Consensus elusive on Ericksen proposals

Faced with three choices for Ericksen Avenue, islanders voted for four – and, this being Bainbridge, also found a way to stay evenly divided.

Perhaps the closest thing to consensus for the contested stretch of roadway was expressed by Ferncliff resident Jessie Hey: “As long as it doesn’t go through (to Hildebrand), as long as it doesn’t create a huge, wide street, it’s fine.”

City public works officials and consulting engineers unveiled three plans for pedestrian and bicycle improvements to Ericksen Avenue, in a public meeting at city hall Thursday evening.

The first plan, dubbed the “minimalist approach,” was shorn of landscaping and included little more than a sidewalk on the west side of the street and a bike lane on the east. A middle-of-the-road proposal would add a bike lane and curbing on the east side.

The third, a “resolution approach” – so dubbed, as it’s thought to be most in keeping with a city council resolution outlining the desired improvements – would be the most ambitious.

The proposal showed a planter strip separating the west sidewalk from the bike path and road, with trees and landscaping at various points and improved median strips north of Knechtel. The sidewalk would vary in width from five to seven feet, depending on opportunity and the cooperation of neighboring property owners.

It would also see the island debut of a new traffic calming device: “speed tables.” The low, elongated humps would change the roadway grade by 3-4 inches at several points, over a space of about 30 feet.

The range of costs for the various alternatives was narrow – $1.4 million at the low end, $1.7 million at the high.

The project was pushed to the forefront of the public works agenda 18 months ago, after a group of senior citizens documented poor conditions for pedestrians around town. That group was well-represented Thursday, and urged the city to go with the most ambitious improvements.

“In the long-term view, it’s penny-wise and pound-foolish not to do the best we can with this,” Sally Mathews said.

Yet their views by no means carried the day. Asked to pick between the three alternatives, respondents voted thus:

(A) 5, (B) 6, (C) 4, (Other) 4.

Written comments suggested a similarly diverse array of concerns:

* “Would rather do one side really well and other well later, rather than whole thing mediocre.”

* “Strongly consider traffic in only one direction.”

* “(Minimalist approach) an accident waiting to happen. With only one bike lane, a head-on crash would be a surprise.”

* “Ericksen Avenue needs a new sewer main more than underground power lines. The 300 gallons of raw sewage in my basement is all the proof I need.”

* “They shouldn’t make Ericksen like Madison.”

Another question that continues to surface is the absence of crosswalks across Ericksen – none of the plans includes them. But city engineer Jeff Jensen said that without a sidewalk on the east side of the street, crosswalks would make no sense.

“If we’re not directing them to something for pedestrians, why have them?” he said.

The plans will go to the city council’s public works committee next month, in hopes of getting on the council docket for a final decision in late June.

Another public meeting would be held later this year as the designs are finalized, with the project to go out to bid next spring.

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