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Bank project trips over sidewalk

The main drag just isn’t big enough for everybody, and islanders may see a showdown on Winslow Way.

The problem: the Winslow Master Plan calls for 10-foot sidewalks in the downtown area, a requirement that American Marine Bank has been told to meet as part of its building expansion.

But more concrete means less asphalt, as widening the sidewalk means shrinking the street. And if the street shrinks any further, there may not be room for delivery trucks to service local merchants.

“It’s a tradeoff – sidewalk space or space for deliveries,” said city engineer Jeff Jensen.

The problem came to light Monday, when Winslow Hardware owner Ken Schuricht and American Marine Bank officials both showed up at a city-sponsored open house on plans to rebuild Winslow Way east of Ericksen Avenue. They hoped to find a forum to discuss the problem.

“If the bank builds 10-foot sidewalks, the cars parked in front of it will stick out much farther than the other cars parked on the street,” said Schuricht, whose store is directly across Winslow Way from the bank. “That will create traffic problems.”

Schuricht’s real concern, though, had to do with delivery trucks, which, for lack of any other alternative, park in the middle of Winslow Way.

At present, the street is wide enough to allow more or less normal traffic flow on either side of a parked truck. But with wider sidewalks, that room disappears.

It’s a matter of simple arithmetic. The storefronts are 78 feet apart. Angle parking takes up just under 18 feet of space on each side of the street, Jensen said.

With five feet of sidewalk on each side, the street itself is now 32 feet wide – enough to accommodate both a parked truck and two travel lanes.

Add an additional 10 feet of sidewalk, though, and there is only 22 feet of roadway left. That’s enough to accommodate two-way traffic. But a truck parked on one side of the street would block one lane of travel, and a truck parked in the middle would block both.

Jensen said the 10-foot sidewalk is an explicit requirement in the city’s master plan for downtown, not a discretionary rule applied only to the bank.

“We’re not creating the rules. We’re given the rules, and we’ve been told to follow them,” he said.

Bank chief executive officer Rex Townsend said the bank was also following a mandate.

“There wasn’t any discussion or process,” he said. “We were told, ‘this is what you will do.’”

Jensen said that as wider sidewalks begin absorbing space for delivery trucks, one alternative might be to create curbside spaces designated for such vehicles, limiting them to certain hours.

Schuricht questioned the practicality of that. He arranges for his major deliveries to occur during evening hours at the alley behind the hardware store, but he said couriers such as UPS need more flexibility.

Jensen met with other city officials beginning Tuesday morning and determined that the 10-foot requirement could not be waived.

“We’re advising the bank to go ahead according to plans,” he said.

“Ten-foot sidewalks are required in the design guidelines for the town center, which are part of our codes, and even though the word ‘guideline’ is used, there is no flexibility.”

Jensen said the problem should be addressed now, particularly because because it would become a universal concern when Winslow Way is rebuilt from Ericksen west to Madison Avenue, currently slated for 2007 or later.

“This is a discussion that we have been avoiding for many years,” Jensen said. “It’s not a couple-day thing.”

The ultimate answer, Schuricht said, is to create a truck-accessible alleyway behind the stores on the north side on Winslow Way, a suggestion that has been made sporadically in the past, generally in connection with plans for a civic parking structure.

Jensen believes less drastic solutions are possible. For example, he said that sidewalks might remain narrow on portions of the street, creating designated center-parking areas.

“Now is probably a good time for the business community and everyone else to really work on this issue,” Jensen said.

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While the notion of beautifying the island’s gateway from the ferry terminal to Ericksen Avenue seemed unexceptional enough, Monday’s open house once again revealed that there are as many ideas of beauty as there are beholders.

A wooden brodge across the ravine to “recapture the romance” of a crossing? Too slippery, said some, although planners said it would be made of super-hard tropical wood, as resistant to moss as concrete.

Overhead lighting? Fine, said some. Too many wires, said others.

Some saw “poetic utility in the pragmatism” of our wooden utility poles, but others saw them simply as homely.

The notion of making our runoff water visible in “bioswales,” which are really landscaped ditches? Lovely, said some. Too little show for too much dough, said others.

Ideas of your own? You can address them to Kathy Cook at the city planning department.

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