WSF to add some ‘light’ improvements --UPDATE--

UPDATE: Due to wiring difficulties Tuesday afternoon, traffic signals at Harborview Drive will not be operational until Thursday May 29, according to Joy Goldenberg of Washington State Ferries.


Commuters returning to Bainbridge by ferry this afternoon will be the first to face retooled terminal access.

The new traffic signal at the intersection of State Route 305 and Harborview Drive is set to come online as part of a package of improvements Washington State Ferries installed to make the congested intersection safer and more efficient.

For drivers it will be a fifth traffic signal between the ferry terminal and Agate Pass bridge. The new light will be synchronized with the signal above on Winslow Way to avoid backups.

WSF planners believe the new light will actually decrease the amount of time it takes to unload ferries because historically cars have had to wait for pedestrians crossing the street on the crosswalk when there was a green light at Winslow Way.

“We were never getting an efficient use of the green signal time at Winslow,” WSF Operations Manager Leonard Smith said.

Drivers motoring up Harborview Drive from the south will get protected turns onto SR-305, as will cars leaving the garage across the highway to the north.

Crews will be testing the signal Wednesday morning to streamline its timing with the light at Winslow Way.

Swarms of walkers, who normally straggle through four lanes of traffic on a crosswalk or at random, will now be meted by a button-operated pedestrian signal at the intersection. Puget Sound Energy relocated power poles set in the sidewalk above Harborview Drive, which cramped travel for pedestrians, especially wheelchair users.

A new 10-foot-wide bike lane that runs from the base of the ferry holding area, along the southern edge of SR-305 to the intersection of Harborview Drive will also be unveiled after months of construction by state Department of Transportation crews.

Cyclists will be able to skirt the ferry parking area, hang a left onto Harborview Drive and connect with the Waterfront Park trail to pedal into downtown.

WSF spokesperson Joy Goldenberg said the restructured intersection and bike lane are interim solutions meant to address some of the traffic problems at the intersection.

The improvements were drawn from a series of terminal planning meetings that brought in input from the city, Kitsap Transit and a community advisory committee.

Plans for a grander terminal redesign are on hold, but the more modest intersection design was given the go-ahead.

“It’s not intended to be permanent because there is a bigger vision that the ferries, communities and users still want to see happen,” Goldenberg said.

Intersection users are waiting to see just how improved the intersection will be.

Don Willott, who chairs the city’s Non-motorized Transportation Advisory Committee and participated in the terminal advisory committee, said he appreciates WSF’s efforts to increase accessibility in the terminal area. But he is concerned that the new signal will take focus off safety.

“As a driver if you expect that there is a signal and that everyone will be in their place, there can be a false sense of security,” Willott said. “It’s the same with pedestrians.”

Willott said WSF should still pursue other options discussed during the advisory meetings, like allowing pedestrians to offload from the ferries’ car decks and access a trail to Waterfront Park from the ferry holding area.

Bob Campbell, a Harbourview Condominum resident who gave frequent comment to WSF during project planning, said it was exciting to see the state address what is at times an “extremely hazardous intersection,” where drivers on Harborview have to nose out into traffic while avoiding cyclists “flying” down the side of the highway.

And he is willing to be patient while the kinks are worked out of the system.

“I think we have to realize that this is an experimental approach and expect some adjustments to be made along the way,” Campbell said.

Campbell said cyclists often startle walkers in the condominium residents, and he hopes those who take advantage of the Waterfront Trail connection will use bells or other signals to warn walkers of their approach.

Smith said driver’s alertness to pedestrians is an issue at any controlled intersection.

And he does not expect the number of cyclists using Waterfront Trail to increase dramatically with the addition of the new bicycle lane.

“We’re just making it safer for the numbers that do use it,” he said.

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