Stream of buses leaving Woodward school a problem – until it wasn’t

The in basket: A couple I know mentioned at a recent social function that they’d seen something upsetting on Bainbridge Island.

People in reflective jackets had stopped traffic on Sportsmen’s Club Road one afternoon so a string of school buses could all get out of the parking lot of Woodward Middle School at one time.

Two days later, though, the husband e-mailed me to say he’d gone to watch it again and no longer had any objection to it. “They stopped the traffic at 1:57 p.m. At 2:01 they had let out 17 loaded school buses. So I guess they got things under control.”

Still, I thought I’d give it a look myself and ask if the city police had OKd it – or suggested it.

The out basket: I talked with Robin Hanley and Susan Stricker, the two school employees wielding the stop sign paddles the day I was there.

Robin said she’s gotten an obscene earful from the occupants of a moving van she’d stopped a few days earlier, and a teenager had ignored her on another occasion. So she was paying attention to how long vehicles had had to wait.

That Thursday it took her two minutes and 40 seconds to get all the buses on the road. She claimed 18 buses, but three of them, smaller ones, came out before they stopped traffic.

There is good reason to avoid Sportsmen’s Club Road when the buses leave Woodward on school days, but it isn’t the procession of buses.

The real problem is the stream of cars driven by parents who picked up their children in the next parking lot south. Most of them head toward New Brooklyn Road, where they must wait at a permanent stop sign for cross-traffic to clear. It backed up so badly, I was doubtful there would be enough room for the large buses for which Robin and Sue ran interference to get out of their parking lot.  The 15th bus was barely able to get into traffic.

About then, the stream of parents’ cars eased and the buses – and the backed up traffic behind them – were able to move along pretty quickly.

Deputy Chief Jeff Horn of Bainbridge police told me, “I have spoken to a few of my officers who have been around a few years and none of them remember this issue coming up (in regards to suggesting the tactic to the school). I did speak to the school transportation department who stated they do not recall specifically discussing this with the police department.

“The school did say the process was implemented because the inability to get the buses out (due to the traffic) which caused issues getting the children home on time.  If they were to ask me my opinion, I’d agree with their assessment and solution.”

Car prowls in Seattle get short shrift compared to here

The in basket: Retired sheriff’s deputy Terry Miller called my attention recently to a column by Danny Westneat in the Seattle Times, detailing his frustration in getting Seattle Police to help out when his daughter and he tracked down a cell phone they lost when his car window was smashed at Woodland Park.

They used the phone’s GPS locator to track the phone, and then watched what vehicle drove away when they saw the phone was on the move. They followed it.

But telling the emergency dispatcher they were hot on the trail of those who had the stolen phone didn’t change the dispatcher’s instruction to forget about it and call their insurance company.

“We reported the make and model, the license plate and the location,” he wrote. “But the dispatcher was dismissive. Go home and file an insurance claim, she said.”

The saga continued, and you can read the whole alarming Oct. 31 column on the Times’ Web site. Ultimately, he wrote, “the thieves knew we were following them — because one held our iPhone up to us and shook it, as if to say, ‘Here it is, come and get it!’

“The next day,” he wrote, “when I called some glass-repair companies, no one blinked at this story. Happens every day, they said. In fact, some thieves want you to track them, so they can try to sell your stolen stuff back to you. That’s how confident they are the police are no threat.”

I asked our local police it Danny would have had better luck on this side of the Sound.

The out basket: Chief Al Townsend of Poulsbo police was the first to respond.

“I am extremely confident he would have had better luck here,” Al said. “In fact, I’d be willing to guarantee it. In Poulsbo we would take the initial report as well.  Persons have the option of having an officer come to them or using the on-line reporting software which every agency provides to the public.

“Our cops would be excited to know that the iPhone was in the bag for tracking purposes.  We might not travel to Seattle to catch them, but I’m confident that if the same case happened in Poulsbo, we would be happy to travel within Kitsap to track them down!

“Realizing our call volume is considerably different that Seattle, it would be a sad day in Kitsap when we aren’t willing to go the extra distance to find these miscreants. And, frankly, I think it’s a sad day for Seattle.”

Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police agreed, “We take these reports and investigate them at the patrol level if there are leads to follow.  Given the fact pattern in the article, I’m confident the victims would have had a much different experience here in Bremerton.”

Chief Matt Hamner of Bainbridge police said, “I have no doubt that our officers would have responded and exhausted any leads they had. They are extremely responsive to the citizens of  Bainbridge Island. We have traveled to Roanoke, Virginia, to capture a burglar recently.  We want to keep our citizens safe.”

Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said, “The sheriff’s office concurs with the opinions as voiced by our colleagues from municipal law enforcement agencies in Kitsap County.

Sheriff Steve Boyer said, “The frustration felt by victims and sheriff’s deputies in dealing with property crimes is high,. The answer lies in a little luck, quite a bit of patience and a lot of determination.  Deputies respond to the complaint, document the facts and follow-through with the investigation.  Success often occurs weeks or months later.”

“There are a number of variables to every 9-1-1 report,” Scott said. “Vehicle prowls or thefts from vehicles are no exception. From time to time there may be evidence that sheriff’s patrol deputies can use to identify suspects; frequently there isn’t.

“In any case the call will be dispatched and a deputy will make initial contact with the complainant / victim.  Follow-up investigation occurs as evidence develops or additional criminal information comes to our attention.

“In several instances, a single reported vehicle prowl may, by itself, not yield anything to investigate from an evidence perspective. However, that one incident may be part of an aggregate number of vehicle prowls / burglaries that sheriff’s patrol deputies and detectives are able to use to their advantage in determining the identity of suspects, ie:  one piece of a property crime puzzle.”

Port Orchard Chief Geoff Marti was more circumspect. “The Port Orchard police department strives to provide good fundamental police service and investigation,” he said. “All departments have some degree of failure in the endeavor. If a citizen is not pleased with our response or investigation we have a procedure in place to provide answers, feedback and resolution to the issue. All police agencies are eventually accountable to the community they serve.”



Traffic patrols in unmarked cars are legal, say local officers

The in basket: Michael Denton writes, “Recently a new video has appeared on YouTube showing a citizen pulling over a sheriff’s deputy in Spokane for performing traffic patrol in an unmarked sheriffs vehicle.  The citizen in the video goes on to cite Washington RCW 46.08.065 and that the sheriffs deputy was in violation of said RCW.  Further research on this particular instance indicated that the patrol vehicle in question was new and awaiting the installation of the vinyl decals, a poor excuse in my opinion.
“Driving around Kitsap County, a motorist can usually spot at least one unmarked patrol car, whether it be WSP or Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office performing routine traffic patrol stops,” he said. “I have witnessed a few years back an unmarked black Subaru WRX sedan that was pulling over people on Newberry Hill Road for speeding up the hill.

“Now at the time I thought that was very sneaky, and it seemed like a good tactic using a vehicle that looked like nothing to do with law enforcement, until I read the RCW, which the way I comprehend makes these unmarked patrol vehicles illegal unless they are undercover or confidential investigators.

“How can these sheriffs officers and state patrol officers be getting away with pulling over motorists for regular traffic violations and not be in violation of the RCW?” he asked.

The out basket: Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office says the department “respectfully disagrees” with Michael’s reading of the law

“The wording in RCW 46.08.065 (second sentence) reads:   ‘This section shall not apply to  vehicles of a sheriff’s office, local police department, OR any vehicles used by local peace officers under public authority for special undercover or confidential investigative purposes,'”Scott said

“This issue comes up from time-to-time, (raised)  by those who believe that they have read and interpreted RCW 46.08.065 correctly.  We are not in violation of the RCW, as alleged by the author of the e-mail.  In fact, the wording specifically exempts sheriff’s offices and local police departments and, furthermore, exempts certain vehicles used by law enforcement in specific roles.

“There has been ample review of this RCW in the office of the Washington State Attorney General as well as our own county prosecutor’s office.

“The Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office has reviewed our policy as it applies to this specific RCW.  We will continue to equip / mark Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office vehicles as determined by the role that a particular vehicle will be assigned when it is placed into service, or as its assignment may change.”

Trooper Russ Winger of the state patrol here says his department agrees.

“Unmarked patrol vehicles have long been in use by the WSP for various traffic enforcement duties. The vehicles are equipped with emergency lights and equipment. There is nothing illegal about the use of these vehicles for traffic and other law enforcement duties.

“The patrol has several makes and models of unmarked patrol vehicles in use throughout the state. They are very effective in traffic enforcement and that is why we use them.”


RR tracks keep Provost at Newberry from having flashing left signals.

The in basket: Eric Blair asks, “Do you know what criteria the county have used to decide which intersections will get flashing yellows for the turn lanes?
“Specifically, is there a reason these haven’t been placed at Provost and Newberry Hill? I can understand not putting them on Newberry here, but why can’t they be put on Provost for north/south drivers.

“About once a week I’ll come up in the turn lane on southbound Provost, just after the lights have gone green for straight-through traffic, but remained red for the turn lane. And the way the lights cycle, I have to sit through a whole cycle to get the green turn arrow. A flashing yellow here would be wonderful.”

The out basket: I often get nominations of intersections where yellow flashing left turn signals would eliminate a lot of waiting. Mostly they are on state highways, and the state’s regional traffic office doesn’t like them. Their official stance is that they won’t use them unless there is a significant upgrade at the intersection. But they passed on using them at the recently improved intersection the county upgraded for the state at Ridgetop Boulevard and the southbound Highway 303 off-ramp.

They don’t get much interest in them outside Kitsap County, one technician told me.

The flashing lefts we do see are all at county intersections, installed by the county. Cities here like them, but haven’t found the money for them

Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works didn’t get into the criteria the county uses, but availability of money certainly is one.

At Newberry Hill and Provot roads, there is another reason. “That intersection is too close to the railroad crossing for a left-turn flashing yellow arrow,” Doug said. Too much to watch out for in addition to conflicting vehicles, I guess.

Container ships anchored off Manchester

IMGP2258The in basket: Chuck Hower of Harper, who for whimsical reasons goes by Goolsbee Snitworthy when he contacts me, asked me about three huge container ships lying off-shore near Manchester in South Kitsap, guessing the reason is “perhaps problems with the scheduling at the Port of Seattle?”

The out basket: An on-duty employee at the Puget Sound Vessel Traffic Service, said the service is making use of the infrequently used reserve anchorage area because of what is alleged to be a slowdown by longshoremen engaged in protracted labor negotiations with the Pacific Maritime Association.

The normal anchorage areas are full, he said.

The American Journal of Transportation quotes a longshoremen’s union spokesman as saying “allegations by the PMA that the union is engaged in a work slow down at West Coast ports is, in fact, the result of “frustration by workers with the long-standing contract and congestion problems.”

One of the three ships appears to have departed Friday afternoon

Caught behind a bus at camera-enforced intersection

The in basket: Mary Watson writes, “In September, I was headed north on Wheaton Way and was attempting to turn left onto Sylvan Way. There were two buses ahead of me. I could not see the turn light so I took my cue to go from the bus ahead of me.

“I could not see the light until the bus was halfway into its turn and I was well past the white line of the crosswalk. I saw that the light was red and rather than reverse and go backwards, I quickly followed the bus through the light and drove home.

“A few weeks later, I got a ticket in the mail for $124 dollars for running a red light and was caught by the red light camera posted there. Because I did indeed go through a red light but not intentionally, I decided to admit it and go to a mitigation hearing.

“(At) the hearing, Commissioner Shane Seaman, after hearing my explanation, fined me $85 dollars. He even said ‘Oh, yeah, I have been behind those buses.’ I told him clearly that I could not see the light until it was too late and I was glad for the light delay so that I was not in danger of being hit by oncoming traffic.

“I don’t know what else I could have done. Was I supposed to stop and reverse once I saw it was a red light?
I have heard from a friend who told me that she knows of several people who have had this happen to them. The commissioner did not offer any suggestions and I was disappointed that he still fined me $85 dollars. Others who had committed similar offenses were fined $70 and $75 dollars.

“I am curious as to two things…why did I get fined more? And what else was I supposed to do? I honestly did not RUN the red light with intent. I had to take my cue from the bus until I could see the light and by the time I saw it – it was too late. So in the interest of safety I just proceeded through the intersection as quickly as I could.”

The out basket: This dilemma is not unique to red light camera intersections. Any time a driver is following a large vehicle that obscures the view beyond it, he or she can find that a traffic signal has turned red while the large vehicle was transiting the intersection.

I asked Lt. Pete Fisher of the Bremerton police what he would advise and his two-sentence response is essentially what I would recommend: “The best advice is to follow at a distance that allows you to see the light. Just assuming it’s green because a truck or bus is going through could result in a collision.”

It means leaving a larger gap than normal between you and the vehicle ahead.

A driver can get away with following at a normal distance at most signals, as the one-second delay on signal changes that Mary mentions will keep cross traffic from starting up quickly enough to risk a collision. And an officer would rarely be there to see it.

But enforcement at red light camera intersections is constant. If you know you’re coming to one and are behind a large vehicle, allow the extra distance.

When I watched several of these red light camera mitigation hearings a few years ago, the presiding official would reliably reduce the $124 fine for those appearing, but never nullified it completely. The reductions varied, and the official didn’t explain why, nor could I.


Bainbridge’s Valley Road challenges pedestrians

The in basket: Merry Mcallister of Bainbridge Island writes, “Can you help me with the walking pattern on North Valley Road, between North Madison and Sunrise Drive?

“Pedestrian access is almost none — maybe 5 inches beyond the white line, then you’re in the ditch.  Cross the road, and you can’t see oncoming traffic, so what’s a walker to do?

“If I walk on the white line, should I take out more life insurance?  I wear reflective gear from head to toe, but the cars go WAY beyond the speed limit, and many only pretend to defer to pedestrians. I’ve lived here 40 years and it’s become a scary problem.

“My preference would be a wider shoulder, especially on the north side,” she said,  “like maybe three feet wide.  No pavement. It just gives the cars license to speed.

“Pedestrians should at least be able to walk outside the white line without getting into the ditch.  Occasionally the grass is mowed there, but not often, so it’s really spongy on the ditch side.”

The out basket: Chris Hammer, Bainbridge’s engineering manager in public works, says, “The city developed a shoulder widening program back in 2007 that is known as the Core 40 program.

“The idea is to develop a 40-mile network of walkable and bike-able shoulders throughout the secondary arterial street network. A project has been identified for Valley Road that would likely consist of a paved uphill climbing lane for cyclists and could also include a wider gravel shoulder on the other side of the roadway for pedestrians.

“Typically 6-foot-wide shoulders are provided, as that provides a safe facility for pedestrians walking into traffic and can accommodate a 5-foot paved area for cyclists.

“(But) the C40 Valley project is lower on the list of priorities for C40 projects and it is not currently included in the city’s six-year Transportation Improvement Plan,” he said.

There is a project already underway on Valley, begun Sept. 11, but it’s on the other side of Sunrise, where shoulders are even narrower.

“Sound Excavation has been working on drainage improvements that will provide for better roadway drainage and better accommodate private drainage off the hill from several lots above Gertie Johnson Road,” Chris said. “The embankments above Gertie Johnson have experienced two significant slides over the past decade that I am aware of.

“The project will also provide for landings and crosswalk markings at the intersection of Valley and Sunrise.

“Some in the community have advocated for wider shoulders on this section of the roadway. The project includes graveling the shoulders but we are not able to make them much wider with this project. The costs would be substantially higher than afforded with the planned surfacing reconstruction project due to challenging topography. Widening would also necessitate removing significant trees and landscaping restoration requiring easements.”

One islander I talked to in my visit said the situation sounds like many others all over the island. I suppose the small business center where Valley and Sunrise intersect may be more of a draw for both drivers and pedestrians that on other roads.


Raised pavement markers raise left turn question

The in basket: Robbie McCabe writes, “I have a question that may keep me from getting a ticket.

“I have been going westbound on Sixth Street and turning left into Group Health’s underground parking lot for many years,” he said. “For some reason, today I noticed that there is now a double line of those caps starting just past Kitsap Bank and heading further down Sixth Street.

“Does that mean I can no longer turn left into the parking lot?”

The out basket: Those caps, called raised pavement markers or RPMs, substitute for painted lines in many places. There are two sets of them where Robbie asks about, creating the upcoming left turn lane on eastbound Sixth, adding confusion as to what is permitted around them.

Whether such lines are painted or created by the RPMs, the rules are the same. You can turn left across them, even pairs of them, unless there is a sign prohibiting that, crosshatching between the lines or a center line 18 inches or more thick.

Since none of those things exist at the Sixth Street location Robbie mentions, he can continue to turn as he has in the past. Yielding to oncoming traffic is required, of course.


Ditches consume possible room for bicycles and pedestrians, reader says

The in basket: Chris Olmsted thinks the city of Port Orchard could make things easier for pedestrians and bicyclists between Westbay and Retsil by filling in some ditches.

“Improvements to this scenic ride will bring in tourists, improve property values and give runners, walkers and cyclists a place to improve their fitness levels,” he said, adding, “I ride this route asking myself why are we holding on to 19th Century technology –  ditches.

“Why doesn’t the city of Port Orchard use new technology to deal with water runoff? New technology would widen the road, making it safer for all users while creating additional width for walkers.

“The current road is not safe for cyclists,” Chris said. “There is absolutely no shoulder along Bay Street to Retsil and lane widths are also narrow.  Why is right of way land on one side of the road being wasted by ditches while on the other side lifestyles are being destroyed?”

That a last was referring to the struggle the city council is going through about how to extend the existing waterfront bike and pedestrian trail from Westbay, which might involve condemning some homes.

The out basket: City Public Works Director Mark Dorsey replies, “Within the city limits, we have both roadside ditch storm water conveyance and closed system storm water conveyance (catch basins and pipe.)  Both are viable conveyance system alternatives, used where applicable.

“It is unreasonable to think that the city would initiate a program to install closed conveyance systems throughout the city for numerous reasons (tremendous cost to storm utility rate payers, unintended consequences associated with closed conveyance installation, potential outfall upgrades, water quality reduction associated with loss of vegetation, etc.)

“Roadway and shoulder widths also vary within the city,” Mark continued, “as do designated bike routes, and I concur that there are areas of the city that are very pedestrian friendly and areas that are not and choosing a route in which you are comfortable based on your level of experience is at your discretion. But I do not agree that closing in roadside ditches is the simple solution.

“With respect to your specific route, Bay Street to Retsil, the city is working diligently to complete a state-approved multi-modal pathway from downtown to Annapolis and I hope you will be pleased with the improvement once completed.

“Finally, I can say that most cyclists that I do speak to understand that it is their legal right to ride within the traveled way when needed and to follow the same rules of the road as a motorist.”

Close call with bike at 305 and Koura

The in basket: Billie Schaefer of Port Ludlow said he was recently preparing to turn right off of Highway 305 on Bainbridge Island onto Koura Road, with his signal on, when a bicyclist shot past him on the shoulder. Had he been in his turn, Billie said, it could have been another bicyclist fatality.

“He’s lucky I didn’t kill him,” he said, and asked whether he would be guilty of a crime for his part in the theoretical collision. “Isn’t he supposed to stop for me?  If I stop, I’ll get hit by traffic coming from behind.”

He then asked about the striping at the next intersection ahead, at Sportsmen’s Club Road, which is repeated at numerous intersections around urban Bainbridge. It has a designated bicycle lane separating the outside through lane from a right turn lane onto Sportsmen’s Club Road.

The out basket: State Trooper Russ Winger of the local State Patrol detachment says, “Bicyclists must obey all traffic laws that apply to any motorist. In the situation you describe at Koura Road, the bike must yield to a legally turning vehicle (signaling properly so the bike rider can see your intent) ahead. The bicyclist would be violating both failing to yield and overtaking and passing on the right laws.

“The situation at Sportsmen’s Club Road is not really any different,” he said. “The bike lanes there are intended to give a lane for bicyclists to both wait at the signal light and also form sort of a shoulder for bikes to travel in while crossing the intersection. They allow vehicles using the right turn lanes on either side of the intersection to avoid the very situation described at Koura Road. Vehicles must yield to the bikes, if appropriate, as they would for any other vehicle.

“Vehicles should not cross over bike lanes unless required for turning movement or travel. They must yield to any bicyclist occupying the lane when doing so.

“There is no good reason for a driver to cross over the short bike lanes on either side of the intersection at Sportsmen’s Club, other than a driver making a way-too-late decision to turn right. It would not be illegal to do so as long as the driver yielded appropriately and did the maneuver safely,” Russ said.