Road fatalities on city streets, 2010-2019 (Bellevue Vision Zero Portal)

Bellevue deserves a transportation system that works for all people, no matter how they get around. But currently, navigating the city is significantly more dangerous if you’re biking, walking, or rolling. Although pedestrians and cyclists are only involved in 5% of crashes, they comprise 43% of the deaths and serious injuries on city streets. And in spite of the city’s Vision Zero policy, a plan to prevent all fatalities and serious injuries on city streets by 2030, these numbers are trending in the wrong direction. In 2019, 30 people were killed or seriously injured in motor vehicle collisions on Bellevue streets – the most in more than 10 years. Nearly 2/3 of those people were walking or biking, and after going a decade without any cyclist fatalities, the city saw two people killed on their bicycles within a single month. These trends continue into 2020, when already another cyclist has been killed and over half of the city’s serious injuries and deaths have been pedestrians and cyclists.

Ghost bike for James Ralph, killed August 2019 on NE 8th St (BDOT Twitter)

Traffic fatalities are such a fixture of American life that it can be hard to see the ambitious goals behind Vision Zero as actually attainable. However, we only need to look at other cities to see just how possible it is to make our streets safer for all. Through a combination of tactics, Oslo, Norway saw zero pedestrian and cyclist fatalities in 2019, continuing a decades-long trend of steadily decreasing fatalities on city streets. And although other American cities are trending in the same direction as Bellevue, transportation departments have a slew of data at their disposal that show how effective certain techniques can be, and they can use this data to create solutions tailored to Bellevue’s road network. By lowering speeds, adding traffic calming measures, and building out a comprehensive pedestrian and bicycle network, Bellevue can become a regional leader in road safety – but only if city leaders and transportation staff make the difficult choices proven to help save lives.

Main Street bridge. Would you feel safe walking here? Without detailed plans, can we be confident that BDOT won’t just build more sidewalks like these? (Google Streetview)

Unfortunately, building a new interchange to help more cars get on faster roads more quickly is exactly the wrong decision to improve safety. City transportation staff claim that they will account for multimodal uses with a new interchange, but they readily admit that the main priority for this interchange is to help motor vehicle movement. In a recent stakeholders meeting, transportation staff mentioned that high-speed roads with limited pedestrian facilities to keep people safe are not a fatal design flaw. And none of the alternatives currently under consideration include any details regarding what non-motorized facilities will ultimately be included. Staff can claim all they want will account for multi-modal transportation, but that must be backed up by meaningful, transparent action – why are we being asked to make a decision before we even have all the information? How can we be sure that eventual pedestrian and bicycle facilities will be safe when we have no details on what these will look like until we actually choose an option?

Until the city is able to answer these questions and prove that they are taking the needs of all road users into account, we do not believe a new interchange will make anyone safer. Instead of spending millions of dollars in an effort to help cars move faster and reduce congestion (a useless endeavor, we might add), the city should use this money to make meaningful safety improvements that are proven to work for all Bellevue residents.

Header photo from City of Bellevue

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