Monthly Archives: September 2013

About that May 1 survey of school bus violations

The in basket: There was a bit of TV and print publicity in mid-September about  a May 1 survey of school bus drivers around the state as to how many drivers illegally passed their bus with its red lights flashing and its stop paddle out that one day.

Statewide, there were 1,523 violations reported.

I was curious about what our local school districts found, but even more I was fascinated by the 32 instances reported of a bus being passed on the right while it had its paddle out and red lights flashing. That seemed unimaginably reckless. It was one of the main reasons the state school superintendent’s office turned out a news release about the May 1 survey on Sept. 11, Nathan Olson of the SPI’S office told me.

The out basket: That 32 number becomes more believable when one remembers that bicyclists have to abide by the same rules as vehicle drivers, A large number, perhaps all of the 32, were bikes. Bicyclists need to know they are just as subject to a heavy fine as motorized drivers if they are caught passing a stopped school bus with the red lights flashing.

Car drivers do on occasion pull up onto the sidewalk, through a parking space or into a driveway to pass on the right, I learned from transportation officials in Seattle and Puyallup, which reported 16 and 3 of the right-side violations that day.

Whether any of Puyallup’s three on May 1 was a car they didn’t know, but they have had one car passing on the right incident so far this year, they told me.

Ron Lee of North Kitsap schools transportation said they had an incident a couple of years ago in which someone passing a bus on the right clipped the backpack of a student with the vehicle mirror. There were no injuries.

None of the 32 right-side violations reported on May 1 was from Kitsap County.

According to a chart that was part of the news release, there were eight left-side violations in North Kitsap, seven in North Mason and one on Bainbridge Island.

Bremerton and South Kitsap don’t appear on the chart, though the SK transportation office said they reported three. Bremerton said they had none that day.

Central Kitsap didn’t participate in the survey.

I asked about cameras on the sides of the buses to document the violations, authorized by the Legislature last year, and found only one bus in North Mason that has one. It led to a citation issued to a driver on Old Belfair Highway last year.

Otherwise, enforcement relies on the ability of school bus drivers to provide a license number and description of the car and driver, which you can imagine isn’t easy to do, especially  when required to stay where you are.

Presumably, all of the reported May 1 violations were of drivers approaching from the rear of the bus or from the front of the bus on a two-lane road.

It’s not illegal to pass a stopped school bus with its red lights flashing if approaching from the front on a multi-lane road or highway and there is a lane between yours and the one the bus is in.

Tree limbs said to block view of 303-Brownsville Highway signals

The in basket: Martha Mealey writes, “Just wondering if there are any plans to trim back the trees on southbound Highway 303 as you approach Brownsville Highway intersection.

“It’s very hard to see the light when it changes,” she said.

The out basket: I’ve driven this three times to see if trees present a problem and I suppose a few limbs closest to the signal could use a trimming.

Approaching from a distance, there is heavy overgrowth off deciduous trees on the right side of the highway, obscuring the signals, but the orientation of the signal lenses would prevent a good look at whether the light is green or red until you get pretty close even if there were no trees.

But I have referred Martha’s inquiry to the state maintenance office here for consideration of whether some tree limbs should go.

Arrival of autumn may temporarily correct whatever problem exists as the leaves fall.

Reporting litterers and aggressive drivers

The in basket: Tracy Kendall and a fellow named Ben have asked where to call to report driver misbehavior of different kinds.

Tracy said, “I had a frustrating situation a few weeks back and have stewed about it since. I was driving along Sedgwick Road going east over SR16 when a driver in the car in front of me dropped her burning cigarette out her window.

“This was when we were on high burn ban alert and hadn’t had rain in more than 40 days!” She had her daughter write down the license plate number and vehicle description and called 911 to report the dangerous act.

“The CenCom dispatcher told me she wouldn’t take the information and that I was to report it to the Health Department!!” Tracy said.

“I told her that at one time I knew of a number that was something like 800LITTERS and that reporting to them resulted in a letter to the registered owner scolding them and warning of the dangers and legal ramifications.”

She tried that number and had no more success reporting what she had seen, she said.

“Is it really okay to throw out burning cigarettes from vehicles now? What if a fire did result? I was the only one with the responsible party’s information. FRUSTRATED!!!!!”

Ben asked, “How can I report an unsafe driver?  I have seen the same compact pickup travel at a high rate of speed (about 75 mph) on the shoulder lanes between Port Orchard and Gorst both mornings and evenings.  I have the tag number but not sure how to report it.”

The out basket: 9-1-1 is the proper place to call in either case, though Tracy got bad info from the call taker when she tried.

Maria Jameson-Owens, second in command at CenCom told me, “Our process is for call takers to enter details for all in-progress littering complaints. These should then be dispatched to local law enforcement. Callers should be offered the phone number for the Health Department when suspect information is available. Depending on the location of the event we sometimes transfer the caller to WSP for handling.

“If we were the agency to handle this event, it does not appear that we handled it per our policy. We will research internally.”

Handling littering complaints is one of the government functions that has take a beating from the financial shortfalls in state and local government. The State Department of Transportations phone number for them is no longer active.

Jan Brower of the Health District’s solid waste division says they will investigate complaints where there is some likelihood of identifying the dumper through information in what was dumped, but thrown out pop cans and cigarettes are the province of law enforcement.

Trooper Mark Hodgson of the WSP office here says there isn’t much likelihood of immediate contact with litterers or even aggressive drivers from such citizen reports. But they want to get the report so they can be on the lookout for the driver or the patrol the location, as with what Ben has seen. An officer may witness the offense being repeated.

Had there been a fire where Tracy saw the cigarette being thrown out, the report could have helped pinpoint blame.

Robert Calkins of the WSP in Olympia said they used to have a date base of aggressive driving complaints, but it’s no longer active.

He said citizens often report suspected drunken drivers, which do result in a response. In only 3 percent of the reports they receive do they find the driver still on the road, but about half of those they do find are, in fact, impaired, Robert said.

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office says calls to 9-1-1 about offenses on county roads are referred to them, and those on state highways are referred by CenCom to WSP dispatchers.

 

Checking for texting after a fender bender

The in basket: Joan Richards writes about seeing a fender bender in North Kitsap that raised a question in her mind.

“I was driving north on Highway , heading home,” she said. “As I was passing Hilltop, a young lady, whose car had hit the one in front of her, was talking to a WSP officer, waving her cell phone around. My husband commented that she was probably texting while driving and not paying attention.

“My question,” Joan said, “is that if someone is involved in an accident, does the investigating officer have the right to check the person’s cellphone for any usage around the time of the accident, or does there have to be a witness stating that they saw that person on the cellphone at the time of the accident?

“I hope so,” she added. “Living on this highway, I have seen way too many accidents and probably a great number of them are due to distracted drivers!!”

The out basket: Trooper Mark Hodgson of the Bremerton office says they can and may ask to see a cell phone in such a situation, but can’t require it.

That would take a court order, a step they would take following a serious injury or fatal accident, but not usually in investigating a fender bender. One or more witnesses to a driver’s use of a cell phone or appearance of having been texting at or before the accident would be more likely to result in an additional citation for those offenses, he said. State law prohibits having a cell phone to your ear or texting while driving.

Leaking through Highway 166 pavement has worsened

The in basket: Greg Martin e-mailed to ask “Have you addressed the water over the roadway on Highway 166 before? There are three locations just west of Ross Point. The wet sections seem to be getting bigger and could present a real problem (especially for motorcycles) in freezing conditions, as they are in or near a bend in the roadway.

The out basket: It was just about a year ago I last addressed this and the seeping has gotten dramatically worse since. The original two spots have been joined by two larger ones. As was the case a year ago, some originate in the pavement itself, rather than running out of the ditch.

Duke Stryker, head of the state’s maintenance crews here, said they will be at that site next week and deepen the ditch to see it reduces the water pressure and correct the leaking.

If it doesn’t they’ll have to dig up the pavement to seek an answer to what is causing it, he said.

As I mentioned a year ago, a businessman nearby says the pressure from moisture in the hillside that looms over the leaking area is such that some wells in that area don’t even need pumps to feed the buildings.

 

Agate Pass Bridge in fair to good condition

The in basket: Sharrell Lee writes, “I was crossing the Agate Pass bridge, and was surprised by the way my car was bobbing from traffic crossing the other direction. I was heading west, the other traffic east.

“Are there any plans to replace this bridge?” she asked. “That bridge has to be old, and that would be a terrible place to have a bridge collapse.

The out basket: It is old, older than 60 years, but there are no plans to replace it, says Claudia Bingham-Baker of the state’s Olympic Region for state highways.

“It just went through its bi-annual inspection,” Claudia said, “and is in fair to good overall condition. It needs a paint job, and has areas of corrosion that will be watched more closely over time.

“The bouncing is normal,” she added.

 

Is there a plan to widen Bremerton’s Warren Avenue?

The in basket: Anyone who visited the Web site about the newest parking lots at Olympic College, the address for which I provided in a recent Road Warrior column about how shabby the landscaping looks, might have raised an eyebrow in reading this assertion on the site.

“During coordination efforts with the City of Bremerton and the Washington State Department of Transportation,” the Web site says, “we learned that there are plans to widen Warren Avenue. Since we did not want to waste resources constructing parking that would be demolished shortly, we planned for the widening and landscaped the impacted area with low ground covers.”

Such a plan for Warren Avenue was news to me. I asked the city and state about that.

The out basket: The college won’t be losing ground to any widening of Warren Avenue any time soon.

Gunnar Fridriksson of the city’s street engineers says it refers to the findings of a study called the SR 303 Bremerton to Silverdale Transportation Corridor Study, completed in 2002.

It analyzed a bunch of ways Wheaton Way and Warren Avenue, collectively known as SR or Highway 303, could keep up with future demand.

Among the proposals was widening the highway to six or seven lanes between 11th Street and Fairgrounds Road, including a $26 million widening of Warren Avenue Bridge. Alternatives included a new bridge over Port Washington Narrows in one place or another, and adding HOV lanes to the existing highway

“Remember,” Gunnar said, “this (was) shortly after Initiative 695 passed and quite a few projects were shelved/dropped. I cannot recall if either the city or WSDOT formally adopted (the study).”

Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways is concise on the question. “WSDOT has no plans to widen Warren Avenue,” she said.

 

Those ‘Except Bikes’ signs below Right Turn Only signs at Warren

The in basket: Daniel Crall e-mailed to say, “In Bremerton at Fourth Street and Warren Avenue, the city built a center divider so that a car can not turn left. However, there is a sign that states
that ‘Bikes’ may turn left. Does this mean bicycles or motorcycles?”

The out basket: The signs actually say a right turn only is permitted, with an arrow, but with a second sign, “Except Bikes” just below.

They are on both Fourth and Fifth streets on both sides of Warren.

Gunnar Fridriksson of the city street engineers says, “This allows bicycles to go straight through on Fourth and Fifth streets.  Otherwise, the bicyclists would be subject to citation.”

I asked Gunnar if a left turn by a bicyclist passing through the median barrier would be permitted, and he said he believes that would be permitted. I also asked if any kind of motorized two-wheeler, from motorcycles to motorized scooters, could take advantage of the exception, and he said no. But the final call would be by a law enforcement officer who witnessed what was done.

Gunnar also said a businessman with a view of the barrier from atop the large glass office building there tells him he occasionally sees cars squeeze through the crosswalk gaps in the barrier. That, of course, is illegal.

Patrol car cameras and expired tabs

The in basket: George Bruns responded to the recent Road Warrior column about obscured rear license plates and said, “As I drive around Port Orchard, I’m surprised how many people do have there plate covered up, but what really bothers me is how many have expired tabs. Just the other day I saw a car that their tabs were eight months past due.

“How in the world can they drive for that long without being stopped? Guess they are just lucky,” he said.

“I was told buy a state trooper that the fine is like $143 times eight.

“But my real question is why doesn’t law enforcement use there in-dash cameras to take a picture and either send them  a letter telling them that they need to clean up there license plate or a ticket for expired tabs. This to me would be a simple fix and allow police to care for more urgent things,” George said.

The out basket: The last I checked, and it was years ago, there was only one WSP car in the local detachment with a camera, so I started by asking it there are many now.

Trooper Russ Winger, the public affairs officer for the patrol here, said, “The patrol has quite a few digital cameras in our patrol cars. Eventually all WSP patrol vehicles will be equipped with them. That is a matter of logistics and more importantly money and will likely take several more years to accomplish.

“The cameras come on when (emergency) lights are activated and officers can also manually turn them on, if needed.

“As for troopers taking pictures of license plates and sending them to warn drivers, well, this is quite impractical,” Russ said. “We simply do not have the manpower for this. In addition the cost would be prohibitive in today’s tight state budgets.

“The on-board camera systems are meant to protect both officer and motorists during traffic stops and other situations. Storage and retention of these videos is regulated by evidence and public disclosure rules.

“We prefer to have face-to-face discussions with motorists when the opportunity presents to educate drivers.

“I think most people prefer to not have the police send warnings and tickets to them without knowing they are coming. It is rather impersonal and Big Brother.

From the public response to red light and speed cameras, I think this is rather true.

“As for your readers guess about expired tab fines, his estimate is a little off,” Russ said. Expired tabs are classified as either under two months expired or over two months. It’s $216 for more than two months late and doesn’t increase beyond that, he said.

 

The fine for over two months expired was, last time I checked, $216. The fine does not increase beyond the second month.

Where you can find out what roads are county-owned

The in basket: Ward Starring of Chico Way asks, “Is there a website, phone number, or map I can reference to find out if a road is maintained by the county or is privately maintained?  I notice a lot of gravel roads in unincorporated Kitsap County that appear to be well maintained and I’m curious if they are county owned or maintained by private road maintenance agreement.
“I’ve lived here the majority of my life and have never really understood who owns or maintains what. It’s just a curiosity thing… maybe would make me sound knowledgeable when discussing the road network around this area.”

The out basket: Yes, the county Road Log, viewable online,  makes those distinctions in how each road is portrayed on the maps.

The categories are county maintained road, private road, city road, state road, and unmaintained road. Doug Bear says the difference between a private road and an unmaintained road is that “private roads are just that – privately-owned roadways outside the county right-of-way. Unmaintained roads are defined as a road within county right-of-way which is accessible to public travel but is not maintained by the county.

Law enforcement can’t write speeding and other tickets on private roads, with one exception, but can on maintained and unmaintained county roads.

Deputy Scott Wilson of Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department says, “However… we may (and do) investigate criminal driving offenses that occur on privately owned roads, such as reckless driving, DUI, negligent driving (1st degree), etc.”

The exception to the no-traffic-tickets rule is driving without proof of insurance.

In the course of investigating a criminal driving offense that occurs on a privately owned road – say reckless driving, for example – and the driver has no vehicle liability insurance in effect (or isn’t able to produce proof of insurance), then a deputy could write a $550 ticket for that, Scott said.

You can see the Road log online at www.kitsapgov.com/pw/roadlog.htm.