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The Gristle

Diet in a time of starvation

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

DIET IN A TIME OF STARVATION: Parents and concerned residents thronged Bellingham City Hall this week to learn additional details of plans to improve pedestrian and traffic safety along Alabama Street, a major city arterial and the dividing line of two significant and changing neighborhoods. Speeds are higher along Alabama, with fewer traffic calming methods and scant separation of pedestrians from heavy traffic, than nearly any other city arterial you might name—dangerous, given those neighborhoods are among those that most heavily serve lower incomes, younger families and bustling commerce when compared to other areas of the city. Yet it is also an infamous choke-point for traffic, where heavy development at Barkley Village and points east can cause extended wait periods at rush hour—a Level of Service (LOS) of F, for failure, in traffic planning parlance, the lowest score for transportation efficiency at peak hours. The intersection at Woburn is one of the most congested in the city.

Not surprisingly given all these factors, the corridor has a history of collisions—nearly 100 in a six-year study period, one of which was fatal. In all of Whatcom County, only Guide Meridian ranks higher than the Alabama corridor for vehicle collisions. Unlike the Guide for much of its length, Alabama cuts through dense residential neighborhoods with an alphabet soup of cross streets, few of which feature marked pedestrian crossings, an invitation for tragedy. The city’s study logged more than a dozen incidents of vehicles striking pedestrians along the corridor.

Unhappy costs often draw welcome revenues, and the infamy of Alabama drew the attention of funding from the state Dept. of Transportation’s Target Zero Highway Safety Program, which in 2012 offered more than $1.46 million to address problems identified along the Alabama corridor.

The city’s proposal would eliminate a second travel lane of traffic in both directions along Alabama and replace them instead with a center two-way left turn lane along the 1.75-mile length of the corridor. Left turn traffic out of residential streets, which would have to cross lanes of travel, would be prohibited. Space recovered in the road width could be used to create greater separation between motor vehicles and pedestrians. Planners call this reduction and rechannelization a “road diet” that slims lanes of travel in exchange for system improvements. Additional plans, that appeared to draw public support, would create parallel bike boulevards through Roosevelt and Sunnyland neighborhoods, reducing the requirement of Alabama to accommodate bicycles as part of the city’s multi-modal transportation plan.

Neighbors expressed concerns that the road diet would do little to calm traffic or improve access to Alabama from residential side streets. Several are dead-ends, with Alabama as the point of access. The issue, many reported, is the speed of traffic along the corridor—a problem that collides with the LOS-F factor of moving large numbers of vehicles through a heavily congested area. Others noted the folly of reducing lanes of travel along a corridor that is already at peak capacity for several hours each day.

City Council listened to comments, then referred the matter back to their Public Works/Public Safety Committee, which will hold another work session on the proposal later this month.

Improvements to the Alabama corridor would not have been possible without funding from the state, and the funding would not have been possible without the city’s six-year planning document, the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The TIP is a planning instrument that identifies projects and directs planners and engineering staff to seek funding from state and federal sources for those projects. Some projects excite those funding sources, like economic development initiatives. Some help achieve state and federal goals, like WSDOT’s Target Zero program.

The point is, this is a useful planning tool—updated each year—that identifies problems, describes solutions, attempts to assign a timetable for the completion of projects and identifies possible sources to fund those projects. Being on the TIP makes a project eligible to receive funding under state and federal laws. In short, the TIP places a city need on someone’s radar, and the Gristle must admit city staff are talented and energetic in writing requests for grants and loans. The document serves as constant reminder to them to continue that quest.

Which brings the Gristle—while we idle for the transportation committee’s special work session—back around to the topic of Lake Whatcom and our observation that there is no TIP for the lake. There is no formal commitment on the city’s part to seek state and federal assistance for projects the city must undertake. In fact, of 17 transportation improvement projects identified by the city through 2018, only two offer the barest tangential benefit to the reservoir. Where once the city sent a representative to Olympia each session to lobby for financial assistance for the lake, the city went successive years in the recession without even attempting such a request. The city’s lobbyist is now bundled with county and port directives, again diffusing focus from the reservoir.

If city leaders are serious about upping their game on Lake Whatcom, they will consider a planning instrument like the TIP—updated and reported on each year—for the projects and funding they know the watershed requires. Cars once again elbowed in front of clean water to receive public funding but, with emphasis and effort arrayed as they are by the city, it is easy to see why.

Ticket Cascadia
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Zombie Terror

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Chapter Two

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Events
Today
Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bellingham City Club Meeting

11:30am|Northwood Hall

Wednesday Market

12:00pm|Fairhaven Village Green

Lynden Book Club

12:30pm|Lynden Library

Sedro-Woolley Farmers Market

3:00pm|Hammer Heritage Square

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Group Run

6:00pm|Skagit Running Company

Brewers Cruise

6:30pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

The Gun Show

8:00pm|Boundary Bay Brewery

Bellingham Farmer’s Market Andrew Subin
Tomorrow
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

Bow Little Market

1:00pm|Belfast Feed Store

After-Hours Market

4:00pm|Depot Market Square

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

First Thursday Art Walk

5:00pm|Downtown Mount Vernon

Riverwalk Summer Concert Series

5:00pm|Skagit Riverwalk Park

Memory to Memoir

5:30pm|Village Books

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Andrew Subin Artifacts Wine Bar
Friday
Skagit tours

10:00am|Highway 20

Bard on the Beach

12:00pm|Vanier Park

Boating Center Open

12:00pm|Community Boating Center

A gold medal standard

4:00pm

Eat Local Month

4:00pm|Bellingham and Whatcom County

Fiesta 4 Cuba

8:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead

8:00pm|Cirque Lab

It takes an island

12:01am

Wild Things

9:30am|Whatcom Falls Park

Party in the park

10:03am

Final Plover Rides

12:00pm|Blaine Harbor

Ferndale Farmers Market

1:00pm|Cherry Street

Hovander Homestead Bluegrass Festival

5:00pm|Hovander Homestead Park

Oak Harbor Music Festival

5:00pm|Oak Harbor

Beach and Barbecues

5:30pm|Semiahmoo Resort

First Friday Dinner Theater

6:00pm|Community Food Co-op

Salmon Dinner Sail

6:00pm|Bellingham Cruise Terminal

Farm Tunes

6:00pm|BelleWood Acres

Anacortes Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Anacortes

Bellingham Art Walk

6:00pm|Downtown Bellingham

Friday Night Flicks

7:00pm|Van Zandt Community Hall

Recent Tragic Events

7:30pm|Anacortes Community Theatre

Wine, Music and a Movie

10:30pm|Artifacts Cafe and Wine Bar

see our complete calendar »

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