Work done on City of Bellingham streets – including construction of bike facilities (i.e. bike lanes) and crosswalks – is based on plans developed based on research and strategic planning, approved by City Council, and funded through grants, City revenue or the voter-approved Transportation Benefit District. Those touchstone plans include the City Comprehensive Plan, the 6-Year Transportation Improvement Plan, the Bicycle Master Plan and Pedestrian Master Plan.
The Chestnut Street bicycle lane was identified as a “Tier 1″ (i.e. high-priority need) during the 18-month-long public process to develop the citywide Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan, which was approved by the Bellingham City Council in 2014.
The Chestnut bike facility project is under construction now because we try to be strategic so that
when we install planned-for bicycle facilities they actually connect to other bicycle facilities that already exist, or will in the very near future.
In the case of Chestnut Street, it connects to the Roeder Avenue bike lanes (installed just this past May) and extends the bike lane through downtown and will connect to the Samish-Maple-Ellis bike lanes that we’ll construct next summer (2020) from I-5/Samish to Cornwall Avenue in downtown Bellingham. All of these bicycle facilities, plus the strategy for maximizing bicycle connectivity in this part of Bellingham, can be seen in this Bike Network Connectivity – South graphic.
The traffic signal at the Chestnut–Ellis–Whatcom intersection will be reconstructed and realigned to support a new off-street bikeway from Chestnut–Key to Ellis–Whatcom. The existing three vehicle lanes at the intersection of Chestnut and Ellis will be retained and bicyclists will ride on a new pathway to a marked crossing at Ellis–Whatcom to connect to the Whatcom Street bike boulevard or to the Ellis–Maple–Samish bike lanes. East Maple, parallel to Chestnut, will be installed as a bike boulevard next year (in 2020) as well.
Regarding traffic congestion, this intersection has long experienced back-ups during the evening rush hour, with congestion normally dissipating by 6 p.m. This is normal for a major employment center like downtown Bellingham. We have analyzed the intersection for both existing and future conditions, including all of the growth and development expected in downtown, the Waterfront, and the Samish Urban Village, and expect that while there will continue to be rush hour traffic congestion, the corridor and intersections will work well at all other times of day. Note that “rush hour” congestion – at the beginning and ending of the typical workday – is typically short duration (two hours total) on weekdays. Streets are designed and built for the “general rule” of traffic use, rather than the “exception” that is an hour twice-a-day.
Chestnut Street bike lane FAQ
Why did the city install the bicycle lane on Chestnut Street?
The Chestnut Street bicycle lane was identified as a “Tier 1″ (high-priority need), ranking seventh out of 185 individual bicycle infrastructure projects, in the 18-month-long public process to develop the citywide Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan approved by City Council in 2014. The reason that the work is being done now in 2019 is that we try to be as strategic as possible when implementing our bicycle facilities so that they connect to other bicycle facilities that either already exist or will in the very near future. The Chestnut Street bike lane connects to the Roeder Avenue bike lanes installed this past spring (May 2019) and extends bicycle facilities through downtown and will connect to the Samish-Maple-Ellis bike lanes that we will construct next summer (2020) from I-5/Samish to Cornwall Avenue in downtown. All of these bicycle facilities and our strategy for maximizing bicycle connectivity in this part of Bellingham can be viewed in this Bike Network Connectivity – South graphic.
Did you tell folks about this major change coming to Chestnut Street?
There are several ways we worked to inform the public about this (and other transportation) projects. Chestnut Street bike lane was listed in both the 2019-2024 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) adopted by City Council in June 2018 and the 2020-2025 TIP adopted in June 2019. The annual DRAFT six-year TIP is published on the City web site at the beginning of May each year, reviewed by the Transportation Commission at a public meeting in mid-May, a TIP public hearing is hosted by City Council in late May, and then the Final TIP is adopted by the City Council in June. Bellingham media outlets, all neighborhood associations, and many other agencies and interests are notified of the availability of the DRAFT TIP as soon as it is published to the City web site and there are multiple opportunities for public input on all TIP projects.
Won’t the removal of a vehicle travel lane on Chestnut Street create gridlock in downtown?
Chestnut Street, like every other major arterial street, experiences evening rush hour traffic congestion at intersections, which is normal for a major employment center like downtown Bellingham.
In 2018, Chestnut Street through downtown carried between 9,500 – 10,000 vehicles per day in three lanes in one direction. Holly Street – also a three lane, one-way arterial – carried between 11,000 to 13,000 vehicles per day. Cornwall Avenue – a two-way arterial with one lane in each direction – carried 9,500 vehicles per day in 2018.
Based on vehicle capacity, Chestnut Street does not need three one-way travel lanes – but it does need a bike lane to separate people on bikes moving at slower speeds climbing uphill from faster-moving vehicle traffic. Public Works analyzed the intersections along Chestnut Street for both existing and future conditions, including all of the growth and development expected in downtown, the Waterfront, and the Samish Urban Village. We expect that while there will continue to be rush hour traffic congestion, the corridor and intersections are expected to work well at most other times of day.
Who even uses bike lanes, is there really a need?
Ours is a community that appreciates the opportunity to commute by bike. That interest was represented by community members who participated in the process to develop a Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) for Bellingham. As a result of that BMP – adopted by Bellingham City Council in 2014 – and voter-approved TBD funding, we have been busy building the desired bike lane infrastructure and working toward bicycle route connectivity.
Once the BMP network has been completed, shared commuting will be easier for cyclists and drivers alike and both modes of travel will be more efficient. In the meantime, while we’re still constructing bike facility projects one-by-one, the lanes already in place are getting plenty of use (as documented in the Transportation Report on Annual Mobility) and this newest buffered bike lane, in particular, will help those commuting to WWU (staff and faculty, as well as students.)
Why is the City spending so much money on bike lanes and where does the money come from?
Bellingham voters approved Bellingham Transportation Benefit District (TBD) No. 1 in November 2010. This created a 2/10 of 1% sales tax within the City limits of Bellingham that dedicates funding for “non-motorized” transportation improvements, such as sidewalks, crossing signals, and bike facilities. The TBD funding is programmed for many multimodal transportation projects in the annual six-year TIP. It is important to note that money used to construct bicycle infrastructure does not reduce funding elsewhere, because this is a dedicated funding source.