Bellingham council seeks to accelerate bike plan

The question wasn’t whether the City Council would approve a new bicycle plan, which passed unanimously on Monday, Oct. 13. The question was how quickly could the city carry it out.

A 20-year, $20 million plan to make city streets safer and more appealing for bicyclists became a “15- to 20-year” plan, after a late change initiated by council member Michael Lilliquist.

Mayor Kelli Linville was reluctant to see a 15-year timeline put into writing for the plan, which when fully implemented would add 135 miles of bicycle-friendly features on Bellingham streets.

“I think it’s important to allow us to (finish the plan) sooner … but make the expectation realistic for the public,” Linville said.

Lilliquist said he had reviewed the cost estimates for the plan and the funding sources, and he concluded 15 years was not overly ambitious.

“This is a policy document. This is not a work schedule, so this doesn’t actually hold anyone’s feet to the fire” — except maybe the feet of council members, Lilliquist said before they cast their 6-0 vote. Councilor Jack Weiss was absent.

Money for the bicycle improvements will come from multiple sources, including the city’s street fund and a 0.2 percent sales tax approved by city voters in 2010. The street fund gets money from a tax on gasoline and sales tax.

The bicycle master plan took more than a year to complete, with city staff crunching data and taking input from residents to decide how and where to make accommodations for bicyclists.

The plan is not all about bicycle lanes, probably the most visible and obvious way to make room for bicyclists on the streets. The plan calls for 46 miles of bike lanes and 52 miles of new bicycle boulevards in the city. Bicycle boulevards are low-traffic residential streets with pavement markings meant to tell drivers to watch for cyclists.

Among the top-priority projects is a bike boulevard from a densely populated part of the Roosevelt neighborhood, under Interstate 5, to Bellingham High School and Whatcom Middle School.

“We are ready to put these projects in the pipeline,” said Kim Brown, city transportation options coordinator. “We can start working on them in 2015.”

Other highly ranked projects on the city’s priority list include Lakeway Drive, Holly Street, James Street and Lincoln Street.

Busy routes such as Lakeway and Holly could be candidates for cycle tracks or other types of bike lanes that are separated from vehicles for increased safety, Public Works Director Ted Carlson said.

Such a substantial change to these major streets would get a public review first, Carlson said.

The plan recommends removing parking along some streets to make room for bicycle lanes, another step that wouldn’t happen before the public had a chance to weigh in, Carlson said.

“Those decisions about removing parking will still have to go back to council,” he said.

Find the bicycle master plan online at cob.org/bike.