The Bellingham Public Works Department began construction on a bicycle transportation project on Ohio Street on Monday, July 20, to be completed on Friday, August 21.
The project will add buffered bicycle lanes to Ohio Street and add bike boxes and curb extensions to improve safety at intersections along Ohio Street. The construction is part of the city’s master plan to add 45 miles of bicycle lanes to Bellingham in the next 20 years, said Colleen Mitchell, project engineer for the city of Bellingham.
“This project is heavily a safety project. Ohio street corridor is not very conducive for biking right now,” Mitchell said. “We’re hoping to improve safety on Ohio Street as well as provide connectivity.”
The new bike lanes will extend throughout the Sunnyland neighborhood along Ohio Street between Cornwall Avenue and Grant Street, Mitchell said.
Bike lanes will extend into painted bike boxes at the Cornwall intersection of Ohio Street, allowing bicyclists to stop ahead of car traffic, Mitchell said. Bike boxes allow bicyclists to turn through the intersection before cars, which the city expects will increase bicycle safety, Mitchell said.
“It’s intended to improve safety as well as predictability between drivers and bicyclists,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to foster predictable behavior there and improve safety for all users.”
Mitchell said this project will help connect current bike routes along Cornwall and Northwest avenues.
To make way for the new bike lanes, Mitchell said the city had to remove 20 percent of the parking along Ohio Street, eliminating curbside parking along the southern end of the street. Mitchell said the new bulb-out boxes at the intersections increase visibility, allowing the city to add parking in new locations formerly reserved for visibility purposes.
The city will also be adding lane markings on low-traffic streets in the Roosevelt and Sunnyland neighborhoods, said Kim Brown, transportation options coordinator for the city of Bellingham.
The Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan was created to make a comprehensive bicycle network throughout Bellingham, Brown said. The city also hopes that improved bike routes will encourage people to bicycle more often, Brown said.
The Ohio Street construction was one of the highest priority objectives in the Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan, and Mitchell said she hopes that the project will make bicycle transportation safer and more accessible to bicyclists along the Ohio Street corridor.
The city of Bellingham intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 70 percent before 2020, according to Bellingham Bicycle Master Plan. Mitchell said that the Master Plan aims to reduce vehicle transportation by 25 percent by 2022, promoting public transit and bicycle transportation as an alternative.
Other strategies identified in the Bellingham Climate Protection Action Plan include LED traffic light installations, methane recovery systems in landfills and purchasing power from solar, wind and other low-impact sources.
In a 2010 survey of sophomore Western students, nine percent of students surveyed used bicycles as their primary transportation mode.
Improved bicycle routes could help students to be less dependent on cars, said Carol Berry, program manager for Sustainable Transportation at Western. Increasing bicycle transportation as an alternative to motor vehicles is one of the goals of Western’s sustainability plan, Berry said.
“The more alternatives that are available, the fewer people will feel the need to have a car,” Berry said.
The city of Bellingham Department of Public Works collected data from residents through online surveys and public meetings between 2013 and 2015. According to the data from the online survey, 29.6 percent of respondents said they had been in a collision involving their bike, and 43.8 percent of those collisions involved a motor vehicle. Six percent of people surveyed said they would ride a bicycle if facilities were safer.
Brown says the next step in the Bicycle Master Plan will be to install bicycle lanes along Lakeway and Holly streets. The city will conduct a traffic study on those streets in 2016, Brown said.