Bellevue, Washington


Building Amazing Cities
author, speaker, consultant

One of the things that I love about visiting Amazing cities is the new and exciting things that I have the opportunity to see.

On a recent trip to Bellevue, Washington, I learned of an innovative traffic control system that has been developed by the City of Bellevue, Microsoft and the University of Washington.

Bellevue is located across Lake Washington from Seattle and has over 140,000 residents. They have been growing in both residents and businesses for the past decade and boast of being the headquarters of Expedia and T-Mobile. In 2014, Bellevue was ranked as the 2nd best place to live by USA Today.

The city noticed the alarming increase in traffic deaths throughout the country and thought that they could do something about it. They reached out to Microsoft, who has a large campus in the city, and the University of Washington to develop a highly sophisticated, analytical program to identify “near misses” in intersections and city streets.

While the program is much too complicated to fully explain in this column, the goal is to reach “zero” fatalities and injuries on city streets. Using cameras, the system analyzes each vehicle, bicyclist and pedestrian entering the intersection and develops an algorithm to identify situations that can be made safer. They are also launching a website where individuals can assist in the project by analyzing short snippets of video and noting what they see. After thousands of snippets of video have been reviewed, the software can then detect the minute differences between sizes and shapes of various cars, bicycles and people.

The Mayor of Bellevue and their City Council have created several public/private partnerships that create great value for their citizens while reducing the burden on taxpayers by reaching out to the business community. Franz Loewenherz, the Senior Transportation Planner for the City of Bellevue, is the lead person on the team that is developing the program and is a great advocate for building partnerships to tackle serious issues in local government. Having Microsoft as a corporate citizen in Bellevue is a great asset, but they also have dozens of other high tech companies that work with the city to bring innovation and value to the city.

Bellevue also works closely with Seattle and the many cities that surround the Puget Sound which makes for a vibrant and exciting environment in which to live. The city is working hard to address transportation issues by developing a light rail transit system and putting more technology in place to move traffic more efficiently. One traffic innovation that I found most interesting is a coordinated system to allow cars to travel at a set speed to sync with the traffic lights, allowing an uninterrupted drive on city streets.

Cities can serve as laboratories of innovation and Bellevue is an example of a city that is doing it the right way. Talented city employees along with a visionary government make Bellevue an Amazing City and one that just might make the streets and sidewalks in your city a little safer and easier to get around.

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