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Sorting out a terminal mess

Bicyclists and cars join pedestrians in the Olympic Drive tangle. - ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo
Bicyclists and cars join pedestrians in the Olympic Drive tangle.
— image credit: ROGERICK ANAS/Staff Photo

Someday, Washington State Ferries plans a major upgrade of its Bainbridge Island terminal, which handles some 7 million passengers and vehicles per year.

But given the state’s financial straits, that “someday” is a long ways off. In the meantime, a multi-agency task force is taking a look at relatively minor changes they say could improve safety and efficiency around the facility.

“There are so many user groups and they’re all there at one time,” said Trooper Glen Tyrrell of the Washington State Patrol. “We have drivers, bus riders, bicyclists, motorcyclists, pedestrians, and van-pool riders in one small, heavily used area.”

Headed by Bainbridge Police Lt. Denise Giuntoli, the safety group includes representatives of WSF, the State Patrol, the state Department of Transportation, Kitsap Transit and the city.

While the discharge of passengers is disorderly, it actually works fairly well, Tyrrell said. But that breeds complacency, and he thinks it’s only a matter of time before complacency has serious results.

The biggest safety hazard authorities see: jaywalking across Olympic Drive, as the stub of Highway 305 from Winslow Way down to the ferry terminal is called.

“People walk up the east side of the roadway, then cross wherever they can,” Tyrrell said. “They are in a hurry to get home, they are reading or have their head-phones on, they wear dark clothing and they have their umbrellas up and hats on.

“Somebody is going to get hurt, because people think they are visible to motorists but they are not.”

There are two legal places to walk across Olympic – at the crosswalk just south of Harborview Drive, and at the Winslow Way traffic signal.

Believing Winslow Way to be the safer alternative, the state Department of Transportation briefly eliminated the lower crosswalk during the fall. It was re-striped after officials were reminded of the pedestrian trail on the other side of the walkway, which runs into downtown Winslow through a corner of Waterfront Park.

But the wide set of “hatchmarks” where Harborview joins Olympic was removed.

“People thought that was a crosswalk,” Giuntoli said, “but those marks were meant to keep vehicles off so the intersection would stay clear.”

The State Patrol and Bainbridge Police want to reduce or eliminate jaywalking across Olympic. Giuntoli and Tyrrell said the agencies plan to conduct a public education campaign, then start issuing tickets.

But before that can happen, pedestrians need to be given a viable option, which they don’t presently have.

“The traffic light takes too long to cycle,” Tyrrell said, “and the light is not long enough for everyone waiting to cross.”

The state Department of Transportation will to adjust the light to accommodate more pedestrians, he said, perhaps by the end of the year.

If that time-line is maintained, jaywalking citations could be issued as soon as March, Giuntoli said.

Another safety problem is keeping the various modes of transportation separated as much as possible.

For Giuntoli, that means preventing cars from taking the short-cut through the police department parking lot, a route also open to bicyclists.

“Cutting through the parking lot gives the bicyclists another way to get onto Winslow Way without having to share that corner with vehicles coming off the ferry,” she said. “But cars tend to follow bikes, and it creates a dangerous situation if they try to come through the parking lot.”

For Kitsap Transit, the problem is drivers who try to use the transit plaza on the east side of Olympic as a bootleg “kiss ‘n’ ride area” where commuters are dropped off.

“It will be a lot safer for our drivers if they are the only ones using that area,” said Wendy Clark, Kitsap Transit’s capital facilities director.

Longer range – in the next five to seven years – the various agencies have more ambitious plans.

The DOT and Washington State Ferries think the best solution to jaywalking may be to eliminate one side of the street. WSF has developed a plan that would remove the west sidewalk from Harborview to Winslow Way, and use the space for a bike lane. The plan also calls for widening and improving the sidewalk on the east side of Olympic.

“We’re working on broader concepts of how to move pedestrians and bicyclists in and out of the facility,” said Russ East, WSF terminal manager.

An unresolved problem is figuring out how to get traffic in and out of Harborview Drive, which will become more pronounced if the WSF abandons its Eagle Harbor maintenance yard, making that property available for a higher-intensity use.

“We really don’t want traffic exiting out of Harborview Drive while the ferries are unloading,” East said. He estimates that it takes 10 minutes for a boat full of vehicles to unload and clear the area.

The DOT wants to close the right-turn lane from Winslow Way onto Olympic and make that into a larger pedestrian-waiting area, then remove the island and make that into a turn lane large enough for its buses.

“We want to encourage people to use the signalized intersection,” said DOT’s Lowell McBee. “We need more areas for pedestrians to wait.”

While DOT has a plan, it doesn’t have the $40,000 required to execute it, spokesman Lloyd Brown said.

That’s the rub for everyone, Clark said.

Ultimately, Kitsap Transit wants to deliver passengers directly to a transit deck adjacent to the boat slips, past the holding area. And WSF wants, among other things, to build a pedestrian overpass from the south side of Olympic to the boats, meaning walk-on riders would no longer need to cross the street.

“We’re all trying to figure out who has the money,” Clark said, “and right now, we’re not sure anyone does.”

East said that even the modest improvements are not in the WSF budget for the next biennium.

“The soonest we can do any of this will be 2005 to 2007,” he said. “And we will need to come up with a way to share the costs among the agencies affected, including the city, because it will be getting much of the benefit.”

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