business is on a roll on Eastside
by Alex Fryer
Seattle Times, April 12, 1999
If a city is like an ecosystem, bike messengers could be considered a good
indicator species, pointing to the economic health of the community.
After all, the sight of a bike messenger huffing and puffing down a city
street is a sign of a vibrant and economically active downtown, where firms
do business with each other as much as the outside.
Bellevue is no urban jungle, but it supports a half-dozen bike-messenger
companies, proof the city's decades-old goal of becoming an independent,
thriving metropolis has, in some ways, already been achieved.
And what the bikers say about traveling Eastside streets underscores some
of the qualities of the area's infrastructure and traffic problems.
Companies such as Fleetfoot Messenger Service, Bucky's Courier Systems and
ENA Couriers have been running messengers in the Bellevue market since the
first glass-skinned towers began reshaping the skyline more than a decade
All three run couriers from a head office in Seattle and communicate with
riders via pagers and cell phones. It costs about $7.50 to deliver an envelope
within an hour or two in downtown Bellevue's 98004 ZIP code.
Business is booming, the messenger services say.20
Jason Fosnaugh, 27, a courier for Bucky's, is on his bike pretty much from
8 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for the hour he takes for lunch.20
"The stress level is real low, and most people are glad to see you," he said
of his job. "It's light on your soul."
Banks, title companies and mortgage brokerages constitute the bulk of his
deliveries, Fosnaugh said. Law offices use couriers relatively infrequently,
which indicates that most major firms have not significantly expanded their
Seattle-based operations to nearby cities.
Most of his deliveries are picked up and dropped off on the Eastside, Fosnaugh
said. He sometimes travels to Kirkland three times a week and pedals once
in a while to Mercer Island. Around Bellevue, Fosnaugh said, the farthest
east he has ridden is Main Street and 156th Avenue Northeast, more than three
miles from Downtown Park. On average, Fosnaugh logs about 90 to 100 miles
Traveling Bellevue streets by bike isn't easy. Almost from its inception,
Bellevue has embodied car culture.
In the 1940s, city planners laid out a downtown grid pattern with huge blocks,
"superblocks" as they called them, along four- and six-lane roads. When they
looked out their windows, the planners saw lots of cars but few pedestrian
or cyclists and designed their city accordingly.
There are no established bike lanes downtown, but about 1.6 miles of streets
in the central core are wide enough to accommodate bicycles, said Leah Greenblat,
associate planner for the city Transportation Department.20
Cars are always a menace to bike messengers, but there are few pedestrians,
Only the pedestrian-only corridor between 108th Avenue Northeast and Bellevue
Way Northeast is too congested with foot traffic to ride along, he said,
an observation sure to bring smiles to city officials who created the cross-town
walkway in 1996.20
The sidewalks around the Metro transit station on 108th Avenue Northeast
are bustling with foot traffic and present the biggest "pedestrian threat"
to speed-hungry couriers, Fosnaugh said.
Although messengers have termed the intersection of Northeast Eighth Street
and 116th Avenue Northeast the "Tunnel of Death" for its confluence of cars
entering and exiting Interstate 405, most of Northeast Eighth has wide outside
Bike messengers often take advantage of the fact that riding on Bellevue
sidewalks is legal. Legal, said Greenblat, but not encouraged. "It's a high
accident location," she said.
For bike messengers, the real enemy is hills. Bellevue is relatively flat,
but there are some hills most motorists don't even notice. Bellevue Way Northeast,
for example, is a gentle slope, but it's two miles from Bellevue Square to
Highway 520, and that can take the wind out of even the fittest courier.
But exercise is what being a messenger is really all about, Fosnaugh said.
"It's a great job. The rain gets you down, but you get a lot of sympathy
from people in offices. When it's nice, everyone is envious."