Home to the majority of Western Washington University students living off-campus, the Happy Valley neighborhood has a notable lack of sidewalks and bike lanes on main thoroughfares. Residents of the area will finally have an opportunity to address their concerns with a chance to participate in the new Pedestrian/Bicycle Master Plan.
On March 1, 2022, the city of Bellingham has begun a 16-month public process to update the 2012 Pedestrian and 2014 Bicycle Master Plans. The two plans will be combined and updated to create the new 2022 Pedestrian/Bicycle Master Plan.
Nick Galati, Western professor of biology and Happy Valley resident, said this is a great opportunity for students to have a real impact on the community they live in. Galati said the student voice could be enough to create a safer, more pedestrian and bike-friendly neighborhood.
“32nd Street, which has numerous brand new apartments with hundreds of bedrooms, is not meant to really be bike and pedestrian-friendly,” Galati said. “Cars on the road make it unsafe for bikes and pedestrians, and they’re going to leave that there intentionally because they need parking.”
On-street parking actually makes it more hazardous for cyclists using a bike lane because of the increased risk of car doors opening and unaware drivers pulling out of their parking spot. Less on-street parking near bike lanes would make it safer for cyclists, but this is easier said than done.
Amy Cloud, communications and outreach for the city of Bellingham, said the city tries not to remove parking, especially in high-density areas like the Happy Valley neighborhood. Part of this is due to the municipal codes that the city has to follow, which require the city to stick to certain parking requirements in residential areas.
The city of Bellingham releases a yearly report, called the Transportation Report on Annual Mobility, which includes information on plans the city has for the future of transportation. Goals in the 2022 TRAM include disincentivizing driving, creating new bike lanes and adding more sidewalks for safer pedestrian routes.
Fourth-year Pierce Bock and fourth-year Ben Duyker, both Happy Valley residents, said they feel unsafe biking along 32nd street, which lacks bike lanes and sidewalks.
“We're in a low-income area, and low-income areas are not getting, like, the proper services that we need, especially compared to, you know, other areas,” Bock said. “Like Cornwall [neighborhood], where they have like, really well paved, new, highly funded bike lanes.”
The updated 2012 Pedestrian and 2014 Bicycle Master Plans will provide a chance for the community to have input on improvements that can be made in those areas. The updated plan will be created by the Transportation Commission, a citizen advisory group appointed by the mayor of Bellingham, Seth Fleetwood.
“Ultimately, the goal is to get people out of cars and to get them to think of smarter ways to get around Bellingham, for the environmental benefits, the traffic benefit, all that stuff,” Galati said.
The Transportation Commission will be holding meetings on March 8, April 12 and May 10 from 6 to 8 p.m. on Zoom. People can join the meeting by registering on the Transportation Commissions’ website.
“We welcome all public comments, [the] best way to do it is through Engage Bellingham, an online platform meant for that purpose,” Cloud said.
Kieran Bresnahan is a city news reporter studying visual journalism at WWU. He enjoys writing about education and local businesses and taking photos of local events.