Bellingham plan for improving safety on Alabama Street under wraps

THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 1, 2014 

BELLINGHAM - City officials are tight-lipped about a plan for improving safety on Alabama Street, statistically the second most dangerous street in Bellingham.

The public will have to wait until an open house where the plan will be revealed, Wednesday, March 5, at Roosevelt Elementary School.

The first open house on the road project, a year ago, didn't go as well as city officials would have hoped. A lot of neighbors came in thinking a decision had already been made to squeeze Alabama traffic into one lane in each direction. But that was only one of several options for reducing the number of collisions on Alabama on a 1.75-mile stretch from Cornwall Avenue to St. Clair Street. Others included reducing the speed limit from 35 mph, restricting left turns and adding crosswalks.

Alabama Street, with 93 injury collisions from 2004 to 2010, ranks only behind Meridian Street for most collisions in the city.

While city transportation planner Chris Comeau wouldn't describe the Alabama Street proposal, and the city has not posted new information on its project webpage, he would say the plan is different for different parts of the street.

"That's another reason we're not letting the cat out of the bag, so to speak, at this point," Comeau said on Friday, Feb. 28. "We want people to come to the open house, (where) different components of the project will be highlighted."

Alabama Street restaurant owner Timothy Trott, who was convinced a year ago the city would reduce the number of lanes on the street, remains skeptical but wouldn't criticize the city's efforts in an interview Thursday, Feb. 27.

"I would like to see what they have planned," said Trott, who owns Lee's Drive-In at James Street. "I'm looking forward to the open house."

The project area bisects the Sunnyland and Roosevelt neighborhoods. The position of the Sunnyland Neighborhood Association hasn't changed since it first learned of the project two years ago.

Neighbors at a 2012 association meeting thought reducing the number of lanes was a good idea - anything to reduce the speed.

"I think the bigger issue is the speed limit," said Mike Rostron, a neighborhood association board member, in a Thursday interview. He and others say it should be reduced to 25 mph from the current 35 mph.

Rick Nicholson, the Whatcom Transportation Authority's director of service development, said the Alabama Street proposal to be unveiled at the open house is supported by the transit agency.

He said the number of bus stops would be reduced, and stops would be placed close to new crosswalks.

"Anything that improves pedestrian safety is a plus for WTA and our passengers as well," Nicholson said.

Considerable attention was given to pedestrians and bicyclists in the plan. Work on the plan slowed over the past year so the city's bicycle master plan could catch up, Comeau said. The bike plan was introduced at a separate open house on Feb. 20.

ATTEND THE MEETING

What: Open house on the Alabama Street safety improvement project.

When: 6:30-8:30 p.m. Wednesday, March 5.

Where: Roosevelt Elementary School cafeteria, 2900 Yew St.

More information: Go to cob.org and type "Alabama Street" in the search box.

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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