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Scooterville, Little Dubai

August 9, 2008
Look closely... there is a scooter in there

Look closely... there is a scooter in there (Orin O'Neill photos)

I grew up in Bellevue, which for those of you not from Seattle is on the east side of Lake Washington. Back in my youth, Bellevue was making the transition from rural to suburban. Lots of people had horses in their back yards. Downtown Bellevue consisted of Bellevue Square, which had a JCPenny catalog store, an A&P grocery store, and a small Frederick & Nelson department store, and a few low-rise office buildings. Oh, and there was a shoe store called Nordstrom-Best.

In my usual contrarian style, in high school I told people Bellevue would have a skyline and a population over 100,000 by the 21st century. I don’t mean to gloat or anything, but I was, uh, right.

What I didn’t count on was reality catching up with perception. Back in the day, everyone assumed if you lived in Bellevue, you were automatically rich. A friend of my sister was dismayed when he pulled up to the O’Neill family home and saw a modest tract house with a ’76 Chevy Nova in the driveway. He was expecting a mansion, with a Mercedes out front and a swimming pool in the back yard. We barely had a back yard.

Downtown Bellevue, where the construction crane is the official bird

Today? The job that used to take me to Everett has me going to Bellevue twice a day. Not only is the construction crane the official downtown bird, there are more of them per capita than anywhere except, well, Dubai. And what’s being built is so aggressively upscale, I find myself referring to Bellevue’s downtown as “Little Dubai.”

But even in traffic that is noteworthy for a lack of “normal” cars like Toyota Camrys and Ford Focuses (Focii?), scooters are starting to appear.

A BV 250 in downtown Bellevue

Even a big scooter like a BV 250 can get lost in downtown Bellevue

Bellevue is actually a great place to ride a scooter. The roads are wide and smooth, and with lots of streets outside downtown starting out as rural farm roads, they curve pleasantly though the hills, past mature trees and odd little office parks built in the late 60s and early 70s, when the notion of gridded streets was abhorrent to planners and architects.

But now that there are highrise office towers, urbanity shows itself in other ways. Look at this Bajaj Chetak:

A Bajaj Chetak

Look closely, and you’ll see it’s kinda banged-up, not the pristine, precious object you might expect in a place where even a more expensive Mercedes-Benz is considered mundane.

I spotted an LX 150 and a Stella in a Bellevue office park off Northup Way.

A pair of scooters in Bellevue

Notice the Stella even has mod mirrors.

As with most places in the U.S., it will be interesting to see what happens to the scooter population when the price of crude oil is no longer raised to heights that can only be justified by speculation (light sweet crude has dropped to $115/barrel as this is written). I was in Tacoma last weekend and saw lots of gas stations offering regular for less than $4/gallon; if the price settles in at around $3.50, people will think that’s a bargain.

A SYM Mio 50 in downtown Bellevue

And scooters like this one may end up under a cover in the back of a garage. Favicon

  1. August 9, 2008 9:53 am

    It’s amazing how the entire pacific northwest has grown. Arlington, Mount Vernon, and Everett are starting to lose more and more of their rural areas. Bellevue is an odd galaxy of it’s own.

    However I say, bring on the cheap gas and people going back to cars, if that means I can pick up a lightly used nice scoots for cheap 😛

  2. Tyler H permalink
    August 20, 2008 4:36 pm

    I grew up in bellevue back in the early 80s. I left for San Francisco in 1986. i used to work at the Chevron station in downtown Bellevue (Shelbys mid-lakes). Then i worked as a pantry chef at Domanis (wonder if its still there?) It is amazing what has happened to that town. youth gone.

  3. August 20, 2008 4:43 pm

    No, Domani is long-gone. I think the Bellevue Arts Museum (note the plural) occupies that spot now, with the ginormous Bellevue Place taking up the corner of Bellevue Way and NE 8th Street…

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