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How fast is too fast on Miller Road?

Nearby residents want to see the speed limit there lowered

Fed up with the speed of vehicles through their area, Miller Road residents may get their wish tonight as the City Council discusses a speed limit reduction on the west-side thoroughfare.

The city Public Works Department has recommended that the entire road’s maximum speed be set at 35 miles per hour.

Some portions of Miller are already set at 35 mph, but most stretches of the nearly three-mile road are 40 mph.

Miller Road residents recently gathered more than 260 signatures from island residents who support reducing the road’s speed limit. Over 60 percent of respondents said they’d like to see speeds dropped to 30 mph, according to Lucy Ostrander, a founding member of the Miller Road Neighborhood Safety Committee.

“I want to see it down to 30 (mph),” Ostrander said. “I’m not sure 35 will be sufficient to make pedestrians and bicyclists feel safe on Miller.”

While calling the reduction a start, she said she was also disappointed the city didn’t recommend a four-way stop at Miller’s intersection with Koura Road.

Ostrander was spurred into action to improve safety on Miller after a dozing motorist hit her mailbox last year. A week later, she passed the scene of an auto accident nearby.

“I thought, ‘when did we decide to give up the island’s roads to cars?’” she asked. “I feel like I’m taking my life into my hands when I check my mail. It’s scary just to walk next door to my neighbor’s house.”

As recommended by the city Public Works department, the changes to Miller would not include a new, four-way stop at Koura Road, where a Danish couple visiting the island collided with a police car in late March.

A safety study of Miller Road, conducted by city engineers, concluded in January that a four-way stop would not improve traffic safety.

The study also found that a speed reduction could hamper traffic efficiency, transferring more vehicles to State Route 305 “exacerbating the worst traffic situation on Bainbridge Island,” said city engineer Roger Mustain.

Councilman Bill Knobloch said he strongly supports Miller Road residents in their effort to reduce speeds and improve the intersection with Koura.

He has compiled a database of photos of the area that show limited sight at intersections, small shoulders for pedestrians, and large commercial trucks regularly making use of the road.

Knobloch said he was impressed by Miller residents’ recent presentation to the council and their lobbying efforts.

“It’s pretty bad on that road,” he said. “The residents of Miller have gone about this in the right way, and I’m responding. They’re the first neighborhood to step up” for future projects to reduce speeds island-wide.

But Bainbridge Police Chief Matt Haney said the proposed changes are misguided.

Haney contends Miller Road is not a “high-accident area,” and that lowering speed limits “will not make drivers stop on Koura Road and give right-of-way to drivers on Miller Road.”

Enforcing an island-wide speed reduction may also strain the department, Haney said.

“Lowering the speed limits island-wide may create the false impression that the police will have the resources to enforce these new rules,” he added.

Councilman Nezam Tooloee agrees that a speed reduction won’t significantly improve safety on Miller Road.

“It might make some people feel better, but it’s really not going to change a thing,” he said. “It amounts to placating the community with a lie. The truth is that the speeds people drive have nothing to do with road signs.”

Tooloee believes road surfaces, widths and the distance a driver can see has a more significant impact on vehicle speeds.

Instead of the speed reduction, Tooloee advocates bike lanes on both sides of the road, traffic calming devices and broader views at the Koura intersection.

The council is set to discuss the Miller Road speed limit reduction resolution at 8 p.m. tonight.

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