgr/docs/2018EEF_StrategyGuide.pdf.
 “DRAFT Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement, 2019-2030 Transportation Facilities Plan,” City of Bellevue, page 1-9, at https://transportation.bellevuewa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_4779004/File/Transportation/Publications/TFP-2019-2030-draft-SEIS-031319.pdf.
 “108th Ave Demonstration Bikeway Assessment Report," City of Bellevue, March 2019, page 18, at https://transportation.bellevuewa.gov/UserFiles/Servers/Server_4779004/File/Transportation/Publications/108thDemoBikeway-AssessmentReport-Draft-20190328.pdf. (Note that Nov and Dec data were omitted).
 “Preliminary Assessment of Main Street Bike Lane Alternatives,” City of Bellevue, at https://bellevue.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=7216217&GUID=E2F20448-8AFF-47B5-AF9F-BAF75A597B9D.
 “May 9, 2019 Transportation Commission Audio,” City of Bellevue, at 3:01:02, at https://bellevue.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=E3&ID=669539&GUID=173A856B-3CA5-4A02-9487-9D702FA92326.
 “Transportation Commission Study Session,” Main Street Discussion, May 23, 2019, at https://bellevue.legistar.com/View.ashx?M=F&ID=7232480&GUID=E1F52729-58C7-4AE6-9797-A7D6518835C4.