Monthly Archives: January 2011

NK’s VMS signs seem to be in perpetual test mode

The in basket: Four readers – Aaron Clark, Arch Wirth, Craig Smith of the Port Ludlow area,  and Wendy Jones of Bainbridge Island – have asked what’s up with the four pedestal style variable message signs in North Kitsap and Jefferson County.

“I drive Highway 3 to Poulsbo most every day,” Aaron said, “and have noticed that the message board sign on northbound 3 before Poulsbo has been displaying a test message since sometime in November.

“The only time I’ve noticed anything else was during the snowstorm when the sign said that the bridge was closed,” he said. “Otherwise it’s been ‘Test’ all different hours including late nights, seven days a week.

“I drove around and back from Seattle last weekend and didn’t see any signs on the other side displaying a message.

“Are the signs actually being tested?” Aaron asked. “Have they defaulted to a test mode instead of turning off when there is no active message? If they are really being tested, what are they actually testing?”

It’s been going on a while. Craig was the first to ask,  back on Nov. 17. The signs are at Discovery Bay, in Poulsbo and near the Hood Canal Bridge as well as the one Aaron mentions

The out basket: The signs are getting new LED lights to display their messages, and the state and vendor of the lights are having a hard time getting them to work the required number of days without a malfunction before they can be put into normal use, I’m told.

Tony Leingang of the state highway department says, “Yes, the signs have been in a process of being upgraded to new LED technology during the past few months. {Our) practice is to test them for an uninterrupted 20-day period. If any component fails during that time the 20-day clock restarts. This ensures we are handed a well functioning system and reduces ongoing maintenance costs on an item that might be out there for 15 to 20 more years before the next replacement cycle.

Tim Brenneis of the Olympic Region signal shop, who is directing the project, said insects often get into the signs and cause shutters that open and close the lights to stick, causing letters to be incomplete, or stray lights not needed for a given message. This will eliminate the shutters and the lights, and save enough money on electricity consumption that the $30,000 or so being spend on each sign will be recouped in perhaps a couple of years.

The “bridge closed” message that Aaron saw was in the new technology, Tim said.

The vendor is here this week and another 20 -day test will begin soon, he said.

Front license plates required, despite all those missing one

The in basket: Bill Rowe asks if Washington state is planning to eliminate the front license plate on vehicles.

“If not, is not having a front license plate a primary offense? Does law enforcement check to see if a vehicle has its front plate when the pull someone over for an infraction?,” he asked.

“I see many cars on the road with no front plates. I have seen as many as 40 in a day,” he said.

The in basket: Funny that Bill picked 40 in his example. I often say that in any group of 40 cars I meet on the highway, I will see at least one without a front plate.

There is no plan to eliminate them, and law enforcement seems to value them in doing their job.

Trooper Krista Hedstrom, spokeswoman for the local State Patrol office, says, “Troopers regularly stop drivers for failure to have a front license plate.

“Yes, I do agree that it is a common violation and one we see often.  In many cases, drivers are let go with a verbal or written warning and are asked to place the license plate back onto their vehicle.  The decision to issue a ticket for this violation is at the officer’s discretion.”

She said checking for a front plate after a traffic stop is not a matter of routine like asking for license, registration and proof of insurance, as walking around the car can put an officer in jeopardy. Usually, the absence of a front plate has been noticed before the vehicle is pulled over, she said.

Lt. Pete Fisher, head of Bremerton police’s traffic division, said “My response mirrors Krista’s.” Deputy Scott Wilson of Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office also agreed and added that a ploy of some drivers to move the plate up onto the dashboard isn’t legal.

The law requires the front plate to be mounted horizontally, at a height no higher than four feet from the ground, typically on the front bumper, he said.

State, county unplug Gorst culvert

The in basket: My wife told me a few weeks ago the state had a bunch of heavy equipment down in the depression just on the Port Orchard side of the turnaround on Highway 166 that allows a driver to go back into Gorst after passing through it heading toward Highway 16.

Then last week I spotted a bunch of people in orange vests and hard hats in the same place, spreading straw around. I asked what the project had been.

The out basket: Duke Stryker, head of state highway maintenance here, said Kitsap County had called his attention to a blockage in the culvert that passes beneath Highway 16 there, which in turn was interfering with the county’s own storm drain systems uphill that feed into the state drainage.

So they sent out a machine that turned out not to be large enough for the job and wound up borrowing a larger excavator and a suction truck, plus an operator for both, from the county.

“They are great to partner with and it’s another example of when we need something, they are willing to help us,” he said.

The crew spreading straw was mostly inmates from one of the state Department of Corrections facilities near here, from which his crews often seek assistance for simple jobs.

Inmates also helped with an unrelated job just across Highway 166 within the last couple of years, when some young alders were cut down and removed, he said. The trees, which shade the highway and contribute to slippery conditions in cold periods such as this one, are easier to remove before they get too big, he said.

Mickelberry X-walk at Costco proposed

The in basket: Don Hein writes,”Since Goodwill moved in across from Costco, there’s more foot traffic across that road, but there’s no painted crosswalk.  The situation likely will become more acute with the arrival of Trader Joe.

“Is there a plan to paint a crosswalk there?” he asks. “Erect a sign?  Flashing light?”

The out basket: Kitsap County considers this a mid-block location (no cross street there) and crosswalks in such places have fallen into disfavor. Bremerton removed most if not all of its mid-block crosswalks years ago.

And whatever increased foot traffic occurs at the Costco-Goodwill site, it doesn’t rise to the level that would warrant a crosswalk, says county Traffic Engineer sJeff Shea.

“Crosswalks are generally used at areas where heavy pedestrian traffic crosses traffic lanes,” he said. “As it is, there is not a lot of pedestrian traffic that crosses there, and there is no current plan to add a crosswalk.

“Placing a crosswalk mid-block also presents unique challenges.  By definition mid-block crosswalks are not near intersections where motorists expect to encounter pedestrians.  In this particular location, there are three lanes of traffic to cross. The turn lane in the middle adds an extra degree of difficulty because vehicles waiting to turn can block a motorist from seeing pedestrians.

“Assuming that enough pedestrians begin crossing here to warrant a crosswalk, more than just paint is needed to provide a safer crossing,” he said. “Additional enhancements are required for an effective pedestrian crosswalk here. Those can include more street lighting, in-street pedestrian activated lights, crosswalk signals, or other devices that would clearly convey the crossing to motorists.”

Jeff didn’t get into it, but there also has been a growing recognition that crosswalks can increase risky pedestrian behavior when someone on foot comes to believe that vehicles will always stop and grows less watchful while crossing.

NK driver finds flashing yellow left signals a hazard

The in basket: Bruce Wilcox of Poulsbo is among those who find Kitsap County’s innovative yellow, blinking left-turn signals to be an accident hazard.

He feels they have “confused a lot of drivers into thinking that they have the right of way when approaching the

intersection,” he said. He said passing through those intersections is “somewhat like playing Russian roulette.

“I have had three incidents going though my green light where some other driver came

though the blinking yellow and I had to brake for them,” Bruce said. “If I took it for granted and just went though the green light like most people do, I would have hit them.”

Though mostly he encounters them in Silverdale, he adds, “I have seen these in other cities and it might be statewide. Whose idea was

this and did anyone properly inform drivers of the rules regarding (them)?”

“I feel this blinking yellow light is an accident waiting to

happen,” he said, adding, ” Are people really that much in a hurry to endanger their lives or others’?”

The out basket: I didn’t give Bruce a lot of comfort, as I am among what appears to be the majority who love the flashing yellows.

There are three of them within a mile of my house near Manchester in South Kitsap and have never had or seen a close call at any of them.

North Kitsapers like Bruce have less chance to familiarize themselves with the yellow flashing lefts, though he sounds like he understands them but encounters other drivers who don’t.

Around here, only Kitsap County is using them on its roads, and it has none north of the Trigger Avenue-Old Frontier Road intersection almost in Silverdale. Therre are many in Silverdale and SK

For the record, the yellow flashing left-turn lights mean the same thing as a green ball light with a sign next to it saying left turners must yield to oncoming traffic on green. It means you don’t have to wait to turn left if no one is coming. But opposing traffic has the right of way.

The county has so much confidence in them that it has them on the two-lane left-turn from Kitsap Mall Boulevard to Randall Way in Silverdale, I notice.

I asked the county what accident statistics are showing at those intersections, compared to the past or to intersections with other left-turn signal controls. And I asked Bruce’s question – Who’s idea were they?

Jeff Shea, the county’s traffic engineer, says, “When we first started implementing this technology, I asked the sheriff’s department to let me know when they get collisions attributable to the flashing yellow arrow. We did see a few during the early implementation of the yellow arrows, some intersections more than others.

“As motorists begin to get used to the signals, there have been fewer and fewer.  But, we still do get the occasional collision because of a motorist misunderstanding the signal indication.  We monitor accidents throughout the county and when locations show collision rates above a county average, we evaluate it to identify causes and determine if there are measures to reduce those collisions.

But they haven’t “had the yellow flashing arrows in long enough to really evaluate them on a county average basis,” he said. “We are simply monitoring the yellow flashing arrow collisions with the assistance of the sheriff’s department.  We are actually hoping we might even see some reduction in collisions due to the reduction in congestion.”

As for whose idea it was, Jeff said, “I don’t remember who actually said, ‘Let’s do it,’  but it was a collaborative effort.  Something to the effect of, ‘We have this new technology we can use that is being approved by (federal authorities) and studies are showing that motorists like and understand it.'”

“We also are getting many complaints from the public about having to wait to turn left at a green through-signal with no opposing traffic.  Also, traffic volumes are growing, leading to more congestion at signals.  With the congestion comes more waiting, which leads to driver frustration, more fuel usage and pollution generation.

“This technology helps us manage some of these problems by reducing red time when motorists are stopped and waiting.”

The cell phone law and bicyclists

The in basket: Kathryn Simpson wonders about the applicability to bicyclists of the ban on cell phone and texting while driving.

“Several times in the past couple of weeks I have seen kids riding their bikes on public roads and talking on their cell phone or texting,” she said. “Can they be cited? Does it make a difference if they don’t have a driver’s license?

“What about me, as a licensed driver, if I’m riding my bicycle on a public road and talking or texting, can I be cited?”

The out basket: No, the two laws that forbid holding a cell phone to one’s ear or texting while at the wheel specify that they apply to moving motor vehicles. So use of a cell phone while bicycling, skateboarding, or otherwise on a rider-powered vehicle is not prohibited.

Despite the “moving” specification in those laws, Trooper Krista Hedstrom, spokesman for the State Patrol  detachment in Bremerton says, it does not allow use of cell phones or texting while stopped in the roadway briefly, such as at a traffic signal.