"Ericksen already 'connected,' traffic study saysVehicle counts suggest that the bank parking lot is heavily traveled."
June 9, 2008 · Updated 3:45 PM
"Connecting Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane would make almost no difference to traffic flow, consultants for the city say.That's because the Frontier Bank parking lot already functions like a street connection - notwithstanding the speed bumps and the Not A Through Street signs.A lot of people who need to take Ericksen currently are doing so, said John Davies of the consulting firm JDL.Davies and colleague Molly Johnson presented their preliminary findings to the public Tuesday evening at city hall.At issue is whether to remove a pocket park plug that now blocks a formal Ericksen/Hildebrand connection, an idea that has provoked controversy for years.Traffic counts taken by JDL show that at present, 300 cars per hour go through the bank parking lot. The study counted 490 trips per hour on Hildebrand south of High School Road, and 285 trips per hour at the corner of Ericksen and Wallace Way.If the plug were pulled tomorrow, the study suggests, neighbors would see one more vehicle trip per minute on what would be a through street from Hildebrand to Ericksen. If the park between the streets is maintained, the study estimates that at some unspecified time in the future when overall traffic goes up 15 percent, traffic through the bank parking lot would rise to 360 trips per hour. Hildebrand would carry 565 cars per hour, while the Ericksen/Wallace count would be 330 per hour. Pulling the plug would add roughly 80 trips per hour to all segments of the road.The study did not find any significant impact on other nearby streets.Opening or not opening the road has a relatively minor impact, Davies said. The existing situation is a small deterrent to traffic.The study is considering the length of the Hildebrand/Ericksen corridor, including the intersections at each end.Most problematic, the study found, is the Hildebrand/High School junction. Consultants found that the intersection will have unacceptable levels of congestion in the near future regardless of whether Ericksen and Hildebrand are formally connected.There is a simple answer to that, city engineer Jeff Jensen said. Cars back up on Hildebrand while waiting to make a left turn onto High School Road. We may have to prohibit left turns, and build a curb that will prevent them.Comments from audience members, many of whom apparently live on or near Ericksen, left little doubt that the speakers were adamantly against connecting the streets.Property owners contended that the city would take too much land to bring Ericksen up to the standard a through street would require. Some argued that the mini-park itself is worth preserving. Others cited past promises by city officials or council members that the streets would never be joined.They pressed to know who and what would benefit from the connection.What is driving the need for this? one man asked.Another thought the study supported the status quo.If it won't make much difference, and the neighbors don't want this change, why not leave it? he asked.Report soonJDL will finalize its report, incorporating the comments from Tuesday's meeting, Jensen said. The city council will then have to decide whether to push forward with a formal connection of the two streets.Major improvements including sidewalks are slated for lower Ericksen in 2003, Jensen said, adding that if the plug is removed, it would be logical to do that as part of the scheduled street work. Jensen said the driving force behind the opening is the Winslow Master Plan's designation of the city's core area to absorb up to half of the island's population growth. According to the WMP, the area between Wyatt Way and High School Road is particularly suitable for high-density residential development.My gut sense is that at some point between now and buildout under the Winslow Master Plan, the plug will have to be pulled, Jensen said. We're not at a point today where failing to pull the plug will stop development in the area, and I can't say exactly when we will be, but that point will be reached.The only project stymied so far by the street-connection issue is the apartment phase of the Village Square development, south of the Village shopping center on Hildebrand.The fire department said the development should not be approved unless the Ericksen-Hildebrand connection were opened. Last May, the planning commission recommended denial of the project until the issue is resolved. City Planning Director Stephanie Warren has not yet made a final determination on the issue.Tuesday, developer Jim Laughlin said the apartment project has been redesigned to eliminate the need for the street link.I don't really care whether the street is opened or not, he said after the meeting. I just want the issue to be decided one way or another so we can go ahead. "