Monthly Archives: February 2011

Need for new Illahee Road guardrail questioned

The in basket: Bryant Arnold wonders about

some new guardrail he has seen near Bremerton.

“Heading south out of Illahee, climbing the hill towards Trenton,” he said. “we are now the proud owners of new guardrails!

“Having driven that road at least twice a day for the past 12 years I cannot remember ever seeing anyone at the bottom of a ravine, but giving the county the benefit of the doubt how many lives have been lost on that stretch of road?

“Could that money not have been used for a more dangerous problem? Who authorized it and what were their thoughts?”

The out basket: I have driven that stretch far less often than Bryant, but I’m not a total stranger to it and I can’t say I agree with his notion that guardrails are unwarranted there.

In several spots, running off the east side of the road to the east has the potential for rolling one’s car several times unless some trees stop you.

In fact, Bryant said that within a week of his contacting me in early January, a car did run off one of the unprotected spots, but was still visible from the road.

I think a better question is what commended the three sites on that downgrade that recently got guard rail over the four or five comparable drop-offs that didn’t.

The out basket: Kitsap County Traffic Engineer Jeff Shea says, “Running off the road is historically the most frequent type of collision on county roads. The danger increases when you run off the road and hit a fixed object or roll over on an embankment, often resulting in injury, and in some cases fatalities.

“We are working to bring all county roads up to clear-zone standards by eliminating safety issues or protecting motorists from the hazards with barriers such as guardrail.

“We dedicate funds every other year for installing and upgrading guardrail.

“We use very specific (criteria) for guardrail installation.  Our primary focus is on long steep embankments on higher speed (35 MPH or more) roadways, and high-volume roads. The area of Illahee Road to which your reader refers has a long steep embankment, exacerbated by seasonal standing water at the bottom of the slope.  Combined with the speed limit (35 mph) there, the fact that it is an arterial road, and an average daily volume of over 2,000 vehicles, installing guardrail there makes the road safer.”

There is a set amount of funding available each year for our guardrail program. This requires us to prioritize locations at which we make guardrail upgrades or installations. If we had unlimited funding we probably would have installed guardrail at each location you noted. With limited funding we had to make some choices.

“The rail above the mobile home park was installed because of the curve it is near, and recent collision history of a vehicle going down that slope. Two other locations, nearer the bottom of the hill, were chosen because of the combination of the long steep slope and the water hazards at the bottom.”

I had seen what looked like storm damage repair at the sight at which guardrail was installed on both sides of the road and guessed that emergency management money might have paid for that, but I guessed wrong.

Jeff says, “The uphill location, though not as steep as others, has a storm water device in it which allows water levels to rise. The combined slope with the possibility of standing water put this location on a higher priority than others.”

‘No Idle Zone’ signs sprout at ferry terminals

The in basket:  I noticed a sign I’d never spotted before on the railing at the Southworth ferry terminal while waiting for the ferry one recent Sunday.

“No idle zone,” it said. “Waiting? Turn off engine.”

Idling one’s car unnecessarily is a known pollution cause, so the reason for the sign wasn’t hard to imagine. But I wondered if I’d simply overlooked it before, whether Southworth was the only terminal displaying it and whether disobeying it could incur a fine.

The out basket: Marta Coursey of the ferry system says, “The ‘No Idle Zone’ signs were installed within the last year system-wide (at every terminal) at the specific request of Assistant Secretary David Moseley.

“We have received a number of customer and community comments about the issues around idling cars for long periods of time, including the discomfort of our customers and the related air pollution in the surrounding communities.

“Mr. Moseley charged our terminal department with posting the signs in order to encourage our customers to stop idling their cars unnecessarily. They are advisory signs and we do not enforce the policy.”

Making a pedestrian signal button work

The in basket: “Settle something for me,” asks Sharell Lee. “We’ve all seen pedestrians banging away on

the WALK signal buttons trying to make them change faster. That’s a waste of time, isn’t it?  No matter how many times you push the button, the WALK signal goes according to preset timing. Am I right?”

The out basket: Yes and no. A pedestrian wastes his time pressing the button more than once, but that first press is often necessary to get the signal to allow time for the walker to cross.

Signal programmers use the pedestrian signals to tell them that the corridor’s signals are in coordination, during hours that they are coordinated. During those times, the pedestrian crossing lights will come on for a preset time whether someone has pushed the button or not.

At other times, the signals need someone to push the button to get a pedestrian crossing light.

“Much like an elevator, pushing the button repeatedly does not bring the signal change faster,” says Del Gann, head of Kitsap County’s signal shop.

I think those who push the pedestrian signal button several times do so more out of concern that not every push registers with the signal controller, rather than to make the light change faster.

The county has been addressing that worry by installing buttons that beep and flash when pushed, so the pedestrian knows the signal got the message. Del tells me “About 25 percent of (our) pedestrian push buttons are the style with a audible confirmation. When intersections are upgraded, the new audible confirmation buttons are installed.”

Photo enforcement of tolls brings inquiry

The in basket: Charles Baker of Silverdale writes, “I’ve seen a good deal written about the proposals moving along toward cameras being used to photograph license numbers of  those who don’t use the toll booth and don’t have ‘Good to Go!’ stickers.

“All I’ve read indicates the Tacoma Narrows Bridge authority feels they will have no problem looking up license numbers and billing those drivers for the toll – and problem payers can be dealt with come renewal time.

“What I have read nothing about is how well this system will work for drivers with out-of-Washington-state plates. Do visitors and those military out-of-staters get a free pass?  I doubt the other states (and countries) are setting up a ‘help Washington’ program to identify these people.  Any discussion of this issue you’ve heard?”

While I was inquiring, I asked about plates too dirty to be read, as well.

The out basket: Janet Matkin, the state’s tolls communication manager, replies, “We have reciprocal agreements with all the other states to obtain the name and address of out-of-state drivers.

“We take photos of both front and back license plates, in order to ensure we get a clear image of the majority of license plates,” she also said.

Clearing up red arrow signal confusion

The in basket: judy Kaylor asks in an e-mail, “Will you inform your readers, including me, about the rules of the road for a red or green arrow light governing a right turn at an intersection? We’ve understood in the past that a red light at an intersection permits us to make a free right turn, traffic permitting.  However, I’ve been instructed that a red arrow on a specific right turn at an intersection means ‘stop where you are until the arrow turns green.’

“In Silverdale, at least, I’ve seen many drivers continue to take a free right turn on a red arrow light.  And if I’m at the head of the line waiting for the green arrow light, I’ve been honked at and waved at to get moving.

“Clarification of the rules of the road on this situation would be helpful for all of us,” she said.

The out basket: If Judy was informed of the above as regards this state, she was misinformed. A driver facing a red arrow light is as entitled to make a right turn as one facing a red ball light, under the same restrictions: the driver must come to a complete stop before turning, must yield to any conflicting traffic with the right of way, and there can be no sign forbidding the turn, such as the signs you will see in Bremerton on Callow Avenue at 11th Street and on Montgomery Avenue at Sixth.

And as noted here previously, that is also true of both lanes with the double red arrow lights such as on 11th Street at Kitsap Way.

I used to call those free rights, too, but my sources finally broke me of the practice. They are rights on red. A free right requires no stop before turning. The southbound Waaga Way (Highway 303) off-ramp at Ridgetop Boulevard is a free right.

If you have a taste for legalese, you can read the relevant state law, RCW 46,61.055. That’s the same one that permits that oddest of deviations from driving practice, the left turn against a red arrow signal, but only onto a one-way street, such as a freeway on-ramp.

You almost never see it done, because it’s rare that the first person in line at such a place (westbound Burwell Street and Pacific Street in Bremerton, for example) knows it’s legal.

High speed turns at CK intersection causing wrecks

The in basket: Sharon Anderson wrote on Dec. 3 to say, “It happened again the night of Nov 28 at the intersection of Central Valley and McWilliams (roads) . Someone whipped around the turn from Central Valley onto McWilliams, flew over the sidewalk, and crashed through someone’s fence and landed in their back yard.

“This is the third time that I know of,” she said. “A while back another vehicle wound up in someone’s back yard on Central Valley at the same intersection.  There have been other accidents at this intersection, as well.

“McWilliams is a virtual speed way on many nights,” Sharon said. “Someday, someone will be standing or walking on that same sidewalk or be in their backyard when another vehicle crashes through and possibly injures or kills that person.

“This intersection needs a flashing red light to get people on Central Valley to stop before turning onto McWilliams or some other solution to keep vehicles from turning at such a high speed that they lose control. It is only a matter of time before the next accident.”

The out basket: Jeff Shea, Kitsap County’s traffic engineer, says some signing improvements are the most likely upgrade to happen there soon.

“The number of collisions at the intersection of Central Valley and McWilliams ranks the intersection 16th in the county,” he said. “While that does not make this intersection the highest priority, it does provide a cue to evaluate the intersection for possible improvements in the future. There was an average of three collisions per year during the past seven years.

“This number represents an expected occurrence of collisions compared to similar intersections on a national scale. Based on the traffic volumes through the McWilliams and Central Valley intersection – about 10,000 vehicles a day – that works out to a little less than one collision per 1,000,000 vehicles that enter the intersection.

“The significance of that number is that we can compare it to national standards. So our rate is 0.914 and the national rate for comparison is 0.990. We are in the right range when compared to the national rate.  We have or will be installing some signage improvements at or near the intersection.

“In regards to your reader’s request for a flashing red light four-way stop, we use the (federal) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. (Its) criteria are very specific as it relates to four-way stops. The primary (reason) for installing a four-way stop is reducing traffic delays.

“In most four-way-stop scenarios, one or two legs of the intersection have to wait an unreasonable amount of time before making their turning movement.

“At this intersection, the major movements do not conflict with each other and delays there are minimal.  Installing a four-way stop (would)require about 6,000 vehicles a day to stop there. Stopping that many cars increases fuel usage, and contributes to air and noise pollution. It also adds to, rather than alleviates, delays to motorists.

Aberdeen merge shows possible help for 3-304 clash

The in basket: Linda Carr of South Kitsap e-mailed what looked at first like a pretty standard complaint about the rush hour merge where highways 3 and 304 come together west of Bremerton. She described the much-discussed inside lane-outside lane conflict and said that it is so annoying she now goes to doctors and shops in Gig Harbor and times her remaining trips to Silverdale to avoid late weekday afternoons.

“I think others are doing the same because I can notice a mass

exodus,” she said.

Then she surprised me with an anecdote about something she saw last summer while driving from Aberdeen to Hoquiam on Highway 101 where a lot of road work was going on.

“In heavy traffic, two lanes were merging into one,” she said. “I was amazed at how quickly and orderly traffic was getting through the construction zone, and all because of the simple signage they had erected. The first sign instructed you to fill both lanes, the second sign instructed you to merge at the end, and the third sign said “take turns,” and everyone did.

“I wonder if something this simple could improve the situation at this intersection?” she concluded.

The out basket: It was like a breath of fresh air to hear that this had been tried somewhere in the state.

I have been arguing for years that the conflict at that Bremerton merge would be greatly reduced if drivers filled the two lanes equally instead of getting over prematurely. Further, I have come to believe that those who use the right lane to scoot past the drivers who get over early but then loose their nerve and try to force their way into the center lane before they have to, causing that lane to back up behind them, are a major cause of the problems.

I now exclusively use the outside lane when the line is shorter there, and force myself to wait until the two lanes narrow to one before I move over. I have had only one conflict with a driver in the inside lane who sped up to cut me off, but I simply slowed down and pulled in behind him. Traffic usually flows smoothly at the merge.

The maneuver is generally know as the zipper, as cars in the two lanes take turns, like the sign in Aberdeen instructed, meshing like a zipper. I’m told there are signs at merges in Europe that actually depict a zipper.

So…will what Linda saw work in Bremerton? I recognize that a construction zone has a continual conflict, while signs to duplicate that here would seem odd during the majority of hours where there is no backup.

Steve Bennett, operations engineer for the state highways, has this to say:

“Linda is correct, this kind of signing and delineation was used on a short term basis in Aberdeen as part of a construction project.  While we were able to gain approval from the Federal Highway Administration to use this kind of non-standard signing for temporary, low-speed situations, they did not favor its use for higher speed installations.

“The “’take your turn’ idea would probably work well during the peak hour during high volume/low speed conditions, and it may even work well in the middle of the night during low volume/high speed conditions.

“Our concern is during those transitionary times of relatively high volume/relatively high speed conditions.  As this kind of signing does not assign right-of -way, it would not always be clear to drivers who should go first.  We feel that kind of direction is important, especially during those transitionary periods.”

Two more CK intersections could use yellow flashing lefts

The in basket: Two more Central Kitsap residents have nominated two more intersections for the blinking yellow left-turn lights that Kitsap County has installed at numerous Silverdale spots.

Alice Gray would like to see them at Ridgetop Boulevard’s northernmost intersection with Silverdale Way, near the top of the hill north of town. And Linda Bruce points to the next signalized intersection north, at Bennington Drive and Crestview on opposite sides of Silverdale Way.

Alice adds a new element to her request, saying that while she waits needlessly before being allowed to turn, “one can see there is no traffic  coming north on Silverdale Way for almost a mile and the left-turn light does not change to green until any northbound traffic almost comes to the intersection. I am sure I am not alone in my aggravation. When there are so many yellow blinking lights elsewhere, why isn’t there one here?”

The out basket: The two requests will have to be added to previous ones for the blinking lefts, at Provost/Old Frontier and Anderson Hill Road most recently.

As before, the reason is a lack of money to add those flashing lefts to any more intersections than have them now. When money becomes available, I’m sure those places will be considered,

As for traffic moving northbound on Silverdale Way looking at a signal that stays green until they are almost there, Jeff Shea, the county’s traffic engineer, says, “We do work with the state to coordinate signals when possible, and when the coordination of the signals increases efficiency for through traffic.

“The (federal) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) states signals located within a half-mile of each other should be coordinated. The signal at Silverdale Way and Highway 303 is about 1.5 miles from the Silverdale Way / Ridgetop intersection. In that distance there are many variables (speed, traffic volumes, opportunities to exit the roadway between the intersections) that makes coordinating the signals difficult. In light of that, coordinating these signals would not gain the efficiencies your reader desires.”

Are VATS troopers a good use of the money?

The in basket: Bill Forhan volunteers as a docent at the naval museum next to the Bremerton ferry terminal on Thursdays and has been watching three or four state troopers he sees most Thursdays at the terminal. They’re there some Tuesdays, too, he said, and “sometimes they have a dog with them.”

They don’t seem to have a lot to do and “it seems like overkill” in providing security at the terminal, he said. “Four of them is probably costing us many hundreds or thousands of dollars” that might be better spent elsewhere, he said.

The out basket: As with most homeland security activities, not everything you might wonder about the Vessel and Terminal Security arm of Washington State Patrol is public information.

Sgt. Craig Johnson, who supervise VATS officers on the east side of the Sound and serves was part-time public information officer, said they won’t discuss staffing levels, when the troopers are likely to be where, or even how many VATS troopers there are altogether.

He says the fact that Bremerton is the headquarters city for the officers on the west side, and that Thursday is training day for their explosive sniffing dogs might explain some of what Bill sees. But he also wouldn’t say that four troopers, with or without a dog or dogs, is unusual for the Bremerton terminal.

Bill says the troopers mostly seem idle between ferry arrivals, and Craig said they definitely are busiest just before and during loading of a ferry. Then, dogs, if any are assigned at that moment, sniff for explosives in waiting vehicles and other officers watch the loading passengers. Between ferries they may have paper work or administrative duties.

I asked for any anecdotal information showing a particular success, conceding as I did that finding nothing is itself a significant measure of deterrence, Craig said only that the dogs have alerted to ammunition and such, showing that “the system works.”

There’s a bit more information on the VATS program onine at It mostly emphasizes how patrolling by bicycle aids their work.

So whether they are overkill or they could be doing something more useful is as unknowable to the public, including me, as details of security staffing at Bangor.