Bellevue, WA: West Lake Sammamish Pkwy improvements a step back for bicyclists?

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An analysis concludes that Bellevue's plan for improvements to West Lake Sammamish Parkway could actually make the road more hazardous to bicyclists than it is today.

The city's proposal for improvements to the 5.5-mile, two-lane road calls for no bikes lanes; instead, the staff has proposed a multi-use shoulder on the west side to be shared by bicyclists riding north and south, as well as pedestrians.

William E. Moritz, professor emeritus for Human Powered Transportation at UW, analyzed the city's report for Friends of Lake Sammamish, a group that fought for, and won, bike lanes on Redmond's portion of the parkway. He concludes:

 “The present proposal from the staff is fatally flawed. It violates well-accepted and time-tested facility design principles. It would place all users at greater risk. … If constructed, it would, in the opinion of this author, result in a more dangerous situation than exists today.”

The situation on the parkway today is deplorable. There is no shoulder for cyclists heading north to Redmond, and the southbound shoulder is marked for cyclists travelling in both directions. The city studied improvements in 1996, couldn't reach a consensus, and dropped it. It hired consultants to begin studies and public meetings again in 2003. The city staff has chosen a proposed alternative that goes to the Bellevue Transportation Commission on Thursday; the commission makes a recommendation to the City Council, which meets to decide the issue on April 11.

Parkway residents, especially those with lakeside property, generally oppose a northbound bike lane, according to comments made at a West Lake Sammamish Association (WLSA) meeting. There are many possibilities for car-bike accidents due to poor visibility from the many driveways (more than 150) on the east side. An analysis prepared for the association on the Redmond section of the parkway (which eventually did get bike lanes on each side of the road) concluded:

“A bike lane will have a detrimental effect on safety, road volumes, and quality of life.”

In a March 10 Seattle Times article, the reporter talked with Nancy LaCombe, senior project manager for the city Transportation Department, in advance of a March 13 public tour of the site. LaCombe explained that none of the five options for parkway improvements received overwhelming support, so the city combined several of them.

The staff recommendation calls for a 4-foot shoulder (not marked as a bike lane) on the northbound side, and a multi-use trail adjacent to the southbound traffic lane. It varies in width from 8 to 10 feet, and at times is separated from the  road by a low barrier; at other times not. This is opposed by the Cascade Bicycle Club and Friends of Lake Sammamish (FLS).

The Moritz analysis for FLS states the multi-use trail violates city, state and federal safety standards. For instance:

The trail isn't far enough from the southbound traffic and has no shoulder;

It encourages cyclists to ride on the left, which is against the law (wrong-way cycling increases the chance of bicycle-vehicle collisions);

Vehicles making turns or crossing the multi-use trail won't be looking for “wrong-way” cyclists;

Meanwhile, the 4-foot shoulder on the right (not marked as a bike lane) is barely wide enough for bicycles, given drainage.

Cascade and Friends of Lake Sammamish are urging cyclists to attend the Transportation Commission meeting at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, at the City Council chambers.

Check the links to the Moritz study and Friends of Lake Sammamish for more information. Also, there's a web page on the bike lane dispute at Biking Bis.

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