Green light for drivers, long wait for walkers
June 9, 2008 · Updated 1:33 PM
After just five days in operation, the commuter consensus regarding the new traffic signal at Harborview Drive and Olympic Drive seemed to be, Its great, as long as youre not a walker.
Its definitely traffic friendly, said Washington State Patrol Trooper Don Pearce, who was helping walk-off passengers navigate the intersection Monday afternoon.
It was easy to see what he meant when a 5:30 p.m. commuter ferry from Seattle arrived. The new signal, and its synchronized counterpart on Winslow Way, stayed a steady green as a wave of bicyclists, followed by motorcycles and finally cars disembarked and zoomed off toward points north.
Meanwhile, walk-off passengers congregated by Trooper Pearce on the east side of the intersection, waiting for the new push-button-operated pedestrian signal to allow them to cross the four lanes of highway.
It was a long wait.
Fifteen walkers had gathered before the walk signal turned green. As the pedestrians flooded across, Pearce patiently directed a driver to back up an SUV that had stopped with its nose in the crosswalk.
The long wait for pedestrians trying to cross Olympic are a function of the signals programming, said Leonard Smith, operations manager for Washington State Ferries.
Smith said that when a walker punches the button to cross, sensors at the intersection monitor traffic, waiting for the flow to break for three seconds simultaneously in both lanes before letting pedestrians cross. When a 200-car ferry is unloading, that doesnt happen very often.
Smith said planners will be collecting data in the coming week, including how much time it takes walkers to reach the intersection, and how many walkers gather before being allowed to cross, to determine how to tweak the system to better serve pedestrians.
While the 5:30 p.m. boat was unloading, the light stopped traffic three times for pedestrians. Midway through the ferry unloading, a crowd of more than 30 walkers waited to cross.
For the most part, traffic flowed smoothly off the ferry. But once the signal at Winslow Way turned red while the Harborview light stayed green, backing traffic up through the intersection and a group of walk-off passengers waited for their signal even as cars were at a standstill.
Pearce said both drivers and walkers have been following the signals dutifully so far. But he worries that pedestrians anxious to get home will take there chances in traffic when the State Patrol ends its presence at the intersection.
Hopefully it wont take someone getting hit to get peoples attention, Pearce said.
Despite the wait, several walkers said they felt more secure with the light.
After crossing Olympic, and keeping up a steady clip down Harborview, Roger Dunaway said the visibility of the intersection made the wait worthwhile.
I believe without the light, cars would not always stop at the crosswalk, he said.
The intersection may be slowing down walkers, but its speeding up the time it takes to flush cars out of the terminal.
WSF Captain Ty Anderson said the difference has been most noticeable on routes packed with visitors, especially Friday afternoon runs. Cars no longer have to contend with packs of pedestrians unfamiliar with the intersection.
Its not that were unloading faster, its just that were not getting backed up like we used to, Anderson said.
Anderson said feedback was largely positive regarding the new bicycle lane, which runs from the base of the ferry holding area to Harborview Drive and the Waterfront Park Trail. He said it has been especially helpful in allowing cyclists to avoid traffic while getting in line for the morning boats.
About a dozen cyclists were using the lane Monday afternoon, a number Anderson expects to grow as more riders explore the new connection.
The intersection improvements were scheduled to come online last May 28, but were given the green light May 29 instead, after last-minute wiring difficulties.
Construction on the project began last summer, and was completed this month at a cost of $466,0000.