Who's looking out for pedestrians?

"Nothing gets by these ladies.Even when car traffic picks up, or a spate of bike riders or pedestrians come into view from different directions, each passerby is dutifully, carefully recorded - research, after all, must be accurate.I'll get the bicyclist, says Marcia Rudoff, making a notation on her clipboard as a rider pedals into view down Ericksen Avenue. The pedestrians are yours, Dorothy. So passes another hour at the roadside for the Pedestrian Safety and Access Committee, an ad hoc group of local seniors now studying Winslow-area traffic issues.On this afternoon, Rudoff, Dorothy Bland and Orabelle Connally have set up on the west side of Ericksen Avenue, at the back entrance to the BPA Playhouse and city hall. Attired in sneakers, jeans and baseball caps for their fieldwork, each carries a legal pad or clipboard to go with a sharp eye. Their methodology: stand at a wayside or intersection and record the number of passersby - and their mode of travel - over a one-hour period, at different times of day.Connally is tracking the number of passing cars; Bland counts pedestrians, while Rudoff tallies those using alternative means such as bicycles, motorbikes or skateboards.Connally has most of the work. About 35 minutes into their vigil, the count is pedestrians 14, bicyclists seven, and cars 176. Foot traffic seems light compared to what they usually encounter, Bland says, but we figure they're all eating lunch .The group formed this past spring, during a discussion of pedestrian issues at the Bainbridge Island Senior Community Center. All members live in the Winslow area. All have cars, but they still walk to many of their appointments and errands. And their concern is for residents of all age groups who don't have vehicles, and those who make their way around downtown's increasingly busy streets on foot.With I-695 and its cuts to buses and so forth, more people are going to have to walk, Rudoff says.Assisted by photographer Jay Parker, they have documented conditions on various streets. Bland produces a series of glossies taken on Ericksen during an earlier visit; they show a commuter forced to walk into the roadway to get around a parked car, as a motorist rumbles past. Other hazards await beyond the narrow shoulder.It's horrible, Bland says. Here's a car, here's a great big ditch, and you're right on the edge.One finding of interest, the group says, is that while traffic in a given area may wax and wane with the ferry schedule, pedestrian activity stays fairly constant throughout the day. And their studies show that the average wayfarer on Ericksen Avenue will be passed by 68-80 vehicles before reaching their destination.Among the trouble spots the committee has identified:l Ericksen Avenue - A footpath worn in the lawn of the old funeral home property testifies to the woes of pedestrians on this street.Aside from several areas around recently improved properties at either end, the only stretch of sidewalk to be found is a 50-foot strip in front of the old pet store property - where, ironically, there's no longer a business. The seniors would like to see the construction of sidewalks the length of Ericksen, but those aren't earmarked until 2002 in the city's capital improvement plan, according to city engineer Jeff Jensen.l High School Road - Extensive reconstruction in 1992 saw the installation of sidewalks on both sides of the street, from Madison Avenue to Ferncliff. But with its high traffic volumes and only one pedestrian island, crossing the street can be hazardous, committee members say - especially for senior residents of the Virginia Villa Apartments across the street from Safeway.Bland recalls pausing to help an older pedestrian negotiate the crosswalk in front of the supermarket - where the striping is badly worn in one lane - after the woman had been stranded by traffic for half an hour. Their crossing took them into the path of a heedless driver.The young woman in the car looked at me like, 'who do you think you are?' Bland recalled. I didn't care. This was awful.l Madison Avenue - Plans are afoot to put in traffic-calming measures on a trial basis, from Winslow Way to Wyatt Way, this summer. Improvements will include new curves and landscaping to slow drivers. But committee members say it will do nothing to help the stretch of Madison north to High School Road - another lengthy strip with no crosswalks. l Grow Avenue and Wyatt Way - The intersection is historically a prime site for fender-benders, largely because of poor visibility in two directions. No crosswalks are designated there, despite regular pedestrian travel.Committee members say many existing crosswalks, such as those at Winslow Way and Ericksen Avenue, are also illustrative - worn and faded to the point of invisibility, they suggest that some problems could be alleviated by better maintenance.You just up your painting schedule, Rudoff says. Instead of painting every six months, you paint every three months. It's cheaper than the liability if someone gets hit.The group has been taking its findings to the city council's public works committee. And by their own admission, they've made a variety of discoveries. For one, Bland said, we have found out that the council is pretty busy.For another, a number of pedestrian improvements are already written into the Winslow Master Plan and the city's capital funding plan. According to Jensen, Madison Avenue crosswalks are being considered north of Wyatt Way, and the Grow/Wyatt intersection may become a four-way stop next year.Also, seeing poor results from latex-based crosswalk paint, Jensen said the public works department is trying out a new traffic-marking film believed to better sustain the wear of passing tires.The frustration, committee members say, is finding out that even where the need for a given sidewalk or crosswalk has been identified, it's not officially funded for several years.My concern is - because I'd like to see 2002 - can't something be done in the interim? Rudoff asks. It's scheduled. The problem is, they're glued to a schedule. I think traffic has accelerated faster than they anticipated.Jensen said the group's work can in fact prompt a new prioritization of funding by the council. On almost any issue, if there's obvious public support and prodding of the council, it does seem to have a direct impact on the council's level of concern, he said.But as with most needs, there is also a conflict between goals and available dollars. Improvements to the Madison/Wyatt/ Grow/Winslow Way traffic loop, for example, are projected to cost $2.1 million, while there's only about $1.5 million now available for the work.We've got to sharpen the pencils there somewhere, Jensen said.The committee does credit public works officials and council chair Merrill Robison for responsiveness in hearing their presentations. Bland said the group will continue its work to identify traffic problems oh golly, all over.If it pays off, it was worth it, she said."

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