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Winslow Way stop signs curbed

It took a stop sign to get the downtown business community going.

A group of Winslow businesspeople and property owners, generally characterized as “the heavy hitters,” turned out Wednesday evening to discuss plans for the intersection of Winslow Way with Ericksen Avenue and Bjune Drive.

While what was said was important, some say the fact that it was being said in a unified fashion was even more significant.

“Speaking personally, I haven’t been much involved in the past,” said Larry Nakata, president of Town & Country Markets. “It’s a natural tendency to deal with things that are real urgent, and (to) become a lot more interested when projects become a current reality.”

The issue before the Bainbridge City Council was two proposed methods of “putting back” Winslow Way after it is rebuilt from Highway 305 to Ericksen, a project that will go out to bid later this year.

One alternative was to put stop signs along Winslow Way at Ericksen, a proposal recommended by the Public Works Department because it would not reduce on-street parking.

Another was to make Winslow Way a three-lane street between the ravine and Ericksen, creating a center turn lane. That would require reducing the speed limit to 10 mph, and would cost five parking spaces.

At the urging of the merchants and others who feared that stop signs would back up traffic, especially during ferry arrivals, the city opted for the three-lane plan.

“We had been told that parking was critically important to the merchants, but we found that they consider traffic flow even more important,” Councilman Norm Wooldridge said.

The workshop included a discussion on proposed artistic treatments to the “Gateway” area east of Ericksen, including wooden boardwalks across the ravine.

Most of that plan found general support among council members, although several specific artistic treatments were disliked.

The recommendations were sent to public works for a first round of formal design.

Stop n’ go

On the question of lane configuration and stop signs, the business community made a coordinated presentation, developed after two recent invitation-only meetings that Nakata coordinated.

“With all the changes that are going on right now in our town, we need to let people know how we feel,” Nakata said. “Ideally, we would speak in a unified voice.”

Nakata would like to extend the scope of discussion beyond a specific intersection to considering downtown as a whole.

“We need to look forward many years down the road,” he said. “Instead of talking about individual parking stalls, each of which are precious, why don’t we deal with the whole parking problem first?”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said the merchants’ view is one not always heard.

“We hear from pedestrian and bike advocates, but what we are hearing from these merchants is that we need the car,” she said. “They want us to go back to talking about connecting Wyatt to the highway, opening up Hildebrand and dealing with the choke points that make a difference.”

At the council’s request, Kordonowy is putting together a team of city officials to meet with the business community on longer-range issues. Those meetings may begin as early as next week.

“I’m convinced this is a golden opportunity for the city,” she said.

Tom Haggar, a co-owner of the property on which Virginia Mason Winslow Clinic is located, said what is needed is “a change of attitude,” and that the island needs to look at Winslow as a community asset rather than as an asset only to the individual businesses.

“We have had no hesitation about paying for parks and open spaces, but how often do people actually go to those?” he said. “They come to Winslow several times a week, though.

“We need parking downtown, and people say ‘let the merchants pay for it,’ but they can’t – they don’t make much money,” he continued. “I have a parking place downtown now, but when I’m retired and living out on Point White, I still want to be able to come downtown and enjoy it. I’d vote in a minute to build a parking garage, because it’s the right thing to do.”

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