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Ericksen Ave.-Hildebrand Lane connection severed by owners
Earlier this year, a City Council committee tabled the long-running debate over whether to connect Ericksen Avenue and Hildebrand Lane.
Barring resumed talks, the two roads will remain plugged indefinitely.
It appears the same can now be said about the informal connection – the driveways of several adjoining businesses used as a shortcut by many motorists – which was closed temporarily last week, and is set to close for good soon, according to property owners.
“This is not a thoroughfare, but people drive like it is,” said Charlie Frame, owner of CFA Properties, just north of Frontier Bank. “It’s a parking lot, not a public road. We’re afraid people are going to get run over.”
While doing maintenance, Frame recently erected a temporary barrier on both sides of the parking lot he and his partners own at the rear of their building. They’ve since decided to build a more permanent barrier that would allow cars to enter from Wallace Way into Frontier Bank and the CFA parking lot, but would restrict vehicle access to points further north.
The barrier will include trees and a planter box, but will be moveable in case of emergencies, Frame said.
Fire Chief Hank Teran on Monday said he hadn’t yet heard of the plan, but there’s nothing that requires property owners to keep the lot open to through access. It’s not uncommon, he said, for fire departments and businesses to restrict access through private driveways except in emergencies.
Frame said part of the driveway was closed in 2000, but was reopened two and a half years ago when neighboring Viking Bank opened and sought two-way access.
“It was important to them, and I feel bad for Viking and other people who want that additional access,” Frame said. “People will have to drive around to High School Road for access, but safety has to come first.”
The debate over whether to connect Ericksen and Hildebrand has gone on for decades.
Most recently, city staff recommended connecting the two streets, a move also urged by several businesses and the Chamber of Commerce.
An equally vocal contingent opposes the connection, citing worries about increased traffic and the removal of the park – or grassy knoll, depending on whom one asks – that now separates the two streets.
The debate resumed in March, when the council’s Public Works and Transportation Committee reviewed a recent traffic impact study.
Ordered by the council in 2006, the study’s aim was to examine the potential impacts of a possible connection on traffic, bicycle and pedestrian circulation in the area.
It found that 180 cars flooded through the CFA lot between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. on one particular day, but only a single count at that specific spot is presented in the report.
Among other things, the study recommends connecting the roads, saying the opening wouldn’t have a detrimental impact on traffic.
Committee members said the study results were inconclusive; not enough data was collected about actual traffic flows and not enough attention was paid to the potential impacts of a connection on bicycle and pedestrian access in the neighborhood, they said.
Public Works Director Randy Witt on Tuesday said the closure of the private lot will impact the flow of vehicle traffic nearby, though the extent of that impact remains to be seen.
“I don’t think the intersection at High School Road is going to fail,” he said. “It’s just going to get more congested because of this.”
Frame said that with the temporary barrier in place, many drivers have begun to cut through Frontier Bank’s drive-in-window lanes. He admitted to being upset with the committee’s decision.
“When that happened, I just decided that with the council we have now, it was a total lost cause,” he said. “But when it comes to closing the parking lot to traffic, that’s a decision I’ve made and it’s strictly a safety issue. Someone is going to get hurt.”
Editor Dennis Anstine contributed to this report.