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Crash course in road woes

t Traffic citations are up, but so are accidents on island roadways.

It’s Bainbridge Island’s most heavily traveled roadway, and State Route 305 also sees the most automobile collisions.

From 2001 through the first quarter of this year, eight of the island’s top 11 accident locations were at highway intersections or on SR-305 itself, a new review of traffic data by Bainbridge Police shows.

Heading the list is the 305/Day Road intersection, which saw 50 accidents during the 40-month period. Others trouble spots included 305/Madison (40), 305/High School (31) and 305/Sportsman Club (24).

“It’s where we go continually,” Bainbridge Police Chief Haney said of the collision-heavy 305.

The only other roadway to make the top five was High School Road between Madison and the highway, which saw 46 collisions during that period.

Haney commissioned the review of traffic statistics after complaints by citizens and a discussion by the City Council’s community relations committee.

Bicycle safety advocates have been galvanized by an April incident in which Winslow resident Chris Stanley was run down as he rode on the highway shoulder near Day Road. The motorist, a Bremerton woman, veered into the bike lane as she was answering her cellular phone.

Nine bike advocates met with the council committee this week. Among the ideas in play are lower speed limwits on local roadways, including the highway and Miller Road, and a ban on cell-phone use while driving.

Other concerns included the purported inability of island motorists to use their turn signals, and excessive speeds by dump trucks and other large commercial vehicles.

“If you’re ever on Miller, it’s a freakin’ speedway for those (truck drivers),” bicyclist Mark Petrie said.

Steve Rhoades, who leads bicycling classes around the island, noted that bike lanes are seeing increasing use by pedestrians and women pushing strollers.

“If one of those cars hits one of those moms with twins, hell’s gonna be paid,” he said.

Haney and council members are trying to fit the advocates’ concerns within a larger framework, to develop an island-wide strategy for traffic and enforcement.

The data compiled by police revealed, among other things, where officers have been making traffic stops and issuing citations.

Tops in stops was the 305/High School intersection – 917 over 40 months – with 346 citations issued there for various infractions. Next on the list was 305/Day, with 813 stops and 257 citations during that period.

The study also showed spikes in collisions during the heaviest commuter hours, between 7-8 a.m. and 3-5 p.m.

Haney said he’s looking at various options, including targeted enforcement in specific areas at specific times.

But the very nature of the problem on the highway – heavy traffic – also makes enforcement difficult. Recently, when Haney wanted to stop a miscreant driver at 305/High School Road, there were so many cars that he couldn’t pull out onto the highway safely.

Earlier this year, Haney instructed officers to “refocus” on traffic stops, after three incidents – the Stanley collision, a near-fatality at 305/Hidden Cove, and a skateboarder struck down on a residential street – were reported within a short period.

While department statistics show that traffic stops and citations issued are up compared to this time last year, so are several less-encouraging trends: DUI reports (58 year to date, compared to 41 in the first quarter of 2003); reckless driving complaints by other motorists (102, up from 80); and general traffic complaints (165, from 117).

And collisions are up – 167 so far this year, compared to 138 during the same period in 2003.

“This is about as visible a public safety issue as there is,” Haney said. “Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we’ve had any impact on accidents. That part’s frustrating.”

Haney said simply lowering speed limits isn’t likely to make a difference by itself, as accidents are usually caused by driver inattention; what’s needed, rather, is “a change in driver attitude.”

Accident victim Stanley – whose prognosis is a full recovey, although he still wears a neck and leg brace, and rolled into City Hall Monday in a wheelchair – agrees.

Stanley said he’s come to believe that motorists have a false sense of safety inside their vehicle, and that the vehicle also insulates them from a sense of their own impact on the roads and neighborhoods they travel.

“In reality, what protects us in traffic is our mind, our awareness,” he said.

So he and others have a special ire for cell-phone-using drivers, whose ranks they say will only increase as cellular coverage improves.

“It’s been a blessing in the past that we had poor cell-phone reception in the past, I believe,” Stanley said.

While the council has yet to settle on any recommendations, advocates are intent on keeping the issues before the public .

“What if we have another accident like Chris’ and it’s fatal,” bicyclist Rik Langendoen said. “How would we feel if we didn’t take action?”

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