Monthly Archives: November 2015

Mystery caravan reported on Highway 16

The in basket: Mike Moore called a while back and said that around the first week of September he saw something that seemed unusual.

On his way down Highway 16 driving toward Tacoma, he said he saw a half dozen or so brand new Silverado pickup trucks with all white campers or canopies on the back, without windows in them. The trucks all had U.S. government plates. The campers/canopies were uniformly white, though the trucks were various colors.

As they approached the toll booths for the Tacoma Narrows bridge, one of the trucks was stopped at the side of the highway, with another vehicle in front of it. He didn’t know if the truck’s driver had stopped the other vehicle, was trying to aid it, or had nothing to do with it. But it had the red and blue  lights that law enforcement uses flashing in  its grill and somewhere on the rear.

He wondered what they were.

The out basket: I can’t add anything helpful here. My Washington State Patrol contact said he had no idea what they were. So I’ll just toss this one out there. Anyone in reader land know what Mike had seen?

Odd behavior by pedestrian signal reported

The in basket: Jeff who gave no last name says that while he tried to cross Naval Avenue at Burwell Street in Bremerton one afternoon, “I got to the intersection as the pedestrian signal was in the middle of its countdown. I pressed the button expecting to have to wait a full cycle, but as soon as the countdown reached zero, the walk signal came up (again).
“I’m not familiar with how signals are set up, but it seems like a programming change should allow the button to reset the countdown if there will be time in the overall light cycle for pedestrians to cross.

After someone presses the button to cross, the white walking person (symbol) comes up with the traffic green. After a few seconds, the white walking person turns into the flashing red hand with the countdown. If a new person walks up and presses the button, nothing happens, the count down continues. As soon as the countdown hits zero, without pressing the button again, the white walking person comes back up.

“My question was why can’t pressing the button a second time allow the white walk signal to come back up without having to go through the whole count down.” 

The out basket: I had never seen such a thing, in Bremerton or elsewhere, but it appears it can and does happen.

Jeff Collins of the Bremerton signal shop says, “The newer traffic signal controllers will allow a pedestrian call to be re-serviced if there are no other calls or if the current cycle has enough time left on that phase.

“Pressing the button repeatedly will not change how the signal operates,” he added. “Once the pedestrian call is placed (the button is pushed), it is locked into the controller and pressing the button again has no effect until after the walk is displayed, then pressing after walk is displayed will only lock the call in until the walk is displayed again.”

KCSO doesn’t use decoy patrol cars

The in basket: A recent Road Warrior column about new signs warning of an upcoming school zone grew out of a South Kitsap drive-around on which I spotted one other oddity.

A Kitsap County Sheriff’s Office patrol car was parked, unoccupied, on the shoulder at Burley-Glenwood Elementary School. It wasn’t near any access to or from the school, but was clearly visible to traffic on the road in front.

I wondered if KCSO is deploying old patrol cars as decoys to slow drivers down.

The out basket: Deputy Scott Wilson, spokesman for the department, says, “I could find no calls for service or other events involving KCSO at Burley-Glenwood Elementary School (that day).  I queried Kitsap County Central Communications about this and received the same response.

“KCSO doesn’t conduct ‘decoy patrols,’ utilizing unoccupied patrol vehicles… we don’t have enough vehicles or the personnel to engage in tactics of this nature.

“We do, however, conduct school zone speed enforcement patrols during the academic school year, generally during morning school arrival times and afternoon school dismissal time-periods, when students are expected to be walking to and from schools.

“When conducting speed enforcement patrols, deputies typically remain with their vehicles.

“My take on this is that a sheriff’s patrol deputy, not identified, parked his patrol vehicle on the shoulder of the roadway, in front of the school, and got out of the car without notifying radio dispatch.  This could have been for any number of reasons.”


Don’t expect jake brake sign on Gorst downgrade

The in basket: Annette Griffus, a sports reporter here, asks, “What is the city/county ordinance, if any, on the use of jake brakes for trucks traveling on Highway 3 near Gorst early (very early) in the morning, or really any time of day?
“It has really become a problem with the noise where I live and I was just curious.”

She lives along the downgrade from Sunnyslope Road to the Gorst businesses, she said.

The out basket: I see signs saying unmuffled compression brakes are forbidden, but they mostly are at the entries to cities. There is no such sign on the downgrade where Annette lives, a state highway, and from what I’ve been able to determine, there isn’t likely to be.

Jeff Shea, Kitsap County’s traffic engineer, says, “State law RCW 46.37.395 requires compression brakes be muffled for any vehicle over five tons.  Kitsap County Code 46.37.010 simply states that unmuffled brakes are prohibited.

“We post all roads entering the county with a sign that states this restriction; excluding the state routes. We also respond to residents near trucking routes, normally on steep slopes where trucks are using their brakes, and we post a similar sign.

“The (state) will not post this restriction on the state routes because they are reluctant to post regulations that should be common knowledge,” Jeff said.

“To my knowledge,” he added, “this restriction has never been enforced by law enforcement. My understanding from talking to the sheriff is that it is difficult to tell if the brakes are muffled or not.  I have also been told that even if they are muffled, they still make a significant amount of noise.

“Some communities have passed ordinances to restrict compression brakes altogether,” he said. “The trucking industry has told us that this is a safety issue. On steep slopes trucks with large loads cannot be controlled without the use of compression brakes.

“Also, this type of ordinance becomes an environmental law.  Specific noise levels must be established which makes enforcement very difficult. Normally with these laws a stipulation is put into the regulation that allows for their use in emergencies, which can pretty much be claimed at any time making enforcement even more of an issue.”

I asked Claudia Bingham Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways if Jeff’s characterization is accurate, and she replied, “It is true that WSDOT is reluctant to post regulations already covered under RCW 46.61 “Rules of the Road.” We don’t post signs, for example, that tell people to drive in the right lane.

“As regards signs prohibiting compression brakes, if a local jurisdiction passes an ordinance prohibiting muffled compression brakes on a state highway within their jurisdiction, we will post the sign.

“Absent an ordinance, we will not, since without the ordinance they are not illegal.  And since unmuffled compression brakes are already prohibited, it would be like signing the ‘drive in the right lane.’ message.”

Since the Kitsap County ordinance addresses only unmuffled jake brakes, I wouldn’t expect a sign on Highway 3 entering Gorst.

Warren Avenue barrier to get better lighting

The in basket: Charlie Ballew writes, “Twice this month I almost hit pedestrians (probably PSNS workers going to work) during the morning at 4th and Warren Avenue and 5th and Warren Avenue.  The pedestrians were wearing dark clothing and I didn’t see them until I was almost on them.

“We need to have overhead street lights at these two intersections,” he said.

The out basket: Charlie’s comment echoes that of

Dale Gilchrist, who told an almost identical story back in March 2013, shortly after the center barrier was installed on Warren.

The city’s position then came from street engineer Gunnar Fridriksson, who said, “a recent city traffic study showed little nighttime accident history on Warren at that point.

“The accidents were primarily daytime – very few nighttime accidents,” he said. “I think there were four total for the report period in our traffic study – all vehicle accidents.

“So street lighting was not part of the design effort with the latest improvement. That being said, we have been trying to get resources to look at overall street lighting levels citywide. It is on our to-do list, just as we have time to get to it.”

I asked Gunnar’s successor, Jerry Hauth, what’s new and he said better lighting is coming to that stretch of Warren. He said Puget Sound energy “will be augmenting the lighting in this area in conjunction with the work on Americans with Disability Act ramps the state will start to install next spring.”

He included a preliminary sketch of the work, which shows four 35-foot wood poles to be installed with 102-watt LED lights that appear to go on diagonal corners of the two intersections.

Olalla boat ramp gets pervious pavement

The in basket: I happened past the inlet and boat launching area at Olalla a couple of weeks ago and saw what appeared to be dead trees lying laterally along the toe of the parking area, best known as the site of the annual Jan. 1 Polar Bear plunge.

I was in too big a hurry that day to stop, so went back Wednesday to check out what I’d seen. By then a couple of tree root balls protruded from the soil along the edge of the newly paved boat launching ramp. They were enclosed in a planting area of native-looking vegetation that separated the new pavement from the water.

I asked County Commissioner Charlotte Garrido at last week’s ribbon cutting at the new Blackjack Creek pedestrian bridge in Port Orchard what was happening in Olalla and she referred me to the county parks department.

The out basket; Parks director Jim Dunwiddie says the boat launch is the fourth county park property to get pervious pavement that lets storm water pass through rather than running untreated into the salt water. The native plantings constitute a water garden that will filter pollutants out of what runoff gets that far.

“There was some paving breaking off into the water and we had no real way to address the water runoff in that area (before the work),” he said.

The Point No Point, Wildcat Lake and Horseshoe Lake parking areas were done last year, he said.

The boat ramp has been closed since Oct. 5, but may be open again by now. The paving was done Wednesday and cones and tape barricaded it that day. Some future short closures are possible for paint striping.

The project is described on the park’s Web site, It says the next closest boat launches for small craft are  in Manchester and Gig Harbor.

Jim said he doesn’t expect the changes to interfere with the Jan. 1 Plunge

Another idea to soften speed humps proposed

The in basket: Yet another reader has chimed in with yet another idea for making speed humps less harmful for cars and less painful for those with back problems.

Jim Matthews called to suggest leaving gaps maybe 10 inches wide  in the speed humps, too narrow to be sure of going through them if one’s speed is high, but wide enough for a driver to pass through at a slow speed without the jounce all our local speed humps provide.

I hypothesized that fear of accidents caused by loss of control from vehicles’ slipping sideways into the spaces, and the wide variety of wheel bases would make such an idea impractical, but I asked Kitsap County if its engineers had any thoughts on the subject.

The out basket: Turns out that Jim’s idea has actually been tried, according to County Traffic Engineer Jeff Shea.

“A device similar to what the reader is describing has been used in other jurisdictions,” Jeff said. “The device is not designed for the purpose of easing through the bump, but rather for emergency vehicles so they don’t have to slow down.

“The device has been referred to as a ‘Speed Pillow.’ They are not very popular and not widely used around here. They are difficult to build and even though they are designed for emergency vehicles, most cars can easily traverse through them without slowing down at all.  The ones I have driven over did not do a very good job of slowing me down.”

Roundabout yield rules are the opposite of standard intersections

The in basket: Joan Dingfield asks, “Can you find out why the yield directions on roundabouts are exactly opposite of what state law states about rights-of-way?

“When cars arrive at an intersection at the same time, it is the car on the right that has the right-of-way. When approaching a roundabout, however, it is the car to your left you need to yield to.”

The out basket: As a practical matter, applying the standard right of way rule to a roundabout would create havoc in them and they’d never get built. Imagine the chaos of drivers stopping to let just one car into the roundabout, let alone a stream of them. Soon the circle would be blocked even if there were no rear-end collisions.

But a formal answer to Joan’s question comes from Brian Walsh, state  highways’ traffic design and operations manager.

“The ‘yield to the right law’ is the rule at a standard intersection where the intersection is considered an  ‘uncontrolled intersection.’ Brian said. “Many neighborhood intersections are typically uncontrolled, therefore the basic rule is for the driver to ‘yield to the vehicle approaching’ from the right when arriving at the intersection.  If an intersection has a stop or yield sign or signal on an approach, it is considered a ‘controlled intersection,”’and the placement of the traffic control defines the rules for drivers.

“Roundabouts are considered controlled intersections that have a ‘yield’ and ‘one-way’ sign on every approach. The ‘one way’ and ‘yield’ signs direct drivers to proceed to the right of the central island, and to yield to anyone already circulating in the roundabout in front of them. The signs are the determining factors, per state statute, in assigning fault in the event of a collision.”

A reader who signed only as Ben offered another possible rationalization in a comment on the Road Warrior blog at He notes that state law regarding entering an intersection also says ““…after slowing or stopping, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle in the intersection…” If a car in a roundabout might be considered “in the intersection,” that might cover it too.


What’s new on Belfair Bypass?

The in basket: Julie Burghardt of Allyn writes, “I thought I had heard that the Belfair Bypass was finally being funded in the latest transportation plan but the DOT website doesn’t list it in its ‘2015 Highway Construction Current Law 6-Year Plan.’  They do list an improvement to the SR3-SR302 intersection as its own project now.
“Their preferred plan relocated the SR3-SR302 intersection to where the entrance to the North Mason schools off of 302 currently is, and brought the bypass in to meet them there.  The last report listed this as ‘subject to change’ because of new buildings and renovations at the schools, although those are all at the north side of the school property.
“Because the DOT doesn’t list the bypass but does list as a project something that used to be part of the bypass project, I was wondering if they’re going to do the (needed) safety improvement at SR3-SR302 now and do the bypass as part of the next 6-year plan (or the one after that). What’s the latest story?”
The out basket: Claudia Bingham Baker of the Olympic Region of state highways says, “Funding for the Belfair Bypass doesn’t begin until July 2019.  Even so, we believe the overall alignment for the bypass will remain as detailed in our environmental document,” which can be seen online at
“We do plan to reach out to stakeholders and the public when design begins in July 2019 to address the connection points,” she said. “We believe that much passage of time, development in the corridor, a fresh look at traffic patterns and public input may affect the ultimate decision on the connections.  We will also have to refresh our environmental document.
“Consequently we do not have a firm answer to your questions.  The SR 3/SR 302 project your reader mentioned was removed from the books once the Belfair Bypass project was funded, so it will no longer be built as a separate project.
“Given that it’s six years out, we don’t have a web page up yet. We do have plans to get a web page active in the not-too-distant future.”

Reader suggests new approach to building speed humps

The in basket: Retired orthopedic surgeon Larry Iversen noted the recent Road Warrior column on the reason for speed humps and suggested a modification.

“I understand that the idea of speed humps is to discourage drivers from exceeding the speed limit,” he wrote, “but why punish those of us who drive the speed limit with a jolt that aggravates the pinched nerve in my neck, even when I am traveling the speed limit?

“There must be a civil engineer smart enough to design humps that are comfortable to cross at the posted legal speed, but will create an uncomfortable ‘jolt’ at higher speeds, such as 10 mph higher.”

The out basket: Jeff Shea, traffic engineer for Kitsap County, and Jerry Hauth, street engineer for Bremerton, replied to Larry’s suggestion,

“One of the biggest challenges with speed humps or tables is that all drivers, law abiding and not, must traverse these traffic control devices,” Jeff said. “Because of this, under our local streets traffic-calming program we require approval of 70 percent of the affected motorists before installing them. “The size and shape of the speed humps are designed to slow traffic well below the speed limit so speeds between the devices are close to the posted speed limit.  If the speed humps were designed for the posted speed, chances are we would still see the high speeds between them.

“Design of these devices is a tricky task,” he said.  “The first variable would be the motorist. Who would be the average driver or lowest common denominator for the design; a healthy young individual, or an older individual with back problems?

“The other variable would be the vehicle; many suspension systems are different with more or less tolerance for bumps than others.  Picking an average or less than average for the design would be a challenge to ensure the hump was traversable by most motorists, but not too traversable to allow too high of speeds.

“There are the three basic configurations; speed bumps, speed humps, and speed tables.  Speed bumps are very abrupt and normally found in parking lots. They are constructed to get motorists below 5 mph.  Speed humps, usually 3 inches high by about 12 feet long, are comfortably traversed by a majority of motorists at a speed of about 10 mph and tables, usually 3 inches high by 22 feet long, are designed for about 15 mph.

“Because of that, and for safety and liability concerns, Kitsap County constructs accepted industry-standard speed hump profiles.  County speed humps are built to Institute of Transportation Engineer’s standards.

“The county builds speed humps using asphalt.  So even though we try to meet ITE standards there is always some minor variance in the dimensions.  This is due to the forming and compaction characteristics of asphalt.  It is difficult to get exact dimensions with asphalt.”

Jerry said, “Most ( if not all) of the engineers that I have interacted with over the years have not been big advocates of speed humps for numerous reasons. You may want to ask emergency responders what they think about them.

“The initial speed bumps caused a radical bounce, which made them acceptable for a parking lot, where a vehicle should be going very slowly, but not on roads. The more recent introduction of speed humps and tables was intended for low volume, relatively flat roads, with the expectation of setting up a rocking effect in the vehicles that people find very unpleasant and be forced to slow down. However, the general effect typically is you almost need to crawl over them in order to not destroy your vehicle or your body.

“The answer to the doctor’s question is that sadly we civil engineers have not come up with a design for these that can effectively slow the vehicles down, without the dramatic impacts to both vehicle and occupant.”