BELLINGHAM - A city planner hopes to see a lot of people at a Tuesday, Feb. 12, open house for a safety study of Alabama Street.
He also would like to correct what he calls misinformation about changes to Alabama that is circulating in the nearby neighborhoods.
"A lot of people seem to believe that this is nothing more than an effort by city transportation planners to force-fit more bike lanes on another street," said Chris Comeau, a transportation planner. "That's not what it was about. It's about reducing collisions."
The city received a $1.4 million federal grant that will pay for construction of vehicle, bicycle and pedestrian safety improvements on and around Alabama. Options include adding pedestrian crossings, putting a curb in the median to restrict left turns, moving Whatcom Transportation Authority bus stops, and lowering the speed limit.
Then there's the option that's been getting the most attention: reducing two-lane travel in each direction of Alabama to one lane, with left-turn and bicycle lanes - what's called a "road diet."
Timothy Trott, owner of Lee's Drive-In at Alabama and James streets, said he has heard Comeau's claim to be open-minded about options, but Trott remains skeptical. He's convinced the city wants the road diet.
"I honestly believe that were there no objections to this thing, this thing will happen," Trott said.
The road diet makes no sense to Trott or anyone else he has talked to about it, he said. It will increase congestion on Alabama while doing little good for pedestrians or bicyclists, Trott said.
"I talked to eight bicyclists that are avid bicyclists," he said. "They told me they still won't use Alabama if the speed limit is still 35."
"It's really, really frustrating to hear people talk about stuff like this," Comeau said. "That's implying we've already made a decision."
"We're not selling anything to anybody," he added. "We're conducting a study."
The safety project was made possible by the federal grant, which the city received because of the high number of crashes on Alabama. With 93 collisions in seven years, the street rates as the second worst in the county behind Guide Meridian, Comeau said.
The city and its consultant will select a preferred option, which will come before the City Council as early as this spring. The road diet won't be recommended if it is "not technically feasible," Comeau said.
"But it has to be on the table," he said. "It is a proven method for reducing vehicle collisions."
WTA is spending $5,000 on the study, with the city covering the remaining $44,000, Comeau said.
WTA would like the project to maintain if not improve on-time performance of the Alabama Street bus, said agency spokeswoman Maureen McCarthy.
Comeau emphasized that there will be multiple opportunities for public input, starting with Tuesday's open house. One option - doing nothing - won't get much of a hearing, however.
"Keeping Alabama the way it is is not an option" short of giving back the $1.4 million, Comeau said. "Quite honestly, it's irresponsible to leave Alabama the way it is."
ATTEND THE MEETING
What: Open house on Alabama Street safety study.
When: 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 12.
Where: Roosevelt Elementary School cafeteria, 2900 Yew St.
More information: Go to cob.org and enter "Alabama Street" in the search box.
Reach RALPH SCHWARTZ at email@example.com or call 715-2298.