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Build walkway, citizens tell WSF

Chris Stanley would have preferred rolling up to City Hall Wednesday evening on his custom 27-speed road bicycle. With his bike and his bones broken, he made do with a steel walker.

But a shattered leg and other injuries didn’t stop Stanley from joining 75 other residents airing their views Wednesday, on a proposed pedestrian and bike trail link to the island’s ferry terminal.

“I was nearly killed four months ago by a car,” Stanley told city and Washington State Ferries officials. “I’ve watched one group grow on our ferry – bicycle commuters. But we’ve been ignored by (WSF) management.

“Our safety is critical. We shouldn’t wait to improve things.”

Stanley was struck by a distracted driver on SR-305 near Day Road; he said the dangers are even greater at the terminal, long regarded as a poorly designed facility that tangles engine, foot and pedal-powered commuters.

“We all know how dysfunctional the existing facility is,” said Dana Webber, an architect who worked on the terminal’s master plan in 1995.

“It needs a holistic approach that accommodates pedestrians, buses, bicyclists, cars, wheelchairs and motorcycles.”

Ferry officials hold a city permit for a series of terminal expansion and improvement projects over the next seven years. But WSF wants to amend the permit and back out of a planned second overhead walkway and path linking a trail to Waterfront Park.

Officials cite “homeland security” concerns, saying that the added access point compromise public safety.

“We’re all aware of the occurrences of 9/11 and the demands put on transportation facilities,” said Russ East, WSF director of terminal engineering. “Uncontrolled access poses higher risks than we want to take.”

Mayor Darlene Kordonowy said she wasn’t surprised residents didn’t embrace his explanation.

“They appreciate the changes in homeland security but don’t think it’s a reason to say ‘no’ to the trail plan,” Kordonowy said. “They’re saying, ‘let’s not fence the community in because of homeland security. Let’s apply for new safety measures but not close the community down.’”

While WSF is still requesting permission to drop the trail connection, WSF is open to residents’ concerns, East said. If the city denies the request, WSF will consider an exit-only connection that would limit trail access to pedestrians leaving the ferry.

The Waterfront Trail Committee, which has worked to expand access for 10 years, say they’ll back the exit-only plan, viewing it as a fair compromise for an area plagued with problems.

John Grinter said the terminal zone is particularly dangerous for bike commuters, likening bicyclists disembarking the ferry to a “time-trial sprint.”

The first to unload, cyclists are pushed hard by the impending rush of automobiles behind them, Grinter said. He called on the WSF to design a way for riders to exit directly to the southwest side of the loading area and connect with a waterfront path.

Dana Berg, president of the bike advocacy group Squeaky Wheels, proposed a lower speed limit for exiting vehicles, bike lanes on Olympic Drive and a waterfront connection.

“The ferry exit area is a high density, mixed-use area of enormous congestion and a serious injury or fatality could happen at any time,” she said.

More bikes

Almost 40,000 cyclists crossed from Seattle to Bainbridge Island by ferry in the last seven months, according to WSF. East said he is aware of the swelling number of bike commuters and pledged to consider their concerns.

“Bainbridge is a big bicycle community,” he said. “We don’t have a solution now, but we’re going to work on it.”

Pedestrians also rallied to the trail connection’s defense.

“I’ve seen a lot of close calls with pedestrians there,” said Geoff Daigle, a designer who has been watching the crosswalk from his nearby office for the good part of a decade. “I’ve watched the screeching tires, the scurrying. Someone’s going to get hit eventually. Then we’ll take this seriously.”

But not everyone wants to see cyclists and pedestrians diverted directly to the waterfront as they exit the ferry. While residents of Eagle Harbour Condominiums said they’re sensitive to safety concerns, they opposed linking the terminal to the path bordering their homes.

“A pedestrian trail directly adjacent to the condo would present an added risk for vandalism, theft, trespass and privacy loss,” said Anne Keating, president of the Eagle Harbour Homeowners Association.

Despite condo residents’ concerns, city officials said the desire for a trail connection is very strong. Josh Machen, assistant planner handling WSF’s permit application, said he’s confident WSF and the city will find a solution that pleases most residents.

“A trail connection is something the public desires,” he said. “WSF is going to be here for a long time. They don’t want to make any enemies.”

Even East said it’s unlikely the city will allow WSF to alter its permit.

“We fully expect the city to deny the request to eliminate the trail,” East said.

If the plan isn’t struck down, East expects the $500,000 walkway and trail project could be completed after 2009.

The planning department will make its decision within two months. WSF encourages input at bainbridgeprojects@wsdot.wa.gov.

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