June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:13 PM
"True or false: Hildebrand Lane is one of the city's busiest streets.When you look at all the businesses lining the road - three banks, a motel, a video rental outlet, and the state liquor store, among others - to say nothing of the new office building going up, you'd think this is a no-brainer. Obviously, it must be a true statement.But the correct answer is false. Hildebrand is busy, alright. But it's not a city street.While the middle portion of the street - from Island Grill south - is a city right of way, access from either the north or the south is across private land.The portion of the street between the Grill and High School Road has never been dedicated as a public road, Bainbridge Island city manager Lynn Nordby said. The owners have said they are willing to do it, but it's not high on anybody's priority list.When the area was developed a decade ago, what had been basically a private driveway to businesses fronting High School Road was improved and pushed south to become Hildebrand Lane.The road south of the Village development - basically from the back of Island Grill south - was dedicated to the city, and is a public roadway. The Village developers were willing to dedicate the north portion, but the actual transfer was put off pending a series of inspections.While the transfer was pending, the development was sold to A&B Properties of Hawaii. And by then, a sinkhole had opened on the road. Before the city would accept the street, it wanted the road fixed.By the time the repairs were made, though, the issue had for all purposes been forgotten, Nordby said. And so it remains to this day.That doesn't mean, though, that A&B can close off the street or erect a toll gate.Access has never been an issue, Nordby said. It's been open to the public for so long that there's probably a prescriptive easement, referring to a legal right that arises from continuous use.Legally, Hildebrand is a dead-end street, with no outlet on the south end. But as local motorists constantly demonstrate, it's possible to get from Hildebrand to Wallace Way through the parking lot of Frontier Bank, formerly North Sound Bank.The road is an unintended consequence of city planning, said Ron Tweiten, who was branch manager under the North Sound banner.Originally, we were going to open only onto Hildebrand, he said. But the city created a Local Improvement District on Wallace Way and wanted the bank to be part of it. In order for that to make any sense, they had to give us access to Wallace.Initially, the bank didn't mind, Tweiten said. But it didn't take long for the traffic to get heavier and faster.We put in the speed bumps, except in the drive-thru lanes, Tweiten said. Then people started going through those lanes to avoid the bumps, so we put speed bumps in there too. We're probably the only bank around with speed bumps in the drive-thru lanes.When traffic volume grew to some 2,000 cars per day, the bank began lobbying the city to remove the plug - the small pocket park - separating Hildebrand from Ericksen Avenue. Although Tweiten gathered several hundred signatures on a petition to open the street, the city council balked.Tweiten only tried to stop the cut-throughs once, in 1992, when road reconstruction blocked off High School Road.The only way to get to Safeway was through our lot, he said. It was too much. So we put up barricades, which I manned with my two sons. By the end of the day, we had a police patrol car out there.Tweiten never tried to block the road again. Instead, he decided to look at the bright side.I began to think maybe it was good for business, Tweiten said. I mean, if people were already in a bank parking lot, they might decide to go to the bank. You don't drive through an Albertson's parking lot to get to a Safeway. Tweiten said he never thought about putting up a toll gate. Our customers wouldn't like that. But I did seriously consider a drive-through latte stand, he said. "