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Here’s what’s happening with new Chestnut Street bike lanes and what’s ahead

New bike lanes coming to downtown Bellingham

Public Works crews added “buffered” bike lanes on Chestnut Street in Bellingham, Wash., the week of Aug. 12, 2019. Bicyclists will have more room to ride where Chestnut Street goes uphill away from downtown.
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Public Works crews added “buffered” bike lanes on Chestnut Street in Bellingham, Wash., the week of Aug. 12, 2019. Bicyclists will have more room to ride where Chestnut Street goes uphill away from downtown.

Bicyclists are getting some more room to ride where Chestnut Street goes uphill away from downtown, part of Bellingham’s commitment to expanding bike lanes throughout the city.

New “buffered” bike lanes were striped last week, and there’s still more work to be done along Chestnut Street and elsewhere around the city, said Chad Schulhauser, assistant director of the Public Works Department’s engineering division.

“The Chestnut work will be completed in phases with the striping east of Railroad Avenue complete this month and the hard surface improvements and striping west of Railroad completed this fall,” Schulhauser told The Bellingham Herald in an email.

One lane for cars was removed from Chestnut Street to add the the new bike lane, which extends east to Key Street.

It will connect bike riders to Samish Way and Ellis Street next year as part of bike lanes planned through that commuter corridor from Bill MacDonald Parkway to downtown.

Schulhauser said the Chestnut Street work was paid for as part of the city’s Transportation Benefit District, a two-tenths of 1% sales tax that Bellingham voters approved in 2010.

“It is part of a long-planned, community-vetted, (City) Council-approved strategy to accommodate all road users,” Public Works spokeswoman Amy Cloud told The Herald in an email.

Cloud said Bellingham’s Bicycle Master Plan recently won one of five Governor’s 2019 Smart Communities Awards, which honor the “shared vision, tough decisions and partnerships” in planning.

But not all drivers — or bicyclists — were happy with the changes.

Responses to a post at The Bellingham Herald’s Facebook page were resoundingly negative, drawing more than 70 comments and 3,000 video views in less than 24 hours.

“Taking a lane from Chestnut for bikes is one of the poorer decisions of the city. Due to the steep hill, very few bike it,and it’s much more important for vehicles. The design will create congestion and increase danger to all,” Larry Nicholas of Bellingham said Wednesday on the city’s Facebook page.

“If we must have one, put it on Maple (Street) that isn’t nearly as important as Chestnut,” he said.

Speed limit on Chestnut Street is 25 mph, but cars frequently drive much faster. Traffic is often heavy on the afternoon commute.

Bellingham resident Shawn Clarke said he rode the new bike lanes for the first time Thursday and said he also would’ve liked to have seen the bike lane follow Maple Street, a residential street one block south.

“This just seems to be a Band-Aid in a lot of ways,” he said in an interview. “What is the bigger plan? The issue for me is safety. I always prefer to be riding in a residential neighborhood.”

State Rep. Sharon Shewmake, D-Bellingham, said on The Herald’s Facebook page that she rides Chestnut Street regularly to her full-time job as an economics professor at Western Washington University.

“I think the bike lanes on Chestnut can be better, and they don’t pass the test of ‘would ride with my kids’ but they are better than nothing,” Shewmake said.

Beth Hartsoch, who is running for Bellingham City Council, said on Facebook that it was “a great first step” and hoped that the city could add a physical barrier to separate cars and bikes.

Meanwhile, project engineer Freeman Anthony said in an interview that the two-block stretch of Chestnut from Commercial to Railroad — and other parts of the street — will see more work in the weeks ahead to make the lane transitions and turns easier for both drivers and cyclists.

“About 75% of drivers” were handling the new lanes correctly on Chestnut uphill from Railroad Avenue, he said as he paused astride his bicycle and watched morning traffic Tuesday.

Anthony said both drivers and bike riders will find the new lanes less confusing and easier to follow once all the work is complete.

Robert Mittendorf covers civic issues, weather, traffic and how people are coping with the high cost of housing for The Bellingham Herald. A journalist since 1984, he’s also a volunteer firefighter for South Whatcom Fire Authority.
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