Monthly Archives: December 2008

Are Highway 305 traffic detectors working?

 

The in basket: Patti Mitchell thinks there is something wrong with the traffic detectors on the side streets crossing Highway 305 in Poulsbo and left turn pockets there.

The in-pavement detectors were cut during the lengthy widening of 305 the past two years.

“Well, that work has been completed for several months and the automatic signal system is either not activated or is totally out of adjustment,” says Patti. “For example, one can spend what seems like two minutes waiting to turn left off of 305 onto Liberty without one car ever going by on 305 either way.” 

She encounters the same delays on the side streets all along that stretch, she said.

“I see people get frustrated all of the time and some even proceed through a red light after waiting a long time without any cross traffic.”

The out basket: Jim Johnstone and Don Anders of the state’s Olympic Region signal shop say waits that long on Highway 305’s side streets and left turn pockets in Poulsbo are entirely possible, and the signal timing that results in those waits is intentional.

The lights are coordinated with one another to move the maximum amount of traffic through the city. “One of the most important elements of this timing plan is to flush mainline traffic through Poulsbo,” Jim said. “This is based upon input from the Poulsbo City Council and their desire to coordinate the signals to maximize mainline flow.”

“We warned them they’d see complaints on the side streets,” added Don, but the council asked for the timing scheme that is in place.

Jerry Moore, project engineer on the widening, says, “With the exception of one side street loop at Hostmark, all of the detection along (Highway) 305 through Poulsbo is operational and the signals are operating as intended. 

“The signals through Poulsbo are coordinated from 6:45 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. weekdays and 11:00 a.m. until 7:00 p.m. on weekends,” he said, “and are operating a 120-second cycle length during coordination.  

“When the ferry offloads the 120 seconds is not always enough for the traffic demand on the mainline and during non-ferry times the 120 seconds can seem excessive because of the left turn and side street delay,” he said.

Moving in and out of coordination to match ferry traffic pulses, something they tried years ago, resulted in confusion and problems when ferry arrivals were off schedule, Don said.

Outside the hours of coordination, the detectors will react to waiting traffic on the side streets and turn pockets much more quickly, he said. 

A primer on signal coordination can be found on line at www.wsdot.wa.gov. Fill in Signal Coordination in the search box. Don also says he’ll be happy to show citizens around the signal shop in Tumwater and explain what they do and how they do it. He’s at (360) 357-2616.

 

Snow attack on Kitsap roads, Part II

 

The in basket: In the previous Road Warrior, Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works discussed discussed the standing plowing priorities during the recent long spell of ice and snow, priorities described on the county’s Web site at www.kitsapgov.com/pw/snowplow.htm. 

I asked him to describe how the priorities are put into play when the snow is on the roads.

The out basket: “Our crews began working around-the-clock 12-hour shifts at 11:00 p.m. December 13,” Doug said. “At the beginning of each shift, crews meet with the supervisor or assistant supervisor to discuss priorities for that shift. Plow drivers are assigned a specific area and specific class of road to sand and plow. 

“They are in constant contact with the supervisor while they are on the road. In addition we keep a direct line with CenCom and work with them to identify urgent needs from law enforcement, fire and rescue and other emergency responders. 

“The plow drivers work on the particular class of road assigned (primary, secondary, etc.) but do have some latitude to vary as conditions warrant. If they see a particular need they radio the supervisor or assistant supervisor (to) get permission to deviate from the priority plowing plan. This was often the case working with Puget Sound Energy to restore power to residents.”

The priority plowing plan “is developed with the help of law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency management (DEM), and other emergency responders. The priority is given to lifeline routes, and to those roads that move the highest volume of traffic,” he said.

“Our crews worked very hard, gave up leave time, and spent nights, weekends, and their Christmas holiday serving others. I’m proud of the response.

As they did following the catastrophic rain storm of Dec. 3, 2007, they’ll be reviewing the response internally, and with emergency providers to ask what could have been done better. “I kept many emails and voice comments we are using to analyze our response and refine our approach,” he said. That review may include evaluation of which roads are designated primary routes and which are not.

Doug also sounds a warning we all should heed.

“This was two weeks of challenges, but imagine a major earthquake with roads damaged beyond repair for months, maybe even years. 

“Many residents called saying they had unique circumstances. They have elderly in their neighborhood, they have doctor appointments or surgery scheduled, they are out of medicine, or can’t get to the store. 

“Those situations are not unique at all. Most every neighborhood has the same needs. Each of us need to consider our personal needs and do what we can to prepare for what may happen.” Being sure to know your neighbors, getting critical medications refilled for the the longest possible duration and finding out what one’s heating fuel provider can and can’t do in an emergency are good ideas, he said

“While we all pay taxes and certainly are right to assume government can help,” Doug said, “there are going to be times when (it) can’t respond, or can’t respond as quickly as we would like. Each of us needs to be ready to take steps to help ourselves in an emergency.  DEM has some great preparedness tips at their website www.kitsapdem.org.” 

 

 

Post mortum on county snow removal

 

The in basket: I can count on a prolonged snow and freeze to generate questions and complaints about snow removal or the lack of it. 

Heidi Hottinger and Mike Dalgaard were two who wrote me the past week. Heidi lives on Duesenberg Court on the Silverdale Ridgetop and wondered why Ridgetop Boulevard was plowed several times by county equipment, which hadn’t come to their cul-de-sac and others in that area even once. Avante Drive, which feeds three of those cul-de-sacs, also went unplowed. 

“What about the considerable number of residential roads that feed to Ridgetop?,” she asked. “In previous snow-years (even the famous 1996 snow) we were plowed by the third day. What is the ‘grand plan’?”

Mike said Baby Doll Road in South Kitsap degenerated to two frozen ruts “so deep you went where the ruts sent you and had little or no control over the driving ‘line’ you wanted to take.” He had some harsh words for road crews who didn’t make it better.

The out basket: I agree with Merry Quy, whose letter to the editor in Tuesday’s paper suggested gratitude, not criticism, of road crews trying to make or keep the roads passable. You won’t find me having a hard word for people working 12-hour shifts in freezing, slippery conditions, even though you know some are more motivated than others, as in any group of people.

Heidi got a lot of her questions answered after I referred her to the county’s Snow Plan Web site (www.kitsapgov.com/pw/snowplow.htm), which shows Ridgetop to be a primary road, while Avante, its cul-de-sacs and (surprisingly) Baby Doll are not. Primary roads get cleaned before lesser ones. 

Comparison to the 1996 storm, which capsized much of the Port Orchard Marina, threatened the Warren Avenue Bridge and destroyed Albertsons at Clare’s Marsh is instructive. 

Heidi said she’d lived here for 14 years, so she doesn’t recall the prolonged sieges of December 1990, November 1985 and others that much more resembled what we just experienced. 

Doug Bear, spokesman for Kitsap County Public Works, says, “The ‘96 storm dumped a large amount of snow at one time, followed by a rapid warming. The impact was significant, but the snow and ice portion of the event was much shorter lived than the recent storm.

“Up to six separate fronts moved through since December 13 (this time),” he said. “Each storm negated any progress we had made, and moved our crews back to square one. We did get a brief break the 22nd and 23rd, which allowed us to get to some secondary roads. But new snow the evening of the 23rd and during the day on the 24th wiped out that progress.” 

He estimates that the county’s 24 large plows and auxiliary equipment, like graders, moved 2.7 million cubic yards of snow from the roads that were plowed. 

“Plows run at 20-25 mph so you can see it takes some time get to it all,” he added. The 12-hour shifts, which earn the truck drivers overtime for anything over 40 hours in a week, are offset by breakdowns, shift changes and runs back to the sand supply to reload.  

“We (also) dealt with sub-freezing weather daily for almost two weeks,’ he said. “Most freezing weather doesn’t last here and we usually warm above freezing during the day. That makes it much easier to plow and requires less repeat sanding. During this current storm, the constant sub-freezing temps made plowing on primary roads more difficult, and delayed the move to (other) roads.”

As for Baby Doll Road, it was like many others, including the road he lives on in South Kitsap, Doug said. “Because these roads were not plowed, once temperatures warmed and traffic traveled them, they became rutted and in many places became essentially roads with just two tracks through them.”

I asked how much latitude the drivers have in deciding what to plow, and how the daily and minute-to minute decisions are made. That will be the subject of the next Road Warrior.

 

False alarm about sign at dreaded Bremerton merge

The in basket: Cpl. Bob Millard of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office made a wholly unexpected comment at a coffee group a while back when the conversation turned to the much-discussed rush-hour backup on southbound Highway 3 approaching Highway 304 at the west end of Bremerton. 
He said all the discussion of what’s legal or polite in moving over to the left lane early or staying in the right lane until a merge is physically necessary is theoretically settled long before a driver even reaches the backup. 
It’s way back nearly to the Kitsap Way overpass, he said, where a sign says “Thru Traffic Kept Left.” It’s a white sign with black lettering, which makes it a regulatory sign as opposed to an advisory sign. Advisory signs usually are yellow. 
He’d never stopped anyone for staying in the right lane and never expects to, Bob said, but it would be theoretically possible.
I was dumbfounded. Bob’s analysis seemed sound, but if true it would make illegal any use of the right lane beyond the Loxie Eagans off-ramp, the last chance to do anything EXCEPT go straight.
The same sign is posted in the curve in Gorst as one heads to Bremerton, but it’s past the point where anything but proceeding straight is possible. 
I asked the intent and significance of those signs.
The out basket: I wasn’t alone in my surprise. State Trooper Krista Hedstrom, my source for WSP information, admitted she’d never even noticed the sign until I asked. She said Bob Millard appeared to be correct, based on the color of the sign, but that she couldn’t find anyone in the local detachment who had ever enforced it.
But it turns out not to be a regulatory sign despite its color. There is no state law that makes ignoring it a violation, said Lisa Murdock of the state Department of Transportation.
Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the state’s Olympic Region elaborated. He said, “At one time black/white was also used for informational signing, but that use is being phased out.”
An example is the recent conversion of the black/white Speed Zone Ahead signs, the very essence of an advisory sign, to have a prominent yellow component. The old signs are to be replaced between now and 2018, and many already are.
The Keep Left sign in Gorst is intended to create gaps in the outside lane traffic for cars needing to merge as they enter on the on-ramp from Belfair, he said.
Generally, he said, drivers can used the following color coding to evaluate the need to observe a highway sign:
Black/White – regulatory (enforceable)
Blue – Service Guidance (food, gas, lodging) and tourist info
Brown – Recreational (mainly state parks)
Orange – Temporary traffic control  (work zones)
Yellow – Warning (advisory)
Red – Stop or Prohibition.
As for the merge of highways 3 and 304, things are as they always have been, with each driver free to choose whether to get over early or stay in the right lane to reach the actual merge point.

Reasons for new downtown PO traffic light

 

The in basket: Tracy in Port Orchard, who didn’t leave her last name, cut to the chase regarding the long-delayed new traffic signal in downtown Port Orchard, which still isn’t operational, and asked why the old lights were replaced at all. “It looks like they’re adding a couple huge street lights there too,” she added.

The out basket: Don Anders in the Olympic Region signal shop for state highways, says, “The existing signal system is 50 years old, the existing wood poles are in very poor condition, and we found that to rebuild this system is very difficult because of the existing seawall under the sidewalk. 

“The city began a project to replace the street lights in this corridor and it was discovered that the wood canopy over the sidewalk and these poles supporting the signal were in very poor condition.  We then moved this signal system up the priority list to address this need.” The new street lights are mounted atop the signal poles.

In a past Road Warrior column, Don said that traffic detection at the Bay Street-Sidney Avenue intersection, where the new signal is located, will be restored when it is operational. The old lights have been on timers since the repaving of Bay Street last summer.

 

Pioneer Way light may have detection problem

 

The in basket: Dan Godeke writes to say that he thinks the new traffic signal at Highway 3 and Pioneer Way in North Kitsap has a problem. 

“I have been watching the detector loop on Pioneer Way,” he said, “and found that it is not picking up cars consistently. It will sometimes let only three cars go through the light before turning yellow even when a long string of cars are waiting.

“What I have noticed is that if a long truck is one of the ones going through, the light will quickly turn yellow and I think it is because the loop is not detecting the high undercarriage of the trailer.  The other time I notice this is if several cars in a row turn right, they miss going over the loop and again it thinks no other cars are in line.

“Perhaps what is needed is another loop set back about 50 feet or so that it will see cars still in line waiting when one of the above happens.” Dan suggested.

The out basket: Don Anders, head of the Olympic Region signal shop for the state, says, “We will have a crew check this detection system out, but we normally do not have trouble detecting trucks.”  

He said they may have to adjust the gap time, meaning the period of time, often about three seconds, that tells a traffic signal’s detectors that no more traffic is at the signal, prompting it to turn the light red. They call it “gapping out.”

“It’s important that drivers always stay in the center of the lane, this is the most sensitive area or detection zone,” Don added. “Right turners will sometimes get off center and create this gap out problem.

“On our signals we have advance loops (behind the stop bar loops) on the mainline, but we do not have these on the side road approaches. This is done for two reasons,” he said, “first is the approach speeds are much slower, and second these loops would be outside of our right of way and sometimes on private property.”

I’m glad this came up, because I often see right turners dawdle  in the through lane before moving over, not getting to the through lane detectors but keeping the traffic behind them from getting there before the light gaps out.

Drivers unaware of the concept of gap time should be aware of it as a courtesy to those behind them trying to make the light.

 

How’s Kitsap’s new salt brine working this week?

 

The in basket: Mile Hill Drive near Woods Road in the area in which I live was treacherously icy Sunday morning, even though I had seen one of the Kitsap County’s tanker trucks there Saturday morning spraying the salt brine solution the county had introduced to its arsenal of ice and snow fighters. By Monday morning, the road was bare and dry.

I asked if the solution was living up to expectations.

The out basket: Doug Bear, spokesman for the county’s public works, said he ” had quite the opposite experience,” finding the roads near the Old Clifton Road church where he is directing a play to be bare and dry most of the weekend. “Overall it was very successful in most areas,” he said. “The key is having a period of dry road to apply the brine before the freeze. Based on my conversation with the road supervisors this morning salt-brine is an effective tool to add to our snow and ice arsenal.

He took exception to a suggestion I had heard that reducing cracked windshield claims against the county from the small rocks in sand spread on the roads was a motivating factor in going to brine. 

“It seems a bit cynical to me to assume we would place damage claims above road safety,” Doug said. . “We still use sand and always will. There are many applications where sand is the best tool to use. Salt brine is not a cure-all, and has its limits. It does allow us to use less sand under certain circumstances, which should, ultimately lead to less claims. “But it certainly isn’t even a benefit we considered when we made the decision to use salt brine. “We want to make roads as safe as possible in inclement weather, and whether it is salt or sand, we will use whatever it takes to reach that goal.

The brine solution did cut the amount of sand that would otherwise have been needed on the county roads last weekend nearly in half, he said.

Thursday’s heavy snow was another matter.

“The primary benefit the brine mixture offers is the ability to keep snow and ice from adhering to road surfaces, rather than melting snow. This helps keep roads clear in light snow, and helps make plowing easier in heavier snow. Once you get past a couple of inches of snow, cars compact whatever there is and that can inhibit the ability of the salt brine to prevent adhesion to the road surface. This results in the compact snow and ice on the roads today.

” It does make plowing more efficient because the bond between the compact snow and ice and the road is not as strong.”

The county expects it to remain effective with temperatures into the teens and maybe single digits.

“We use salt brine the same way we use sand,” Doug said. “It’s used first on hills, at intersections, around corners, in areas that remain shaded most of the day, bridge decks, and known areas that are prone to icing. It is also used, like sand, in other areas as conditions warrant. We have three trucks equipped to distribute salt brine, one for each road district. They follow the same priorities described in the county’s snow plowing plan in choosing where to spray.

You can see that plan online at www.kitsapgov.com/pw/snowplow.htm.

 

School buses at railroad crossings

 

The in basket: Sharon O’Hara, a frequent commenter on the Road Warrior blog at kitsapsun.com, used the comment form to ask a question.

“Why do school buses stop at the railroad crossing on Provost Road in Central Kitsap?

“There is no stop sign there but yesterday I followed three school buses and each in turn, came to a full and complete stop at the crossing.”

The out basket: Another blog commenter who goes by Smoking Mouse leaped in with an answer:

“The buses stop because it is required by law,” he said, even including the text of RCW 46.61.350
“The driver of any motor vehicle carrying passengers for hire, other than a passenger car, or of any school bus or private carrier bus carrying any school child or other passenger, or of any vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as a cargo or part of a cargo, before crossing at grade any track or tracks of a railroad, shall stop such vehicle within fifty feet but not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for any approaching train, and for signals indicating the approach of a train and shall not proceed until he can do so safely. 

It also says the bus can’t change gears while crossing the tracks. 

Laura Nowland, acting transportation director for Central Kitsap schools, says that law is expanded upon by the Washington Administrative Code, which repeats much of the law and also requires that noise on the school bus be kept down while the driver checks for approaching trains . 

There are exceptions which would allow the CK buses to not stop at some of the district’s RR crossings, but Laura said it is district policy that its school bus drivers stop and look at all railroad crossings except two where traffic signals control the crossing – on Newberry Hill and on Tresher Avenue on the Bangor base.

Engine size fee is probably a goner

The in basket: John Holbrook included me early this month in forwarding an e-mail to about two dozen people warning of a bill before the Legislature proposing steep additional license tab fees that would be based on the size of a vehicle’s engine. 

The additional fee, the e-mail said, would range from nothing for vehicles with engines of 1.9 liters (115.9 cubic inches) or less to $600 for those 8 liters (488.2 cubic inches) or more.

It was one of those e-mails that hang around in cyberspace and crop up at intervals to alarm the populace. The bill (Senate Bill 6900) actually was before the 2008 Legislature and wasn’t approved. 

I wondered if its sponsors would take another run at it in the 2009 session.

The out basket: Absolutely not, said a staffer for prime sponsor Sen. Rodney Tom from the east side of Lake Washington, letting a letter Tom wrote Dec. 8 serve as elaboration.

The letter says Tom never intended the bill to pass. He said SB 6900’s purpose was “to merely start an important conversation we as a society need to have regarding how we can reduce our adverse environment impacts, while reducing our dependence on foreign oil from an unstable region.

“My frustration stems from the auto companies’ fixation on every car going zero to 60 in under 5 seconds,” he continued. “There are a ton of clean burning diesels in Europe that are getting 50+ MPG. The US auto manufacturers are locked into yesterday’s mentality where they can make $10,000 off every SUV sold.”

The Big Three’s current travails seem not to have modified Tom’s current position.

“All that said,” he concluded, “there was never any intention of actually advancing SB 6900, which has stimulated the kind of important conversation that I had hoped for.”

 

 

Street lights shutting off on green light

The in basket: Jenny Burke of Silverdale reported something very odd about the intersection of Silverdale Way and Randall Way at the north end of Silverdale.

Three times in a couple of months, she was stopped at a red light heading north on Silverdale Way at night. When the light changed to green, all the street lights at the intersection went out, she said. 

I asked if she looked back after proceeding to see if they had come back on, but she hadn’t.

I was stumped by how such a thing could happen. 

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for Kitsap County Public Works, said the most likely explanation is that headlights of cars starting up somehow caused the street light controller to think it was daylight.

“We’ve noted that the photo cell that turns the street lights on at night is positioned in a manner that traffic could impact it.,” he said. “We will be changing the position of the cell in the near future to preclude this from happening.”