Bellingham working to improve safety, mobility on Alabama Street

COURTESY TO THE BELLINGHAM HERALDMarch 30, 2014 

We are working hard to reduce collisions and increase safety for all users of Alabama Street, which in recent years has had the second highest accident rate in all of Whatcom County. We invite community members to learn more and comment on our proposed plans for this important transportation corridor.

This is a complex project on a stretch of street lined by homes, apartments and businesses. It is a busy area, with thousands of vehicles traveling to and through it each day. Children, teens and their families travel along and across Alabama to reach Roosevelt and Sunnyland elementary schools, Whatcom Middle School, and nearby parks and trails. Pedestrians and bicyclists use Alabama and adjacent streets to travel to work, shop and for recreation.

We are working hard to find ways to make this area safer and easier to navigate for everyone who uses it.

ABOUT ALABAMA STREET

Alabama Street is a heavily-used, four-lane arterial that bisects five residential neighborhoods in central Bellingham, carrying more than 19,000 vehicles each day. Area residents have consistently identified the corridor as a major barrier to pedestrian, transit and bicycle mobility and a negative influence on their quality of life.

It also has an unacceptably high accident rate. From 2006-2011, Alabama Street had the second highest vehicle collision rate in all of Whatcom County. During that time, 262 vehicle collisions were recorded, 93 involving injuries. This accident rate is nearly five times the county average.

RECOMMENDED IMPROVEMENTS

A multi-agency team analyzed many alternatives over the course of three years and produced recommendations designed to make the 1.75-mile corridor safer for all users. From west to east, the recommendations include:

Between Cornwall and James: A "road diet" including reducing the number of travel lanes from 4 to 3 and installing bike lanes, a center turn lane, a new flashing crosswalk at Alabama/Ellis, and enhancements to the flashing crosswalk at Alabama/Grant.

Between Iron and Superior: Installing a median, new pedestrian-activated red-light traffic signals to stop road traffic at Alabama/Moore and Alabama/Undine, intersection widening and a new four-way traffic signal with left-turn lanes and marked crosswalks at Alabama/St. Paul, and corridor widening to extend the left-turn lane from Alabama/Woburn through the Alabama/Verona intersection.

From Superior to St. Clair: "Rechanneling" including reducing the number of travel lanes from 4 to 3 without bike lanes, a center turn lane, a new pedestrian-activated red-light crossing signal at Alabama/Michigan.

"Bicycle boulevards:" Improving several lower-volume, lower-speed, lower-stress residential streets parallel to and intersecting Alabama as "bicycle boulevards," as a way to provide another option for cyclists.

PROCESS AND NEXT STEPS

The team working on proposed solutions to safety and mobility needs of Alabama Street includes staff members from Bellingham Public Works, police and fire departments, Whatcom Transportation Authority and Whatcom Council of Governments, along with consultants with extensive experience working on similar corridors.

Recommendations to improve safety and mobility on Alabama also are contained in other recent plans, including the 2012 Bellingham Pedestrian Master Plan and the 2014 draft Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan; both included significant public involvement to ensure our work reflects the needs of all transportation users.

We also gathered input and shared proposed safety improvement alternatives with neighborhood residents and business owners along the corridor at neighborhood meetings and open houses from 2012 through early 2014.

On March 5, the multi-agency recommendations for safety improvements were presented at a public open house. We were pleased to see so many area residents and business owners who came to hear about our proposed safety improvements.

On March 11, the Bellingham Transportation Commission reviewed the proposal and voted to recommend approval to the Bellingham City Council. A public hearing is scheduled for 7 p.m., April 7, and written comments also are welcome through April 7.

We are working to provide safe, convenient transportation options for everyone who uses the Alabama Street corridor. More information is posted on the city web site at cob.org (search "Alabama corridor"). Please contact my office if you have questions or comments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ted Carlson is the director of the City of Bellingham Public Works Department. He can be reached at pw@cob.org or 360-778-7900.

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