Johnston said he’s an advocate of reimagining public roadway space so it becomes safer, slower, and shared between walkers, bicyclists, and automobiles. He supports the Strong Towns approach to re-prioritizing safety and cost savings over speed and traffic volume. While he’s worked for the city, Bellingham has made it into the Sweet 16 round of the Strongest Town contest and hosted talks by Strong Towns founder and president, Charles Marohn.
“We’re not conventional, in the sense of traffic engineering, that we prioritize cars over walkers and bicyclists in our designs,” Johnston said. “Bellingham has our priorities straight…we remove space for vehicles and allocate it for others.”
Johnson said average daily volumes (in both directions) on Eldridge Avenue ranged from 7100 cars per day in 2005 to 7200 per day in 2014 to 5700 per day in 2022. It is one of the lower volume arterials in Bellingham. In his view, it’s not more dangerous than many others he’s addressing. There were the two serious collisions on Eldridge involving impaired drivers and another 35 collisions between 2016 and the present, including three with serious injuries, 18 non-injury collisions and 9 minor-injury collisions—but no fatalities.
The 85th percentile speed, which traffic engineers use to evaluate roadway use and refers to the speed at or below which 85 percent of all vehicles are observed to travel under free-flowing conditions past a monitored point, is 34.9 mph. Fifteen percent of traffic goes faster. The average speed on Eldridge is 31 mph. Despite being well above the 25 mph posted speed limit, these speeds rank it well down the list of traffic calming priorities in Bellingham, Johnston said.
The City does have a prioritized plan for street redesign and traffic calming is tied to it, Johnston said. Voters in Bellingham approved a sales tax to fund non-motorized infrastructure and the city’s approach is tied to a bicycle–pedestrian plan, which focuses on safety, he said.
“We’ve made millions of dollars of investments in improvements…(some) are identified on Eldridge, but they haven’t made the priority list yet,” Johnston said, responding to the community’s claim they are not being heard. “There is a difference between being heard and not having things progress in the time frame that residents prefer.”
“As we prioritize our work, we focus on social equity and school-age children in high-density, low-income neighborhoods where kids need improved infrastructure to move safely through their neighborhood,” Johnston said.