A vision for island transportation

The automobile has been king of the road for most of a century but there are changes afoot.

There is movement in the more progressive regions of the United States toward creating plans that will at least develop more of a share-the-road approach to allow other modes of transportation to be more than just second-class citizens dodging high-speed projectiles on America’s arterials.

The Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council (KRCC) is undertaking the first phase of a county-wide Multi-Modal Transportation Plan, which is well-timed since state and federal legislative initiatives address the importance of active transportation. Meaning, there likely will be more grant funding for such an approach in the future.

The plan has promise because it touches many positives for communities, including:

• Public health – Safe opportunities for cycling and walking;

• Safety – Facilities that consider the needs of all modes, which will reduce the frequency of accidents and fatalities;

• Economy – Integrating auto, freight, air, transit, bike and pedestrian modes into new transportation facilities;

• Environment – Fewer emissions mean healthier citizens and a cleaner environment;

• Mobility – Less congestion, leading to more efficiency in movement of goods and people;

• Equity – Realistic alternatives to automobile trips provide independence for more vulnerable users, such as children and seniors;

• Community – With walkable access and more livable neighborhoods, stronger connections socially and economically are developed.

Bainbridge Island is a key element to the KRCC plan because of its location between two mainland counties (Kitsap and King) and its progressive residents, despited the fact it is currently dependent on the automobile and is dominated by roads that are generally unfriendly to bicyclists and pedestrians.

The No. 1 headache, of courts, is the state highway (SR-305) that runs (north-south) right down the middle of the island and carries thousand of cars daily between Agate Pass Bridge and the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry terminal.

Putting the highway aside for now, there is much to do to get the island more multi-modal.

Don Willott, Bainbridge’s representative to KRCC, believes an important first step is getting the City of Bainbridge Island totally on board, beginning with revising its guidelines to ensure that plans involving facilities and roads are modernized so that they merge rather than stand separated as is often the case now.

“For example, there’s a medical complex being built just south of the First Baptist Church and west of the 305,” he said. “They could easily connect the Sound to Olympics (STO) trail with a Kitsap Transit bus stop right there on 305. Planning needs to address those issues when building around roads, potential trails and intersections.”

Willott believes many opportunities have been overlooked in the past, but the multi-modal approach is key because it makes communities, especially ones like Winslow with a large population of seniors, more livable because there is a large opportunity for an immense network of paths.

“Really, it’s a very simple philosophy,” Willott said. “Islanders need to work with the county and state, especially when it comes to providing ingress and egress with the highway.” The big goal, of course, is building a 10-foot-wide trail that is safely separated as it runs parallel to the highway. It is currently part of the Puget Sound Regional Council’s 2040 transportation plan.

Willott and others are convinced that with good planning the money will eventually be found.

“There are a lot of things you can do that don’t cost  much money and sometimes are the best way to get started,” he said. “I believe we’re headed in the right direction because we will become more self-sufficient. If that happens, then our trails and transportation system will be built from the bottom up. The money will eventually come.”

Kitsap Transit

A more sustainable bus system is another part of the multi-modal plan that’s on a slow timeline, but it’s in the works.

Kitsap Transit (KT) is in the process of retrofitting its fleet with more efficient vehicles, according to Richard Hayes, executive director of the transit system.

“We are about 10 years behind the car world, but we are working on it,” said Hayes.

KT is in the midst of “right-sizing” its fleets by using big buses as needed and smaller vehicles whenever possible. A new gizmo in buses today is tracking passengers to help transit authorities determine the usability of routes and what can be reduced or eliminated to save money.

Hayes estimated that double-decker buses will start heading down SR 305 in the next four to five years; the buses carry double the passengers while using roughly the same amount of gas, and also save room at the crowded Bainbridge Ferry Terminal.

A hybrid bus project is also in the works.

“We would like to see an electric bus program that will take care of morning and evening rush hour service with a recharging station overnight and the midday opportunity charge,” said Hayes. “Parking buses on Bainbridge to use the natural charging site would allow us not to run back to Poulsbo at the end of the day. But it takes three to four years to even get the permits on Bainbridge to put the charging station on site.”

Hayes encouraged the community to urge local lawmakers to speed up the process as it could also serve as an electric vehicle recharging station and carpool facility.

“We move slow because we don’t have 300 engineers or $2 to $3 million to throw at a better bus,” said Hayes.

KT created a new application for riders to track buses using GPS technology for Nokia phones, and they hope to expand that application to other carriers in the coming years. Another initiative is improvement to the park and ride at Day Road and the creation of more bike hubs along SR 305.

By 2020, KT has a goal to reduce overall greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels and decrease annual fuel consumption by 18 percent.

Going electric

As the popularity and technology of electric vehicles grow, the island’s main street is prepared with two new 220-volt Blink charging stations on Winslow Way.

The stations were funded as part of a grant issued to the green technology company Ecotality, which was given a multi-million general grant to install recharging stations around Puget Sound and western Washington.

The stations will be available at parking spots near Blackbird Bakery.

Kate Ruffing, who volunteers with Sustainable Bainbridge, said she was inspired by the community transportation conversation enough to invest in an electric assist bike for day-to-day use on the island.

“We use it as our alternative transportation and anything that needs to be done on the island gets done on the bike now,” said Ruffing. “It has been wonderful, but has really opened my eyes to areas of improvement needed to make this safer and a more convenient way to get around.”

– Dennis Anstine contributed to this report.

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