Bellevue can’t seem to get its story straight.
Last week, word began to get out that the City of Bellevue was going to be removing the bike lane on Fort Crook Road. It was installed in 2013 “with much fanfare” according to the Omaha World Herald. The Bellevue Bicycle Club organized a meeting for Wednesday night with Mayor Rusty Hike and City Administrator Jim Ristow to discuss the decision. Although media reports indicated that perhaps the decision was final, but we were encouraged that the City seemed open to hearing from the stakeholders (bicyclists). That optimism went out the door when we got reports on Tuesday morning that City crews were already out painting over the markings. It felt like the Bellevue cycling community was acting in good faith but the City was not, and it set the tone for the meeting.
The City Administrator and Mayor have given several different reasons why they are removing this bike lane; they can’t seem to get their stories straight. Let’s review.
Reason 1: “...the bike lanes have had little use” - Jim Ristow, Omaha World Herald, Sept 11, 2019
The City provided no hard data or analysis to back up this claim. The cycling community, however, had the Strava heat map data that proves otherwise. (see photo for detail) and several people at the meeting indicated that they use the lane frequently.
Verdict: reason #1 simply does not hold water - actual data should be taken more seriously than social media or one person’s observations.
Reason 2: “ (the lanes) pose a safety issue and cause confusion for drivers” - Jim Ristow, Omaha World Herald
There are mixed feelings in the cycling community about the design of this bike lane. The OWH article describes it as “(the project) reduced both north and south traffic to four lanes as the outside lanes in both directions were designated as bicycle-only lanes.” It is a 12 foot bike lane delineated from vehicle traffic by a solid white stripe. The lane is (was) marked with bicycle symbols, there is signage indicating where cars should turn and watch for cyclists. It gives people on bikes a designated lane to ride that does not require bikes and cars to mix. As the Bellevue Bicycle Club mentioned several times at the meeting, having a designated bike lane reduces the likelihood of being involved in the most common type of crash: being rear ended by a person driving a car, 40% of all bicycle crashes, according to the League of American Bicyclists.
Regarding the “confusion” excuse: Ristow stated that there has been an increased number of vehicle crashes on Fort Crook Road increased since bike bike lane was installed, but no data or analysis was provided to show how the presence of the bike lane contributed to those crashes.
The bottom line: it is the responsibility of every licensed motor vehicle operator to know and understand lane markings and signage. In fact, we worked to get the state driver’s manual updated to provide more information on the responsibility of drivers, so we know the information is available. (see p. 66-67).
Verdict: Reason #2 is not supported by data. Taken a step further, however, IF the City believed that the bike lane was the cause of increased crashes, why hasn’t there been any effort to improve the design or better educate drivers?
Reason #3: “I cannot support spending any more taxpayer’s money on maintaining these lanes as they are, or adding additional cost, especially when I am confident we will be removing them when Fort Crook Road is rebuilt. “ - Mayor Rusty Hike Facebook, Sept 11
First, it seems odd that the Mayor would claim that they cannot spend “any more” money to maintain the lanes when they City admitted during the Wednesday night meeting that, in fact, the lanes have not received any maintenance or repainting since they were installed in 2013. (This might have something to do with the “confusion” stated in Reason #2.) Yet, they are willing to spend $20,000 to paint over the existing markings.
Second, this Fort Crook Road redevelopment idea is something that has been sitting on a shelf since 2008 (you can find a link it on the front page of the City’s website). During Wednesday night’s meeting, the Mayor predicted that it could be 3-5 years before anything actually happens on the corridor. Those of us who have been at this a long time know that it will likely be MUCH longer than that, given the various challenges we won’t go into detail about here.
During the Wednesday meeting the Mayor was asked several times why the City can’t keep the bike lanes in place until the time that shovels of dirt start to turn on any redevelopment of Fort Crook Road. Surely we can maintain safety in the interim?
Verdict: This is an excuse without merit. There are no firm plans for anything to happen along the corridor anytime soon, and the safety of people on bikes should be maintained. In the meantime, we do look forward to seeing what innovative redevelopment plans emerge and will push for best practice bicycle and pedestrian safety as part of those plans.
Reason #4: Liability “Let me ask this question: who would be liable if there was an accident right now the way it is compared to who would be liable if there were no bicycle lanes? Do you not think the city would be drawn into that for not having safety precautions necessary to separate high-speed traffic?” -Mayor Rusty Hike, Facebook, September 11, 2019
This reason is particularly baffling. The Mayor said during Wednesday night’s meeting that he asked the City Attorney for an opinion and indicated that knowing an unsafe bike lane exists opens the city to liability.
First, let’s go back to Reason #2: the city has not provided any data to prove that the bike lane is “unsafe.”
Second, this is a massive double standard: if streets where held to this same standard, all of the streets would be ripped out, too.
Verdict: No data has been presented so show that this bike lane is unsafe. It was designed by a traffic engineer/consultant, not just striped willy-nilly with a roller brush and a yard stick. Furthermore: the Metro Area Planning Association’s 2018 Regional Bike Ped plan shows that the Fort Crook Road bike lane plays a key role in the north/south corridor connecting Omaha and Bellevue. This plan was written by consultants that specialize in bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure. Surely there would have been red flags raised in that document if the existing lane was such a huge liability risk.
So, to summarize:
The decision to remove the Fort Crook Bike Lane seems to be based on the opinions of Mayor Hike’s supporters rather than data or engineering analysis. People on bikes will be less safe when it is removed. Spending $20,000 to remove the lane immediately rather than taking time to actually engage stakeholders and explore what could be done to alleviate reasonable concerns is irresponsible. We hope cooler heads (with data and analysis) will prevail.