The Sledgehammer – Version 2.0

May 29, 2011

Could You Live in Downtown Bellevue Without Ever Leaving Downtown? A Thought Experiement

Filed under: Bellevue — Tags: — Brian Lutz @ 11:13 pm

Contrary to what seems to be popular belief around these parts, there actually are some parts of Bellevue that are not Downtown.  in fact, there’s quite a bit of Bellevue that isn’t downtown, and it’s rumored that if you look carefully, you can actually see some of them from here.  Well OK, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but I suspect that there are some residents of this area (not necessarily residents of Downtown Bellevue) for whom Bellevue consists entirely of the roughly two-thirds of a square mile between I-405 and NE 100th on the east and west, and NE 12th and Main on the North and South, and anything beyond that is Here Be Dragons territory until you reach Seattle.  And speaking of Seattle, I suspect that by the same token there’s plenty of people  who think Seattle consists entirely of the stuff that happens to be between Safeco Field and the Space Needle.  In reality, there’s quite a bit more to both cities, but especially if you live in one of the surrounding areas and the only reason you ever come into Bellevue is to go to the mall, or if you only ever go into Seattle for Mariners games or the occasional visit to the Pike Place Market, it can be easy to conveniently forget that the rest of these cities even exist. 

Over the years, much has been said about the ability of major freeways to act as something of an artificial barrier that seems to limit the growth of urban areas.  As I’ve lived in Downtown Bellevue for what is now getting close to a year (and, at least for the time being, intending to remain here for as long as my circumstances warrant it,) I’ve noticed that not only does 405 seem to act as a barrier to the growth of the Downtown area, but at the same time, it seems to act as a bit of a psychological barrier as well.  During times when the weather is nice enough to allow it, I find that I have no problem walking to anywhere within the Downtown area, be it Bellevue Square, one of the two grocery stores in Downtown, even out to Old Bellevue or Meydenbauer Beach Park on the rare occasions that I find a reason to go there.  Yet at the same time, if I ever have a reason that I need to go to anywhere on the opposite side of 405, I always seem to think it’s necessary to drive, even though several of the places are even closer than the ones in Downtown.  Granted, even within the Downtown area on days when I’m feeling a bit lazy or when the weather isn’t particularly cooperative I might drive out to Bellevue Square or to the grocery store (it’s a bit less than 3/4 mile from my apartment to the QFC or the Macy’s entrance at Bellevue Square, and a bit less than a mile from here to the Safeway,) but at the same time the walking distance to the Best Buy and Home Depot stores out on the other side of 405  is just about the same (a bit less than a mile,) and yet if I was going to one of the two I’d most likely end up driving no matter what the weather was like.  Even on the (very rare) occasions I might go to the Whole Foods Market just on the opposite side of 405 from here, I’d probably be far more likely to drive than to walk, if for no other reason than the fact that it’s on the other side of 405. 

As I’ve considered just why it is that one side of the freeway seems to be car territory while the other side seems to be walking territory even with distances being roughly equal, it has brought up an interesting, if only tangentially related question in my mind:  Would it be possible for someone living in Downtown Bellevue to be able to meet all their basic needs without ever physically leaving the Downtown area?  To be perfectly honest I don’t think I’d ever want to actually try this (if for no other reason than the fact that I’m pretty sure I’d go stir crazy after two weeks of trying it) but the more I think about this, the more I start to wonder if someone could truly do this if they set out to do so.  Let’s just say that they don’t own a car (I do know some people who live here without a car,) but because of this somewhat irrational psychological barrier that I’ve been encountering, they just can’t ever cross 405, or even really go anywhere else into “car” territory.

As such, I am going to make a bit of a thought experiment out of this question, just to get some idea of the viability of doing just this.  Let’s say we have someone living in the following conditions:

  • They live in a Downtown Bellevue apartment;
  • They work in Downtown Bellevue, and thus would not need to leave the Downtown area for their job;
  • They do not own a car.  In fact, as noted above, they would rarely be venturing outside of the Downtown area for any reason (yet at the same time, for most items we’ll also consider what the effect of blurring the boundaries a bit would be, and allowing occasional trips outside of Downtown to other nearby areas);
  • When they move into Downtown, they wouldn’t be bringing a whole lot of stuff with them, so they would need to be able to get quite a few different things within the Downtown area they are limited to;
  • “Downtown” is defined as outlined at the beginning of this post; basically the roughly 36-block area between 405 and 100th Ave NE on the East and West, and NE 12th and Main on the North and South.  Some of the definitions of Downtown that I’ve seen do fudge on the boundaries by a block or two, but for most purposes, this seems to be how the Downtown area is defined.

So given these parameters, would it be possible for someone to live entirely in Downtown Bellevue without needing to leave to meet any of their basic needs?  In this post, we’ll take a look at a number of factors that would affect someone trying to live under these circumstances, and try to get an idea of just how possible this would be.  You’ll find this after the jump. (more…)

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