Bremerton gets another flashing yellow left turn

The in basket: I see that Bremerton has added a flashing left turn arrow to another intersection, the one at 11th Street and High Avenue.

I’m among the fans of the flashing yellow lefts, which reduce the amount of time a driver must wait to turn left, compared to left turn signals that are red after a green cycle ends.

I was told the city didn’t have the money to add any more of the signals, after they installed them on nearly all of those on Sixth Street, which they were able to pay for with utility money. Sixth was the designated detour when 11th Street was disrupted by sewer replacement work in 2012, allowing for use of wastewater money for the signals.

I was  curious if the appearance of one at 11th and High signaled more use of them in the city.

The out basket: The flashing yellow at 11th and High isn’t the major reduction of wait times that the others were, because it replaces a green ball light and sign saying left turners must yield on green. So left turns were permitted while oncoming traffic had the green light all along.

Jim Orton, operations manager for city public works, says. “That intersection really needed the flashing yellow (the yield on green ball is not as intuitive as the arrow). We used some parts from other projects to get this in, so the only costs really were labor.

“It is our intent to standardize our left turn pockets with flashing arrows rather than the green ball but this will be done over time.”

Motorcycle groups stop traffic at risk of being cited

The in basket: Bob Bronow wrote in June to say, “I encountered something which seemed kind of weird to me.  I was traveling south on Chico Way at the Erlands Point junction when a motorcycle rider turned his bike sideways right in front of me, blocking the lane and intersection.  I noticed another one similarly blocked the northbound lane of Chico Way.  Apparently this was so a group of them could approach from Erlands Point, turn south on Chico Way and all stay together.

“I don’t really care if they are all able to stay together. It seems like only emergency vehicles have the right to stop traffic. What do you think?”

I asked Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office if such a maneuver is permitted or perhaps even encouraged by law enforcement.

The out basket: Scott replied, “No, this type of action is not authorized by the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office and certainly not encouraged. It is a violation of the state’s motor vehicles rules of the road.

“Only law enforcement agencies are permitted to shut down a roadway. Fire agencies have authority to temporarily close a roadway at the scene of a fire or rescue emergency.

“Authorization for closing a road may be obtained through the permitting process for special events, such as community events or festivals (like)Whaling Days in Silverdale or the Kitsap County Fair & Stampede, etc.  Typically these temporary authorizations are granted by the County Commissioners and promulgated publicly via a county resolution.”

I talked with Jason Rossi, sergeant of arms for the local branch of ABATE, a motorcycle advocacy group, and he says they do it, and call it road guarding, but they do it at their own risk, knowing they might be cited for it.

ABATE hopes to someday get authorization for members who would have to take a special course in doing it safely, but in the meantime they’ll have to take their chances if they use it, he said.

 

Where’s the Ridgetop-Levin traffic light?

The in basket: In a visit to Silverdale one recent morning, I noted that there was no traffic signal on Ridgetop Boulevard at Levin Road, something I’d understood would be part of the accommodations for drivers while Bucklin Hill Road is closed.

When I returned home that day, I found the following e-mail from Laurie LeMay. “Many hours were spent getting the signal installed and ready to handle the traffic at Levin and Ridgetop,” she wrote. “It was supposed to be ready at the beginning of the Bucklin Hill Road closure.

“Then we heard it wouldn’t be installed until July 10.  Here it is July 24 and no signal is installed.

“All the wires are there and the control box but no actual lights.  Can you find out any information on this?  It would really help the  workers on Levin if they could get out onto Ridgetop.”

The out basket: It’s a familiar story with traffic signal installations – late delivery of needed parts, though this time it isn’t the poles and cross-arms, the usual culprits.

“The hold-up with the signal is materials,” says Tina Nelson of Kitsap County Public Works. “We have everything ready to go but the signal heads. The delivery date has unfortunately been delayed.

“We are monitoring the situation, and are prepared to add a flagger or two if needed at the intersection of Levin and Ridgetop.

“The signal will be functional no later than August 10,” she said.

There’s no ‘grace period’ for leaving a child in a car

The in basket: Joanne of Poulsbo describes a recent incident in North Kitsap involving a child left in a car one hot morning and wonders if an excuse offered by the woman driver of the car has any basis in fact.

She said a man was trying to help her get her own pickup truck started at the convenience store where Highway 104 meets Bond Road when the woman raced into the parking lot, parked and went inside.

Shortly afterward, a man drove in and parked next to the woman’s car. He approached Joanne and her helper and said there was a small child left in the woman’s car.

Before they got far in locating the driver, the woman came out and reacted angrily to the groups’ concern. She told them that in Washington state, there is a 10-minute grace period during which a child under 5 years can be left in a car.

Joanne said she has since asked around, but no one she has asked knew of any such law or rule.

The out basket: Not surprisingly, there isn’t one, says Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office.

Somewhat surprisingly, there is no law at all addressing the leaving of children in a car that is not left running.

“The actual statute concerning this is RCW 46.61.685,” Scott said, “leaving a child under 16 years of age in a vehicle with motor running. It’s not a violation that would result in the issuance of a ticket, but rather a misdemeanor offense. Since it is a misdemeanor, the responsible operator of the vehicle would be summoned to appear in court.

The law reads, “(1) It is unlawful for any person, while operating or in charge of a vehicle, to park or willfully allow such vehicle to stand upon a public highway or in a public place with its motor running, leaving a minor child or children under the age of sixteen years unattended in the vehicle.

“(2) Any person violating this section is guilty of a misdemeanor. Upon a second or subsequent conviction for a violation of this section, the department shall revoke the operator’s license of such person.”

Scott continued, “If a child is left alone in a vehicle (engine running or not) and the child’s health becomes compromised, for whatever reason, that would most likely be investigated as possibly criminal mistreatment or manslaughter (if it resulted in the child’s death). These are felony-level crimes.

“In the state of Washington there’s no such a thing as a  ‘Ten-minute grace period ‘ It’s yet another urban myth,” he said.

He also noted a news release his department put out July 16 to prevent harm to children left in hot cars.

It said never leave a child alone in a car and make it a habit to look in the back seat whenever you leave your car. “Look before you lock,” it advocated.

For bystanders such as Joanne, it advises:

– Check to make sure the child is OK and responsive. If not, call 9-1-1 immediately.

– If the child appears OK, you should attempt to locate the parents, or have the facility’s security or management page the vehicle’s owner over the PA system.

– If there is someone with you, one person should actively search for the parent or caregiver while a second person waits at the car.

– If the child is not responsive and appears in great distress, attempt to get into the car to assist the child, even if that means breaking a window.

Kitsap sharing in shortage of state troopers

The in basket: When State Trooper Russ Winger answered a Road Warrior question a few weeks back about speed patrols near the Southworth and other ferry terminals, he said part of the problem was a reduction in the number of troopers assigned to Kitsap County from 27 to 17 in the past two years.

I asked the reason for that rather steep drop, and was reminded of the question when I saw a TV report of how far behind the patrol is in filling its allotted number of trooper positions.

So I asked again.

The out basket: Russ replied, “The bottom line is that we are having difficulty attracting, screening, hiring and training enough qualified applicants to fill many positions. This is a law enforcement problem in general and particularly within the WSP due to attrition through retirements and also some loss of personnel to other agencies.

“Locally we have lost those 10 positions due to downsizing and reallocation of personnel to other APA’s (Autonomous Patrol Areas) within the state. This is a statewide agency problem.  When personnel retire or otherwise leave the agency the positions are just left unfilled. We currently have one complete detachment (six troopers) that is unfilled in our area. The remaining four vacant positions in the two detachments remain unfilled.

“Remember that the 17 troopers working in Bremerton is a best case scenario. With sickness, training, vacations and various other demands that pull troopers off of the road, very rarely is there full detachment coverage. For coverage purposes, we have divided the manpower into two detachments of troopers that provide 24/7 coverage.

“Our job is to provide, assistance, security and safety on our highways. We do this by having troopers out working the highways every day and night. Our troopers continue to work hard to do this, even with diminishing manpower.

“The agency is working on ways to streamline and improve the hiring process. We have the need and funding to sustain these open positions so hopefully these efforts will help reverse or slow the continued loss of manpower statewide.”

Rush-hour incidents in Silverdale blamed on noise wall

The in basket: Dave Matney sees a problem with the southbound off-ramp from Highway 3 to Highway 303 and Silverdale.

“This off-ramp makes a blind turn around a tall concrete wall, then opens up and splits into three lanes leading up to the signal. Normally this process flows smoothly, (but) occasional traffic will back up onto SR-3 well before the blind turn. This happens very quickly and violently, one second you’re cruising in the outer lane doing 60mph, the next instantly slamming on your brakes to keep from rear-ending the guy in front of you.

“The signal changes, everybody starts to flow and the traffic clears out. Except the ones that did not get stopped in time. The second time this happened to me,” Dave said, “I was not going to stop in time, swerved to the right shoulder and came to a stop next to the car in front of me. The car behind me came to a stop behind the car in front of me, where I should have been. I heard a screeching sound and looked in my rear view mirror in time to see the off-ramp sign fall backwards with a car on top of it. My quick action saved the three of us from being in an accident.”

State troopers and tow trucks were on the scene when he came back the other way, he said.

“Over the last year, I have had this happen to me three times and have witnessed three other occurrences,” Dave says. “It always happens in the afternoons, between 3 and 5 p.m., coinciding with the Bangor commute that starts at 3 and lots of traffic is flowing out of both the Trident and Trigger avenue gates heading south in the outside lane.

“What is the purpose of this wall? Normally these walls are built for sound dampening when the freeway backs up to a housing development. But in this case there is no housing, just a ball field. The sharp turn with a wall blocks the driver’s sight line from seeing the traffic back up.

“Has the state patrol starting noticing this trend at this location?

“Maybe a warning sign,  ‘Traffic can backup suddenly.'”

The out basket: It is a noise wall, designed to reduce roadway noise from reaching the play field behind it, says Claudia Bingham Baker of the state highway department. She says she’s unaware of any plans to modify it.

State Trooper Russ Winger says, “We have not observed abnormally high collision numbers in this area. Collisions do occur there but many of those occur at the right turn yield sign (at the top of the off-ramp).

“We have had collisions occur in the straight section on SR3  when traffics backs up during heavy volumes and anywhere in between up to the intersection. The bulk of these collisions – rear end type –  are usually attributed to A) following  too closely. B) speed too fast for conditions. C) driver inattention.

“I am not so sure it is a sight distance problem rather than a driver awareness problem. Traffic can and does back up here during peak traffic times and I’m sure there are plenty of close calls that go unnoticed but it does not appear to be greatly different than other congested urban sections in Kitsap County.

“We have a fairly high collision rate on SR303 at the various intersections between Riddell and Fairgrounds roads. These are straight roadways with long sight distances. Many of the collisions are also rear-end collisions with some intersection collisions. Again, the various contributing factors noted above are the causing factors, along with running signal lights.”

How effective is freeway median cable barrier?

The in basket: John Rosinke of Silverdale wrote me on July 10 to say, “Read your column today and proceeded down the page to the Code 911 section. Noticed a pickup truck was able to cross the cable barriers on Route 16. Seems like I read several other reports that vehicles do cross cable barriers. Aren’t they supposed to prevent crossing to the oncoming lanes?”

The accident in question led to the death of the man whose pickup truck crossed the barrier.

I can recall reading of only one other such accident, also a fatality, but I’m sure there have been others.

I asked the state about the reliability of cable barrier in keeping out-of-control vehicles from crossing the median into the oncoming lanes.
The out basket: Claudia Bingham Baker of the state highway department said, “Yes, we do look at the conditions surrounding collisions in which vehicles breach cable barrier. We promptly repair the cable barrier when hit, and we also do annual inspections of the cable barrier to ensure it is in good working order and at the proper tension.

“A little background on cable barrier might be helpful. Cable barrier, like all barrier, is not designed to prevent all collisions. It is designed and built to certain criteria. When vehicles exceed those criteria with speed, momentum, angle of impact or other factors, cable breaches can and do occur.

 

“(This state) has been using cable barrier in various locations since about 1995. Over a three-year period in the mid-2000s we did formal performance reviews of the efficacy of cable barrier and found that they are a worthwhile and cost-effective method to deter traffic from crossing medians and into opposing lanes.

 

“For example, in 2007 we found that 95.1 percent of vehicles that hit cable barrier did not cross into opposing traffic lanes. (Also) cable barrier is designed to flex upon impact, which dramatically reduces the impact forces on errant vehicle occupants when compared to solid types of barrier.

 

“We also can treat more miles per dollar with cable barrier, and that difference can be significant. Depending on site conditions and other factors, we can treat 1.5 to 6.3 times the mileage with cable barrier than with other barrier, such as concrete.

 

Should drought increase need for mowing on shoulders?

The in basket: Christina  Stewart asks, “Can anyone tell me if the county is out in their area actively mowing the sides of the road? With the fire danger off the charts, shouldn’t (they be) mowing down all the dry grass and weeds next to the county roads? I just drove in to work today up Columbia Street (Port Gamble-Suquamish Rd.) and then into Poulsbo on Lincoln. The grass is taller than most vehicles in some areas. Yesterday I was in the Kingston area, same issue. We are creating our own potential safety problem! The county should be mowing all day everyday.”

The out basket: Actually, mowing can start grass fires as well as prevent them, and leave cut grass slightly more likely to burn,.

Practices vary among jurisdictions, but since Christina asks about the North Kitsap area, I’ve limited my inquiries to Kitsap County, the state and Poulsbo.

I asked their normal practices and whether the heat and lack of rain has changed them this year.

Jacques Dean, road superintendent for the county, said on July 7″, “We have not made any changes to our vegetation management program. Our mower in the north end has been unavailable due to mechanical problems, which has put us behind schedule there.  We were waiting for parts to make repairs. It is back in operation now. We do mow all day, every day during the growing season when equipment is available.

 

“Our vegetation mowers operate five days a week over eight months per year (vegetation is generally dormant November through February).  With this approach we have been able to mow 1,900 shoulder miles of roadway each year, or approximately 950 centerline miles. We are able to mow most, if not all of our roadways at least once per year.  It should also be noted that our crews apply vegetation herbicides to approximately 840 shoulder miles of roadway each year, which assists in keeping vegetation in check.

 

Logistically, and realistically, we cannot address all of our roadways simultaneously, specifically during the peak of the growing season.  We have to take a systematic approach to our vegetation management program, considering the overall scope of work, available schedule, resource availability, roadway level of service, types of vegetation, geographic location/proximity, etc.  Our crews are working hard to ensure that our roadways are safe, in good condition, and aesthetically pleasing.  They are doing the best possible job.”

Claudia Bingham Baker, state highway spokesman here, said, “When conditions get extremely dry we stop most mowing activities. This link http://wsdotblog.blogspot.com/2015/07/working-to-prevent-roadside-brush-fires.html talks about our efforts to reduce the risk of fires.”

That site says, in part, “Every year, we do most of our mowing in early spring or late fall to avoid the hot, dry summer season. We also leave bare ground barriers alongside roadways in many cases to provide extra protection against sparks and other fire risks. This year is no different.

“That said, some of our maintenance work can’t wait, often because to do so would comprise motorist safety. And work like mowing, grinding or welding carry some inherent risks of sparks that could lead to a fire.

That’s why whenever we complete maintenance work during the dry season we take several precautions. That includes having water and tools on site to immediately extinguish any sparks or fires that start due to our work.

We also limit our maintenance work during the hottest part of the day. Work is done from 8 p.m. to 1 p.m., when it’s more humid and less likely for a fire to start. If weather conditions are particularly severe, everything except emergency work is halted.”

Dan Wilson, head of Poulsbo Public Works, says he isn’t sure that Christina got into the city, but if she did, he thinks she would have found the city’s shoulders well tended by their mostly hand-done streetside brush clearing.

Suspected malfunctioning left turn signal wasn’t

The in basket: Dave Sander asks, “Who do I call about a malfunctioning left-turn light.The light at Jackson and Lund, going north on Jackson, lets only two cars through, maybe 3 if they are quick, then it goes to blinking yellow.”

The out basket: That’s a Kitsap County signal, and when they malfunction, call (360) 337-5777 to report it.

But that signal is operating as intended. It provides a short period of green at the start of each left-turn cycle, during which the turners don’t have to worry about opposing traffic and no pedestrians in their path have a walk light. Then the light goes to flashing yellow, during which time left turners still can go, but they have to yield to oncoming traffic and pedestrians.

The only other time I have written about this particular aspect of the flashing yellows was when the one at the Walmart on Bethel Avenue in Port Orchard DIDN’T provide a short period of green one holiday season. The heavy shopping traffic didn’t provide many breaks in traffic for the left turns on yellow. It was supposed to have the green phase and the county fixed it.

Pedestrians imperiled at 11th & Kitsap Way

The in basket: Nancy Danaher wrote in June 16 to say, “A couple of weeks ago while traveling south on Kitsap Way at about 7 p.m. and again at 8:30 p.m., we nearly witnessed a horrific accident.

“When a person needs to cross Kitsap Way at 11th Street in Bremerton, a pedestrian light gives them the OK and the two right lanes heading south get the red light.

Now, if you are coming around that curve at too high a speed or not paying attention at all, you are believing you have a green light to cruise through. Not the case when someone needs to cross the street.  Two times that same evening someone was almost hit by vehicles because they did not stop at the red light.

“Yesterday afternoon it happened again,” Nancy said. “I was headed northwest on Kitsap Way (at) the red light. A gal was crossing and had the pedestrian light and around the corner comes a large pickup truck and barrels through what to him would have been a red light!.  Thank goodness the girl was still walking in our two lanes.

“How can vehicles be forewarned that the light around the curve is RED?” Nancy asked.

The out basket: I heard back from both Tom Knuckey and Jerry Hauth of Bremerton’s street engineers about this and it turns out that intersection is due some pedestrians improvements, part of a grant from the Puget Sound Regional Council

Tom said, “This intersection is included in a Bremerton Crosswalk Improvements project, scheduled for design this year, and construction in 2016,  We’re currently coordinating with a consultant for the design, and have brought this concern to their attention as they develop a  list of improvements to be constructed.

“Although there have been no accidents involving pedestrians at this location, and although the sight distance exceeds (federal) minimums, we are still concerned about it, as Nancy is.  We will look at all options, including additional advance warning signage.

“In the meantime, we have requested additional enforcement by our police department. We also get feedback from our officers that helps us with designing the safety improvements.  Nancy’s input was very much appreciated and will also become part of the project file.

Jerry, successor to Gunnar Fridriksson, who left the city to go to work for Clark County this spring, adds, “I don’t know what may come of this design process. But we can certainly consider (or include) some advanced warning if it is needed.

“I have some reservations about the benefit of an advanced warning on this site,” he said. “As I drive through it, at the speed limit, it appears to me that there is adequate time to come to a controlled stop (as needed). Also, as I understand the situation that prompted this concern, a truck had run a red light. Bad things can happen when people run red lights and I question if a warning would have changed any of that.”