Patrick McKee, a leader in the Sunnyland Neighborhood, guest writes.
Bellingham School District did not accurately answer questions contained in the Environmental Checklist submitted as part of their application to build a new Options High School. I refer specifically to the Transportation Chapter of the Checklist, page 36, questions F and H.
Question F: “How many vehicular trips per day would be generated by the completed project or proposal?”
The school district did not answer this question, and stated, “A traffic study is not required based on the fact that there would be a 100% trip credit given for the existing use.” The district went on to state, “In the long term, the site would continue operation as a school and the traffic would be typical of what has historically been seen on this site.”
The district failed to mention that “the existing use” is a school with an enrollment capacity of 200 students, with no gymnasium and no theater. The proposed new Options High School has an enrollment capacity of 400 students, a 719 seat gymnasium, and a 187 seat theater. The new building will house not only Options High School, but will also be used for a variety of other school district programs including GRADS and CTE offerings. Unlike the existing use, the new facility will generate traffic during both daytime and nighttime hours.
The new facility is much larger than the existing facility. The new Options High School will generate traffic not typical of what has been historically seen on this site. A traffic study should be required in order to determine the proposed project's impact on nearby residential areas. This project needs the approval of the Bellingham hearing examiner. Without a traffic study, the hearing examiner cannot determine whether the project will be detrimental to the surrounding neighborhood.
The industry standard ITE Trip Generation Manual for a land use code 530, “high school,” lists the average vehicle trip generation rate at 0.13 per high school student. Baked into this calculation are the following considerations: Some high school students are of driving age, and some are not; some high school students are dropped off at school by parents; some students walk to school; some ride buses; and some students ride bikes to school. The ITE trip generation formula should work well in predicting Option High School trips.
The new Options High School building will have an enrollment capacity of 400 students. Using the ITE formula (0.13 x 400) the school will generate 52 peak-hour trips. Bellingham Public Works usually requires a traffic study to be done for a development proposal that generates 50 peak-hour trips or more. ITE also uses other factors to predict trip generation. These factors include the size of the building, and the number of employees on site. Trips generated by the new Options High School are likely to be more than double the existing use.
Question H. “Proposed measures to reduce or control transportation impacts, if any?”
In answering this question, the school district once again fails to acknowledge the large expansion of the new Options High School. The district states, “The school would retain the same attendance boundary as the existing school with the same student capacity. As a result, the project is not expected to result in new adverse impacts to roadways…” This statement is factually incorrect because the new school has double the student capacity of the old school.
Option High School, at 2015 Franklin St., is located in a unique corner of the Sunnyland Neighborhood. In this area, there are two side-by-side public high schools and a Catholic grammar school one block away. Nearby residential streets are already impacted by increased school-year traffic volume as well as spillover event parking. A new, larger Options High School, with expanded hours of operation, will worsen an existing traffic problem. A traffic study should have been a requirement for this project. The Bellingham Planning Department needs to correct this mistake, and require the school district to do a traffic study.