Work is still continuing on an improved I-90/Mountains to Sound Trail connection over Factoria Blvd SE in Bellevue.
The project broke ground in the fall and is still aiming for completion in late 2020, according to project manager Chris Masek.
Previously, the trail dumped users onto the sidewalk at the southwest corner of the intersection of Factoria Blvd SE and SE 36th St. Users then used the crosswalk to access a paint-only bike lane on 36th to continue on the major trail route.
The new connection will create an overpass allowing trail users to fly over the I-90 off-ramp and Factoria Blvd, ending up on a new trail running along the north side of 36th to 132nd Ave SE. Users headed east will have to cross the street there to access the existing bike lane, at least for now.
The project is part of a long-planned series of improvements to the so-called Bellevue Gap, the worst section of one of the region’s most important bike routes. Bellevue plans (PDF) to continue the new trail all the way to Lakemont Blvd SE, where it will meet up with SE Newport Way. This will save users from crossing I-90 twice and navigating unfriendly SW Eastgate Way.
The section under construction is short, but it’s also complicated and difficult. The price tag is $17.7 million, though much of that cost is to move a section of the trail so they can add another lane on the I-90 off-ramp. Adding that lane will require a new trail tunnel under the eastbound on-ramp from I-405.
This looks really amazing, though one part concerns me – you mention that cyclists heading east must cross the street at 132nd ave SE (which is basically where all the T-Mo folks come out of their work and onto 36th, right? My concern is that, in the many times I’ve traveled that route in commuting hours, I’ve never seen that intersection when it wasn’t backed up with continuously flowing vehicles. Will there be a dedicated bike cycle? Because if not, I don’t know how we’re going to cross during commutes — when the light is green east/west, the westbound lane is continuous, and when it’s east/west red, vehicles leaving 132nd are continuous. I hope the planning includes the mechanism for making that crossing; we have far too many great projects in the area marred by one key flaw.
Actually, two things concern me – that, and is all the cost allocated to ‘bike’ projects in the budget? So often projects like this include some huge expense driven by motor vehicles, but the full cost is allocated to bikes. We all remember the multi-million-dollar block of bike lane downtown, almost all of which was expenses driven by the complete rebuilding of the primary lanes and primary lane signaling (and the flurry of “BIKES EXPENSIVE BAD!” news articles that inevitably followed). Not to mention, the use of funds earmarked for bike projects on massively expensive highway offramp expansions then reduces budget available for actual bike-related work. Should we as a community try to push back against the way these are budgeted?
Looking at the scope of work required to widen the I-90 ramp including rebuilding the 405-to-90EB ramp above, this sounds more like a freeway off-ramp capacity project with a bike component for $17.7M. While I certainly support the project as a whole, this continues a trend of dressing up expensive vehicle improvement projects into a non-motorized improvement project and selling to the public as such. Worryingly, this could continue to morph into tapping scare non-motorized funds and redirecting them to vehicle improvements under the guise of projects labeled “non-motorized”.
B: “Well George, I don’t know how we’re going to pay for this massive $50M lane expansion and re-signaling.”
G: “Oh that’s easy Bob, just put a bike lane on the side.”
B: “Wait, what?”
G: “Yeah, then the whole damn thing is a bike project, and the budget all comes from there. Bonus, we get to claim we spent $50M on new bike lanes!”
This improvement is long overdue and an even bigger improvement for the safety of west bound bicycle riders. Westbound riders have to stop at the light in the bicycle lane which is to the right of two lanes of car traffic turning left. The bicycle rider needs to follow the general left turn flow of cars and then successfully navigate onto the sidewalk on the westbound side right next to the I 90 off ramp. There are only two curb cuts which the bicycle can use – one facing east and one facing north. The safe curb cut to use is the one facing north however that one is always blocked by cars waiting to turn right from the I90 offramp. To use the west facing curb cut the bicycle rider would need to someone use part of the lane of cars turning left. Not fun.
Now add the component that when heading west the bicycle rider is going down a significant hill and has some speed and doesn’t need to stop but instead has a green. You have all of those issues written above but at 15 to 25 mph. This part of my ride always terrified me. My solution was to always take the right most car lane before entering the intersection and use the north facing curb cut. I complained to the city years ago and am happy they are finally doing something.
I hope the DOT or Bellevue also improves the signage in this area. I use the trail infrequently and I’m always confused about how to get on the I-90 trail WB.