Monthly Archives: January 2011

Cell phones and texting at ferry terminals

The in basket: Back in October, a commenter on the Road Warrior blog had this to ask after reading a column that said the cell phone and texting laws that had made violations a primary offense a few months earlier didn’t apply on private property:

“How about enforcing cell phone use on the docks while loading the boats?” asked the commenter, identified only as Red.

“People complain that the boats aren’t leaving on time…Well, when someone is on the phone and not paying attention, this slows down the loading process…and it is my understanding the docks are public property not private.”

As I mulled over his question, it occurred to me that the answer might vary depending on whether the car was moving, momentarily still during loading or had its motor turned off while its driver waited for a ferry. Further, the same distinctions would apply in the shoulder holding areas outside the terminals at Bainbridge Island, Kingston and elsewhere.

I asked how the law would be applied in such situations.

The out basket: Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol office here says that despite wording in both laws specifying that they apply to “moving motor vehicles,” WSP’s position is that being stopped momentarily, such as at a stop light, does not allow a driver to text or hold a cell phone to the ear briefly.

And the same philosophy would apply in a ferry holding area. “When stopped in a holding lane at the ferry you are still technically on a state route and can be issued a ticket for use of a cell phone.  However, I would be surprised if I heard of troopers ticketing drivers while in a holding lane. This applies to those areas inside and outside of the terminal. This is really where common sense needs to come into play.”

I took it one step further and asked if texting while actually on the ferry crossing the Sound might get a person cited and she said simply, “No. That would be ridiculous.”

Lastly, I asked if WSP would seek amendment of the two laws to remove the “moving” wording and she said the agency has no such intention.

Look closely at your new license plates

The in basket: Sharon Vancil of South Kitsap had the pleasure of replacing the license plates on her 1998 CRV in January, but was surprised to get only one plate. Knowing that the  law requires front and back plates, she wondered what she should do.

The out basket: Before I even got an inquiry turned in to the state, Sharon had solved her own mystery, and the answer might save some of you readers the same puzzlement in the future.

She called the county auditor’s office where she’d gotten the plate and an employee said that today’s plates are so thin, they stick together and appear to be a single plate.

And, sure enough, when she looked closely, there were two plates after all.

It reminded me of the mess I made the first time I tried to stick a Good to Go! transponder to my windshield and I tried to peal the backing off the wrong side.

Anyway, when the state’s mandatory every-seven-year plate replacement hits you,

if you think you’ve gotten only one plate, look again.

Sandy Silverdale sidewalk spurs a spill

The in basket: Leslie Varner found the sidewalk in front of Central Kitsap High School a perilous place to walk in Jan. 24.

“We were walking down Bucklin Hill beside CK High and it

was a real challenge with all the road sand on the sidewalk,” Leslie said. “My guess is it’s overspray from sanding the roads.

“It’s a steep area and traveled on daily by students.

I’m really concerned that someone is

going to slip and actually fall in front of a car.  The cars are picking

up speed to head up the hill towards Seabeck.  I actually did slip on

the sand and fall down last night. Luckily at my age, crashing to the

ground is a bruising experience, but does not cause broken bones.”

The out basket: I asked if the county includes sidewalks in the places it sweeps up sand from the winter ice and snow control, as it does and already has begun on the roads itself, including shoulders.

Doug Bear, spokesman for Kitsap County Public Works replied, “Keeping sidewalks free from snow, ice and other obstructions is the responsibility of the person or entity whose property abuts the sidewalk, per Chapter 9.28.020 of the Kitsap County Code. Kitsap County Public Works does not normally maintain or clear sidewalks during snow and ice operations.  I contacted the Central Kitsap School District on behalf of your reader and they responded immediately to clean the sand from the sidewalks.”

The “accordian effect” and “shockwave traffic jams”

The in basket: Dustin Butler of Port Orchard writes, “I’ve noticed over the years that the merge at the Bremerton treatment plant on Highway 3 doesn’t really cause the huge backups. The same is true coming onto the freeway from Navy Yard City too, now that the HOV lane is there.  The problem actually seems to start with people not speeding up again after the merge or slowing down well after the merge, possibly nervous when meeting with the other lane.
Recently, Dustin said, “I went through there during the normal (about 4 p.m.) rush hour. Since it was holiday, there was no back-up of cars merging, but well after we were in one lane, but before meeting up with the second lane, all the cars came to a complete stop then started creeping slowly not gaining speed until after meeting the other lane. That is just one example of seeing this hundreds of times in this area.
“In other areas (I can’t recall an exact area, but California I believe),” he said, “I have seen signs that say maintain speed or similar wording.  Is there any evidence these signs work and has the state considered trying something like this in this area?  The small cost of the experiment would save millions in waste even if it just worked a little.” he concluded.

I doubt that very many of those who pass through that area at weekday rush hour would agree that the merge doesn’t cause the backups, but I often see what Dustin describes slightly ahead at about Windy Point, when all the merging of Highway 3 and 304 traffic is complete.

I asked state officials if the highway pros have an explanation for the phenomenon there and other places where traffic regularly comes to a standstill for no reason that is apparent when one finally gets to the point where traffic starts moving freely again. I also ask about the practical impact of “Maintain Speed” signs.

The out basket: Steve Bennett, traffic operations engineer for the Olympic Region of state highways, replies, “I’m not sure if this applies to your question exactly, as I generally think of this happening on longer corridors, but there is something called the accordion effect that may explain this phenomenon.

“Basically, it occurs went traffic is heavy and for some reason a driver slows. This then sends a ripple of braking down the corridor, each driver, in turn, slowing slightly more than the driver ahead of him.  If the line is long enough or speeds slow enough, this can eventually get the trailing traffic to zero mph.”

Steve referred us to a New York Times article about “shockwave traffic jams” that can be seen at

http://freakonomics.blogs.nytimes.com/2008/03/10/what-causes-traffic-jams-you/.

It includes a video of a Japanese experiment that created  a shockwave jam in which a vehicle slowing creates a shockwave behind it that grows until traffic is barely moving  at all. The test in the video involved a whole bunch of cars traveling in a circle at 30 miles per hour until something caused the cars to bunch up and slow. Check it out.

As for “Maintain Speed” signs, Steve says, ‘No, there is no evidence that these types of signs have any effect on traffic.  Drivers tend to drive the speed they feel comfortable going and will not modify their behavior because a sign tells them to do so.”

305 culvert job creates a dip in pavement

The in basket: Gary Nolta writes, “I travel Highway 305 four or five times a week, and I have noticed that the road is sinking where they have been working with the stream for the fish under the road.

“There was no dip there before the work began. It is really noticeable in the south bound lane. Hopefully they will fix it before the contractors leave,” he said.

It was noticeable but not alarming when I looked for it on a drive along 305 a while ago. I asked if the office handling the culvert replacement there was aware of it.

The out basket: Jerry Moore, project engineer for the state on that job, says, “Yes, I am aware of the dip in the road. Two to three months ago we had profiled the road so that potential settlement could be monitored.  There was some minor settlement a month ago but that was not enough to be of concern.  Just recently the settlement of the roadway has increased and is noticeable.  Now that the pipe insertion work is done we are evaluating what is the best course of action addressing the dip in the roadway.”

Are Highway 304 HOV lanes enforced?

The in basket: William C. Simons of Grapeview writes, “Every time I come out or into Bremerton by the shipyard I watch the cars traveling in the HOV lane.  Over half of the cars traveling in the HOV lane are single occupant.

“I was wondering if there is any plan to enforce the two-person rule for travel in the lane.  To date it isn’t being enforced so they should just take the signs down and let everyone share the road.”

While I asked about it, I also asked how troopers can be sure of violations when someone lying  down in back, even an infant in a car seat, makes the driver eligible to use the HOV lane.

The out basket: The State Patrol did an emphasis patrol there one day last year, and Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the local detachment says, “I don’t feel it’s a safe assumption to say that the laws aren’t being enforced in the carpool lane along SR304.  Troopers do regularly work that area, but as with any area within the county, you shouldn’t expect to see a trooper there every day.”

I’m also told that reducing the hours of the HOV limitations on 304 remains under discussion.

As for my final question, Krista says, “In situations as you mentioned (car seats, tinted windows, person lying down, etc) once the mistake was realized, the driver would be let go.”

Do highly reflective plates aid speed enforcement?

The in basket: An online commenter who goes by Mike made the following surprising comment on the Road Warrior column at kitsapsun.com, about the requirement for front license plates in this state .

“Of course there is no plan to eliminate the front plate,” he said. “The State Patrol (revenue collectors?) need the nice reflective surface for their laser guns to check your compliance while they sit in the unmarked car without lights on the right-of-way in the dark. This is the real reason that you are forced to replace perfectly good plates every few years!”

I’ve never really understood resentment about the way one gets caught doing wrong, which seems to underlie Mike’s complaint. But I suppose it’s no different that the well established practice of throwing out court cases if the search that led to the arrest is found wanting.

I asked whether Mike is right about laser’s reliance on the plates, and whether there is anything to prohibit roadside speed enforcement at night from a darkened patrol car.

The out basket: Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol detachments here says, “In no way does a reflective license plate contribute to the effectiveness of a radar/laser.  The purpose of a front license plate on a vehicle is strictly for identification purposes.

“There is nothing (in the) law or WSP policy that prohibits police vehicles (marked or unmarked) from performing radar speed enforcement at night. That includes parking stationary with lights out.” she said.

How often are cell phone/texting tickets written?

The in basket: Mike Wray writes, “My wife and I were very dutiful about getting a hands-off device for our cells while driving, commonly called a Bluetooth, so we could comply with the new law that went into effect last June.  However, we still see multitudes of drivers of all ages who either choose to ignore, or are ignorant of the law.

“Can you address the efforts of local law enforcement to curb this or at least a few unannounced emphasis patrols?   We can’t be the only folks who see the huge number of drivers who continue to use their hand-held devices to call or text.”

The out basket: My wife regularly reports to me when we pass a driver with a cell phone to his or her ear, so I’m sure the law is routinely violated. I don’t see if myself very often, as looking to my right for more than a glance while I’m at the wheel is chancy.

I asked the three largest law enforcement offices here for some figures for cell phone and texting citations since they became primary offenses that can be ticketed without an underlying infraction last June.

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office says KCSO’s deputies have issued 196 tickets since June 1 for having a cell phone to the driver’s ear, and six for texting.

Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police traffic division says his officers have written 144 cell phone citations and two texting tickets, nearly all during two emphasis patrols in June and July.

And Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the Bremerton State Patrol office, says its troopers have stopped 296 drivers for cell phone use (132 tickets issued) and 14 for texting (6 tickets issued).  “The decision to issue a ticket is entirely at the officers discretion,” she added.

None of the three said so, but I must assume the comparatively few texting citations, despite the greater danger texting represents, can be attributed to the greater ability to carry it on out of sight of a passing car, compared to having a cell phone at one’s ear.

Scott Wilson adds, “Sheriff’s deputies are well aware of what’s occurring out there with certain drivers who seem to disregard these more recent laws, in total.  Patrol / traffic deputies can’t be everywhere.

“A number of drivers will ‘get away with it’ probably many, many times.  The one time they will wish that they had paid attention will be when they are the ‘at fault’ driver in a motor vehicle collision due to their failure to comply with the law.”

.

Sidney in PO due some paving, but not where reader wants

The in basket: Ken Hartung thinks Sidney Road in Port Orchard from Lippert Drive to its dead end at Stetson Place is long overdue for paving. He said “it looks like the paved from Tremont to Lippert and then they just quit. It is terrible.”

The out basket: Maybe so, but the city of Port Orchard believes some other streets to be more in need of spending its limited paving money on, says Mark Dorsey, its public works director.

“We hope in 2011 to overlay Sidney between Tremont and South Street, Sedgwick between Lowe’s and our westerly city limits (up to where the county paved just outside the city recently) .and possibly South Kitsap Boulevard if we have any remaining dollars.”

Work on Sidney from Lippert south isn’t even in the city’s six-year TIP (Transportation Improvement Plan) that looks ahead to 2016. Ken and anyone who agrees with him might make their views known to the city council near the end of the year when the TIP is updated each year.

Concerning all-way stops and rolling right turns

The in basket: Alison Loris says in an e-mail, “I have noticed that many drivers do not bother to come to a stop at a four-way-stop sign or traffic light if they are making a right turn, not even a “California stop.”  The intersection of Perry and Sylvan in East Bremerton is just about the worst I’ve seen, but it happens elsewhere too.  Some drivers don’t even appear to glance at the other cars at the intersection.  Surely this is illegal as well as dangerous! The practice of ignoring the four-way stop is irritating to drivers who do wait their turn.”

The out basket: Yes, it’s illegal, but a common practice, and hardly new. Drivers have been doing it as long as I can remember.

The red light cameras being deployed in Bremerton and elsewhere serve their supposed function almost exclusively in the deterrence of that infraction. Most camera-based citations are for rolling right turns.

And they are dangerous, to pedestrians who are trying to cross at the intersection.

It also is quite understandable at Perry and Sylvan, for drivers turning from westbound Sylvan onto northbound Perry. It’s an uphill grade and getting restarted  from a full stop on Sylvan regularly involves some spinning of the tires in the sand on the road. Keeping up one’s momentum in that turn is an attractive tactic.