Monthly Archives: May 2014

Drivers on 303 off-ramp still stopping unnecessarily

The in basket: Peggy Griffel writes about the southbound Highway 303 off-ramp at Ridgetop Boulevard in Silvelrdale, “Now that the traffic light is finally complete at this intersection, they still haven’t fixed the problem that drives me crazy every morning as I drive to work at Harrison Silverdale from Poulsbo.

“There is still no signage that tells the right hand lane not to stop.  Every morning I come close to witnessing an accident as someone is stopped in that lane either waiting to get over in the other lane to make a left hand turn or they simply don’t know that they have their own lane after turning.

“What would be the harm in signage that those in right hand lane do not stop and need to stay in lane?” she asked.

The out basket: This must be more of an annoyance or safety problem that you’d think, as often as I hear complaints about it.

I asked if there is an approved sign that would convey the message, something like, “Right Turners Don’t Have to Stop,” though I can’t recall seeing a sign like that anywhere else.

Doug Adamson of the Olympic Region public affairs office for state highways says a small change is coming, but I don’t see how it will convey the message Peggy wants conveyed.

“To encourage right-turning drivers not to stop, (state) sign crews will relocate an existing sign showing that drivers turning right are not required to stop,” Doug said. “At this time, there are no other changes planned for the highway exit in this area.”

That sign, he said, is a yellow diamond-shaped sign with two arrows angling right, one with a crook in it. It’s more puzzling than instructive, to my eye.

Looking for details in Lower Wheaton Way project

The in basket: With work beginning on the improvements to Lower Wheaton Way in East Bremerton between the Manette Bridge and Lebo Boulevard, I had some questions I hadn’t seen answered otherwise.

Notably, I wondered whether yellow flashing left turn lights will be added to the Lebo-Old Wheaton intersection in the shadow of Harrison Medical Center and whether the flashing lights that will call attention to pedestrians in the crosswalk at 18th Street and Old Wheaton will be like the ones in downtown Port Orchard, with lights in the pavement.

I also wondered how they made up the shortfall of a couple hundred thousand dollars they were talking about last winter in paying for the project.

I had suggested that they could save a bundle by keeping the north side sidewalk, which could be widened just by scraping off dirt and vegetation that had accumulated on it. I didn’t really expect them to go for that, but I asked if that sidewalk will be replaced along the entire length of the project.

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson, managing engineer for Bremerton streets, says there no longer will be a signal of any kind at Lebo and Old Wheaton, which will be converted to a four-way stop, probably today.

“The removal of the signal at Lebo is permanent,” he said. “There is not sufficient traffic to justify keeping the signal. We will be reusing the poles (as we did at 6th and 11th on Pacific) to hang illuminated street signs for the intersection and rebuilding all the sidewalks/ramps, as well.”

The 18th Street crosswalk flashers won’t be in the pavement, but on poles at each end of the crosswalk, like those Kitsap County has installed at Foster and Central Valley roads and numerous other places. They will flash “when activated by pedestrians using a push button,” he said. “Because of the tree canopy in this area, this system will be hard wired versus using solar panels.”

Sidewalks on both sides of Old Wheaton will be replaced and the one on water side will be widened to 10 feet.

They used some money set aside to match grants that may be forthcoming later in the year to fill out the Lower Wheaton Way project budget, but hope it won’t all be needed, he said.

“We are working with the contractor to see if there are cost savings to be realized by making some changes to the features so we can put the money back,” he said.

“We relooked at the street lighting and believe using a single fixture pole instead of the dual as originally bid will work just fine.  Plus possibly revising the (asphalt) overlay by reducing the thickness, using fencing instead of Jersey barrier at Schley Canyon, and a number of other options.”



How to catch illegal cell phone use by drivers

The in basket: Alison Loris wants to know more about the results of the publicized emphasis patrol in April to find and cite drivers texting or talking on their cell phones with the phones to their ear, both of which are against the law.

“I see more and more people ignoring the road while their attention is all for the phone,” she said.

The out basket: I, too, was curious about the emphasis patrol, and what tactics the officers used to spot texters and those on their cell phone that they wouldn’t in their every day jobs.

As reporter Andrew Binion noted in a Sun column shortly after the results were announced, it remains common to see people with their cell phone to their ear while driving, even after the emphasis.

I read a magazine article recently that equated use of one’s cell phone for texting with addictions like to drugs, alcohol and gambling, an irresistible impulse when the phone pings an alert of a new message incoming. Being behind the wheel doesn’t overcome that impulse, the article said.

I asked several of our police agencies what they did differently during the emphasis patrol and it appears to be mostly giving that offense a higher priority than otherwise. They weren’t making stops exclusively for cell phone infractions. They were extra officers on the road, working overtime.

They wrote 145 tickets for illegal cell phone use and 13 for texting while driving, a measure of the greater difficulty in seeing whether a driver is texting or just looking down.

They also cited 53 speeders, 22 for not having insurance, 12 for equipment violations, two negligent drivers, 40 for seat belt infractions, and one for not having a child properly restrained. They also just warned six for seat belt violations and two for child restraint problems.

Ten drivers with their license suspended and five without their license with them were cited.

Marsha Masters, Kitsap County Traffic Safety Manager, who compiled the figures, said a previous emphasis, a year or so ago, deployed officers in the High School Road roundabout on Bainbridge Island, where drivers had to slow down. Those using a cell phone improperly were stopped by other officers waiting nearby, alerted by those on foot in the roundabout

But that wasn’t done this time, she said.

State Trooper Russ Winger said troopers did not use any special method of detecting violations. “They simply patrolled and stopped violations as they observed them.

“We do, sometimes, set up in a stationary location where it is easier to observe violations such as cell phone usage and texting. The whole idea of the emphasis is to put extra officers on the road that are looking for these type of violations for a concentrated period and not subject to being called away for calls for service, collisions etc .

“We are not interested in using  ‘sneaky’ tactics to detect violations. Our officer are out there, in uniform and driving our regular patrol vehicles, which include unmarked patrol vehicles. I can tell you this for sure, there is no shortage of motorists using cell phones, texting while driving and doing various other distracted driving actions.”

Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Department said of deputies who took part in the emphasis, all replied that they participated in the emphasis patrols using just personal observations of drivers violating the (cell phone and texting laws).

“Nothing special, out of the ordinary or using some new, sophisticated technology…  just the standard Mark 1, Mod 0 deputy sheriff eyeball,” he quipped.

Deputy Chief Bob Wright of Poulsbo police said, “We didn’t use any super special thing during the emphasis. Some of the officers used plain unmarked patrol cars while one of the officers used a fully marked unit while they patrolled the city looking for people using cellular phones.”

And Lt. Pete Fisher of Bremerton police said  We used two main tactics…. One, officers would patrol as normal and stop vehicles as they observed violations. Two, we also placed spotters at intersections to observe the violations.  The spotter(s) would then call out the violation to officers standing by in patrol vehicles.”

What now with Silverdale street pavement?

The in basket: Carl Johnson of Silverdale e-mailed to ask, “Now that the water piping work by Silverdale Water District is almost done, and given the ‘patch’ work that has accompanied this project, is there any chance that Silverdale Way (and side streets) will be re-paved, and allow us a smooth driving surface?

The out basket: I had been wondering the same thing and asked Kitsap County Public Works.

Dale Blackwood, lead right of way inspector for the county, says, “There is no current plan to overlay Silverdale Way. Once the project is complete the patches will be inspected. Those that don’t meet county standards will need to be brought to those standards before final approval of the project is given.

“Overlaying the entire surface will be considered for future work once the project is completed and accepted,” he said.

Asphalt contractor replaces it on Collins Road

The in basket: Dustin Butler wrote this week, “I just spent the afternoon watching a crew grind the top layer of asphalt off of Collins Road between Baby Doll and Mountain View (in South Kitsap).  This section of road was just repaved by the county last summer and it appeared to be just fine.  Can you find out what gives and who is footing the bill of this rework?”

The out basket: Kitsap County Road Superintendent Jacques Dean says the asphalt provided for the paving work done last year did not meet specification  and the asphalt supplier is redoing its part this week at its own expense.

County equipment and employees, who did the work a year ago, completed it this week too. The supplier paid to have the defective pavement ground off and for the new batch of asphalt, he said.

Drivers in the area may have noticed a lot of loose rock on the driving surface and some holes as the top layer of aggregate (rock) broke out of the asphalt since the repaving last year.

Last year’s repaving was a maintenance project completed by county staff rather than a contracted project, he said. Testing of the asphalt was not completed at the time of placement due to heavy staff workload, although testing may not have revealed the observed raveling problem, which showed itself sometime after the mix was placed, Jacques said.  The supplier could have argued that the fault lay entirely with the county and its placement operation, but didn’t and accepted responsibility for the asphalt mix.

“We had them out there earlier this spring and they acknowledged the problem was most likely on their end,” he said. “They are doing what’s right, no arguing, and stepped up to the plate. I commend them for their integrity.”

Jacques expected the work to be finished Thursday.”

Pedestrians worry at Manette roundabout


The in basket: Josh Farley of the paper’s reporting staff told me in March about a Facebook string discussing perils facing pedestrians at the roundabout at the east end of the Manette Bridge. Manette resident Robin Henderson then tracked it down for me.

Joy Gjersvold kicked it off saying, “Good morning, Manette friends! Question for you all: Have you noticed as you enter and exit the traffic circle by the bridge the number of near misses of pedestrians? In the past three weeks I have noticed four incidents where pedestrians were nearly hit even after they waited for a safe moment to cross — using the crosswalk. In all four cases, the vehicles had to come to a screeching halt in order to keep from hitting someone. One of the vehicles was an oil truck. Yikes!

“Is there anything we can do to help make that area a bit safer for the folks out walking, jogging, and biking? My husband and I wish they’d put in the yellow flashing lights when someone is in the crosswalk.”

Catherine Tomko added, “I have noticed it worse coming from West Bremerton side into the circle, those drivers constantly never look, they race to get into the circle, thinking they have the right of way. Then the other one is those coming down from Wheaton Way into the circle, rushing into the circle ahead of any car coming.  I see the drivers in front of me and around me rush into that circle with no regard to the pedestrians. It honestly does make me nervous to walk anywhere around that circle.”

The lively Facebook discussion went on for much of that morning, with several others joining in, adding suggestions of the orange hand-held flags like Port Orchard has available at all its unsignalized crosswalks downtown.

The out basket: The state Transportation Department’s Web site has a lot about driving and walking in roundabouts. It says roundabouts are “designed to be safer for pedestrians than traditional intersections.”

The crosswalks are set farther back from vehicle conflict points and have an island in their center so those on foot can stop half-way across and need watch only one direction of traffic at a time, it says. Speeds often are lower in a roundabout too.

Still, roundabouts demand greater driver attention to meshing with other moving vehicles, so it’s easy to overlook a waiting or walking pedestrian.

I think the Manette one still is haunted my the pre-roundabout decades in which drivers coming off the bridge had the right of way in turning left. Even drivers who know that any traffic entering a roundabout must yield to traffic already in it might think incorrectly that the rules are somehow different at Manette.

Josh Farley and some who joined in the March morning Facenook exchange wondered if there is something that could be done to make the roundabout safer for pedestrians.

The state deferred to the city on that question and Gunnar Fridriksson, Bremerton’s managing engineer for streets, said “The city is reviewing signing associated with the Manette traffic circle and will be making changes with the Lower Wheaton Way project.  Our current focus is on bicyclists’ safety, but we will be reviewing for pedestrians as well.  To date, complaints received for the traffic circle have been bicycle-oriented, I am not familiar with any formal complaints from pedestrians.”

The Lower Wheaton Way project will widen sidewalks and make other improvements from the bridge to Lebo Boulevard.

It’s worth noting that the Port Orchard roundabout doesn’t have the orange flags most of the other unsignalized crosswalks in town do. Public works Director Mark Dorsey says that’s “because the issue and/or request has never come up. “

Transit still working on new East Bremerton transfer station

The in basket: Michael Drouin writes, “As we were sitting at the intersection of Sylvan and Wheaton Way, watching the chaos emerging from the Kitsap Bank parking lot, we couldn’t help but wonder whatever became of the grand plan to move the Kitsap Transit transfer station to the defunct lumber yard at Hollis and Wheaton Way.”

The out basket: John Clauson, executive director of Kitsap Transit, says, “We still have the need to develop a better transfer center, and the old Parker Lumber site is more than likely the location.

“Having said that, we are exploring the possibility of doing a joint development project that could include more than just a transfer center.  Once we have determined these other potential uses, we will proceed with searching for partners.”

Transit has acquired the old Parker Lumber site, just north of the existing transfer station at Wheaton Mall, he said. “We are not in a big hurry to move out of the Wheaton Mall but our concern is that we could be asked to vacate with little notice, like what happen to us at the Kitsap Mall, and we would not have a place to move to.

“Although (the joint development project) could include retail we are more thinking like some type of living complex that would fit well with a transit center. It could include a joint parking area that could support our Park & Ride needs while responding to others’ parking needs.

“We are limited to just how far we could move before we would need to make major adjustments to our schedules for the east side service. Moving to the Parker Lumber site would require us to make some changes to the service.”

The traffic signal at the Hollis Street intersection would be upgraded from the existing three-way signal to a full four-way signal to provide the buses a safe way in and out of the Parker site if that is finally chosen, he said.

Combined on- and off-ramp on 303 troubles driver

The in basket:  Norman Marten of Bainbridge Island wrote in March about what he considered to be “possibly the worst intersection configuration imaginable … at least for me.”

“I was on Central Valley Road traveling north to get onto Route 303 toward Silverdale,” he said. “I crossed over 303 and saw what appeared to be the entrance on the left.

“Immediately I saw a one-way sign and a large “DO NO ENTER sign. I kept going by and turned left on what I thought was the entrance. No. It is a parallel local road, which is an issue in itself.

“It is separated from the actual entrance lanes by a low chain link fence such that oncoming cars there appear to be headed right at you until the last moment (it curves).

“In any case, I turned around and proceeded back and discovered that the opening from Central Valley is a wide, shared area with the entrance and exit lanes combined.  Who is the rocket scientist that designed that?

“A ways into this there is a slightly raised divider on the pavement but you need to actually turn into this to realize what is happening.

“What I totally don’t understand,” he said, “is why they don’t have an island at the edge of Central Valley with clear signage that the entrance is to the right of the divide.  Putting the low divider back from where Central Valley passes is crazy.  I can’t imagine getting there on a rainy night.  Really scary.  Combined exit/entrance lanes should be outlawed.”

The out basket: I don’t often use this combined exit-entrance and haven’t had any trouble there the few times I did. I’m fairly certain it wasn’t dark and rainy.

There was an indication the day I went to look at it that someone else might have had a problem. On the sign pointing to the left to go to Silverdale, someone had added a peculiar-looking decal, pointing down at a 45-degree angle, as if to provide some added instruction. It was gone the next time I visited there.

Also, I turned onto the short dead-end street Norman mentions, and in coming back out, saw a pickup truck moving at what seemed too high a speed for that road coming at me. He actually was over on the on-ramp to 303, which became obvious when it curved, but it was a momentary thrill.

The state doesn’t see need for a change. Claudia Bingham Baker of the state’s Olympic Region says, “Your reader is asking for a sign to be placed on a center island between the ramps on the north side of the interchange.  We believe such a sign would be a hazard for left-turning trucks and would probably be knocked down in short order.

“Since the way to Silverdale is already signed before the on-ramp, we have no current plans to make sign changes at that location.”

She didn’t address extending the center divider to Central Valley Road, but I suppose that would be hit by far more turning drivers than would be confused by the current alignment.

Silverdale fatality focuses concern on yellow flashing left turns

The in basket: Ian MacKenzie wrote the Road Warrior shortly after a fatal accident at one of Kitsap County’s yellow flashing left turn signals in Silverdale last winter.

While saying he loves the signals and considered them a great benefit to moving traffic, he adds, “after all this time, I am still finding that there are a lot of people out there that are still confused by them and don’t  know what to do.

“As a result,” he said, “they often do one of two things: Sit there and do nothing and the light turns red and they wait for the next green arrow cycle, or they think the light is changing to red so they bolt through the turn in front of oncoming cars. The recent tragedy and death at the intersection of Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Randall Way could easily have been the result of the latter.”

He said the city of Federal Way augments the flashing yellow left turn signals there with a sign with wording to the effect of Left Turn Yield on Flashing Yellow.

“Has or did Kitsap County consider placing signs of this nature to help with the confusion that many still seem to have?  Have there been many accidents attributable to the flashing arrows?” he asks.

Southbound Kitsap Mall Boulevard at Randall Way is the only intersection I know of with adjoining left turn lanes both controlled by flashing yellows. Ian thinks having two cars side by side making the turn on yellow might negatively affect behavior of or visibility for the drivers.

The out basket: Jeff Shea, Kitsap County traffic engineer, says, “Flashing yellow arrows (FYA) are the most popular new technology I’ve seen in the 16 years I have been working in the traffic field.  With just about all new technological innovation though, it brings with it a learning curve and complaints from motorists.

“It is rare when motorists applaud new efforts, even when the new device improves operations and/or safety. In the case of the FYA, we received many positive observations regarding the technology, and comments from motorists indicating that they are effective.
“The ability to turn left when no opposing traffic is present allows them to move through intersections more quickly with less frustration. The previous signal indication used to allow permissive left turns was the green ball over the turning lane. This created confusion for a few motorists as they sometimes interpreted the signal as a protected left turn, rather than a permissive one.  It is permissive in terms that they had to yield to oncoming traffic, whereas protected means they are given the right of way to make the left turn.

“Because of this, we have phased out the green ball for permissive turns because the FYA provides motorists with a much better understanding of the permissive nature of the turn.

“Tens of thousands of motorists navigate through FYA intersections in Kitsap County every day without incident.  (But) FYA signals do not eliminate collisions at intersections.  Misunderstanding signs and signals can play a part in these collisions, but they are not always the primary cause.”

He said the federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices recently accepted yellow flashing left signals for traffic control and the county adheres to the requirements of that manual.

“Prior to authorizing this new technology,” Jeff said, “extensive research was done by the National Cooperative Highway Research Program. Over a seven-year period, comprehensive research was conducted, including engineering analyses, static and video-based driver comprehension studies, field implementation, video conflict studies, and crash analyses. The FYA was determined to be the best overall alternative to the circular green, and it had a high level of understanding and correct response by drivers.

“We review collision records regularly looking for trouble spots, and we rely on direct reports from the Sheriff’s Office at locations where deputies see frequent collisions. We pay special attention to those areas where new signs or traffic devices are installed, including the FYAs.

“There have been a few collisions attributable to motorists not yielding on a flashing yellow arrow; exactly how many is difficult to tell from the reports. Some of these collisions report a lack of understanding of the signal, others happened when the motorists misjudged how close the opposing traffic was.

“What records don’t show is how many collisions this technology reduces.  Permissive left turns can reduce motorist’s frustration and lessen the likelihood for motorists to make a ‘mad dash’ to get through the intersection before the protected turn sequence ends.

“They understand that they need to wait only for the opposing traffic to clear and then proceed through the intersection, rather than having to wait a full cycle for the next protected turn. The signal may also reduce rear-end collisions by reducing the number of motorists that abruptly stop in front of another motorist for the same reason as above.

“The FYA greatly improves the intersection’s capacity. More vehicles can get through the intersection during the same amount of time.  The FYA … significantly shortens the queue for left turning vehicles. This allows us to shorten the left green signal and give more green time to the other movements at the intersection.  This in itself can reduce driver frustration and possibly reduce overall collisions at the intersection.

“Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Randal Way is a unique intersection in that we have a two left-turn lanes. There have been a few other collisions here including a tragic fatality and we are considering a change.

“We are evaluating installing a sign on the mast arm to remind motorists to yield on the FYA. If any intersection that uses FYA shows high collision rates we will consider this enhancement and other solutions including limiting the times of day for permissive left turns, or eliminating the permissive turn altogether,” Jeff concluded.

About the same time Ian wrote me, Patrick and Sherri Burch also did, suggesting the yellow flashers be replaced by red flashers. We’ll talk about that in the next Road Warrior column

How about red flashing lefts, rather than yellow?

The out basket: Married couple Sherri and Patrick Burch each wrote me around the first of March, alarmed by the fatal accident in Silverdale at Kitsap Mall Boulevard and Randall Way shortly before, to which the flashing yellow left turn signals there may have contributed. They each had the same suggestion: Replace the flashing yellow lefts with flashing reds.

“Across the country, drivers know that a blinking red means stop, evaluate, then proceed,” Sherri said. “For so many people, a yellow light does not mean caution, it means gun it!

Her husband wrote, “If the arrow was blinking red, the driver would have to come to a complete stop before proceeding. This would avoid any confusion for anyone unfamiliar with this type of traffic signal. Red means stop first then proceed.  Changing from red to yellow will undoubtedly save crunched metal and future injuries.”

The out basket: Jeff Shea, Kitsap County traffic engineer, replied, “When the transportation industry was looking for a good signal indication for the permissive left turns, flashing red arrows and flashing red balls were considered.

“The flashing yellow was determined to be the preferred option for the permissive turn,” he said. “The flashing red arrow creates confusion in its own right. In my experience, when motorists see a flashing red light of any sort they assume every other motorist (at the intersection) is seeing a flashing red light and expect other motorists to stop.

“Perhaps the most common situation motorists see flashing red street signals is when the signals aren’t operating normally. The motorist assumes it indicates an all-way stop, and expects other traffic to stop as well. When flashing red arrows are used for permissive turns opposing traffic has a green signal and does not stop.

“For that reason I don’t combine flashing red signals on the main street with yellow or green signals on the side streets. If one direction is flashing red, all directions will flash red.  The only deviation from this would be an intersection beacon where the side roads have conspicuous stop signs.”