"A kinder, gentler Madison Ave.?"
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:11 PM
"When the new yellow center stripe first appeared Monday afternoon, it looked like the road crew had been drinking on the job.Back and forth the stripe meandered in a series of lazy curves, first toward the east side of Madison Avenue, then back toward the west. By midweek, though - with the addition of diagonal parking spaces, three new crosswalks and rows of white plastic pylons - the logic of the design took shape, and most drivers appeared to have it figured out.Thus was Madison Avenue officially calmed.This is something we're doing for people, not for cars, said Winslow architect Peter O'Connor, touring the project with city Administrator Lynn Nordby Thursday morning. We're trying to take the car away a little bit.The traffic calming project has been in the works since last year, when O'Connor was commissioned by city officials to draw up plans for a revamped Madison that would slow drivers and give pedestrians a fair chance of survival crossing the street.Three days of restriping took advantage of the spacious roadway - widened a decade ago, and now flanked by such pedestrian draws as the Pavilion mall and the new city hall building - to add on-street parking and other features that make the street feel more like the Winslow Way business core.Winslow Way works, O'Connor said. People don't always use the crosswalks, but no matter where they come out (into the street), cars usually stop.Total cost for the project, which will get a 60-day trial run, is $43,000.Thursday, O'Connor and Nordby said they like the results. But it is in the court of Bainbridge public opinion - where verdicts can be quick and unsparing - that the project's fate will be decided.Comments from random passersby this week ranged from the relatively benign, What is this crazy thing in the road? to It's the stupidest thing I've ever seen. What idiot authorized it?It sucks, said Nick Felkey, owner of Bainbridge Photo Lab on the west side of Lundgren Station. Several parallel parking spaces were eliminated in front of Felkey's business, an area that could become a wider sidewalk area if the changes are made permanent.They're taking food out of my daughter's mouth, because my customers can't get to me, Felkey said.Thumbs down, agreed Martin Bydalek, a photographer and frequent photo lab patron. This is ridiculous. Normally, three cars park here.They also took issue with the plastic pylons, which they felt were dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists.For the spaces that were lost, four new spaces were created across the street - and about 25 new spaces total.Jeff Brein, a principal in the Pavilion building, praised the project.I like it, Brein said. I've always been a supporter of the idea, not just because of the traffic calming - which is the 'patriotic' approach - but because of the additional parking for us and other businesses across the street.Brein also lauded the addition of new crosswalks near his building.I've stood out here many a night and seen cars going in excess of 50 mph, he said. I've watched people run across the street to get out of the way of cars that had no intention of slowing down.Other roadsThe Madison project may not be a boon on nearby Grow Avenue, where residents have been campaigning against speeding drivers on their street for several months. It's going to force everyone down Grow, there's no doubt in my mind, resident Dave Corn said in a recent interview. Drivers are going to find the route of least resistance.Another Grow resident said Friday she believed traffic has already picked up on her street since Madison calming went into effect.But the Madison project does include some relief for neighbors there, if it works. Striping crews this week narrowed the traffic lanes on Grow to 10 feet wide, allowing more shoulder space for pedestrians and bicyclists.One goal is to slow traffic; the other is to create a circular flow for bicycle traffic in and out of downtown - south down Grow, north up Madison.At the same time, a $60,000 package of pedestrian improvements, requested by the Senior Center Pedestrian Safety Committee and backed by city council chair Merrill Robison, is stalled.The package was discussed at the Aug. 23 council meeting, but despite general support, it was waylaid by procedural concerns and questions of cost.Nordby said last week that some of the improvements, like a new crosswalk on High School Road, could be folded into the current road-striping program. Other proposals, like adding a stop sign at Wyatt Way/Ericksen Avenue, will probably be the subject of a neighborhood meeting, he said.Robison recently vowed to get out his own brush cutters and clear the roadside at several intersections - where conditions are said to be unsafe because the views of drivers and pedestrians are obscured - if it would speed the project along.If we can't find $60,000 to do this, there's something wrong with us, Robison said.The council has given the nod for a new radar speed display sought by the police department, at a cost of $6,800. That equipment, and a less-sophisticated display, are about to be ordered for a new citizen-based enforcement program, police Chief Bill Cooper said Thursday.60-day reviewThe Madison Avenue traffic-calming project is slated to remain in place for two months, after which time it will be evaluated by the council's public works committee. By what standards might it be considered a success, or a failure?Certain bugs do remain to be ironed out. For example, a No Parking Any Time sign still looms over four new spaces on the street next to the Annie's Place cafe. Brein noted that it's also unclear where delivery trucks can pull up to supply the two restaurants in the Pavilion, and a Kitsap Transit stop next to that building will have to be relocated.O'Connor said changes can be made, and motorists and business owners need to look at the project conceptually, not specifically.For example, portions of the roadway now blocked off by pylons are meant to indicate where the sidewalk and curbing would be extended out, to create new pedestrian and cafe areas. Those areas could be widened or narrowed as needed, and the lanes themselves could be fine-tuned.Also, potted trees will be placed around the project next week, to show how landscaping might look if the changes are made permanent.O'Connor said he has been talking to business owners along the street, encouraging them to spill out into the new spaces with cafe tables, sidewalk sales and the like. This is creating an environment, he said. You have to look beyond 'does my business have a parking space in front of it'.The city engineering department is soliciting public comment on the project. An online survey form is available on the city's website, www.ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us/.Thursday, O'Connor said two older women walking past his Finch Place office had asked one of his associates what the purpose of all the nearby restriping was.Told of the goal of creating new pedestrian and business areas, O'Connor said, one woman agreed that it sounded like a good idea, and the other asked: Can I get a beer there?That's the point! O'Connor said. She should be able to get a beer. She needs a place to go! "