Bellingham plan would give bicycling a boost

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDFebruary 18, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - City officials have a plan for making a good bicycle city better.

After 10 months of field work, public surveys and data crunching, city staff drafted a bicycle master plan, which proposes more bicycle-friendly options for Bellingham streets to be realized by 2026 and beyond.

The aim of the plan, which will be presented to the public at an open house Thursday, Feb. 20, is to make bicycling in the city safer, to provide better connections within and between neighborhoods, and to boost the number of riders.

Bellingham already stands out as a bicycle-loving city. Data from the U.S. Census Bureau from 2008 to 2012 shows that 4 percent of Bellingham commuters travel to work by bicycle, compared to 0.9 percent statewide and 0.6 percent across the U.S.

Priorities in the plan include better bicycle access to public schools and colleges, routes for low-income areas, and easy ways to get from one side of Interstate 5 to another.

The top-priority project slated for 2015-2020 would address the problem posed by I-5, which is a barrier between the east part of the city and locations in and around downtown. Some of the main routes under I-5 are daunting to less-confident bicyclists - think Iowa Street and Lakeway Drive - and the goal is to make the occasional cyclist feel more secure about getting around town, said Kim Brown, city transportation options coordinator.

So first on the city's to-do list is a route that crosses I-5 via Kentucky, Nevada and Texas streets. This route, from Cornwall to Woburn, would be refashioned as a "bicycle boulevard" - a less busy route where bicyclists would have priority.

"That's a very comfortable ride for people who aren't really comfortable out there on arterial streets," Brown said.

The No. 2 priority is to make the busy stretch of Lakeway, from Queen Street west to Ellis Street, more accommodating to bicyclists. Planners aren't sure yet how to do that.

"It's a really challenging roadway to improve, yet the benefit and the safety concerns rank it very high," Brown said.

All of the improvements to the city's bicycle system, including mid-term projects for 2021-2026, and long-term projects after that, are roughly estimated to cost $20 million, Brown said.

The open house is from 5:30 to 8 p.m. in the auditorium at Whatcom Middle School, 810 Halleck St. Valet bicycle parking will be provided in the school cafeteria. A presentation on the plan starts at 6 p.m.

The draft plan can be read online at cob.org/bike. The city is taking pubic comments on the draft until March 21. For more information, email kimbrown@cob.org.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Read his Politics blog at bellinghamherald.com/politics-blog or get updates on Twitter at @bhampolitics.

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