On Monday, April 5th, Bellevue City Council will decide on a new I-405 interstate interchange for South Downtown. Although the project will be funded and constructed by WSDOT, none of the options evaluated by staff present a fiscally, socially, or environmentally responsible choice for Bellevue’s future. Complete Streets Bellevue has submitted the following letter as written testimony to Bellevue City Council in preparation of their meeting – if you agree with our perspective, please take 20 seconds and sign onto our letter.
RE: CSB Comments on Staff’s Recommendation for a New I-405 Interchange in South Downtown
- The proposed Lake Hills Connector alternative presented by staff will cost Washington taxpayers $150 million dollars to save I-405 drivers 20 seconds per trip.
- Other alternatives will either contradict prior land use decisions around pedestrian-oriented TOD near the East Main light rail station, disrupt important wetland habitat, or both.
- Expanding roadway capacity for cars has been repeatedly shown to induce further demand, negating any congestion-relieving impacts long-term and contributing to further greenhouse gas emissions.
- Helping more cars move more quickly onto I-405, especially without any adequate facilities for pedestrians and cyclists, is directly antithetical to the following pillars of the city’s Vision Zero Safe Systems framework: Safe Streets, Safe Speeds.
- In a time when our city’s pedestrian, bicycle, and transit networks are severely underfunded and incomplete, we should instead use our municipal platform to advocate for increased state funding for truly multi-modal improvements that make Bellevue a safer place to get around while walking, biking, and rolling.
To Mayor Lynne Robinson, Deputy Mayor Nieuwenhuis, & City Councilmembers:
Bellevue is undergoing a period of rapid growth & unprecedented change – our once sleepy bedroom community is now the home of 150,000 residents and is the bona fide center of innovation and progress on the Eastside. Our city is lucky to be represented by leaders who recognize the enormous potential for Bellevue to grow in ways that advance missions of environmental sustainability, safety, and social equity, and our organization’s members appreciate the many ways this body has worked to support these ambitious goals.
Council’s approval in December of $2.5 million for targeted Vision Zero funding on five of Bellevue’s most dangerous roads has already produced dividends and actions that will meaningfully increase safety on our streets. Our organization is honored to have been chosen by Bellevue Transportation staff to lead community engagement and walking audits of NE 8th Street, efforts that have produced feedback which will be incorporated by engineers into a larger safety analysis of the corridor. We give special thanks to Councilmember Zahn, who accompanied our group on our March 13th walking audit. Our members appreciate her leadership in introducing the budget amendment which both expedited this crucial funding and reflected the urgency of the safety crisis our city faces.
Additionally, the city’s recently ratified Environmental Stewardship Plan update sets bold goals for reductions in both greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT). We appreciate Councilmembers’ renewed commitments to environmental stewardship during the program’s quarterly update in March, and our community looks forward to working with Council to craft meaningful policy to reduce our city’s carbon footprint.
Although our organization’s members appreciate this progress, reaching these goals will require making several correct decisions over the course of the next few years – and we are fearful that our city is on the cusp of making a wrong one.
Complete Streets Bellevue maintains that a new interchange for I-405 in South Downtown will not meaningfully reduce congestion, will increase danger to vulnerable road users, and will actively work against our city’s stated goals of reducing GHGs and VMT. We believe the alternatives examined by staff, and in particular staff’s recommendation for the Lake Hills Connector alternative, do not adequately fulfill the project’s stated purpose to “ease congestion & improve safety.”
During a meeting with staff late last year, our organization presented the science behind the concept of “induced demand” – the idea that making it easier for people to drive by building more roads will ultimately increase the amount people will drive and negate any potential congestion-reducing impacts. This is not merely CSB’s opinion: time and time again, widening & building new roads has been shown to reduce the generalized “costs” of driving, which in turn encourage more driving by more people until congestion invariably returns to pre-build levels. Because most of our vehicle fleet will continue to run on polluting internal combustion engines for the foreseeable future, this increase in driving will invariably lead to further emissions that will subvert our progress towards being a sustainable city. Staff members we spoke with were unfortunately unreceptive to these arguments despite the evidence we presented. However, CSB would like to note that, even under the assumptions made by staff that this project will ultimately reduce congestion, their own findings show that none of the options examined are a fiscally responsible choice that will meaningfully decrease travel times.
In staff’s materials to you all this evening, they have chosen to compare each alternative by the number of “person-hours” that will be saved daily compared with a baseline “no-build” scenario. This is meant to serve as an aggregate metric of the amount of time saved by all drivers across the travel network, but it also serves (whether intentionally or not) to obfuscate the actual, tangible impact that this interchange would have on an individual person’s day-to-day commute. Not included in your packet this evening are the following slides from a presentation given during the February closed-door stakeholder meeting that staff held with local developers, businesses, and neighborhood organizations. These slides, included in the appendix of a 62-page slide deck, illustrate the true impact the interchange will have on the actual travel times of Bellevue drivers.
What these charts illustrate is shocking – for a steep price tag of $150 million, the Lake Hills Connector alternative recommended this evening by staff would save drivers only about 20 seconds on an otherwise 19-minute commute! Please also note the misleading and nonzeroed x-axis which makes the impacts of these alternatives seem larger than they are.
Staff will be quick to point out how these time savings, when multiplied across all users throughout the entire transportation system, will be significant. However, our organization implores Councilmembers to consider what meaningful productivity can actually be gained by several people each having mere seconds added to their daily free time. Whatever meager gains are possible are certainly not worth the $150 million that will be asked of Washington taxpayers to fund the construction of this interchange. This applies to the other alternatives examined, which at most save an average of 45 seconds on a similar commute and would often be more expensive.
These discussions come at a time when our city’s transit users must often wait half an hour or more on their bus to arrive; when our bike riders must navigate the patchwork network of safe facilities, often being left to fend for themselves in rapid vehicle traffic or relegated to the sidewalk; when our pedestrians are forced to use narrow sidewalks or frequently-tread footpaths by high-speed roads. There are myriad opportunities for investment in a truly multimodal network that supports our city’s long-term goals to reduce emissions and VMT, and although these funds will be provided from WSDOT and thus will be subject to deliberation at the state level, our organization believes that our city’s voice should be better spent encouraging the agency & legislature to fully fund our currently lacking pedestrian, bicycle, and transit networks. For some examples on how far $150 million in state funding for multimodal improvements could go, this money could:
- fill the Bellevue gaps in Eastrail 8 times over.
- increase funding for Vision Zero Target Improvements 60-fold. We could expand the program to cover all of Bellevue’s High Injury Network, not just five roads.
- retool all Downtown streets to be Complete Streets, increasing safety & reliability for walkers, bikers, and transit users.
We are certain that, through the diversity of perspectives and creativity present throughout Bellevue’s transportation staff, our city could find several needed uses for $150 million that would contribute to Council’s stated priorities of decreased emissions, reduced VMT, and improved safety for all road users.
Because all examined alternatives carry high costs while providing little benefit for drivers; because of the lack of multimodal facilities in the staff-selected alternative (we remind Council that the presence of multimodal facilities was a stated priority in their September 2020 Study Session deliberations); and because helping more cars move more quickly onto the interstate will negatively impact the safety of vulnerable road users while contributing to more emissions long-term; our organization urges Council to approve the “No-Build” alternative and reject all others. Although our organization appreciates staff’s rigorous examination of each possibility, their findings show that the “No-Build” alternative remains the only fiscally, socially, and environmentally responsible choice for our city.
As a closing thought, we would like to again draw attention to the two charts above, which illustrate how even the expected 2035 no-build scenario represents a commute several minutes shorter than the 2018 scenario. This drop in congestion is in large part owed to the 2023 opening of East Link light rail, which will see 50,000 daily riders by 2026. These are people who will not need to drive and clog our roads, because they will have quick & convenient access to frequent & reliable transit. This showcases the dual nature of induced demand – if we invest in infrastructure that makes the experience while walking, biking, & taking transit in our region safe, reliable, & easy, then we will see more people choose not to drive. Investments in truly multimodal infrastructure are the only way to meaningfully reduce congestion, and these come with the added benefit of creating sustainable, equitable, and safe communities.
Complete Streets Bellevue appreciates Councilmembers’ service to our city and asks this body to make the right decision for our community. Our organization’s leadership remains available to answer any questions in preparation of Monday’s meeting.
Complete Streets Bellevue – Founder