Tag Archives: Washington Avenue

Washington Avenue speed limit inquiry

The in basket: C.J. Gebhart  writes, “I make a left off the Manette Bridge onto Washington Ave every morning on my way to work.  There is no speed limit sign on that section of Washington so was wondering what the speed limit is on Washington.”

The out basket: I’m sure that C.J. won’t be surprised that the answer is 25 miles per hour there, the default speed limit in cities. That’s the answer I got from Chal Martin, public works director for the city of Bremerton.

Washington Avenue lane reduction is under way

The in basket: With Fifth Street in Bremerton closed at Washington Avenue and its pavement crushed, plus the north end of the barrier separating the two levels of Washington between Sixth Street and the Manette Bridge newly shortened, I wondered if the city was doing work to prepare for this summer’s realignment of Washington, or if it was the first phases of the project itself.

It seems that the start of street and road projects have a way of dragging into the late summer and I hadn’t heard that the contractor had been given the go-ahead to begin the overall project, which will reduce Washington to a single lane in each direction with bike lanes and wider sidewalks between Sixth and the bridge.

I recall that years ago, a Road Warrior reader suggested that the toe of that barrier be cut back or at least painted white so left-turn traffic coming off the bridge was less likely to turn too sharply and hit it. I don’t recall what I did with that, but it didn’t get done then.

The out basket: It IS the start of the project, says city Public Works Director Chal Martin, and it’s to be com

Work begin down at Fifth Street and Washington Ave. in Bremerton during the first phase of improvements. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN
Work begin down at Fifth Street and Washington Ave. in Bremerton during the first phase of improvements. LARRY STEAGALL / KITSAP SUN

pleted in November. The closure of Fifth Street is for utility improvements that are working their way up to Sixth Street. Fifth is scheduled to reopen on May 11, but then Sixth Street’s intersection will close. That will be a much bigger deal, and City Engineer Tom Knuckey said a detour plan will be announced soon. Sixth is to reopen May 14, then Fifth will close again while the utility work is tested.

All the work will occur Mondays through Thursdays, the schedule says, as the contractor has chosen to work four 10-hour shifts, at least to start.

Soon the traffic signal at the end of the Manette Bridge will begin flashing red continuously for 30 days, a precursor to installation of stop signs to control the intersection for the duration of the project. The signals will go back into operation when it’s complete.

The current city staff has no recollection of the previous suggestion to cut back or paint the toe of the barrier, which isn’t surprising. It was a long time ago and I’m not sure anyone has actually hit it while turning.

Chal Martin said it has been done now because reducing Washington to a single lane will  make the turn tighter. In practice, most drivers have swung out into the outside lane when turning left off the bridge, he said. That’s technically illegal (drivers are required to turn into the nearest available lane when turning into a roadway) but it is what has been happening. Left turners no longer will be able to swing as wide when the project is done, and construction equipment also will benefit from the shortening.

The other end of the barrier will also be cut back to aid left turners from Sixth onto Washington – and the construction vehicles during the work, Tom said.

 

Worker/driver program is unique in the nation

The in basket: When I recently joined Bremerton Public Works execs on a tour of city projects, Managing Street Engineer Gunnar Fridriksson told me something that came as quite a surprise.

He said Kitsap Transit’s worker/driver bus program, in which civilians, mostly working for the Navy, drive transit-provided motor coaches to and from work, picking up and dropping off co-workers en route, is the only thing of its kind in the whole nation.

Given its success here, that was hard to believe.

The out basket: And yet, it appears to be true. Well, nearly true. Mason Transit has four such routes, but they serve the same work sites.

John Clauson, Kitsap Transit’s executive director, says there were only eight or 10 routes in the program they inherited in 1983 from the private bus company that was the forerunner to Kitsap Transit. Today there are 30 routes, plus those Mason Transit runs.

“As far as I know, we are the only system in the U.S. that has this type of program and I know that we are the only one in the state, along with Mason Transit now, that have this type of unique operation,” John said.

I Googled and Binged “workers/driver bus programs” and found no others

Gunnar made his remark as we watched a procession of worker/driver buses make their way north on Washington Avenue at shipyard quitting time. Public Works director Chal Martin was there, too, and observed that city plans to reduce

Washington to one lane in each direction in 2015 would never work if the buses weren’t taking dozens if not hundreds of single-car drivers off that street by providing them rides to and from work.

Bremerton’s Washington Avenue in for more changes

The in basket:  Old friend Nick Garguile was on the phone the other day with a suggestion I’ve heard before, from Willadean Howell and others.

Make the outside lane of Washington Avenue in Bremerton a right turn only lane, Nick said,  to keep cars heading straight through and waiting at a red light from delaying those who want to turn right and otherwise could, .

I had to break the news to Nick that not only won’t that happen, but the city plans to turn Washington Avenue between Sixth and the Manette Bridge into a single lane each way. It’s schedule to be done in 2015 and they are weighing whether to put a roundabout at the downtown end of the Manette Bridge.

Making southbound Washington one lane struck me as an unneeded concession to pedestrians and bicyclists. Cutting the northbound direction to a single lane will provide a widened sidewalk and bike lane on the east side of Washington that could accommodate both directions of bike and pedestrian travel, and probably will, since it flows right into the pedestrian/bike path on the bridge.

I made my argument to Gunnar Fridriksson, managing engineer for streets for the city of Bremerton, who is involved in the planning for the changes. He had sent me traffic studies for Washington on either side of Sixth, which he said disprove my belief, but which appeared to me to show nearly no pedestrian or bicycle use on that side of the street.

The out basket: After an exchange of e-mails, Gunnar sat down with me after work and addressed my point of view. He had an answer for pretty much everything.

“One lane of traffic can comfortably support between 14,000 to 20,000 vehicles per day,” he said. “We are not

coming close to that.  So basically we are paying to maintain a lot of asphalt out here that is not needed for vehicle traffic, but we have pedestrians and bicyclists who are not being accommodated, and we have shy distance requirements not being met, not only for the barrier in the roadway, but also for pedestrians with the size of the retaining walls on the west side.”

He then went into “the evolving philosophy

regarding streets and what user expectations are. Remember,” he said, “not too long ago everything was all about capacity and getting vehicles as fast as possible from point A to point B with little regard for most other modes of transportation, or the community it was bisecting.” That’s no longer true, he said.

The “shy distance” he mentioned above deals with the impact a narrow passage has on pedestrian and driver behavior, and I imagine is a term with origins in what makes horses shy away.

Its application here has to do with the high wall alongside southbound Washington, which can make pedestrians uncomfortable, and the center barrier’s close proximity to the driving lanes.  A wider sidewalk and single lane will address both issues.

And, of course, there are the voluminous federal and state guidelines and requirements that local governments ignore at their own risk. He referred me to one at http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/publications/sidewalks/chap4a.cfm. It went on for pages with regulations or recommendations, mostly to accommodate pedestrians and the disabled.

For example, “Accessible pedestrian facilities should be considered part of every new public right-of-way project where pedestrians are permitted,” it says. “Sidewalk installation and the linking of pedestrian routes to transportation stops and major corridors should always be a priority. The decision to install sidewalks should not be optional.” That’s from the Federal Highway Administration, a major money source for roadways.

And this: “Passing space (on a sidewalk) is defined as a section of path wide enough to allow two wheelchair users to pass one another or travel abreast The passing space provided should also be designed to allow one wheelchair user to turn in a complete circle.

It would be illegal for bicycles to travel against traffic, so I guess there is no way around adding a bike lane in both directions. And the city probably couldn’t meet that “passing space” requirement on just the east side of the street for those walking in either direction.

While it seems to me that accommodating pedestrians, the disabled and bicycles in street improvements is a worthwhile goal, it shouldn’t require eliminating amenities that benefit drivers, like the chance to make that outside lane a right turn only lane.

But I guess that’s out-dated thinking by an oldster who drives but never bikes and rarely walks very far.

Left turn signal at Manette Bridge is oddly positioned

The in basket: Jim Wieck and Katherine Adams both say the left turn signal for those heading south on 11th Street at the Manette Bridge in Bremerton is easy to miss.

Jim says, “As you approach from the north, the two traffic lights for the inside and outside Washington Avenue lanes appear to be located too far to the left side of the lanes.

“The inside lane traffic light appears to line up with the turn lane. Although there is a turn light directly above the turn lane, I have seen drivers not recognize that light but use the inside Washington Avenue light to determine when they can proceed, which can result in running the red turn light.

“I’ve probably done it,” he said. “While riding with my wife she did it and I have observed a car in front of me do the same.

“If this illusion is not corrected, I can imagine future accidents caused by drivers responding to the wrong traffic light.”

Katherine writes, “The left turn light is sometimes not seen and the drivers follow the light for the through lane. Maybe it isn’t located correctly?

“This happened to us once so we are very careful and I have seen it happen numerous times and it is scary if you are driving through on Washington going north and a car turns in front of you.

The out basket: In my few times through there, I haven’t reacted to the wrong signal head, but apparently a lot of people do.

I see a possible explanation in that the left turn signal isn’t mounted on the same crossarm as the two through signals. Instead, it’s mounted on the back of the crossarm for the signals controlling oncoming traffic. I haven’t been able to get an explanation for the unusual design.

That signal was designed by the state, but it’s operation is controlled by the city. Street Engineer Gunnar Fridriksson says they changed that left turn signal to go green at the same time as the two through signal heads, rather than following them as was the case when they first went into service. They did it because a number of vehicles were running the red while turning left, he said.

That will eliminate the problem described by Jim and Katherine except when the left turn signal “times out” for lack of traffic and goes red while the through lights stay green.

“It sounds like we still have a little issue,” Gunnar said. “We have discussed adding a secondary display for the turn on the signal pole itself, but have simply not had the time/resources to do so yet.”

Proposed Washington Avenue changes raise commuters’ hackles

The in basket: Doug Whittle and Jeff David both have expressed misgivings to me about the city of Bremerton’s plan to make Washington Avenue in Bremerton a single lane in each direction between Fifth Street and the new Manette Bridge, replacing a lane with wider sidewalks.

“It seems very unwise to clog traffic flow for the vast majority who travel by vehicle in favor of providing the ideal situation for the minority of bikers and pedestrians,” Doug said.

“In years past, I occasionally commuted to my former employment in the shipyard by bicycle,” he said, “At that time, it was truly an obstacle making the crossing over the old Manette bridge where traffic was mere inches away if you rode on the roadway in lieu of walking your bike on the pedestrian sidewalk. With the new bridge, bicyclists ‘have it made,’ in my opinion.

“The short block between Sixth Street and the bridge seems a very minor inconvenience in its shortcomings for pedestrian and bicycle commuters.  It seems ridiculous to squeeze the traffic lanes for vehicles in order to give the small minority the very best conditions.”

“And it will be interesting to hear what those responsible for these dimwit changes have to say when a police car or emergency vehicle gets caught in the one-lane traffic with no means of getting around it, and there is a significant consequence to their response delay,” he said.

Jeff said, “”What happens at Sixth Street when a car wants to turn left onto Sixth and blocks traffic going to the bridge and what happens at the bridge when a vehicle going over to 11th does not have a green (again stopping vehicles turning right onto the bridge)?

“Is it more important to move pedestrian traffic or vehicle traffic? I do think a nice bike/pedestrian sidewalk is great but does that bring more business to the downtown?” Jeff asked.

In passing their comments along to the city engineers, I tossed in my opinion that eliminating ways around cars waiting for traffic to clear before turning is the opposite of what street improvements should be accomplishing.

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson, the city’s extremely cooperative spokesman for such matters, asked for some patience on this subject.

“I have been getting comments from quite a few commuters that are very concerned about this, but I do not want to speak further until after we have a traffic study completed,” he said. “We are looking at (the state) awarding us design monies sometime in late July/early August.  Then a couple of weeks for consultant selection, eight weeks for council approval, and giving the consultant four to six weeks or so to complete the study – the earliest I can discuss this intelligently is probably sometime just before Christmas this year.”

 

Two Washington Avenue concerns in Bremerton

The in basket: Willadean Howell has a couple of suggestions for making Washington Avenue in Bremerton more driver friendly.

She finds the left turn for those coming off the new Manette Bridge to be uncomfortably tight due to the center barrier that divides the two directions of travel on Washington. If the end of the barrier at the bridge access were cut back a short distance, the turn would a lot easier, she said.

She also echoed a suggestion I got year or so ago about making the southbound outside lane of Washington at Sixth Street a right-turn-only lane. Most drivers make that turn and the inside lane is sufficient to handle those wanting to go straight ahead, she argued. As it is now, drivers who otherwise could make a right on red and be on their way are trapped behind any driver who wants to go straight and must wait for a green light.

When another reader made the same  right-turn-only suggestion, city engineers of the time said they wouldn’t what to make such a change piece-meal but would consider it as part of a larger review of downtown traffic flows.

The out basket: Gunnar Fridriksson, the city street engineer who answers my questions these days, says he agrees with his predecessors about the right turn.

“(There are a) couple of issues here,” he said, “one of which

would be reconfiguring the existing signal and its cabinet – and the costs associated therewith.”

“Further, extending Washington’s widened sidewalk, currently south of Fifth Street, up

to Sixth Street may be affected by such a change and must be considered.”

“I do believe this is an excellent issue to be addressed with a downtown circulation study,” Gunnar added. “I will put a note into the file with your e-mail for when we do pick that back up.”

As for the barrier intruding on left turns, there are no plans to chop it back, he said. The state tested the turn with a Kitsap Transit bus and a tractor-trailer and “were able to have both of them make the movement,” he said.

Of course, state officials said they used a bus in designing the new east-end Manette roundabout and they wound up enlarging it after buses actually started using it.

Keep buses out of ferry terminal scramble?

 

The in basket: John Holbrook wrote last January about the congestion around the Bremerton ferry terminal on weekday afternoons and suggested that transit buses let automobile traffic clear before adding themselves to it.

“Around 5:30 p.m.,  the possibly fullest boat of the day arrives in Bremerton,” John said.

“Two bumper-to-bumper lines of cars pour onto Washington Avenue intent on getting home. Often traffic backs up from  the traffic light at Burwell clear onto the boat itself!  

“Into this mess come charging six-plus Kitsap Transit

buses from the terminal equally intent on getting to where they are going.

“Throw in hordes of pedestrians crossing without even looking at Second Street or jaywalking in front of the hotel(and it’s) a recipe for a dangerous situation at

best.  Add in darkness and rain and it really gets bad!

“In the last few weeks my car has been nearly hit several times,” John said..

“All but a couple of the buses move to the left as soon as they come out of

the terminal ramp!  These drivers do not hesitate to use the bulk of their

vehicles to force their way into the lane they want!”

“Seems to me if (the buses’) departure was delayed

just 10 minutes most of the traffic would have time to get out of their way.”

The out basket: I didn’t expect Kitsap Transit to be very receptive to the idea, as among its missions is to make using the bus more attractive than driving one’s car, to encourage ridership and reduce traffic on the roadways. 

Transit CEO Dick Hayes didn’t surprise me when he replied, “Without disputing the letter writer’s assertions about the congestion problems at the Bremerton Transportation Center as boats unload in Bremerton in the afternoon, Kitsap Transit very much disagrees with his stated priorities for access and merging.

“Our position is that because the buses carry a number of people, buses deserve equal if not better access to the roadway, however congested it may be. 

Dick continued, “It will remain our position that the buses not only have every right to be there, but also, under state law, that buses have a right to merge that supersedes the merging of individual autos.”

Those triangular Yield signs you see on the backs of buses are backed up by state law that would make a merging accident the car driver’s fault if he or she didn’t yield to a bus and they collided. 

“With the completion of the tunnel next year,” Dick continued, “a significant portion of car traffic exiting the ferry will be re-routed (away from Washington Avenue) and merging issues will become much more manageable.  The issues for pedestrians will, of course, remain basically the same, but buses and pedestrians are generally a safe mix, so we are hopeful that the overall situation will improve substantially, and that our long-term goal for a downtown bus and pedestrian priority zone will be realized. 

“I appreciate that this will not help the letter writer merge more quickly, but clearly, philosophically, he and the transit system are miles apart,” Dick concluded.