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Storm runoff is key to downtown streetscape plan

Where do all the raindrops go? Into the drain, carrying pollutants along.

Guided by gravity, raindrop hits pavement on Winslow Way.

There it mingles with its cohorts and lingering pollutants, forming urban streams that spill into storm drains and eventually into Eagle Harbor.

Along the way they meet an aging “trap,” installed in 1992, that acts like a doorman by collaring trash, oil and other unwanted guests seeking entrance into Puget Sound.

Unfortunately, said city planner Chris Wierzbicki, the guest list isn’t so exclusive.

“It’s inadequate and inefficient,” he said of the antiquated stormwater treatment system.

Which is why the downtown streetscape plan, set for construction in spring of 2009, includes better stormwater management among its many priorities.

The project’s main aim is to replace a number of failing utilities beneath Winslow Way. Because the work requires that the street be torn up anyway, the city plans to update the entire landscape instead of restoring it to its current state.

Rain gardens – planted depressions that absorb runoff – permeable paving and bio-swales – drainage paths lined with vegetation or compost that filter silt and pollution from rainwater – are featured prominently in the still-developing design, which was scrutinized by islanders at a public workshop on Wednesday.

Wierzbicki said the idea is to treat stormwater along the street, rather than allowing it to collect in one large chamber for treatment before draining into the harbor.

Cities elsewhere already are catching on to new sustainable stormwater treatment practices, according to Tom von Schrader, of SvR Design Company, the civil engineering firm handling the Winslow streetscape.

One local example is the High Point neighborhood in West Seattle. Designed by SvR, the neighborhood is a 140-acre residential development that includes stormwater planters and rain gardens, among other elements designed to manage runoff better than more traditional systems.

Building costs are roughly the same between traditional and more eco-friendly methods, von Schrader said, though maintenance costs of the latter tend to be slightly higher.

“You as a community have to make a choice,” he said. “Do you want to try to do things that are affirming, that will make a statement about what this community stands for?

“It’s one of those intangibles you can’t necessarily put a dollar value on.”

Though High Point doesn’t deal with as much traffic as Winslow, von Schrader said the same concepts would apply to denser areas.

Wierzbicki not only thinks the idea will appeal to many people on Bainbridge; he thinks it would be successful.

“Hopefully it’s very realistic,” he said. “The hardest part would be fitting it in with all of the other things we’re trying to do.”

Kicking off Wednesday’s meeting, Wierzbicki emphasized that very point by using an analogy about the future of Winslow popularized by Town & County company president Larry Nakata: “It’s like trying to fit 50 pounds of groceries in a 10-pound bag.”

After a short presentation, attendees circulated through stations dedicated to various aspects of the plan, including non-motorized transportation, parking and delivery, vegetation, street design and utilities, sustainability, public art and the construction schedule and budget.

Concerned about how construction – likely to be done in phases moving west to east along Winslow Way – will impact business, merchants discussed incentives to keep shoppers coming downtown.

That thread will continue at regular meetings sponsored by the Bainbridge Island Downtown Association, held the second Friday morning of each month (except August) at City Hall.

Vehicle lane and sidewalk width sparked debate among some. Current plans call for nearly doubling sidewalk width and narrowing vehicle lanes by five feet.

Planners say the shift would reduce vehicle speed through Winslow while enhancing pedestrian and bicycle access, but some worried that the proposed widening of sidewalks heralds an attempt by the city to cater to tourists.

Ease of navigation for those with mobility issues and disabilities also was widely discussed at the meeting, as was bicycle movement. Bikes would use “sharrow” lanes that make clear to drivers the fact that the space is being shared by cyclists and vehicles; dedicated bike lanes would be incorporated on hills.

Surprising to Wierzbicki were calls by some to cut back the amount of trees included in the plan. Several concerns about the trees were expressed, among them the blockage of sunlight and storefronts, and the potential for tree debris cluttering the sidewalk.

Planners hope to maintain the current number of parking stalls downtown, though the most recent plans call for a reduction of a handful of spaces.

Delivery trucks, which now often commandeer the center of the street, may end up parking in dedicated delivery spaces.

Planners also have been talking with delivery services about whether drivers can shift their delivery schedules to help ease congestion downtown.

The city has hired Seattle artist Lorna Jordan to join an arts committee in drafting an art plan that will mesh with the myriad other elements of the design.

Presentation of the art plan will roughly coincide with the presentation of the overall streetscape plan,which will include financing options, to the City Council on Sep. 5.

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Street-scoping

Go to www.winslowwaystreetscape.org for more information about the streetscape project.

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