Traffic key to terminal plans

One of three preliminary design plans for the Winslow ferry terminal presented at a public meeting on Saturday.    - Courtesy of Washington State Ferries
One of three preliminary design plans for the Winslow ferry terminal presented at a public meeting on Saturday.
— image credit: Courtesy of Washington State Ferries

WSF considers a special transit lane at Cave Avenue as upgrades begin to take shape.

During rush hour at the ferry terminal, the pedestrian walkway looks something like an earthworm trying to swallow a string of beads.

Forcing hundreds of passengers through the same narrow tube at a time when haste is paramount is an equally vexing proposition for Bainbridge Island commuters.

“It’s bad enough that it’s so cramped in there, but when you’re waiting in line and can’t even see out the window, it’s a sign that something needs to be done,” said David Hewitt, one of the architects charged with fixing the walkway and a slew of other problems at the Eagle Harbor terminal.

Improved access and decreased congestion were cited as top priorities by attendees at a Saturday workshop, hosted by Washington State Ferries at Bainbridge High School.

Three different designs for the new terminal were presented for critique, with two calling for a multi-story vehicle holding area that would house a transit deck on the upper level. One option included a transit-only entrance to the terminal from Cave Avenue, another a tunnel at the intersection of State Route 305 and Winslow Way.

The current terminal opened in 1950, with the most recent repairs to the facility coming nearly 20 years ago.

The ferry system began planning in the mid-1990s to address problems at the aging terminal, the culmination of which was a 1998 master plan.

When the 1999 passage of Initiative 695 reduced funding for state transportation improvements, the new terminal efforts bogged down and were put off indefinitely.

In 2005, the State Legislature allocated $160 million over the next 12 years to pay for the improvements, with construction now expected to begin as early as 2009.

The plans presented Saturday are a result of the 1998 master plan, and will be revised and updated to meet current needs, with public input helping to determine the design of the new facility.

A 12-member community advisory group was created to assist in developing the project.

Les Bagley, a Kitsap Transit driver who attended the workshop, said the current combination of vehicle and foot traffic around the terminal is a problem for him and his colleagues.

“There are eight crosswalks between the transit turnaround and Winslow Way,” Bagley said. “Every time a pedestrian crosses the street in the middle of the hill, the delay is just long enough that you miss the light at the intersection.

“I don’t understand why we have a crosswalk in the middle of a state highway. And that doesn’t even address the problem of bicycles weaving through traffic.”

Steve Johnson admitted he is one of the bicyclists who makes the occasional illegal maneuver. The problem, he says, is that an illegal left turn across traffic is the only way to get to the Waterfront Park area, where many bicyclists prefer to exit.

“It’s unfair to vehicles when bikes wander through the traffic,” Johnson said. “But everyone has competing problems because of the design flaws, from buses and cars to bicycles and pedestrians. The whole intersection at the top of the hill has turn issues.”

Which left Bagley wondering why one of the plans included a bus entrance opposite Cave Avenue.

“The problem I see with that is making a 40-foot bus make two 90-degree turns within the span of a few hundred feet,” Bagley said.

A common scenario under the plan would require buses coming south on state Route 305 to turn left onto Winslow Way before making a quick right onto Cave.

Peggy Hubler, who moved to Bainbridge Island two years ago from Virginia, said inadequate signage has left her reeling on more than one occasion.

“When you’re new to the area and don’t know where you’re going, it’s important that there be signs to help guide you in the right direction,” she said. “There are a lot of tourists that come to the island, especially in the summer, and a lot of them look lost when they get off the ferry.”

Others agreed, saying that dazed tourists account for at least part of the congestion that occurs after passengers disembark.

Parking also commanded a major portion of discussion. One plan placed the transit deck across a portion of the current parking lot, which didn’t sit well with some commuters who already face a shortage of spaces.

Hubler suggested a frequent shuttle from outside parking lots would draw some traffic away from the crowded terminal.

WSF predicts a 136 percent increase in walk-on passengers by 2030, with a 25 percent increase expected in vehicle passengers by the same year.

The next public workshop on the terminal plan will be in May or June.

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