In Bremerton, a battle over bulbous boulevards 

Pacific Avenue, Before and after it got bigger sidewalks.
Pacific Avenue, Before and after it got bigger sidewalks.

Here in Bremerton, the streets are shrinking. 

Or rather, the sidewalks are getting bigger.

It started along Pacific Avenue, downtown’s main drag, as millions of dollars have been poured down the thoroughfare to create a much more walkable stretch. It continued with the city’s Park Avenue Plaza project, which brought a theater downtown — and more wide sidewalks. Other improvements, including narrowing Warren Avenue northbound from Burwell Street, have given pedestrians safer access while shrinking the amount of blacktop for motorists.

And now, the battle over more bulbous boulevards comes to Washington Avenue.

Between the Manette Bridge and Sixth Street, the city’s public works department has $1.7 million in hand from a state grant fund dedicated to bicycle and pedestrian improvements. The City Council recently OK’d designing three different alternative road designs for the area.

Why three? Because the one the city planned on — taking the road down to one lane in each direction from its current two — was met with much motorist resistance during a road test.

It turns out that for 23 hours and 30 minutes a day, there’s no need for a four lane road there. But at about 4 p.m., it bottlenecks, extending the motoring commutes of ferry riders and workers at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Public works staff said it would add about 10 minutes onto a car commute in the area.

Add to that concerns from some Council members that the city must save some of its roads downtown for trucking traffic. How could a grocery store, for instance, operate downtown without daily deliveries via an 18-wheeler?

City leaders, including Mayor Patty Lent, say they’re planning a downtown for the future; for the inevitable: a downtown Bremerton where people live, work and play. Where walking and bicycling are commonplace. They point to three pending apartment complexes likely to be built in the next year.

They view widening the sidewalk from the bridge to Sixth Street as paramount. But there’s just not enough room to keep two northbound lanes, widen the sidewalk and put in a bike lane.

It’s not hard to see why they’ve targeted the stretch for a bigger pedestrian walkway. It’s strange to go from the wide promenade that spans the bridge down to a 5 1/2 foot walkway, crammed with power poles, driveways, cars and garbage cans. Even in winter months, about 500 people a day traverse it.

But is expanding that walkway coming at too great a cost?

The heart of the debate came out at a recent City Council study session. Mayor Lent highlighted Bremerton’s unrestricted building heights, and made the case downtown Bremerton will soon be people first, automobile second.

Then, there was a fascinating discussion between two Council members, which I wrote about in a recent story:

(Councilman Roy Runyon) and a few of his colleagues expressed concern that freight might struggle to get in and out of downtown with the downsized road capacity. Councilman Mike Sullivan contrasted road projects in Silverdale that are adding lanes with those in Bremerton, which are reducing lanes.

“Are we digging ourselves a hole we can’t get out of?” he wondered, adding he would likely vote against proceeding with the Washington Avenue project.

Mayor Patty Lent told Sullivan that several high-rise apartment projects in the works would make the pedestrian-minded Washington Avenue project critical.

Sullivan countered that many Puget Sound Naval Shipyard workers don’t live in the city and need to drive out every night.

That did not sit well with Councilman Dino Davis, who questioned why the city would want to cater to workers “desperate to get out” of Bremerton after work.

“Are we in the business of designing a city for those who do not care to stay in the city longer than they’re required for their job, or are we trying to improve our city for the people that do live in our city and invest in our city?

I’ve talked to many people since the meeting that were intrigued by Davis’ standpoint. If nothing else, it provides a useful starting point when thinking about Bremerton’s developing downtown. The city is changing. Who are we building it for, and why?

There’s a public meeting at 5:30 p.m. June 12 at the Norm Dicks Government Center to go over the options for Washington Avenue’s improvements. There, it is likely the debate over bulbous boulevards will continue.

10 thoughts on “In Bremerton, a battle over bulbous boulevards 

  1. Not an either or but a combination of both.

    Employees of the shipyard who easily earn full living wages should be enticed to live here. Instead those living wages allow them to afford housing far outside of the predominantly low to no income rental housing, section 8, social services hub that Bremerton has become and all of the social issues and problems that come along with it and simply commute in instead.

    The bubble has officially burst for Bremerton. The Harrison departure in itself is not the bubble ending problem but it is the straw that has broken the camel’s back. Bremerton was holding the wolf at the door to some degree with its incremental increases in new or relocated small business, Mom and Pop operations to keep a closer pace with surrounding community commerce improvements in the struggling economy.

    However that all changed this past week. Silverdale has now gained a momentum of corporate investment that will only draw in additional corporate investors. These investors find it incredibly easier to design and navigate communities like the outskirts of Gig Harbor, Poulsbo and Silverdale. These communities have the space and foresight to understand that what is being developed for such large retail endeavors needs easy and accessible transportation room, roads and infrastructure.

    The narrow minds and visionaries of Bremerton over the decades have narrowed its streets and poorly designed, neglected infrastructure right out of contention. Old and big name local commercial property owners looking to keep their properties empty and poor as they wait for that big financial payoff that they were looking to come with urban development have now waited way too long and missed the boat entirely.

    I worked in Downtown Tacoma in the 90’s when that redevelopment of Pacific was beginning. Because Tacoma did a few more things right while they were going about it here is what they can now offer for their empty storefronts.…/tacoma-businesses-pay-1-rent…

    This won’t work for Bremerton as many of the downtown empty storefronts are not compliant with multiple and expensive city codes and cannot be approved for occupancy or inhabited by retail or service providers until they are brought up to code which is something the owners of these buildings have neglected and refused to have anything to do with for decades.

    Bremerton has now doomed itself to be the low income bedroom community to what are becoming the economic commercial hubs of the Kitsap Peninsula and those are Gig Harbor and Silverdale.

  2. Silverdale and Bremerton can both grow in their own ways.

    I think of Silverdale as Federal Way once was: no zoning, few sidewalks and lots of parking lots spread out to wherever one wants to drive. Eventually it will have community centers, but driving will still be paramount.

    Bremerton plans to be an urban center where one can walk everywhere. Deliveries will be as they have always been: via the alleys that were built for that purpose in delivery trucks…not semitrailers (although it was demonstrated during the Arm Forces Day parade that a humungous 24 wheeler could negotiate the corner at 4th and Pacific).

    It won’t be one or the other. Both places will grow, just differently.

  3. Bremerton is at a critical decision point. Does the city want tax generating revenue that comes with increased commerce or to be a vacant pretty pedestrian mall? Bremerton is focusing more on stifling commerce with road choking at this point. Bremerton is still operating only one step away from a failed model of pedestrian malls, which are being removed across the county.

    Having available roads for freight to move into downtown leave the options open to secure larger revenue generating businesses and retail. Without a way to move freight easily into downtown has the effect of limiting what can be sustained economically downtown. No freight means NO GROCERY STORE, no large retailers, no large employee based companies. That’s OK if that is what Bremerton chooses but there should be a firm published plan of what is desired.

    City leaders are speaking out of both sides of their mouths right now. Choke everything down through practice and policies while talking of concerns that they can’t attract new larger businesses to downtown. What is the plan?

    On the horizon is the building of Spy Glass apartments, the apartments over the parking garage, possibly another on Washington Avenue. Without a viable freight route that can handle capacity, those new residents will have to use autos or other means to travel to the areas creating jobs and commerce (Silverdale), the same as Councilman Dino Davis does to reach his office. Face it, there is a reason that a large amount of city employees don’t live in Bremerton. The city hasn’t created a path towards commerce that will sustain them personally even when it’s their job to do so.

    The Navy has announced another 1,000 worker hiring. Guess what that means? Another 1,000 people mostly needing to leave Bremerton for areas creating commerce to sustain them. Dino Davis’s statement against the shipyard workers and PSNS is one of the dumber ones I have heard lately. Go ahead and keep taking verbal swipes at the largest regional employer and lets see how that works out for you.

    What citizens should be asking city leaders is why is Silverdale (new mall) and Gig Harbor (multiple new complexes) building and Bremerton business stagnated?

    Bremerton’s leaders have long stated the problem is an overabundance of rental properties and lack of home ownership. Why are they then creating more rental opportunities without the commerce to support the rental property creation? That just means more hard to fill vacancies, unless Section 8 is the intended market.

    Go ahead and choke the roads off and see how it works out. I bet not and many cities have already realized what Bremerton leaders refuse to address.

    Here is an article that addresses the issue by someone far more intelligent in turnarounds for cities.

  4. Richard, at least one well known Restaurant in downtown Bremerton has to have its delivery trucks park a block away and then have their food deliveries run down the street on pallet jacks because they can not use the alley next to their own establishment. Just because the alley’s are there does not mean they are accessible to modern day transportation vehicles.

    Also the semi trailer in the parade had to make several attempts at backing up and pulling forward to make the turn at 4th and Pacific. Trucking companies are not going to be able to or even want to do that on a normal traffic business day when the streets are not closed to any traffic other than the parade.

  5. Colleen, did you know that 24 wheeler was invited to the parade to demonstrate it could get through that intersection? It even practiced the night before?

    There’s something about getting into and out of Bremerton that shouldn’t be a mystery, and as far as that well known restaurant is concerned, what kind of food deliveries requires an 18 wheeler? Bigger and more stores in Seattle use their alleys (also built in the 1920s) for deliveries. New York also. When there’s more people living here, businesses will come also. It’s that simple.

  6. Richard, more people are living here. The last census in 2010 showed an increase in growth to the population of Bremerton.

    What kinds of stores need tractor trailers to receive the quantity of goods that they need? Well go watch what comes into the Callow Safeway on any given day? Or what comes into an urban Target Store? Or major chain pharmacy? Your answers are there. It is tractor trailers.

    The bigger picture in transportation trucking commerce is the ability to move fright easily, safely and expediently. Profit margins on routes for truck deliveries are tight and every minute on a drivers route between deliveries is a cost to be factored in. Sure the question answered is yes, the big truck CAN make the corner 4 times.
    However the bigger question that until this point appears to still be a big fat NO, is…..”where is the large full service grocer that is willing to invest, construct and be the reason for full size food supply trucks to go in and out in the first place?” Just because they CAN does not mean that it is financially reasonable, desirable or justifiable for them to want to do so. So the commerce question of the day is…”What is?” We can eliminate what it is NOT. It is not fish art. It is not narrow streets.

    We can also eliminate the argument that if only more people were living downtown there would be considerable commercial growth. That was the exact same argument that was used when the three waterfront condo buildings were constructed and that was many years ago. If the answer was as simple as increasing the number of people living downtown the commercial growth solution would already be readily apparent and we would not be having this discussion.

    Pop onto Craigslist and cruise the number of businesses for sale in Bremerton. There are several downtown that would surprise you. Some in Manette and many in East Bremerton. The bubble of Bremerton’s commercial growth due to incremental small business increases that the leadership has been touting as overall growth success is bursting as we speak. Small businesses are very important to Bremerton, however Bremerton cannot survive on those small contributions alone. Large retail or service anchors are critical to boost sales tax revenue and as a draw and incentive for shoppers from outside of Bremerton.

    Even profitable higher than average wage earning and property value residential areas of Bremerton like Manette cannot even hold onto their existing grocery store as the Perry Avenue Red Apple is closing. That is something that corporate investors are watching and are passing on Bremerton to instead invest in the easier and infrastructure friendly and accessible communities of Gig Harbor and Silverdale instead.

  7. I guess Colleen, when you use the term ‘accessible’ you mean you can easily drive to and park at each facility.

    When. I use that term, I think of being able to walk and/or take public transportation; as in go to SEATAC, Farmer’s Markets at Pike Place, Port Orchard or Bremerton , the Seattle and Bremerton theaters, restaurants, etc. All these places and others w/o having to ever take my car or look/pay for parking.

    This is the kind of environment I currently enjoy at Bremerton. A grocery store and others will come when more appartments are built downtown, but it won’t diminish my lifestyle if I have to wait another year or so.

  8. Richard, I have a difference of opinion with what you have stated on a few different specifics.

    1)”did you know that 24 wheeler was invited to the parade to demonstrate it could get through that intersection?”

    FALSE. The 18 wheeler truck is a national demo truck that is brought in the allow people to drive the new models of motorcycles offered by Victory. Google it as it makes stops all over the country. The local vendor of the brand seeing the opportunity requested to have the truck in the parade for advertising purposes not the parade requested the truck to demonstrate road capacity. This was confirmed with the Chamber Director by phone, or are you further implying the Chambers statement was in error?

    2) The truck was an 18 wheeler with an extended sleeper, NOT a 24 wheeler as your state. It’s a fairly common configuration for long haul freight. WSDOT allows up to 75 feet in length for tractor/single trailer or 61 feet on doubles without tractor factored in. What you witnessed wasn’t the maximum allowed without an oversize permit but a common configuration. Please refer to RCW 46.44.030.

    2) Please note the photo linked of the actual truck we have been discussing negotiating the intersection of 11th & Park, a road properly designed to handle freight. (Also please note the 18 not 24 wheels you stated)

    3) Please note the following link of 4th & Park, a street NOT designed to allow easy freight access even with flattened curbs and no statues. Here is a second photo in case you’re in doubt. And a 3rd –

    4)Here would be photos of the same truck at 4th and Pacific, another intersection NOT designed to allow easy freight movement. Notice the needed signal person and councilman observing right next to the red balloon. There were actually 3 council representatives standing there getting an up close view of the issue and one across the street. Here is a second photo of that fiasco. Just in case you wish to argue placement of the truck and crowd, here is a 3rd photo. Please note the Council representative in the white jeans and blue top center in the photo observing.

    5) I think it can pretty clearly be demonstrated that Bremerton IS limiting freight access to downtown by design. We haven’t even started the conversation of where to park and offload yet. That too must be considered in order to get a large anchor sited in downtown.

    6) At least 4 Council representatives can no longer claim they are not aware of this freight limitation as they were at the intersection to witness the fancy jockey back and forth to finally get around the corner.

    7) Knowing now from your statement that the driver practiced the night before, can you imagine a normal freight hauler that does not have such a luxury of practicing an approach entering downtown? Freight companies don’t pay for practice but deliveries in an on time manner.

  9. You are guessing wrong Richard, since the conversation we were having was in regards to transportation/freight accessible and not individual pedestrian accessible. The premise of the original blog story by Josh had significantly to do with transportation/freight accessibility.

    I can see now that you have turned to conversation to something all together different and that is easily seen as apples to oranges diversion comparisons at this point.

    You are going to be waiting a heck of a lot longer than a year for your grocery store.

    While I appreciate the fact that you are happy walking to the existing services you should keep in mind that even at full capacity, the existing housing and coming apartment complexes in he works now, even at full capacity with all of those residents walking to services downtown, will not generate enough business or tax revenue to improve the overall economic situation or even sustain it. Out of Bremerton shoppers with easy vehicle accessibility and parking is an important component of a successful overall situation. Limiting shoppers to just what they can carry, limits overall purchasing desirability and options by consumers. They will systematically continue to pass on larger sized ticket items or multiple bags or items that they can not get to their car. They will travel instead to surrounding communities for these larger items where they can park, load and access easily.

  10. The idea that one can simply construct more buildings and people will come isn’t a complete one without considering what types of buildings, their location, cost, market influences, safety, and available services. Some of these factors can be controlled, anticipated, or quickly addressed by government, business and community leaders, whereas others cannot.

    Bremerton has an advantage many 40k population cities do not. There is a beautiful ferry ride to get there, it’s on a peninsula which makes it charming, it is connected to other highly desirable areas (Bainbridge Island, Poulsbo, Kingston, Olympic Peninsula, etc.), and it’s in a part of the country where trees, mountains, and water dominate to create a brilliant backdrop. It takes a particularly hardcore effort to squander that value proposition. Once that occurs, wise potential investors will want to know why – and it may well give them pause.

    It isn’t a question of ether/or, and never will be. There will typically be those who provide revenue to an area during the work day, those who visit as tourists. and those who reside in the area and hopefully use its resources and support the economy. Achieving that sweet spot is a combination of design, relevant business, services, desirable residential options, effective and accountable government, and an informed, proactive community where a reasonable majority are at least on the same page.

    Speaking of business, size standards for small businesses vary based on the industry. It can be 100 employees at a minimum, and is not synonymous with Mom-and-Pop stores (though sole proprietorships do qualify as small businesses). So there is an opportunity for small businesses to dominate an area and still have a thriving and enticing community. Poulsbo is an example of a walkable and attractive area with residents who can be mobile, but also those who need to drive to avail themselves of services. There are multi-lane roads and highways (per se), but Front Street and the surrounding area(s) have one lane per direction and there is much traffic during peak busy hours/busy days. Backups certainly aren’t the best way to spend one’s time, but if it’s worth it, many will suck it up.

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