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Big ideas for town catch ear of city planners

Connections and garages may be controversial, but they’ll get a good hearing.

A flurry of recommendations by transportation planner Jim Charlier are not just the stuff that dreams are made of.

His calls for increased parking, better road connections and more pedestrian pathways are now written, in black and white, under the city’s letterhead.

“We’re on it,” said Winslow Tomorrow project manager Sandy Fischer. “We’ve taken all (Charlier’s) recommendations and moved them into the conventional city process in the five-year capital plan (requests) and in internal work plans for city staff.”

But the Boulder, Colo.-based planner’s recommendations are not the stuff that city ordinances are made of – at least not yet, said Fischer.

“Ultimately, it’s the City Council that decides where we’re going to expend time and money,” she said.

After a long study of the city’s present transportation system, Charlier last week presented his vision for how downtown can meet transportation and parking demands while maintaining the island’s quality of life.

Among the more significant recommendations are not one but three downtown parking garages and a connection between Hildebrand Lane and Ericksen Avenue.

“The big temptation is to screw up somehow” and not implement transportation growth plans that maintain the community’s values and lifestyles, Charlier said at a presentation last week. “Whenever I come to a city, I ask to see their last 10 parking studies. You’ve also had parking studies. You’ve always been talking about parking and transportation. But there’s always 100 reasons not to do” anything about it.

Charlier urged a packed City Hall auditorium to push past the 100 little setbacks that could result as the city makes way for thousands of island-wide successes.

“The big danger is that you as a city may not implement a (transportation) plan,” he said.

With the contentious Hildebrand-Ericksen connection as an example, Charlier admitted a road link would increase traffic on Ericksen but that the overall traffic system would receive a sizable boost, especially by drawing some cars off Madison Avenue.

Charlier’s recommendation for the connection included retaining the area’s greenery and a small island in the road to slow traffic.

As traffic grows, so will the need for more downtown parking. Rather than vast seas of blacktop, Charlier advocates a few multi-story parking garages.

As possible sites, he recommended the parking lot south of the Playhouse, Town & Country’s parking lot and the the Winslow post office’s expansive lot overlooking Bjune Drive.

Charlier said private and publicly supported parking garages could enable the city to ease current ordinances that require new parking for each development.

This could allow some businesses to transfer their required parking spots to a collectively maintained garage, saving prime real estate for storefronts and public plazas.

The city should also strive to break up the “mega-blocks” that dominate Winslow Way and Madison Avenue. He said the city could build more of a grid-like transportation network by requiring pathways every 250-330 feet along downtown streets.

This would also include the city’s purchase of “informal routes” carved by pedestrians between Winslow Way and High School Road, he said.

New developments would create new pathways as they build, while existing landowners would be notified of the requirement should they decide to redevelop, he said. Madison Avenue is also in need of a few more intersections, Charlier said.

“On Madison Avenue, the next opportunity from downtown to go west is Wyatt (Way),” he said. “That’s not very porous. When a landowner comes in and wants to redevelop, you can say, ‘By the way, we want a public street in there.’”

Overall, Charlier recommended that non-motorized transportation take precedence over cars.

He said rising fuel prices mean a “new dynamic is about to kick in” with Bainbridge at the potential forefront of being “one of the few places in Puget Sound where you don’t have to have a car.”

A pedal- and foot-friendly downtown will translate into a better place to live for residents and a sought-after destination for visitors.

“A lot of downtowns in North America are promoting themselves as this,” he said. “It’s a useful strategy, especially as more people come over on the ferry. This way, they’ll come with their wallets but without their cars.”

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Your 2 cents

City transportation consultant Jim Charlier welcomes public comment on his draft recommendations until the end of September, when he will submit a final report to the city. He can be contacted at WinslowTomorrow@ci.bainbridge-isl.wa.us.

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