"All roads lead to confusionThe island's road grid is in disarray, with signs pointing too many directions."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:43 PM
"It sounds like something out of Alice in Wonderland - east is west, south and west are both northeast, and parking lots are principal ways of travel.Welcome to the bizarre geography of Bainbridge Island, where street names may be regulated by law, but the system is so chaotic that not even the postmaster can be sure what's where. Parts of the system really need to be fixed, and parts we can live with, said volunteer firefighter Jim Dow, to whom the city looks as the authoritative source on street names. But there is really an incredible resistance to change.The names themselves are colorful enough - Toe Jam Hill Road, 3T Road and Ma and Pa Lane, to name a few.And there are odd local quirks, such as Fletcher Bay Road. If you head north on Fletcher Bay and go to the four-way stop at Island Center, you have to turn left to stay on that street - if you go straight, you're suddenly on Miller Road.Then there's the well-travelled Not A Through Street, which isn't really a street at all. Despite that warning at each terminus of the driveway, drivers persist in using the Frontier Bank parking lot to connect between Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane.Numbers upMore baffling than street names, however, are the directional designations and the numbering system. Those oddities both stem from the same thing - the effort to meld two separate grid systems.Both the old city of Winslow grid and the county grid follow the same design. Quadrants emanate out from a central point with directional designations. The number addresses increase the farther away you get from the point of origin.But the starting points are different. The city of Winslow treated the intersection of Madison Avenue and Winslow Way as the center of the universe. Streets north and west of that point bear an NW directional suffix, streets south and east an SE, and so forth.The county's point of origin, though, is the courthouse in Port Orchard. Since all of Bainbridge Island in north and east of there, all of the streets outside of old Winslow still carry an NE directional, with addresses ascending from south to north and from west to east. That accounts for absurdities like Northeast South Beach Drive.As any sci-fi fan knows, when parallel universes collide, it means trouble. That happens on Bainbridge with streets that run out of old Winslow into what used to be the county.Take High School Road. At its western end, it was part of the county, and had the NE directional. The address numbers descend as you drive from west to east.But then suddenly - it's not entirely clear just where - you cross into what was old Winslow. Now, the proper directional is NW, and the addresses drop abruptly from the 6000s to the 700s. When you cross Madison, the directional changes to NE, and the numbers start going back up.That is where the directionals are important, said Bainbridge postmaster Chuck Cox. If you don't have a directional on a High School Road address, or have the wrong one, the mail will get into the wrong sack.And there's Madison, which runs from Eagle Harbor north through downtown, past schools and the Sakai property, past the fire station and to the highway. After disappearing for awhile, it re-emerges on the far side of the highway and runs north to Phelps Road.We disagreed with the county on that one, city administrator Lynn Nordby said. They call the part above Rolling Bay, 'North Madison.' (But) we always viewed the north-south division as Winslow Way.The system is sufficiently bollixed that it stumps the global positioning systems in automobiles. When one local real estate agent punched her home address on Battle Point Road into her new car's GPS system, the computer said the address did not exist.Bad signsIf one were to rely on the street signs to figure it out, one's confusion would only deepen.Take Wyatt Way, for example. Between Ericksen Avenue and Madison, it should have an NE directional, because it is within old Winslow but northeast of the origin. When it crosses Madison, it becomes NW - then when it gets into the former county, it should revert to NE.But then look at the signs. At Ericksen, the sign says Wyatt St. NW. At Madison, it is NE W. Wyatt Ave. At Weaver, it's back to Wyatt St. NW, then at the head of the bay it becomes NE W. Wyatt St. So is it a way, a street or an avenue? While in common usage it's invariably referred to as Wyatt Way, the only marker that says so isn't even a city sign - it's the Navy's road sign at the intersection with Government Way.It may depend on who's making the sign. Both street names were misspelled for years at the intersection of Winthers and Lovgreen roads, where signs sharing a single post read Winters and Lovegren. A local historian used cemetery headstones to prove the spellings of the family surnames for whom the streets were named.Some insight comes from a visit to the city sign shop, at the public works yard on Hidden Cove Road. We get our work orders from the city, said Lance Newkirk, operations and maintenance supervisor. We are aware of the Wyatt situation, and are planning to correct it, Newkirk said. But he added that the sign crew's priority is maintaining or repairing directional and warning signs that affect traffic safety.Code workIn an effort to create some order, the city in 1993 took what probably seemed to be a sensible step - it passed an ordinance. Under the new city code, a street can only run east-west and an avenue only north-south. Cul-de-sacs are courts, private roads are lanes and ways of travel that begin and end on the same street are loops.Ways and roads, though, are catch-all categories - many roadways could qualify.Also under the code, the old Winslow streets were to retain their existing directionals. Streets outside of old Winslow were all to adopt the NE directional - as a prefix for east-west streets (NE High School Road) and as a suffix for north-south streets (Sunrise Drive NE).The ordinance does not apply retroactively to existing street names and addresses, so non-conforming addresses will stay that way unless there are public-safety issues.People don't like to have their address changed, said Nordby, city administrator. They ask if we are going to pay for the time and cost of changing their subscriptions and notifying their correspondents. When we say no, they're not too happy.Postmaster Cox said he could not account for why the system is the way it is. The only way to really learn your way around Bainbridge, he said, is by rote memorization, and that is what he teaches his carriers.We tell them to engage your route, get to know the people on it, Cox said. That has worked very well for us. "