Busting barriers in the Ericksen-Hildebrand debateAugust 13th, 2008 by tristan baurick
The city’s long debated it. Business leaders have long demanded it. The neighborhood has long feared it.
A big blue pickup truck last week rammed through and created it.
The ‘it,’ in this case, is a connection between Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane, two Winslow roadways that have remained a few yards apart while fostering decades of debate.
The unknown truck driver added his two cents by crashing through traffic cones, sandwich boards, plastic signs and a thick steel chain.
“I heard it roaring through,” said Jeff Day, owner of Hildebrand’s Kitsap Physical Therapy. “Two of my employees saw it happen but he drove away too fast to get a license plate number.”
Catching the driver likely wouldn’t stop others from tearing down barricades in the private parking lot that has served for years as the circuitous and unofficial Ericksen-Hildebrand link.
In the eight weeks after the barriers were put in place, people have cut or knocked them down at least seven times.
Charlie Frame, who owns the parking lot and nearby CFA Properties, said bolt cutters were used to sever the chain three times in recent weeks.
“I wish I’d been there to see it happen,” he said, estimating total damages to barriers at about $500. “If I had, I’d have put those bolt cutters where the sun don’t shine.”
Frame supports a link between Ericksen and Hildebrand, but not through his parking lot. He and other business leaders point to a small park that sits at the spot where both streets end. Punching through would create a direct link for motorists traveling between downtown and the Island Village shopping center.
But businesses and residents on Ericksen say the connection would clog their street with traffic and rob them of one of the few green spaces left downtown.
“Winslow is getting 50 percent of the growth but it has only 2 percent of the open space,” said Debbi Lester, a member of the Ericksen Neighbors group. “Considering paving one of our few green spaces is ludicrous.”
But allowing traffic to continue to flow through his parking lot is “just flat dangerous,” said Frame, who estimates several hundred vehicles cut through the narrow lot each day.
“We had to think about safety and about all the liability, especially with everybody sue happy these days,” he said.
Day, who has counted 100 cars pass by in 10 minutes, said his
patients are particularly at risk.
“I have everybody from a 15-year-old on crutches to an 80-year-old who’s had a hip replacement trying to cross that parking lot,” he said. “(Drivers) are honking at them and passing them at 30 miles per hour.”
A 2006 city traffic study recommended an Ericksen-Hildebrand connection after almost 200 vehicles passed through the parking lot during two-hours one afternoon.
Although criticized for its limited scope, the study’s findings added to a chorus of connection supporters, including the Bainbridge Island Chamber of Commerce, the fire department and the city public works department.
The fact that motorists are willing to commit crimes and damage property for transportation convenience may bolster the pro-connection argument.
“That seems to indicate people want a connection in place,” said John Waldo, the chamber’s government relations coordinator.
“Open the road because vandalism is going on?” she said. “I don’t think so. I wouldn’t build a neighborhood based on people plowing through and wrecking havoc.”
While making a connection by force is new, the debate over the connection isn’t, and some public officials appear to be tiring of it.
The City Council opted to not make a decision on the issue earlier this year. Public Works has proposed an over $1 million project to connect the streets by 2012, but few believe the plan will gain much traction, especially as the city struggles with budget shortfalls.
“The council said they’re not touching it,” Waldo said. “It is such a hot-button issue.”
But the city’s got to press it eventually, said Day. The city’s inertia, he said, has thrust the problem on to his and other businesses.
“People want a connection,” he said. “It’s the city that has to deal with this issue, but they’re not doing it.”