Monthly Archives: June 2014

Disparate signal operation on Highway 303 puzzles reader

The in basket: Robert Arper e-mails to say, “I am curious why the left turn lane into the East Bremerton Fred Meyer is programmed so differently than the left turn lane into the East Bremerton Walmart.

“Right now it would appear that Walmart shoppers are getting preferential treatment but Fred Meyer shoppers are getting the shaft. Yet it is the motoring public that is paying the price in the form of delays in both cases.

“Those of us waiting for the light to turn to allow us to turn into Fred Meyer have to wait forever while traffic heading north on 303 gets the green regardless of the amount of traffic.

“Those of us traveling south on 303 are delayed by those wishing to turn left from the northbound lane into Walmart even if there are only one or two cars in the left-turn lane.  It would seem that the people programming the lights at these two intersections are not the same person or they just want to make it difficult for the motoring public.”

The out basket: The history of those intersections is quite different, accounting for the difference in treatment.

Former officials in the Olympic Region signal shop for state highways have told me that when Fred Meyer wouldn’t agree to shift its main entrance when the store was built, the entrance didn’t line up with the existing road across Highway 303, creating an offset intersection.

As a result, the two opposing left-turns onto 303 must happen separately, prolonging the wait for those wanting to make other movements. I often hear complaints about the left turn into Fred Meyer being annoyingly short when it finally does come around, but in my experience, that comes and goes and isn’t always the case.

In front of Walmart, the center barrier installed there between McWilliams and Fairgrounds roads to eliminate left-turn accidents at other intersections near there was finished during the holidays and heavy traffic into Walmart soon spilled out of the left turn lane into the inside northbound through lane.

So the signal shop gave it an extra left turn opportunity in each cycle to eliminate the danger of rear-end accidents that created. It’s been that way ever since, though watching that turn lane, I’m not sure I often or ever see enough turning traffic during the two cycles combined that it would fill up the turn lane. But I’m not often there during the holidays.

Nonetheless, the Olympic Region signal shop and the city of Bremerton are considering whether changes should be made in the timing of signals between Fred Meyer and points south.

Ken Burns of the signal shop says, “Robert’s assessment of the signals’ being operated by different people is correct.” The city has one and the state the other.

“(We) are working together on a corridor analysis for the system on Highway 303 from Sheridan Road to the Fred Meyer/Furneys Lane signal,” Ken said. “This analysis will examine left-turn volumes, pedestrian crossing clearance times, as well as the overall delay at the intersections in this corridor.”

Spotting the HOV lane violator

The in basket: I’ve always wondered how police officers manage to enforce HOV lane rules, with tinted windows on many cars obscuring who’s inside and a law the makes someone lying down in the back seat or even an infant in a car seat a valid second passenger.

Out of curiosity, I watch the Highway 304 HOV lanes coming out of Bremerton when I’m there at rush hour, viewing from the next lane over. It affords me a view of the two front seats of any vehicle coming up from behind me, as windshield tinting is rarely as dark as side window tinting. Even that requires taking my eyes off the car in front of me briefly, always a risky thing to do in bumper to bumper traffic.

One recent afternoon, I saw a state trooper parked on the southbound shoulder of 304 and figured he was watching for speeders in the outside lane anxious to get out of town toward Silverdale, or to get ahead of traffic and cut in closer to the merge with Highway 3.

I turned my attention back to the HOV lane and noticed an expensive gold-colored hard-top sports car with only the driver visible, using that lane.

He was far from the only one, but the car gave the impression of a driver who’s used to doing things his way. I profiled him, I suppose.

When I got across the bridge over Highway 3, there was the sports car on the shoulder with a trooper leaning in the window, the emergency lights flashing on the patrol car stopped behind them.

Was it a tandem HOV lane enforcement by two officers?, I asked Trooper /Russ Winger, spokesman for the local patrol detachment.

The out basket: Russ wasn’t certain, but said, “Our officers do work together in tandem and multiples on occasion. In that particular location troopers can keep an eye out for speeders as well as seat belt and HOV violations. We have radios that allow us to communicate violations and vehicles to other troopers when it would otherwise be difficult, due to traffic, for the observing officer to safely overtake the vehicle and stop it.”

It’s easy to rationalize using the HOV lane when one is alone in one’s car. The lanes’ purpose is to make a long-term impression that you can get through faster if you car-pool or take the bus, reducing traffic and demand for more lanes over time.

But at that given moment, an HOV scofflaw can tell himself  he’s taking his vehicle out of the backup in the general purpose lanes, making things a little better.

The slim chance that I might get caught and have to pay the hefty HOV violation fine is enough to keep me out of them when I’m alone in my car, though.


Colman Dock, Bremerton arrival details are questioned

The in basket: A couple of readers have asked about possible changes in arrival times on the Bremerton-Seattle ferry run and off-loading practices at Colman Dock on the Seattle end.

Rob Woutat took note of the conflict between ferry traffic and shift-change commuter traffic out of Naval Base Bremerton. It is cited by the city as a drawback to its plans to shrink Washington Avenue to two lanes between Sixth Street and the Manette Bridge, albeit a brief one.

“Has anyone asked if a ferry from Seattle has to arrive at the same time as a shift change at the shipyard (4:00 p.m.)?” Ron asked. “It seems that a slight schedule change could alleviate the traffic backup.”

And Yvonne Dean said, “When the ferry unloads at Seattle using the usual way of off loading – two lines of traffic at once – there becomes a large back-up caused by the lines needing to merge into one lane before getting onto Alaskan Way.  There is a red light at the end of the dock with a sign saying ‘no right turn on a red light.’  It seems to me to be an extremely long light when there is no traffic coming from the left.

“Why don’t they just let one lane off at a time so there is no need to merge?  Why isn’t there someone at the end of the dock that can control the traffic without waiting for the light to change? Why don’t they adjust the time of the arrival of the Bremerton Ferry so that instead of using only that exit at least the people who want to go left off the dock go around the Bainbridge Island side of the dock?

“The ferry system would never be permitted to do this to the Bainbridge Island people so why should the Bremerton people be forced into the situation. Also how long will this mess be there?”

The out basket: I told Ron that the many years I covered the ferries before retiring as a reporter told me that seemingly minor shifts in the schedule have repercussions at other terminals on the route, plus possible crew scheduling issues. The competition with Bainbridge for how arrivals are handled on the Seattle end has impacts on when Bremerton ferries can best come and go, as the response I got from WSF public relations chief Marta Coursey suggests.

“The city of Seattle is responsible for signal timing on all traffic lights,” she said, “including the lights at both the Marion Street and Yesler Way exits from Colman Dock. WSF is actively working with the city to see if there is anything they can do to improve signaling when ferry traffic is backed up.”

Just this Tuesday, in fact, a change in the signal operation at the Yesler exit added quite a bit of green time for departing Bremerton ferry traffic, said Leonard Smith, terminal manager.

“Operations at Colman Dock are extremely complicated and many factors contribute to vessel arrival times,” Marta also said. “While we do our best not to have both the Bremerton and Bainbridge Island sailings arrive at the same time, there are times when even the slightest delay in the schedule causes two boats to arrive at once.

“The sailing schedule is developed to balance the needs of customers, crew staffing windows and general operations with available funding and resources.

“We do not currently have funding available to hire an additional terminal employee to help manage traffic during busy times, as Ms. Dean suggests.”

Marta didn’t address the idea of a single lane coming off the ferry from Bremerton, but I would think it would be more likely to slow the off-loading than speed it up. That, in turn, affects departure times and the ability of the boats to stay on schedule.

And I imagine that if it were done, there’d be a lot of questions from ferry users about why they don’t use both lanes of the car ramp.

As for how long this will be going on, Leonard said work on the seawall which now requires the merge of off-loading Bremerton traffic will end in October and that exit will return to two lanes.

But complete replacement of Colman Dock will begin in 2016, beginning five years of what I’m sure will be complicated off-loadings for all dock users.




On towing your vehicle to safety or the shop

The in basket: Jeff Griswell says in an e-mail, “Recently my truck was having some issues and it could not make it home on its own so I had to have my wife tow me home with her van. I was having a discussion with someone and they told me that it was illegal for me to tow my own car (home or even to a shop) so it could get worked on.

“I am curious about this,” he said. “I looked online (WSP site) and all I could find was about tow trucks and trailers. My question: Is or is it not legal and where could I read up on law(s) about it.
The out basket: When I was younger and foolish, I had a family member tow a car another family member had wrecked to a body shop for repair. I rode in the towed car and soon learned the tow chain should have been longer or the driver of the towing vehicle was unaware of how scary it was to be traveling 35 or 40 miles per hour that close to a vehicle directly ahead of me.

By the time we reached the body shop, I had worn the brakes of the car I was in down to nearly nothing and was just barely able to stop. I should have honked my helper over and asked him to slow down.

If the laws were the same then as now, we were definitely not a legal towing tandem. But it’s not illegal for a private party to tow a vehicle, if some rules we didn’t observe are observed.

I touched on this subject in March, when the question was limited to towing a car out of the ditch in the snow. State Trooper Russ Winger said then that the State Patrol discourages it because of the inherent danger of being close to moving vehicles when traction is bad and one or both of you probably is blocking a lane while hooking up.

Both he and Deputy Scott Wilson of the Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office said there is no law against private parties towing one another, but safety chains and adequate lighting for turn signals and brake lights are required.

“There needs to be a separate set (pair) of safety chains attached between the two vehicles in addition to the primary tow bar / tow strap or other device,” Scott said. The chains must be on each side of that device.

“Since the vehicle being towed usually does obscure the rear signal / brake lights of the towing vehicle,” he said, “it’s imperative that proper lighting be rigged on the vehicle being towed to indicate to following drivers that the operator is braking or signaling to change lanes or execute a turn,” much like when towing a boat or trailer.

Russ said having a licensed driver in the towed car will work. “The licensed driver of the towed vehicle will obviously have to operate the brakes and there is no reason they cannot operate the turn signals and/or use arm turn signals in the daylight hours. Hazard lights activated on the towed vehicle is also a good idea.

“If the towed vehicle does not have operational lighting, then a lighting bar or harness connected to the towing vehicle’s lighting system would be required.

“It should be said that this type of towing situation should be used in more emergency type situations to get a vehicle off of the roadway and to a place of repair,” he said. “Motorists should not be routinely towing vehicles around using this method.”

He also added that in “collisions that occur during ‘normal’ weather and require traffic control and proper equipment to get the vehicles out in a timely manner, we are not going to wait around for the driver’s friend or family member to show up with equipment (tow strap/cable/chain) that may or may not be able to do the job. It increases the already dangerous and vulnerable position that officers and drivers are in while stopped along the highway.”

He and Scott referred Jeff and others interested in this subject to RCWs 46.44.070,  RCW 46.37.050 and RCW 46.37.495, which add a few nuances to what’s required.


Freeboard allows some loads to be uncovered

The in basket: Tom Loushe of Clear Creek Road sent me a picture of a Kitsap County dump truck passing his house without what Tom believed was the legally required cover over its load.

“I see this constantly and not just county trucks. What gives?” he asked.

The out basket: Christopher Piercy, the county’s recycling coordinator in the solid waste division, says, “This load appears to be legal.  Washington State law states that vehicles must cover loads with less than 6 inches of freeboard along the side rail of the container. In this case it appears to meet that requirement.”

He referred me to “a very good Washington State Patrol website that details these requirements:”

Freeboard is the distance between the top of the truck bed and where the load touches the inside of the bed. A heavy load like gravel, dirt or sand can rise higher than the edge of the bed and be seen from outside the truck, if there is that six inches of freeboard around the edges after the load has had a chance to settle, according to a diagram on that site.

It also says, “If the load is a type of material that will be blown from the vehicle while the vehicle is in motion, then that type of load shall be covered to prevent this from occurring.”

I hauled a yard of yard bark to my house last week and made sure it was covered.greenhouse1 017

Stolen Mountain View school zone signs replaced

The in basket: Chester Peek said there was something wrong with the school zone signs at Mountain View Middle School in Bremerton.

Northbound on Perry Avenue, one comes to a school zone sign saying the 20 miles per hour limit is in effect from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., he said, but there is no sign ending the school zone or reestablishing the 25 mph limit one was in before the school zone started.

The first such sign isn’t until just past Sheridan Road, where it says 35 mph, the default speed limit on county roads. Perry Avenue is in the county from Stone Way north.

It had been that way for a couple of months, Chester said.

When I drove past the school, I noticed that that wasn’t the only problem. While the school zone extended all the way past the school southbound, the first school zone sign northbound was mid-way past the school.

The out basket: Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works says, “According to our traffic division, the signs were stolen. The posts were there, but the signs were gone. They were replaced June 17.”

Chester’s inquiry called it to their attention, Doug said.


When is a one-way street a one-way street?

The in basket: Elaine Henderson sent a typed letter (it’s been a long time since the Road Warrior has gotten one of those) to ask “Is it ever permissible to make a LEFT TURN on a RED LIGHT after making sure the cross street is clear of traffic?

“Yesterday I was driving east on Burwell Street approaching Washington Avenue (in Bremerton) ” she wrote on May 16. “‘The traffic light was red and there was one vehicle waiting at the light. As I stopped behind the vehicle, it made a left turn onto Washington Avenue while the light was still red.

“I drive this route at least once a week, the light at that intersection is usually red. I’ve always waited until the light changes to green before making my left turn.

“Is there perhaps an exception at this intersection regarding no left turn on red because two-way traffic ends at Burwell Street?”

The out basket: It sounds like Elaine may be aware of the little known law permitting lefts against a red light, but only  onto a one-way street going in the direction of the turn.

This could be a thorny legal issue were someone to be stopped and cited for what Elaine saw that driver do, but I’d have to guess that law doesn’t extend to a street that’s one-way SOMEWHERE along its length.

The wording of the state law (RCW 46.61.055) says “vehicle operators facing a steady circular red signal may, after stopping, proceed to make a right turn from a one-way or two-way street into a two-way street or into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the right turn; or a left turn from a one-way or two-way street into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the left turn; unless a sign posted by competent authority prohibits such movement.”

The same thing is permitted at a red arrow light.

Just a block west of Washington, going the other way on Burwell, such a turn is legal onto one-way Pacific Avenue, providing one comes to a complete stop and yields to any traffic with a green light or pedestrian in the way.

I suppose a driver could argue that he WAS turning onto a one-way street, even though the one-way portion of Washington ends before the portion of the street he’s entering. But I wouldn’t expect the arguement  to prevail in court, unless he gets a judge who delights in splitting hairs. And I’d advise Elaine to continue waiting for the green light there.

Skidding on a motorcycle on Narrows Bridge patches

The in basket: Chuck Ryers said he was motorcycling to Lacey one rainy day in May, running in cruise control over the new Tacoma Narrows Bridge when his path took him over one of several strips of tar patching on the bridge deck.

He suddenly lost traction, which kicked it out of cruise control. He reaccelerated to 60, but crossed another of the patches. “Next thing I know I was fishtailing,” he said. “I looked back and saw a four-inch strip of tar. It was slicker than snot  in the rain.”

He wondered about whether some abrasive, like sand, could be put in the black patching material to make it less slippery.

The out basket: The first thing I told Chuck was using cruise control in the rain is a bad idea, for the very reason he encountered – sudden loss of traction.

When I first heard this advice years ago, relating to cars, I couldn’t find anyone to confirm it, but now it’s come to be conventional wisdom. I didn’t know that motorcycles had cruise control, but probably the advice applies to them as well, possibly more urgently, though as I recall the disparity in traction between the two drive wheels of a car on very wet asphalt was supposedly the reason for the danger.

I asked state officials about his idea and while I was at it, what needed a row of narrow patches on the new bridge.

Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region public affairs staff for highways says, “We agree with you that it is not a good idea for motorcyclists to drive with cruise control in the rain, especially when crossing a bridge like the Tacoma Narrows where high winds could also be present.

“The substance to which he refers is a tar-like substance that was used to seal bridge deck patches that were done under warranty.  We will investigate the issue and consider options for making the substance more skid-resistant.

“As far as I know,” she said, “we’ve not done that type of work on bridge decks elsewhere.  Please thank the reader for bringing the issue to our attention.”

Most local freeway exits still unnumbered

The in basket: Sally Murphy asks, “Why the inconsistency in numbering the exits off Highway 16?  As one comes across the Narrows, there is an exit sign, number 7, then after three Gig Harbor exits, with no numbered exits, one comes upon Exit 20, Burley-Olalla.  Nothing in between and nothing afterward.
“My nephew was visiting from Texas and I told him to take Exit 20. He called and said he has passed Exit 7 and then saw no other numbered exits and thought he had made a wrong turn. Why the lack of consistency?”
The out basket: Actually, there is something afterward, but not until you leave Highway 16 for Highway 3 and get to Silverdale, where Bill Vale noticed the same inconsistency in 2009.

Only the exits at the Highway 3-303 intersection were numbered on those freeways, he noted.

Claudia Bingham-Baker of the Olympic Region public affairs staff for state highways, says the explanation given then by region Traffic Engineer Steve Bennett applies this time too.

““For years, maybe decades,” Steve said then, “we numbered only Interstate route exits.  Several years ago, we decided that policy didn’t make sense and began, as new construction came to a corridor, to add exit numbers to all multi-lane divided freeways.”

“The Highway 3-303 interchange is the most recent one substantially modified here,” he said. “I would assume the Burley-Olalla Road interchange will have its exits numbered, corresponding with the nearest milepost marker, when it opens later this year.”

Which is what happened. No other interchanges in our area have been modified in the meantime, so still have no exit numbers.

Claudia elaborated this week to say exits, “are numbered according to the milepost location (within our state’s boundaries) at which the exit is located.  (Highway 16’s)Exit 7 is located seven miles from where the highway begins (in this case, I-5), and Exit 20 at Burley Olalla is located 20 miles from that same beginning point.

“As such, exit numbers are a great reference point for drivers. Let’s say you’re headed northbound from Oregon to Washington, and you know you need to take Exit 165. If you understand the exit numbering system, you know that I-5 at the Oregon border is milepost 0.  Exit #165 would be 165 miles north of that beginning point.

“On north/south highways, the mileposts increase in the northbound direction, and on east/west highways, the mileposts increase in the eastern direction.

“There are two notable exceptions to this rule,” she said, ” both in our neck of the woods: 1) US 101, which is unusual because it’s a loop road where milepost numbers increase north up the coast and then continue to increase even when the highway is headed back south to Olympia; and 2) SR 16, where mileposts increase east to west (the opposite of our conventional numbering system). Not sure why.”

2 flashing yellow lefts get warning signs

The in basket: Ian MacKenzie wrote on June 3 and said, ” I wrote to you a while back regarding the intersection of Randall Way and Kitsap Mall Boulevard (in Silverdale). I worried about the implication of both the southbound lanes able to turn left on a flashing (yellow) arrow.

“I just came home from a trip to Home Depot in Silverdale and made that left turn and I see that the county has installed a large sign between the signals informing people that Left Turns Yield on Flashing Yellow,” he said.

“This is the exact sign that the City of Federal Way has installed at all their flashing yellow (turn) signals.

“I would like to think that maybe we had an impact in getting that sign placed and improving the safety of the intersection.” he concluded.

The out basket: I suppose we contributed, but accident history prompted the sign’s installation, notably a fatal left-turn accident at the Kitsap Mall Boulevard-Randall Way intersection.

The same sign has been put on the left-turn signal cross-arm on Myhre Way southbound at Ridgetop Boulevard, also in Silverdale, reader Harry Gilger notes. None of the other county intersections with the yellow flashing lefts nor any of the other directions at the two in Silverdale have gotten the signs.

“We are placing that sign at intersections where collision data support additional awareness,” said Doug Bear of Kitsap County Public Works.