Ensuring Responsible Growth for Bellevue’s Transportation System

Email the Transportation Commission to support staff’s approach for multi-modal concurrency: transportationcommission@bellevuewa.gov, or sign up to give oral testimony at the Transportation Commission meeting on Thursday July 8th @ 6:30 pm.

If there’s one thing we’ve learned during our organization’s time engaging in the municipal process, it’s that much of the city’s work revolves around crafting complicated policy language that can be difficult for the public to engage with. The long, bureaucratic processes that attempt to allow ample opportunity for public input can themselves be barriers – as difficult discussions get stretched out over long timeframes, it can be challenging to navigate complex & ever-changing policy language and its impact to tangible, day-to-day decisions.

So we approach this issue with sympathetic understanding when we say that Bellevue will soon be making important policy decisions that will decide how our city’s transportation system develops – very complicated and difficult-to-understand decisions, but important ones nonetheless. In this article (the first of a two-part series), it’s our goal to outline the impacts of those decisions, where we’re at in the process, and how you can get involved.

Mobility Implementation Plan, Concurrency… What Are They?

These important decisions all revolve around the topic that will occupy the time of Bellevue’s Transportation Commission for the remainder of the year – the Mobility Implementation Plan and how it will fundamentally change the city’s definition of concurrency. Both of these concepts are given importance because of a Washington state policy wonk’s favorite piece of legislation – the Growth Management Act. Because of the GMA, cities like Bellevue are required to ensure their transportation systems have enough capacity to accommodate planned growth. This requirement is called concurrency, and when a city’s transportation system has enough capacity to accommodate expected demand, it’s said to be meeting concurrency.

However, what if a new development in a rapidly-growing neighborhood would lead to more trips than what the current system can accommodate? In that case, the developer would be required to fund the transportation improvements necessary to bring the system back into concurrency – an arrangement that saves the city money while still allowing Bellevue to accommodate new growth.

Although a great system in theory, Bellevue’s current concurrency policies leave much to be desired. Most importantly, the current approach to concurrency and the required performance targets to meet it are exclusively related to automobile traffic. This means that, even though significant portions of our residents walk, bike, and take transit to get where they need to go, their needs are not inherently accounted in the way that the needs of drivers are. Worse still, because concurrency currently only examines automobile capacity, developers are required to fund projects that increase vehicle throughput when their projects would lead to the city failing concurrency. Aside from concerns around induced demand´(which our organization has highlighted numerous times), helping cars travel more quickly in our city’s dense urban areas negatively impacts the travel experience of other mode users and poses risks to the health & safety of our residents.

This shortcoming is exactly why city transportation staff have been hard at work with the Mobility Implementation Plan – the policy guidelines by which the city will expand its definition of concurrency to account for all modes of transportation. This process will provide targets by which facilities for modes can be deemed to be meeting or failing concurrency, and these modes will be incorporated when the city evaluates whether there is enough capacity in the transportation system to meet the demand presented by a new development. Importantly, this also means that developers, when funding transportation projects to offset a new property’s impacts, will be able to contribute funds towards completing walking, biking, and transit facilities instead of roadway capacity improvements!

This will be an important change in city policy, freeing up new funding sources to help complete Bellevue’s multi-modal transportation network while giving developers more flexibility in how they mitigate new development impacts. However, the next stage of this process will be essential to get right, as a particular mode’s performance targets will define will affect how the system’s overall concurrency is calculated. If performance targets for sidewalks, for example, are set too low and gaps in key pedestrian areas are accepted as normal, then that provides less of an impetus for developers to focus their funds on those projects. If we accept painted lanes as sufficient infrastructure for a citywide bike network instead of truly protected facilities, then we may lock ourselves into accepting a substandard investments that aren’t safe enough for the majority of road users.

Setting those targets, which will be the task of the Transportation Commission over the coming months, will required an understanding of where the city is currently at – what our walking, biking, transit, and driving facilities currently look like & where there are gaps. Luckily, transportation staff has published a detailed report in preparation of this Thursday’s meeting that outlines exactly where those gaps are. We’ll delve into this report in a second article to be published tomorrow morning, but if you’d like to do some advanced reading, feel free to check it out here.

In the meantime, email the Transportation Commission to support staff’s approach for multimodal concurrency: transportationcommission@bellevuewa.gov, or sign up to give oral testimony at the Transportation Commission meeting on Thursday July 8th @ 6:30 pm.

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