Parking plan spurs study of ferry area

An application to build a new ferry parking lot on the southwest side of Olympic Drive – the road from Winslow Way to the ferry loading area – has unleashed an array of complaints about an area many consider too congested and unsafe.

The upshot may be a new multi-agency look at planning for the area as a whole.

“My application may be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Bill Isley, acting for the Griffith Trust, which owns much of the land around the ferry terminal. “People showed up from a number of agencies to talk about safety problems and congestion in the area from the light down to the ferry dock.”

The trust wants to add more surface parking on land it owns off of Harborview Drive, near the Eagle Harbor condominium complex and the Washington State Ferries Eagle Harbor repair facility.

Some 40 condominium residents turned out Monday at a neighborhood-outreach meeting on the project. The thrust of their comments was that more ferry parking is probably necessary, but that the congestion and safety problems should be fixed first.

Fixing those problems is the objective of an ad hoc group with the unwieldy title of the Vehicle/Pedestrian/Bicycle Safety Washington State Ferry Working Group, chaired by Bainbridge Police Department Lt. Denise Giuntoli, which is looking at the overall plans for the area.

According to city engineer Jeff Jensen, a member of that group, WSF’s long-range plans are to build a new terminal with increased bus access.

“But that’s a 12-year plan with a $50 million price tag – a lot of dollars that may or may not be there,” Jensen said.

In the interim, the best that may be possible is to prevent any one agency from doing something that would preclude those long-range plans.

“We want to minimize things that would have to be torn out and discarded later,” Jensen said.

The discussions have already led WSDOT crews to restripe some areas on Winslow Way, and the dedicated right-turn channel from Winslow into the ferry terminal area may be eliminated.

If approved, the latter change would make the intersection a normal four-way affair, and create a larger pedestrian island for those trying to cross the street. A WSDOT spokesman said the agency wants to dissuade pedestrians from crossing at random points along Olympic Drive, and channel more through the crosswalk at Winslow/305.

Meanwhile, the Bainbridge Planning Commission will consider ferry terminal parking policies at its meeting Thursday. On the table is a request from the planning staff to remove the numerical limits on ferry-district parking.

In an effort to prevent commuter parking from becoming the dominant land use in the area around the terminal, the comprehensive plan contained a provision that parking would not be expanded.

Planners then actually counted the number of parking spaces in the area, and those numbers were put into both the Winslow plan and city ordinances.

Since then, parking spaces have actually been lost when the police department took over its lot next to the police station and when parking on Bjune Drive that had been earmarked for ferry use was converted instead to parking for downtown employees. Another 74 spaces will be lost north of the terminal when construction begins next year on the Harbor Square project.

“We’re not suggesting that unlimited parking be allowed,” said city planner Kathy Cook, “but you don’t usually see that kind of specificity in comprehensive plans. There needs to be some flexibility.

“And nobody ever assumed parking would be lost.”

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