As COVID-19-related restrictions in the workplace loosen, the city of Bellevue is looking to take advantage of remote work to reduce congestion via single-occupant vehicles. With plans to deploy a driverless shuttle fleet, the city is now in the early stages of preparing a daily-choice parking program for selected small employers in downtown Bellevue.
The hope among city planners is that the 4–6-month pilot program will incentivize not just fewer drive-alone trips for employees but also will reduce congestion by allowing employees to avoid paying for parking whenever they work remotely. The idea is that monthly parking permits encourage workers to commute, since they’ve already paid for a spot.
The program, called “Choose Your Way Bellevue,”described it this way: “The lack of parity between daily and monthly parking cost and flexibility, is a disincentive to non-drive-alone mode commuting. Furthermore, offering daily parking allows employees to avoid parking costs on days they do not come to the office or elect a non-drive-alone commute mode. It is anticipated that workers returning to office post COVID-19 will desire greater flexibility based on their needs from day to day, making daily parking even more relevant.”
The extended business closures are already expected to alter traffic patterns, though overall congestion may persist. Compared to 2019, downtown Bellevue experienced a 19-percent decrease in traffic last year during the COVID-19 restrictions. According to city traffic data, 24-hour traffic volumes on five major Bellevue arterials are now at 85 percent of their pre-COVID average.
The state requires Bellevue to have a commute trip reduction plan that focuses on companies that employ 100 or more full-time workers. Covering 58 worksites employing 40,755 workers, the last plan update was adopted by the City Council in September 2015 and goes through 2023.
Although the city now says that plan led to a 15 percent reduction (76 to 61 percent) in drive-alone commuting between 1993-2018, traffic continues to be a problem because many downtown workers commute from elsewhere on the Eastside. While downtown traffic levels through 2015 remained flat for several decades, the city’s section of the I-405 corridor is one of the most heavily congested in the state. The city’s downtown transportation plan last updated in 2013 noted that “regional roadways—I-405, I-90 and SR 520 provide important access to downtown Bellevue. Peak hour capacity issues and the resulting congestion on these roadways may create delay for vehicles within downtown.”
Also, city officials attribute some of the traffic stability to rerouting due to construction and major roadway changes for Sound Transit’s light rail line and other road projects.
The council in 2018 also adopted a Smart Mobility Plan, which noted that “as the city of Bellevue continues to grow and thrive, the demands on the city’s transportation system continue to grow as well. This growth has resulted in traffic and parking concerns as being the most significant city issues identified by Bellevue citizens in 2015 and 2017.”
The mobility plan focuses on several key strategies to reduce congestion that include:
- Shared-use mobility
- Driverless and electric vehicles
- Data and traffic management
The pilot program is expected to start this fall and will include a before-and-after participant survey to help the city determine its potential effectiveness.