Monthly Archives: September 2014

Fourth & Torval in Poulsbo part of a much larger plan

The in basket: Norm Mundhenk wrote nearly a year ago, saying “In Poulsbo, Torval Canyon Road runs into Fourth Avenue, forming a sort of T-junction. However, Fourth Avenue ends in a short cul-de-sac as soon as it crosses Torval Canyon.

“The signs at this junction strike me as very strange.” he said. “There is no sign at all for cars leaving the cul-de-sac. One assumes that this happens very rarely, but whenever a car does leave, it is apparently free to drive right out without stopping. However, cars approaching from the south or east have stop signs, even though the corner is basically just a continuing road for such cars.

“I wonder why it would not be possible to do something at this junction such has been done where Hillcrest runs into Central Valley Road (in Central Kitsap). There Hillcrest (which functions rather like the cul-de-sac on Fourth Avenue, although surely it has more cars using it) has a stop sign, with another sign underneath the stop sign informing drivers that ‘Oncoming traffic does not stop’. Cars coming south on Central Valley are allowed to continue without stopping even though it is a left turn.

“Surely something like this could be done instead of the stop signs at Torval Canyon and Fourth Avenue,” he concluded.

The out basket: The stub of Fourth Avenue strikes me as more of a tiny parking lot than a cul-de-sac and I thought it might be missing a stop sign. But it turns out that that traffic alignment is intentional and arises from a six-year-old traffic study.

Michael Bateman, senior engineering technician for the city of Poulsbo, says “The stop signs on Fourth and on Torval Canyon are based upon recommendations in the City of Poulsbo’s Transportation Demand Management (TDM) Study of 2008.

“They are a part of a larger strategy and were considered essential in concert with additional stops placed on Front Street.  Without the additional all-way stops in the downtown core at intersections such as Fourth and Torval Canyon, through-traffic not intending to stop in the downtown core would seek alternate routes as cut-through bypasses to avoid the stops on Front, without re-routing to the desirable Highway 305 route.

“This results in both undesirable volumes and undesirable speeds in the downtown core street network.

Removal of the stops at 4th and Torval without simultaneous removal of stops on Front Street would create additional traffic and additional speeds on this route, a very undesirable result,” he said.

A consultant looked at the strategy in 2010, when traffic counts were updated, and it was found to be working well, Michael said, “with no action to add or remove TDM measures recommended.”

“As we still get feedback from the neighborhood that the stops are not 100 percent effective at controlling traffic and speed in the neighborhood, and have recently installed additional speed tables on Fourth in order to combat the excessive speeds as demanded by local residents, removal of these stops is not recommended.”

The intersection was identified in the study as an all-way stop, he added, and at one time there was a third stop sign, controlling those exiting the Fourth Avenue stub.  “It was removed in response to a  citizen complaint that it should not be there,” he said.

Power outage provision at new SK signal won’t include generators

The in basket: Doug Pinard is concerned about the new traffic signal being installed on Mullenix Road at Phillips Road in South Kitsap when the lights go out.

He lives in that area, he said, and “it’s very prone to power outages.”  The intersection is not well lighted and drivers will have trouble seeing that there is a signal there when the power is out, he said. He asked if the lights will have backup generators.

The out basket: Backup generators at traffic lights are rare. The only one I know of in the county is at the single point interchange in Silverdale where highways 3 and 303 meet. So I wasn’t surprised when Kitsap County officials said none are planned at Mullenix and Phillips.

They will be bordered in a reflective gold color, which is the accepted provision for power outages. In fact, the signal heads have been mounted already on the cross bars and they have the border.

The intersection will be better lighted when the lights are on. The signal poles have street lights atop them and I spotted at least one additional street light there. That won’t help when the power’s out, of course, but the reflective borders will.

Seattle lane closures toyed with the ‘zipper merge’

The in basket: Petra Hellthaler heard a report on a KUOW radio show called “Here and Now” this month about the use of the “zipper” merge tactic, and highlighted a couple of Web sites discussing it. She knows of my campaign to get it signed and used at the Bremerton merge of highways 3 and 304. She said she’s all for it too.

One of the Web sites decried the use of what it called “the jerk merge” on a troublesome San Francisco highway, saying that forcing one’s way into a line of bumper-to-bumper traffic “may exacerbate the city’s already horrendous traffic problems.”

The other one,  on the Ars Technica Web site, says that the state of Minnesota “began openly advertising the zipper merge in the early 2000s” and “now Washington state has followed suit to encourage zipper merging … in the highly publicized construction zones in Seattle.”

Its article was headlined “The beauty of the zipper merge, or why you should drive ruder” and included the following, from Minnesota traffic engineer Ken Johnson:

It works as follows: in the event of an impending lane closure, drivers should fill in both lanes in equal measure. Within a few car lengths of a lane ending, both lanes’ cars should take turns filling in the open lane and resuming full speed.

“If roads are clear enough that everyone is already driving close to the speed limit, zipper merging isn’t as effective, but in the case of congestion, Johnson said that this method reduces backups by a whopping 40 percent on average, since both lanes approach the merge with equal stake in maintaining speed.”

One might think that the article about the San Francisco “jerk merges” would be an argument against the zipper, but it’s not. It’s the series of merges all along the backup that makes things worse, and makes tempers flare, not the orderly alternate merges where the one lane ends.

TV news was abuzz this summer about those Seattle freeway lane closures, but I hadn’t heard mention of the zipper in all that.

But if it was true, I wondered about the possibility of it migrating over here to the 3-304 merge. A study is under way of making that merge work better, with a public meeting coming up this year.

The out basket: News of the zipper movement catching on in this state hadn’t reached our Olympic Region. Spokeswoman Claudia Bingham Baker said, “I’ve not heard of us going to the type of system you referenced.

 “As regards zipper merging in general,” she added, “studies show that if traffic is moving well, it’s better to merge before you reach the end of the merging lane.  If traffic is moving slowly, it’s more efficient to continue down to the end of the merging lane, and ‘zipper’ into traffic there.” 

Claudia then referred me to Travis Phelps, her counterpart in the state’s Northwest Region, and he confirmed what Ars Technica had reported.

I’d call it a “toe in the water’ approach, as it was limited to the Seattle construction zones, was temporary, and official advocacy of the zipper merge was mostly by Twitter, he said. There were no signs posted depicting the maneuver.

Phelps said the practice worked with varying degrees of success during the multiple freeway lane closures in King County. “One of the big hurdles is it’s a cultural thing,” he said, “getting people to see that, ‘Hey he’s not being a jerk by using an open lane.'”

Claudia didn’t express an opinion about the wisdom of installing signs on Highway 3 calling for use of the zipper movement at 304 to keep traffic flowing better than it does now. I’ll do what I can to make sure the stakeholder committee studying the congestion problem there knows of the idea.


Silverdale interchange is no place to try odd left-turn-on-red law

The in basket: Ben Pearson e-mailed to say, “I know that left turns on red are legal onto a one-way road like an on-ramp but can they be used at that odd intersection of Highway 303 and Highway 3 where you are crossing over the traffic lane?”
The out basket: Ben is in the minority, as most drivers don’t know that that is legal. I write about it a lot, but it hadn’t occurred to me until Ben asked that it technically would apply to left turns from eastbound Highway 303 to northbound Highway 3 in Silverdale.
It would be wildly unwise to try it there. To do it legally one must make a complete stop at the red light before proceeding and be sure no traffic with a green light would conflict with the turn. It can be done only onto a one-way street.
That Silverdale intersection is so long, with a hump in the middle, that it would be difficult if not impossible to see conflicting traffic that would make the turn illegal – and would risk a fender bender or worse.
“It would be a crazy thing to try and if there isn’t a sign already prohibiting it, there should be,” I told Ben, and asked State Trooper Russ Winger, my State Patrol contact what he thought.
“I would agree,” he said. “That would not be a simple left turn from a stop line to the ramp. You must travel several hundred feet prior to even making the left turn.
“The timing of the lights, distance and design of the roadway make that type of turn, at a minimum, unsafe. The intersection can be confusing already for some drivers not familiar with it and that type of action would not be safe at all in that location.”
But I wondered what such a sign would say. “No left turn on red” would mystify the great majority of drivers who don’t know a left turn on red is EVER legal.
Claudia Bingham Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways said, “We agree with you that drivers would have no idea what such a sign would mean, and we would not install it.”
It’s a moot point in most cases, anyway. Even where a left turn on red would be safe as well as legal, the odds of the first driver in line knowing of the odd law and daring to take advantage of it are so low it’s rarely seen.

‘Squashed cormorants” on bridge deck concern reader

The in basket: Charles Ely says he thinks fledgling cormorants who are hatched under the Warren Avenue Bridge in Bremerton are crash landing on the roadway above while learning to fly and are unable to get off the bridge deck since the recent alteration that walled off the driving surface from the edge of the bridge. It leads to “squashed cormorants,” he said, and he wonders if creating a break in the barrier would be helpful.

Also, he said, “since they are protected, shouldn’t their deaths be at least tracked?”

The out basket: Claudia Bingham Baker of the Olympic Region public affairs office says, “We are aware of the large population of pelagic cormorants that consider the Warren Avenue Bridge their home. At various times (i.e. when we painted the bridge a few years ago), our biologists have monitored the behavior of the birds.

“They found that the cormorants nesting on the underside of the bridge flew under, not over, the bridge. The behavior your reader is describing is a bit out of character for the birds, and (for now), we don’t believe the pedestrian barrier has an effect on their behavior because it did not change the barrier’s basic configuration.

“Pelagic cormorants are migratory birds and are protected, but they are not endangered.  These particular cormorants don’t even migrate – they stay put at the bridge.

“As regards tracking the birds,” she added, “we unfortunately we don’t have the resources to do that. Your reader’s observation has, however, raised our awareness and our biologists and bridge maintenance people will look into the issue more closely.”

Lund Avenue to get new signal, but not at Hoover and not this year

The in basket: Ken Richards e-mailed to ask, “Whatever happened to the traffic light that was going to be installed this summer at the corner of Hoover Avenue and Lund Avenue. by East Port Orchard Elementary School?

“I believe it was suppose to be safer for bus traffic as they returned to their barn and the children (pedestrians) walking on the side of the road and crossing. Or did the roads department/county council decide that people are replaceable and the buses were getting old anyway?”

The out basket: I hadn’t heard of such a plan and the county says there isn’t one. Ken may be thinking of plans for a new traffic signal at Harris Road and Lund, a short distance east of Hoover’s intersection. Or maybe not. Harris doesn’t provide much of an access to and from the school bus compound.

“There was no traffic signal planned for Hoover and Lund,” says Jeff Shea, county traffic engineer. “It does not meet the warrants for a signal. The Lund and Harris intersection remains on the TIP and is warranted by the increase in traffic at that intersection.”

But even that one isn’t proposed for this year. It’s on the county’s six-year road plan (called the TIP) for 2018 at a cost of $715,000.

Traffic signs can blend into the background

The in basket:  I often hear from readers who find the array of traffic signals on eastbound 11th Street at Warren Avenue in Bremerton confusing. There are four signal heads for three lanes, and the right-most two control only the outside lane, but give some drivers the impression going straight in the centermost eastbound lane is permissible.

It’s not, both inner lanes are for left turns only.

So I was surprised the other day when I spotted two signs beside the street as I approached the intersection. They said only traffic in the right lane is allowed to go straight.

I asked Gunnar Fridriksson, Bremerton’s managing street engineer, if they had recently been added because of comments about confusion at the intersection, or had they been there since the intersection was revised a year ago.

The out basket: Another surprise. They’d been there a lot longer than that. Gunnar said, “Probably put in place 20-plus years ago when the lanes were originally configured (with) the two lanes being left turning. Been there all this time.”

He’s remarked before that the recent revision didn’t change the number of signal heads or what lanes they control. For some reason, confusion among drivers increased when the heads no longer hung from wires, but are installed on metal poles.

“The problem with signs,” he said, “if you are not looking for them – they tend not to be noticed.  (That’s) why I am not a proponent for adding to the clutter.”

He then sent along a public service video intended to raise consciousness about driver’s watching out for bicycles, but also illustrating that things in plain sight can go unnoticed if you’re watching for something else.

Perhaps you’ve seen it. It involves a bunch of people tossing basketballs around, and you are challenged to count the number of passes the ones dressed in white make. A man in a bear suit walks through the milling players, moon-walking part of the way, and I’m sure goes unnoticed – the first time – by the vast majority of those who see it and are occupied counting passes. I didn’t see him, even though I’d seen the video before.

Google ‘moonwalking bear” if you want to test your awareness. Even forewarned, you may be surprised.

Possible traffic stop near Gorst created lot of confusion

The in basket: Bill Metcalf, who I know from the Winter Club dance organization, sent me the following on Sept. 1, in his inimitably whimsical style.

“SheWhoMustBeObeyed and I were returning home yesterday afternoon after ballroom dancing in Port Orchard,” he wrote. “When we got to everybody’s favourite section of Gorst – under the cliffs – SOME of the traffic ground to a crawl – the rest didn’t, and it got ugly, quickly.

“Why?  Right in the middle of the worst part of Highway 3’s northbound side, where the curve prohibits seeing very far ahead, a law enforcement vehicle had stopped a car on the too-narrow right shoulder and, I imagine, the (officer) was writing out a ticket!  I was too busy trying to dodge the inattentive/rubbernecking drivers to do more than avoid hitting or getting hit.

“May I respectfully request if a (law enforcement officer) needs to cite some driver for some infraction or other, he/she take a couple of minutes to follow the perpetrator to a SAFER location before lighting up the lights and pulling over?

“I suspect that half of the inattentive drivers were quickly attempting to move over a lane – in bumper-to-bumper moving traffic – so as to follow the recent mandate to do so, forgetting that they could merely slow down as they drove past,” Bill said.

The out basket: Not knowing for what department the officer in question works, nor whether it was a citation in progress rather than a stalled car, I asked the state patrol and Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office if their officers have special instructions for places like the four-lane between Gorst and Bremerton. The state forbids parking along there because there’s so little room for error.

“Our officers do not have any special instructions as to where to or not, stop a violator along that particular section of SR-3,” State Patrol spokesman Trooper Russ Winger replied.

“Our troopers are trained to evaluate each traffic stop location based on several factors. These include, but are not limited to, time of day, type of violation, current traffic situation, driving behavior of the violator etc.

“Our troopers do think about and attempt to stop violators in ‘safe’ locations (Stopping vehicles along roadways, especially high speed roads, is inherently dangerous).

“Of course,  this is not always possible depending on the particular circumstance. We often times do ‘trail’ the violator to a more safe location if the situation warrants doing so.

“There are situations where the officer decides that getting the vehicle stopped ASAP is the best situation, such as reckless and erratic driven vehicles and possible DUI violators. As you pointed out, the officer could have been assisting a disabled vehicle or even investigating a collision.

“From experience I can tell you that that section of SR-3 between SR-304 and Gorst, both north- and southbound, is NOT the safest place to stop a vehicle or assist a broken down vehicle or investigate a collision. But our troopers will do what they need to in order to keep the roadways safe and flowing as smooth as possible.

 “As always, we recommend motorists follow the law and at least slow down as they approach police vehicles stopped on the shoulder with emergency lights activated.”

Deputy Scott Wilson, Russ’ counterpart in the sheriff’s office, called Russ’ response “spot-on,” saying there’s nothing he could add except that he checked with 911 and his department’s records and found no record of a county deputy having made a stop for a traffic offense or motorist assist on that stretch that Sunday.

Kingston’s odd stop signal creates breaks in ferry traffic

The in basket: Erik Bjarnson writes, “I take the Kingston-Edmonds ferry about half a dozen times per month. When returning from Edmonds I get stopped at a red light at Washington Boulevard NE (the first light coming off the ferry) about 80 percent of the time. I don’t mind stopping at red lights when there is a reason for the light to be red, but it I have never stopped at that light and seen any cross traffic, vehicular or pedestrian.

Are you aware of any reason this light goes red to stop ferry traffic? Is it timed to give breaks in ferry traffic? Is it timed to improve flow with other lights through Kingston?
The out basket: Eric’s first guess is correct. Ken Burt of the state’s Olympic Region signal shop says the idea is to give traffic elsewhere in Kingston the opportunity to move during ferry off-loads.

“The condition that is described by Mr. Blair was put in prior to October 1994,” Ken said. “The side street was recalled to allow gaps in traffic downstream from the Washington Boulevard intersection.” (Recalled is the term signal techs use to describe having the signal change.) The gaps in traffic would allow cross street movements in downtown Kingston.

“We have made minor adjustments to the signal operation at Washington Boulevard.” he said, “that could allow less frequent stops to the ferry offloading vehicles.  We will need to monitor the effects in Kingston from this revision. If the revision does not negatively impact Kingston then we will leave it in place.”

No new guardrail in Sedgwick’s immediate future

The in basket: Ken Hovater writes,”A couple of years ago the county installed several feet of heavy duty guardrail on Long Lake Road. At the time I believe the reasoning was to bring the road into compliance with a highway construction standard.

“I am wondering when and if the state is going to do the same work on Highway 160 (Sedgwick Road). There are some very deep valleys in spots along that road. A crash into one could prove fatal.”

The out basket: The county project on Long Lake Road came out of a safety grant received for that purpose.

Sedgwick is a state highway and Olympic Region spokesperson Claudia Bingham Baker says, “Guardrail is usually installed when we have an active project in an area.  At present, we have no projects planned on SR 160, so no plans to add guardrail along the highway.

“Our maintenance crews replace and repair damaged guardrail, of course, where it already exists,” she said. State crews here just did that, replacing the guardrail around the Highway 16 overpass in front of Peninsula Subaru in Gorst. It had been mangled for the second time in a couple of years and was replaced Sept. 4.

Claudia continues, “We have many areas along our state highways that have dips along the roadway. Guardrail itself can become a hazardous object motorists can hit, so it’s installed only in areas that meet certain criteria. Even then, we do not have the funds to install guardrail in all the areas that could benefit from it.”