Monthly Archives: November 2008

How do you run a toll booth?

The in basket: Rebecca Copenhaver asks, “How does one fail to pay at a toll booth?

“I received a citation in the mail,” she said, “with a snapshot of my license plate, saying I was believed to have gone through the toll booth at the Tacoma Narrows Bridge without paying.  

“Is this even possible? I picture myself in some action movie, high-speed chase, blowing through the little arm at mach speed. It makes no sense …  I have asked for my day in court, but would like to know if this actually happens,” she said.

The out basket: Janet Matkin of the toll-collecting office at the bridge said she can’t discuss an individual case due to privacy restrictions, but can describe things that can lead to this accusation. 

“A driver may receive a citation when using the manual toll lanes because: (1) they do not have the cash, credit card, or debit card to pay the toll; or (2) they have insufficient funds in their debit account; or (3) their credit card may be declined when the transaction is processed later in the day; or (4) they may have a security program associated with their credit card that does not allow a transaction without a signature. 

“In order to avoid a citation,” Janet said, “drivers using the manual toll lanes are encouraged to pay cash, use a valid credit card, or ensure they have sufficient funds in their account. 

“Any customer who thinks they have received a citation in error is encouraged to contact the Good To Go! customer service center at 1-866-936-8246 to have the citation researched,” she added.

She could say she’d looked into Rebecca’s case and “do know that her citation(s) appear to be valid.”

Cell phones and the hearing impaired

The in basket: As the July 1 deadline for enforcing the hands-free cell phone law approached last summer, Jerry Darnall of Kingston wondered about how his particular situation would be addressed. 

He is hearing-impaired, but doesn’t always wear his hearing aid while driving because it gets uncomfortable after a while and, more to the point, his “specially adjusted high-volume hand-held cell phone” produces painful feedback when he has his hearing aid in. He must remove it to use that phone.

But, he said, the wording of the law appears to exempt only those wearing hearing aids, “although I thought the intent by the Legislature was to exempt all ‘hearing impaired’ persons, not just those wearing hearing aids at that time.

“How much leeway is the WSP allowing for hearing-impaired cell phone users under the new law?” he asked. “What will I need to provide the officer as proof of disability if stopped for this infraction? Is the WSP/DOL going to provide some kind of sticker for the rear of my vehicles or license plate that shows hearing impairment?”

While I was seeking those answers from State Patrol spokeswoman Krista Hedstrom in Bremerton, I asked for an update on how enforcement has been going in the real world of the state highways here.

The out basket: Second things first, Krista says troopers in Kitsap County “have stopped 56 drivers for talking on their cell phones. Forty-three of them were issued infractions for $124, while the other 13 were given verbal warnings. 

It’s what’s called a “secondary infraction,” which means it can only be tacked on if an officer sees a primary infraction like speeding. Krista said, “Troopers are seeing a variety of primary offenses which go along with the cell phone violation. Speed and lane travel are the two main reasons, based on feedback from troopers.

“The majority of drivers are aware of the hands-free law,” she added. 

 “In reference to Mr. Darnall’s questions,” she continued, “yes, the law specifically states that you are exempt while wearing a hearing device. (It) makes no reference to hearing devices that are transmitted through the cell phone.  

“As far as the leeway that he is looking for…that is up to each individual trooper or officer who makes the stop.  And, it does not hurt to have a doctor’s note handy explaining his circumstances.  

“There is no sticker that would be available to put on your license plate advising of hearing impairment.” 

I suggested the Jerry get a visor mounted cell phone unit and about the same time Leroy McVay of Poulsbo e-mailed with the same suggestion. 

“Ear-mount Blue Tooth doesn’t work for me,” Leroy said. “Got a visor mounted unit at Costco for $39.95, works great! 

“Internal battery, plugs in just like cell phone. They only provide a car cord.  Another advantage is your wife can use it without messing with the ear piece; great if they have hearing aids. They provide an ear bud if you really need privacy.”  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dome light on while driving

 

The in basket: My wife, The Judybaker, asked me if driving with one’s dome light or other interior illumination on in the vehicle is against the law. We both have been told that it’s not a good idea, but I didn’t know the answer to her question.

The out basket: Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for the State Patrol detachment in Bremerton, says, “There is not a law that states that it is illegal to drive with the dome light on.  However, it is harder for a driver to see outside of their

vehicle when dark if they have their dome light on, so it is not

recommended.  

“There are several models of pickup trucks that have a bright white light on

the outside of the truck above the rear window,” Krista continued, “that comes on with the

dome light, which is designed to illuminate the bed of the pickup. Having

that light on IS illegal, and could result in a $124 fine.

“Anyone who has ever been behind a pickup truck with the outer dome light on should know how extremely bright they are,” she said.”

  “White light

illuminated to the rear”  is the infraction, which more commonly occurs with broken tail lights, allowing the plain bulb inside to be seen.

Will salt brine hurt wire in highway structures?

 

The in basket: Jerry Darnall of Kingston noted the Road Warrior about Kitsap County plans to add salt brine to its ice-control measures on county roads this winter (you can find in on the Road Warrior blog if you missed it) and e-mailed to say, “Been watching with interest the new style of retainer wall, both  

the county and the state have been using a lot. 

“A considerable amount of the new (Highway) 305 expansion in Poulsbo is done this way, galvanized metal grid, then filled with compacted rock,” Jerry said. 

“Seemed effective and efficient … until I read that Kitsap is going to start using salt compounds on roads this winter,” he wrote. “While this stuff  

is obviously galvanized, I suspect the overall life of the metal  

component of those retainer walls just dropped by a third.

“While the salt compound may be cheaper up front, I wonder what the longer term costs will be,” Jerry wrote. “Any estimates?”

The out basket: Those are called gabion baskets and have been around for decades, usually inside retaining walls. They have a line of them for what appear to be decorative purposes on the downhill side of the new Kitsap County administrative building in Port Orchard. I haven’t gotten anybody to tell me why they were chosen, so my best guess so far is that they provide a wall that skateboarders can’t skate on.

The brine solution is to be used only on county roads this winter, so unless vehicles drag it with them, state highway impacts wouldn’t be great. 

Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works said the impacts on county roads aren’t expected to be any greater. “We checked with Pierce County, Washington State Department of

Transportation, and the California Department of Transportation to see

if they have had problems with salt-brine and gabion mesh corrosion,” Doug said. “None of the agencies noticed any significant deterioration. An extensive

study was conducted by CALTRANS and is available here:

http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/oppd/hydrology/gabion.htm,” he said.

Toll statement charge hits non-computer owners

 

The in basket: Merwin Linsley of Central Kitsap wasn’t happy when he got a notice from the Good to Go! folks who collect Tacoma Narrows Bridge tolls saying he’ll be charged $1.50 a month for his statements in the future, which he can avoid by getting his by e-mail.

“I don’t have a computer and a lot of other people don’t, too.” he protested.

The out basket. About 28,000 account holders have been getting there statements in the mail since the bridge opened, at no charge until now, says Janet Matkin of Good to Go!.

“It was a means of ensuring that customers were familiar and comfortable with the way the electronic toll collection would work,” she said. “The intention was always to begin charging for statements after the first year.” The terms and conditions all of us received with our transponders said a fee could be applied.

The state has been looking hard at ways to cut costs to lessen pressure for toll increases. I’m sure that reducing the number of mailed statements, and charging $1.50 for those that remain, was an obvious cost-cutting measure. 

The statements will be mailed quarterly from now on, not monthly, so it will come to $6 a year, the equivalent of about two crossings in tolls, for people like Merwin. The first such charge, to be deducted from the individual’s pre-paid account and credited to the same account as the tolls, will begin in December.

The amount was set in April 2007,  Janet said, and is in the Washington Administrative Code.

Merwin and others like him can save the $1.50 by forgoing his statements altogether, Janet said. He can phone 1-866-936-8246 for a verbal report. And, of course, he can get a computer and go online, and get the no-charge e-mailed statements.

 

Fast yellows alleged at camera intersections

 

The in basket: A Bremerton woman who asked for anonymity and John Hamby, of Central Kitsap both feel there sometimes isn’t enough time to stop safely at the Bremerton intersections with the red light enforcement cameras on Warren Avenue, at the Olympic College light in the woman’s case and at 11th Street in John’s. 

“This is a shorter intersection,” said the woman, whose husband was cited for running a red light at the college, “and if you are doing 30 mph and are at the crosswalk when the light turns yellow, you can’t stop or you’d be in the middle of the intersection. 

“Maybe if this light has a lot more tickets (than others), they might need to look into lengthening the yellow light,” she said. She wondered what statistics from that intersection and others show.

John delayed a vacation to protest a ticket he got at Warren and 11th when the camera caught him. He believes that a week or so after his violation, he saw the same light, the one northbound, give him only about a second of yellow to stop, which he managed to do by jamming on his brakes, he said. 

That led him to question the length of the yellow light the day he WAS cited.

John Quatermass of Gig Harbor told me over coffee that in some cities, the private contractor who provides, runs and profits from the red light cameras sets the length of the yellow lights, a conflict of interest.

Finally, when I told a group of old timers gathered for coffee in downtown Bremerton that I had never seen a short yellow light, a few of them said they had, and attributed it to a bus or emergency vehicle having taken control of the light so it didn’t have to stop.

The out basket: I told the Bremerton woman that being in an intersection on a red light isn’t an infraction if the driver didn’t enter the intersection on red. As long as the car is across the wide white stop bar before the light turns red, there is no violation. So the width of the intersection has nothing to do with it. Even if it did, I told her, it would be the wider intersections, not the smaller ones, where a driver wouldn’t be all the way across before the light is red.

I watched both intersections through several cycles one weekday and never saw a yellow light shorter than the three seconds or so that is standard with all the traffic signals around here, with or without enforcement cameras. 

I asked Greg Cryder, Bremerton’s signal chief, about the length of the yellow lights in the city. Just to cover all the bases, I also asked him if it is even possible for the yellow lights to be shortened at times, such as by a prankster, criminal or terrorist who somehow got control of the system. 

“No one can gain control of our signal system,” Greg said. “To make changes at most of our signals, you must open the cabinet and down load directly into the controller. 

“Opticom (the system that lets authorized vehicles change the lights) will make the signal act differently than normal,” he said. “(But) the yellow

time is still 3.0 to 3.5 seconds, regardless.

“The person who got the ticket should watch the video (of the violation). It will show the state of the light before and after the infraction. 

“The red light corporation and our police department have to review the pictures and videotape to ensure that it meets the requirements to be a good ticket. 

“If the person received the ticket, I would assume that two  independent people reviewed it and determined it to be a good ticket,” Greg concluded.

Bremerton police Lt. Pete Fisher said city employees, not the contractor, set the length of the yellow lights in Bremerton.

He hasn’t been able to tell me if the light at the college has proportionately more camera-recorded violations than elsewhere.

John Hamby went to court on Oct. 24 to plead his case. I was there. In the next Road Warrior, I’ll tell you what I saw in court that day.

 

 

 

 

In the red light camera court

 

The in basket: In the previous Road Warrior, we looked at claims that the yellow lights at some of the Bremerton intersections where cameras record red light violations are unfairly short. 

The inquiry led me to the court of Bremerton Municipal Judge Pro Tem Amanda Harvey for a calendar of red light enforcement hearings, where I was enlightened and surprised by some of the things I saw.

The out basket: John Hamby of Central Kitsap was among those hoping to avoid the $124 fine for running a red light, on northbound Warren Avenue at 11th Street in his case.

John was reluctant to concede that the video of his infraction, which he watched in the court office before seeing it in the courtroom, showed that he was guilty. But the video showed him getting the standard three seconds of yellow and then just missing getting into the intersection before it turned red.

Judge Harvey tells those who appear before her that if they contest the ticket and lose that she will impose the full $124. Those who “mitigate” it, conceding the violation but offering an explanation, may have the fine reduced.

John saw the way the wind was blowing and “mitigated,” as did everyone else in court that day who had been caught by a cameras running the red light. Harvey knocked off $34 from his fine. I didn’t see anyone who mitigated not receive at least $34 off. One white-haired woman got a $64 reduction.

Elected Municipal Court Judge Jim Docter tells me what I saw was pretty typical of what occurs in camera court each day.

Bremerton Finance Officer Cathy Johnson says revenue from the cameras is keeping up with expectations anyway. It came to $546,000 from April through September, she said. Also as expected, the number of tickets per month has dropped, which proponents will regard as a sign of success for the program. 

Many of the tickets were dismissed the day I was in court. Those drivers testified under oath that they weren’t in the car at the time of the infraction. Some said a friend or relative had the car, or that it was in the shop and probably was out for a test drive at the time.

Harvey universally dismissed every ticket upon such a claim from the car owner. I’m told the city doesn’t check on the truth of those excuses. But if a person somehow got caught lying, he or should could be charged with perjury, a felony with a much steeper penalty than $124.

I was struck by the large number of tickets issued for a right turns on red, in which the driver didn’t come to a complete stop. There were a lot more of them than those for running a red light while proceeding through the intersection or turning left.

A Chinese fellow who needed an interpreter to make his case alibied that he’d watched since he was cited and that  everyone rolls through the 11th and Warren right turn just like he did. Perhaps so, Harvey said, but it’s still illegal. She cut his fine by $44.

I realize that I often am just shy of a complete stop when I make such turns, especially when a complete stop would mean a pack of approaching cars on the intersecting street would then keep me from making the turn until they had all passed.

I have had to remind myself to do it legally, especially at the camera-enforced intersections in Bremerton. 

I also learned that the cameras record the speed of the cars, but that can’t be used to support a speeding citation. It’s part of how the camera knows when to record a violation.

 

More speed limit signs asked for SK road

 

The in basket: Rachel Rogers thinks all the housing development, completed or yet to come, near McCormick Woods in South Kitsap have created a need for more speed limit signs on Anderson Hill Road. 

“How does one go about requesting additional speed limit signs be placed on a road?” she asked. “In the past year, I know several people who have received speeding tickets on Anderson Hill Road. However, there are only two speed limit signs on the road, one southbound, immediately after you turn onto the road from Old Clifton Road and the other northbound, immediately after you enter the road from Highway 3.  

“If you enter Anderson Hill from a side street or miss the speed limit sign when you turn onto the road,” she said, “you have no idea what the speed limit is.  

“With the increase in traffic due to The Ridge and a future increase due to the community being built behind The Ridge, it would seem smart to increase the signage on this road so that drivers new to the area are obeying the speed limit.  

The out basket:  Kitsap County Public Works will review the situation, says Jeff Shea, it’s traffic engineer, but he sounds skeptical about the benefits of adding signs. 

“A motorist would have had to pass a speed limit sign coming from Old Clifton or Highway 16 to get to a side street, and would have been aware of the speed limit,” he said. “Our policy is to sign speed limits at speed changes and in both directions of significant side roads.  

“A lot of extra speed limit signs do very little to slow traffic down,” he added. “(But) .  our goal is awareness of the speed limit by the public. Based on new development in the area and along Anderson Hill we will review your reader’s request to see if additional signs are warranted.”

The answer to Rachel’s initial question, about where to request additional speed limit signs on Kitsap County roads, is the same as for those seeking lowered (or raised) speed limits, roadside brush cutting or any other change. Call the county’s Open Line, at (360) 337-5777.

Keep buses out of ferry terminal scramble?

 

The in basket: John Holbrook wrote last January about the congestion around the Bremerton ferry terminal on weekday afternoons and suggested that transit buses let automobile traffic clear before adding themselves to it.

“Around 5:30 p.m.,  the possibly fullest boat of the day arrives in Bremerton,” John said.

“Two bumper-to-bumper lines of cars pour onto Washington Avenue intent on getting home. Often traffic backs up from  the traffic light at Burwell clear onto the boat itself!  

“Into this mess come charging six-plus Kitsap Transit

buses from the terminal equally intent on getting to where they are going.

“Throw in hordes of pedestrians crossing without even looking at Second Street or jaywalking in front of the hotel(and it’s) a recipe for a dangerous situation at

best.  Add in darkness and rain and it really gets bad!

“In the last few weeks my car has been nearly hit several times,” John said..

“All but a couple of the buses move to the left as soon as they come out of

the terminal ramp!  These drivers do not hesitate to use the bulk of their

vehicles to force their way into the lane they want!”

“Seems to me if (the buses’) departure was delayed

just 10 minutes most of the traffic would have time to get out of their way.”

The out basket: I didn’t expect Kitsap Transit to be very receptive to the idea, as among its missions is to make using the bus more attractive than driving one’s car, to encourage ridership and reduce traffic on the roadways. 

Transit CEO Dick Hayes didn’t surprise me when he replied, “Without disputing the letter writer’s assertions about the congestion problems at the Bremerton Transportation Center as boats unload in Bremerton in the afternoon, Kitsap Transit very much disagrees with his stated priorities for access and merging.

“Our position is that because the buses carry a number of people, buses deserve equal if not better access to the roadway, however congested it may be. 

Dick continued, “It will remain our position that the buses not only have every right to be there, but also, under state law, that buses have a right to merge that supersedes the merging of individual autos.”

Those triangular Yield signs you see on the backs of buses are backed up by state law that would make a merging accident the car driver’s fault if he or she didn’t yield to a bus and they collided. 

“With the completion of the tunnel next year,” Dick continued, “a significant portion of car traffic exiting the ferry will be re-routed (away from Washington Avenue) and merging issues will become much more manageable.  The issues for pedestrians will, of course, remain basically the same, but buses and pedestrians are generally a safe mix, so we are hopeful that the overall situation will improve substantially, and that our long-term goal for a downtown bus and pedestrian priority zone will be realized. 

“I appreciate that this will not help the letter writer merge more quickly, but clearly, philosophically, he and the transit system are miles apart,” Dick concluded.

 

Why must city share in tunnel maintenance costs?

The in basket: Ernie Moreno of Bremerton read a report in this paper in September that described the city of Bremerton’s share of annual maintenance costs on the downtown ferry egress tunnel that is nearing completion. 

“We had a ballot whether we wanted that or not,” Ernie said, “and we voted no. Then Norm Dicks got it done. Why should we have to share maintenance cost on a state highway?”

The city will pick up $17,000 of the tunnel’s estimated $58,000 in maintenance each year, mostly in labor costs to maintain the appearance of the tunnel, the storm drain systems, fire alarm systems and two emergency phones. The state will pay the rest.

The out basket: I didn’t recall there having been such a vote, and Lynn Price, city project manager for the tunnel, says there was none. 

“As part of the project’s environmental assessment , citizen input was obtained at several open houses and a public hearing, but no votes were taken,” he said. Opponents of the tunnel asked for one, an advisory vote, but the city council said no, as reader Bob Meadows points out in a comment below.  

“The tunnel is part of (Highway) 304” Lynn said, “and as such the allocation of

maintenance responsibilities between and the city and the state is generally covered under RCW 47.24.020.  Since a tunnel is not specifically mentioned in (that law), it was necessary to for the city and

the state to come to an agreement on the non-standard elements that are

part of a tunnel.” 

That law has 16 clauses, one of which says a city will provide street lighting, street cleaning and snow removal and maintain storm drains on state highways passing through it. 

“The agreement was developed,” Lynn said, ‘”with the understanding that the city is

receiving benefits from the project including reducing vehicular traffic

on the downtown surface streets and thereby reducing pedestrians-vehicle

conflicts. The city will be maintaining those items that are within our normal area

of responsibility for state routes within the city.”