Drivers, bicyclists to navigate new bike boxes in Bellingham

Darrin Kamps, owner of Kamps Painting Co. of Lynden, uses a propane torch to apply bicycle markings in the summer of 2015.
Darrin Kamps, owner of Kamps Painting Co. of Lynden, uses a propane torch to apply bicycle markings in the summer of 2015. The Bellingham Herald

Green “bike boxes” on the corner of Cornwall Avenue and Ohio Street by Bellingham High School are the most visible examples so far of the city’s new push to improve bicycle safety.

Workers from Kamps Painting Co. of Lynden were installing the bike boxes on Monday, Aug. 17.

No longer is the standard, five-foot bicycle lane going to be the only way the city creates space between bicyclists and cars. The latest bike-friendly road features, seen already in Portland, Seattle and San Francisco, involve a lot of green paint — or in the case of the Cornwall bike boxes, heat-applied plastic.

“We can honestly say the year 2015 marks a transition point for Bellingham,” said Chris Comeau, city transportation planner. “Instead of just traditional marked bike lanes, we’re getting a whole host of marked bicycle facilities.”

City officials recognize the new street markings will need to come with some education, so both bicyclists and drivers know what to do when they run across them. A public information campaign will begin soon with brochures, videos and outreach to bike shops, Comeau said.

Bike boxes make room for bikes at a red light between the crosswalk and the first car in line. A green strip on the bicycle lane approaching the bike box is supposed to invite bicyclists to take their place at the front of the line of vehicles waiting for the light to change. Extra-sensitive sensors in the pavement can feel a bicycle and trigger the signal.

A thick white line is intended to show drivers where they need to stop — behind the green box rather than at the crosswalk.

Other bicycle road features will be included in the city’s education campaign:

▪  Sharrows. The shared-lane marking or “sharrow” has been around Bellingham for about a year on streets such as Indian and 14th, with more being installed all the time. Last week, sharrows were added to Ellis and Grant streets.

Comeau said the sharrows are intended to send the following message to drivers: “You’re expected to share the space with bicyclists.”

▪  Green-backed sharrows. When bicycle routes cross busy intersections, those crossings get sharrows with a green background.

“The green paint really pops and gets the drivers’ attention, and that’s the whole point,” Comeau said.

▪  Dashed green lines. Certain driveways and side streets along bike routes will get a dashed green line to let drivers know they are crossing a bike lane.

Two side streets that will get the dashed line are West Maplewood and Alderwood avenues at Northwest Avenue. Both intersections had car-bicycle collisions over the past couple years, Comeau said.

The new wave of bicycle markings will be added to Bellingham streets as they can be worked into larger road projects. The city added the bike boxes at Cornwall and Ohio because it was already adding bicycle lanes, new curbs and crosswalks along Ohio this summer, Comeau said.

The three bike boxes cost $27,000 to install, project engineer Colleen Mitchell said. Work along Ohio Street from Cornwall to Grant Street is expected to cost $419,000, according to the city’s project Web page.

Money for the work came from a 0.2 percent sales tax city residents have paid since 2011 to pay for road improvements to benefit bicyclists and pedestrians, road repaving, and bus service from Whatcom Transportation Authority.

Reach Ralph Schwartz at 360-715-2289 or ralph.schwartz@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamPolitics.