Island-wide traffic plan speeds toward debate

The island-wide transportation study is still just a study, thank you, and not yet a plan, the City Council’s public works committee assured residents Monday.

But at the urging of city staff, the council will put several controversial issues in the study on the front burner, and move the document from “study” to “plan” soon.

“We need to have those discussions,” said public works Director Randy Witt. “We can’t write grants, and the planning department can’t revise the Comprehensive Plan, until we have a better idea of where we’re going.”

The slow-down-but-move-fast directive came largely in response to complaints from Grow Avenue residents, who read the study as a plan to turn their street into a high-traffic, high-speed arterial. They were further concerned that once-advertised public meetings had not taken place.

The traffic study, produced by a citizen committee, elected officials and consultants, says that island mobility is generally satisfactory, except on Highway 305.

It does, though, recommend changes – some controversial, like linking Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane, and changing Grow Avenue from its current classification as a “residential” street to a higher-volume “collector.”

Recommendations of that nature caused the council committee to balk at a proposed resolution accepting the study.

“We could talk for days about the study and what’s inside it,” said committee member Bill Knobloch, who questioned whether some of the debates – specifically the Ericksen-Hildebrand connection – needed to be resolved immediately.

At Witt’s prodding, the committee agreed to schedule public workshops on the issues.

Bob Conoley and other Grow Avenue residents take umbrage at the study’s finding that Grow “functions more like a collector.”

In a petition signed by neighbors, residents argued that “it is the city’s responsibility to protect us from the increasing danger and excessive noise posed by cross-island traffic through our otherwise quiet residential neighborhood.”

Conoley said neighbors accept the fact that traffic will increase on their street, which connects Winslow Way with High School Road, but they are concerned that speeds regularly exceed the posted limit of 25 mph.

“Traffic during the morning and evening commuting times are the problem, and especially the buses that have adopted Grow as their route,” Conoley said.

Re-classifying the street as a collector would ratify a bad situation, he said, pointing to state standards that call for a 40 mph speed limit on collectors and a 50-foot right of way, considerably wider than the street is now.

Instead of a higher speed limit, Conoley said the neighbors want some sort of traffic-calming scheme to prompt greater adherence to the low posted limit.

The Planning Commission has also found fault with the study, which a draft memorandum says “offers no long-term solutions to expanding traffic volumes and should have a greater emphasis on alternatives to the automobile.”

Witt said some of those issues will come to the fore during implementation of the new Non-Motorized Transportation Plan.

“That is when we will talk about whether to have bike lanes or sidewalks or both, and on what side of the street to put them,” he said.

“These issues all need to come together at one time,” he said. “Talking about sidewalks without talking about traffic calming and the whole road corridor seems like a lost opportunity.”

Council member Lois Curtis said the council may want to take a hard look even at the notion that the city work closely with the state to improve Highway 305.

“For a long time, the island told the state emphatically that we did not want improvements on the highway, thinking perhaps that we would be overwhelmed with traffic,” she said. “But now, traffic has increased to the point that it really affects us on the island because we can’t get across the road. The idea of doing something about the highway for people on the island is a major change, and that is an item we ought to discuss.”

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