Monthly Archives: April 2011

Driver puzzled by limp Narrows Bridge wind sock in a gale

The in basket: Bruce Fields of Bremerton thinks the location of the wind socks on the old and new Tacoma Narrows Bridges could be more helpful.

“I used the bridge (recently) while it was very windy,” he said. “The east side wind sock was not indicating any wind in spite of the obvious blow going on. I was in a full-size pickup with canopy with a 40-foot tractor-trailer in front of me and beside me, all headed east.

“They should have a wind sock on both bridges on both ends as they can give a guide to the strength of the wind and gusts,” Bruce said.

“I had to gauge by the 18-wheeler in front of me.

“When the wind is strong as you pass the towers, the rigs swerve out and back into the wind load. I am sure at some wind angles they are shadowed and that is what I got last week but by putting them on the new bridge too, any wind direction should give us a read.

“The wind socks are perfect tools if they would work. When I got to the east landing the old bridge sock was laying strait down. It was shadowed from the south wind by the new bridge. It is a south wind there most of the time.”

And Tim Fisher writes, “At night the socks are above the street lights and can’t be seen at all. Any chance of a light that shines on the socks?”

The out basket: There is a wind sock at one end of each bridge, where vehicle traffic boards the span in each case. But there is a problem with their nighttime visibility, say Chris Keegan and Jon Moergen of the state’s bridge engineers.

Chris said Jon  has a problem with locating the windsocks so that they are close enough to the shore to be seen before you get to the bridge and far enough out on to the bridge that they are away from the shore effect and react to the higher winds. “He had lights that did shine up at the windsocks, but these kept shorting out,” Chris said. “He is looking into putting reflective strips on the windsocks to enhance visibility. He is also looking at either solar-powered lights or wiring in lights on a pole that would shine directly on the windsocks.”

Chris also said,  “Because of the distance from the tower of the new bridge to the wind sock at the east end north side of the old bridge, the tower would have a negligible effect on the windsock.”

Asked to explain what Bruce described, Chris said, “I would say the winds were gusting and when he got to the end of the bridge the wind had momentarily dropped off. Or the wind was directly out of the South. When that happens the south end (some of us call it the East end or Tacoma end) of the bridge is protected by the land mass. Whereas the towers have a negligible effect, the land mass has a noticeable effect on the speed of the wind.

When license tabs expire

The in basket: Paul Drnjevic of Bremerton recently came to the realization that a person can be cited for an expired license registration after the day of the month shown on the registration form, not just from the first day of the month after the month shown on the tab.

He thinks a lot of car owners are of the opposite impression, especially since that’s the way it used to be. He has no objection to spreading the expiration dates throughout each month, to avoid long lines at renewal centers, but thinks the renewal forms should make more of a point about the date after which one is risking a ticket.

If you get pulled over for some other reason between the expiration date and the end of that month, it can cost you extra money.

The out basket: Brad Benfield of the state Department of Licensing says, “I did a little research and discovered that until January 1977, all vehicle registrations were based on a calendar year and they all expired on Dec. 31 of a given year. “In 1977, vehicle registration renewal dates

were distributed throughout all 12 months of the year. When the state went to this system, expiration dates were on the last day of the month of expiration.

“Then, sometime between 1987 and 1990, DOL began assigning

registration expiration dates that corresponded with the particular

calendar date the vehicle was first registered. So, we’ve been operating under our current process for more than 20 years.

“As for noting the particular expiration date on renewal notices and

registration certificates, we have always done that. We specifically

include the expiration date in a MM/DD/YYYY format,” Brad said. The department would be reluctant to further complicate the already busy forms with a specific warning about the enforcement date when the public has had more than 20 years of experience with the way it is, he said.

Addressing – kind of – extra bright headlight complaints

The in basket: Over the years, a lot of readers have protested the the extra bright headlights that many cars have these days.

The three most recent are Dave Williams, Alison Loris and Shirley Dinesen. Dave told of increasing numbers of cars he sees in his rearview mirror that he’d “like to take a ball-peen hammer to their headlights! Are the laws not being enforced any more?” he ask. “I know that if MY headlights are creating a shadow of the car ahead of me on road signs, trees, etc., that maybe I should adjust them to aim lower.” Says Alison, “The  whiter than white ones with a lavender tinge to them have been around for a while.  You know the ones I mean — are they LED bulbs?  They are obnoxious enough, but in the last several months I’ve been seeing bright blue headlights.  Doesn’t that create a potentially dangerous confusion with police lights? Is it even legal to have blue headlights instead of yellow or white?”

Shirley says they can give people who are sensitive to bright light migraine headaches . “They create a real danger, especially on rainy, gray days.” All three wanted to know if owners of such cars are ever stopped.

The out basket: I’ve long ducked this question. When I first asked it, years and years ago, the State Patrol person in charge of equipment enforcement just sent me the federal regulations governing headlamps, which were so technical as to be incomprehensible.

My night vision has been bad for so long I’ve always guided my car by the edge line, not the centerline. So the ultra bright lights don’t annoy me too much.

I got a taste of what other people must experience one mid-April afternoon when I met a car coming out of the shipyard on Naval Avenue in Bremerton. Even in daylight, both its headlamps were solid sheets of blinding light, not the super-bright pinpoints I often see. I’m guessing that car must have been  illegal.

Today’s WSP sources were somewhat more helpful and send me the following. There’s still a lot of incomprehensibility here, but there also is some analysis to help with the interpretation.

“Washington State has adopted the Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards (FMVSSs) 108 for all vehicle lighting requirements which is where the regulations regarding headlight requirements are set for manufacturers,” WSP said. “The lights (including vehicle light bulbs) that are factory installed on a vehicle must meet these requirements in order to be legal in the state of Washington.

“Aftermarket lighting manufactured to meet the FMVSS requirements for operation on the public roadways must also meet these requirements, and is labeled as being Department of Transportation or DOT-approved on the packaging.

“If the lights are approved, then they can be installed legally. However, the lights must be installed according to requirements set forth in (state law) including RCWs 46.37.220 and 230.

“Most often the complaints regarding bright lights are with regard to HID (high intensity discharge) lights. There are some HID lights that do meet FMVSS standards.  However, an HID conversion kit would not.  The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has concluded that it is impossible to produce HID conversion kits (converting a halogen system to HID) that would be compliant with FMVSS 108.

“As far as enforcement is concerned, this can be difficult for an officer on the side of the road as they do not have means of testing the brightness of a light. The labeling the manufacturer puts on the light is not visible to the officer often times without removing the bulb.

“However, in 2010 the WSP did stop 97,093 vehicles for light violations, issued 1,179 tickets and 95,914 warnings.”  It didn’t say if that includes burned-out and mis-aimed lights.

Trooper Krista Hedstrom of the local State Patrol detachment, says blue lights of any kind are forbidden on vehicles on the public roads, that they are reserved for police vehicles. But  the blue tinted headlamps aren’t blue enough to violate that. They’re more of an ultra-whilte, she said. And frankly, I’ve never see a headlight that could be mistaken for a police emergency light.

If your head doesn’t hurt from reading all of the above, Googling “NHTSA headlamp glare” produces a lot of info you might find helpful.

Getting safely through uncontrolled intersections

The in basket: Terri Babcock of Bremerton asks “Does it still say in the driver’s manual that when one comes upon an uncontrolled intersection (no stop signs or lights) that the person arriving first always has the right of way? Even over those passing straight through?

“That’s what I learned in California,” she said “and since I live near one of those (which are becoming increasingly rare) I still always pause if another car is coming, because I KNOW that the person on my left going straight through will not stop.”

“Am I remembering this correctly? I doubt if  my neighbors even know the rule, but it’ll make me feel better if I’m right.”

The out basket: Terri has it part right, but the part she has wrong could cause an accident.

The state Drivers Manual has this to say about uncontrolled intersections: “At an intersection where there is no stop sign, yield sign, or traffic signal, drivers must yield to vehicles in the intersection and to those coming from the right.”

It also says, “Drivers turning left must yield to oncoming vehicles and pedestrians and bicyclists.”

“Vehicles in the intersection” and “the person arriving first” mean about the same thing, but the wording doesn’t accord that first arriver the right to turn left in front of oncoming traffic.

I would add that slowing down at any uncontrolled intersection is an excellent idea regardless of what other cars are approaching and from what direction, and even deferring to other traffic though you have the right of way can save a lot of hassle if the other drivers seem unsure. I think those intersections exist mostly on 25 mph residential streets anyway.

Noise walls a rarity here

The in basket: Isamu Nagasawa, who lives on the slope between Highway 3 and Chico Way near Silverdale, asked if there was any chance of getting a noise wall built to deaden the racket that floods his neighborhood from freeway traffic.

“We have been living with this thing for 20 years now,” he said even way back then, “and I see all these noise barrier things going up. We are the third street from Newberry Hill Road.  We can see the trucks going by.”

The out basket: There are no noise walls planned along Highway 3 at present, Lisa Copeland of the state Department of Transportation’s Olympic Region says,

Such walls are most commonly built as part of a highway enlargement project and run about $4 million per mile, money the state could otherwise spend on safety upgrades.

Building of a noise wall to protect an existing neighborhood without an accompanying highway project is possible, but uncommon. For one thing, the rules preclude such a project to shield a neighborhood built after May 14, 1976. I can’t say how a mix of homes built before and after that, as on the Chico hillside, would be evaluated.

The neighborhood also would have to meet noise impact criteria to be considered for placement on the retrofit list. There can be objections to noise walls, including loss of vegetation and views, and topography can interfere with their  installation.

You can learn more than you probably want to know about noise walls, the likelihood of getting one in your area, alternatives and those noise impact criteria by going online to www.wsdot.wa.gov/ and filling in Noise Walls in the search box.

I suspect many of you are saying, well, what’s that they’ve built on Highway 3 surrounding the rebuilt Westpark low-income housing near Loxie Eagans Boulevard in West Bremerton.

Well, that’s a noise wall alright, but not a state Department of Transportation project.

The department of Housing and Urban Development, or HUD, required the noise fence in providing money for the reconstruction.

Mike Brown, development project manager for the Bremerton Housing  Authority, says the authority’s portion of the wall is finished, but it is only about 32 percent of the walls ultimate length of 2,650 feet. It averages 12 feet in height.

It will continue northward to near the pedestrian overpass, stop for a distance where the hillside serves the same purpose as the wall, then continue to near Arsenal Way. That part of the project will be privately developed, as will the housing behind it, and the builder will have to build that part of the noise wall, he said..

Crack in Highway 166 brings back memories

The in basket: Highway 166 between Gorst and Port Orchard is well-known for having its hillsides slide down and cover the roadway, closing it to traffic for weeks or months.

But when I saw a crack develop in its pavement near Ross Creek recently, it took me back to the days, probably 20 years ago or longer, when the opposite happened.

Then the roadbed slid off toward the waters of Sinclair Inlet, dropping the pavement six feet or more. That, too, was a lengthy closure and required some innovative repair to make the restored roadbed as lightweight as possible.

That wasn’t the same location. It was around on the other side of Ross Point. But the similarities were great enough I asked what the state knew about the new crack.

The out basket: Duke Stryker, head of state highway maintenance crews here, said he’s not expecting anything nearly as catastrophic this time.

“The crack is from  a small wash out on the westbound side of the highway,” he said, “as a result of the heavy rains we have experienced over the last several months.  We had our licensed materials engineer out to (look at it). There  is no immediate threat to the roadway or users.

“Our plan to is to armor the washout with quarry spalls and pull a grader patch over the settlement when the weather becomes more favorable,” he said. “We’ll be sealing up the crack for a temporary fix and

keeping an eye out for any additional movement.”

Aging keyless remote threat not much to worry about

The in basket: I was cleaning out my old e-mail messages the other day and found one from a friend, sent in August 2008, warning of a supposed new way for thieves to break into your car.

The e-mail, with “This has been checked on Snopes” displayed prominently, told of code-grabbing devices that snatches the code of your keyless entry device when you use it to lock your vehicle as you walk away. The e-mail says the thieves then use the code to enter your car, confident that you’ll be away for a while.

Use the lock button inside your car instead, it said. It didn’t mention using the key in the outside lock, but I’d think that would work too.

Snopes, of course, is Snopes.com, which is highly regarded as an online source of debunking warnings and rumors that need debunking. I checked to see if the claim of its support for that e-mail was valid.

The out basket: If it really was checked on Snopes, it was then sent out despite the fact that Snopes calls most of it out of date. The site even quoted the e-mail sent to me word for word in its dismissal of the danger.

Cars with keyless remotes from the 1980s or early 1990s are susceptible to code grabbers, Snopes says, but the industry devised rolling random codes that would take hours and a lot of expertise to capture, essentially eliminating the chance a thief in the parking lot with you could get into your car anywhere near quickly enough to do it safely.

Of course, if you are a diamond merchant who carries his inventory with him, it might be worth it to a thief who knows that to track your car down after the arduous capture is complete, but for the ordinary citizen, it’s safe to use your keyless entry.

“None of the police agencies we spoke to had ever heard of an automobile break-in accomplished by the method described,” Snopes said.

The Snopes item has been updated since discussing the e-mail and mentions a different threat to keyless entries expected to be displayed at security symposium in San Diego in February of this year. But the system costs a lot, and requires two antennas, one of which must be within eight meters of the key and the other near the car, it said. Snopes expects the industry to work on defeating it too.

If all that still leaves a nagging doubt in your mind, locking your car with your key and using the remote to open it when you plan to drive away would preserve half of the utility of your keyless remote.

About that new color-coded ferry schedule

The in basket: Perhaps you recently saw Sun reporter Ed Friedrich’s report on Washington State Ferries’ latest effort to make its online departure schedules more helpful.

Ferry managers have added a color-coded chart to their online site that shows which departures are most likely to have more vehicles trying to get aboard than there will be room for.

The runs shown in red are called Most Congested: Likely to wait one sailing or more.

Yellow shows Moderate Congestion: Vessels can fill close to sailing time.

And then there are green boxes denoting Least Congested: Vessels typically not full.

It seems like an excellent idea that could help distribute the demand to the benefit of the users and save drivers a lot of waiting.

But I have a question.

The out basket: I’m an infrequent ferry rider, and the only departure with which I have enough experience to have an opinion is the 10:55 a.m. Sunday one out of Southworth. My wife and I take it to go to matinee productions at the Fifth Avenue Theater,

The chart tells me that’s a red run. In fact. every Southworth departure from 9:20 a.m. on each Sunday is shown in red.

That didn’t sound right to me as regards the 10:55 a.m. I’d never seen anything close to an overload on that run. I made a point of checking on April 10 on our way to “9 to 5” (if you haven’t seen it you’re missing a treat). The main tunnel of the ferry was only a third full when we left Southworth. The ferry was closer to full (but still had room) after leaving Vashon. I wouldn’t expect the condition leaving Vashon to be reflected on the Southworth chart.

I wonder if some of you more frequent ferry riders have spotted any similar oddities on the color-coded charts on that or other runs. (Ed questioned a few that struck him as odd). I suspect there may be some nuances involved in interpreting the charts.

Studded tire deadline getting less serious for visitor

The in basket: Hillary Chisdal has a problem.

“I know Washington state law requires snow tires to be removed by April 1 or drivers risk a $125 ticket,” she said the first week in April. “(But) I am from a state where snow tires are legal until April 30 and will be in the Seattle area for another month for a rotation before I am able to make it back to my home state where my non-studded tires reside.

“I am not a Washington resident and thus still have a license plate from my home state. If I am pulled over will I be allowed a grace period during my time in Washington given these circumstances or is that not customary?

“I could consider buying new tires in this area if necessary to avoid an infraction that will cost money,” she said, “but would rather avoid doing that. Any advice?”

The out basket: This spring has been so cold the April 1 deadline has been extended three times and now is April 25. Hillary stands a better chance of getting out of the state without a police officer stopping her for having studs on her tires than if she were to be in violation for a whole month.

There is no official leniency for her situation.

Krista Hedstrom of the State Patrol here says, “No, the vehicle must still meet Washington State standards regardless of where it is registered.  Keeping in mind, there is always officer discretion – but yes, a $124 ticket could be issued after the … deadline.”

Hillary didn’t say how far away her normal tires are, so she may have to inquire about the deadlines and rules in other states she has to cross to get home in calculating her risk of being ticketed – perhaps more than once.

When a K-9 officer…well, you know

The in basket: There I was, in line to board a ferry, watching a State Patrol officer lead his hyper-enthusiastic young black lab past the waiting cars, seeking the odor of explosives, when the strangest through occurred to me.

I never feel very poised when picking up the leavings of my own dog, a little Schipperke. Given how instrumental command presence and an aura of authority are to police officers, what could be more detrimental to that than pausing in their duties to pick up a pile of German shepherd poop.

I asked the State Patrol and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office what advice or directives their K-9 officers are given regarding that least adorable element of dog ownership.

The out basket: Deputy Scott Wilson of the sheriff’s office weighed in first.

“Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office policy for our K-9 handlers,” Scott said, “mirrors that of general rules of doggy etiquette for the general public: the handlers pick-up after their K-9 charges.

“The exception is when a K-9 is on an active track,” he added. “From time to time the excitement of a track may cause a K-9 to urinate or defecate. The handlers have to ignore it and focus on the mission at hand:  officer safety and tracking the suspect. In these cases the deposit is left where it is, although more often than not the item usually is deposited in an inconspicuous location.”

Next in was Sgt. Bill Ashcraft, the K9 supervisor for the WSP Explosive Detection K9 Detachment that covers the Olympic Peninsula, who said, “‘Service with Humility’ has long been the motto of the WSP and it covers just about everything we do, including K9 poop detail.

“This is not the ‘glory’ part of working a police dog but all K9 handlers take pride in the fact if you see dog doodoo it’s not from a police K9. We all carry scoop bag in our pockets.

“Before we work the K9s we try to make sure they have taken care of any ‘business’ that might affect their performance of duties, i.e. searching” Bill said .”These are extremely well-trained dogs and basically will do their business on command.”

Then he kicked in a little info on his team.

“The primary responsibility of the explosive detection K9’s is for the security of the ferry system but we do respond to bomb threats, evidence searches and security sweeps for large events and VIP visits.

“We have 35 explosive detection K9s in the state and 14 narcotic detection dogs that are spread throughout the eight districts in the state. The WSP has one the largest K9 programs in the country outside of the federal government.”