Yesterday Seattle Transit Blog hosted an op-ed that lends one to believe that downtown Bellevue isn’t all that bad when it comes to getting around, but unfortunately it just feels like pandering to Bellevuephiles. In response to a scathing post by Jonathan Golob of the Stranger, Martin H. Duke over at Seattle Transit Blog came out in psuedo-support of Bellevue and it’s car culture:

Most importantly, in the struggle to make our metro areas more sustainable Bellevue is not the problem. There is a narrow issue of light rail alignments, where in my opinion a very vocal neighborhood and a certain moneyed interest have led the city astray. This kind of thing happens everywhere, and I think Bellevue’s institutions in particular haven’t caught up with its size. Nevertheless, the problem is not dense, mixed-use downtowns with a little too much emphasis on driving; the problem is Redmond Ridge and Snoqualmie Ridge and Marysville. Bellevue is also making a serious effort at encouraging biking, has a high transit share, and has ambitious development plans for the Bel-Red light rail corridor. We need more Bellevues.

 

One of two entrances to Downtown Park from downtown, through the middle of a parking lot.

 

I have to respectfully decline this theory, that unlike other suburbs, the city of Bellevue has just gotten a bad rap when it comes to liveability. This post in particular seemed to bring out claims by commenters that Bellevue “really is walkable” and that it is even easy to get around by bike downtown.

As someone who commutes to, and works in, Bellevue 5 days a week I can say that this is not what I have experienced. Biking in downtown can sometimes be terrifying. Stay off of Bellevue Way or 4th for sure. Cyclists are relegated to sidewalks, which aren’t the greatest pedestrian environment to begin with. There are no bike lanes striped in the downtown area – not even a sharrow. There are also no shoulders, but there are very wide lanes for traffic, and lanes just as wide for parking. Intersections are set up to get cars to and from 405, which means pedestrians are waiting at lights for 3-4 minutes at most major intersections and the speed limit on downtown streets is 30 mph.

When it comes to pedestrian infrastructure, Bellevue is on par with Federal Way. There is one block-long “pedestrian mall” which is basically a set of staircases heading from the City Centre building to the malls (Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square). Sidewalks are narrow and often times have cars halfway parked on them trying to merge from one of the numerous parking areas.

The good news? Bellevue Downtown Park is a gem, though getting to it by foot can be a bit of a hassle. There are also a few privately owned pedestrian connections. The most visible one is owned by Microsoft as part of their City Centre building directly adjacent to the transit center, and a few others that connect other offices located on the downtown super-blocks. Unfortunately these connections are not the will of the city, but of the businesses. Bellevue does not have the right idea when it comes to a walkable downtown, major companies like Microsoft, Wells Fargo, and Expedia do.

As far as density, Bellevue has it’s pencil tower office park downtown with a few condos sprinkled in, but directly adjacent to these towers and condos are gaping parking lots. In fact, even the pedestrian mall is lined by cars. It really is a fallacy to  label this downtown as a truly livable urban core, especially when most residents seem to be completely anti-density in most (if not all) neighborhoods around the city center. Yes, in comparison to the rest of the city, these 6 square blocks are very dense, but not to the point where it has made downtown feel livable.

The fact of the matter is that Bellevue was not built to be big. It was not built to be dense. It was built for cars and single family homes. Bellevue was built for SOV commuters and not really even for any other form of commuting. Yes the transit share is quite sizable for a city designed in such a way, but on what routes? To Redmond and Seattle?  The city sucks for busing elsewhere. For example, Crossroads (RapidRide is on the way!) and Bel-Red take way longer than by car. The lack of a grid is partly to blame, but so is an overall over-dependence on cars.

As someone that spends most of there time in Bellevue, I would love to see more non-chain retail, wider sidewalks, bike lanes, and transit. The city has committed to thinking about it, but that is not enough. Bellevue still has a chance to transform the city as it continues to grow. It is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, so why not embrace it? The city council needs to get on board with Link and actually make strides toward ped-bike plans. They need to reconsider dropping pedestrian and biking improvements on 108th and they need to stop catering to NIMBYs. If Bellevue wants to pretend to be a big city, it should start to reconfigure right now.

In response to your post Martin, as the current trend goes, no, we do not need more Bellevues.

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