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BI cyclists and walkers unite

Bainbridge Island’s bicycle advocates want their wheels to be rolling, not spinning.

Having twice developed island-wide plans for bicycle mobility that have gathered dust on the shelf, they want the new non-motorized transportation plan not only to be approved, but to be incorporated into the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

“We have one of the highest percentages of bicycle riders in the United States, so this is an important place for a plan like this to be put into effect,” said Dana Berg, a member of the steering committee that developed the plan.

Over the next few months, the City Council will consider the draft plan for bicycle and pedestrian improvements, a process that will begin at this afternoon’s meeting of the council’s land use committee.

The plan, developed by the city, the school district and the park district, sets out broad goals and policies aimed at making the island friendlier to those who eschew the internal combustion engine – pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians. And it contains a detailed, prioritized list of projects for bike and pedestrian lanes.

The plan calls generally for roadside bicycle and pedestrian lanes on major streets outside Winslow, and for sidewalks and bike lanes in the city core. It also calls for maintenance and expansion of bike and pedestrian trails and walkways that are not along existing roads.

“The highest priorities are around the schools, on Wyatt and Blakely at the head of the bay, on Miller Road, North Madison and exiting the ferry,” Berg said.

“Basically, we want the main arterials to have three-foot paved shoulders. But nobody wants the vegetation cut back. We have surveyed many of the roads involved, and have not found one spot where a tree would need to be cut to accomplish that.”

While pedestrian advocates support the plan, much of what they want is already contained in existing capital improvement projects.

“We didn’t spend much time on the Winslow issues because most of what we wanted to see is already included in the Winslow master plan,” said Orabelle Connally, a steering committee member.

“We do want to see people able to walk to bus stops anywhere on the island. And long term, we would like to see a path along highway 305 separated from the roadway by trees.”

The daunting obstacle to the plan may be the cost. The plan estimates the costs of all the projects at almost $14 million in today’s dollars, not including right-of-way acquisition or maintenance, both of which would be significant items.

And that is all new money. Those non-motorized amenities already contained in city budgets for other capital improvement projects are not included.

The plan proposes city funding at $250,000 annually beginning in 2002, and passage of a $2 million bond issue in 2004.

While the plan envisions asking developers and the city to incorporate the non-motorized plan elements into new building, it recognizes that those approaches alone would create an unacceptable, piecemeal system.

“The plan may be setting the bar too high financially,” said City Engineer Jeff Jensen. “There is nothing in there that can’t be done, but some of it might be very expensive, such as widening a right-of-way where there is a steep slope to the side.”

While Berg concedes that cost is a real problem, she says that a lot can be accomplished for relatively little money.

“The eight-inch-wide fog line on a few roads separating the bike lanes from the travel lanes makes a huge difference,” she said. “And there are places you can narrow the travel lanes to nine feet – the width of the lanes on Ferncliff – by moving in the fog lines. You get an extra shoulder without having to do any paving.”

The plan also calls for stepped-up enforcement of traffic laws, and for re-evaluating island speed limits.

“The best thing that could be done for pedestrians and cyclists is to reduce speeds,” Berg said. “A cyclist hit by a car going 25 miles per hour has a 90 percent chance of surviving, but if the car is going 40 miles an hour, the chances of survival are only 40 percent.”

City Council member Christine Nasser, chair of the land use committee, praised the goals of the plan, but warned that, as specific projects are proposed, they will likely conflict with other values, such as retaining the rural look of island roads or preserving adjacent land use.

“Every time we have proposed a bike lane we have had major discussions with land-owners and neighbors, like on New Brooklyn, Fletcher Bay and Ericksen,” Nasser said.

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy agreed that the plan points the city in a desirable direction, but she said adoption of the plan does not mean approval of any specific projects that it contains.

“A critical element in planning the future of the community is making trade-offs,” she said. “I am not sure we have had those discussions yet.”

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