Non-motor plan may be too detailed

As reported elsewhere in this issue, the City Council is about to tackle the non-motorized transportation plan, and will consider, among other things, whether to incorporate that document into the Comprehensive Plan.

There is a lot we like about the plan. But we think incorporating it wholesale into the Comprehensive Plan would be a mistake.

The non-motorized plan begins with the laudable premise that we ought to encourage those islanders who are willing and able to get around without an expensive, polluting, hydrocarbon-burning car. We agree with all of that.

The plan goes on to assemble a list of island-wide projects – bike lanes and paths, sidewalks and so forth – to promote non-motorized transportation. And it prioritizes them with a considerable degree of specificity, while acknowledging that implementing all of the proposals will take a good 20 years.

The plan is not cheap. The document estimates total costs of almost $14 million – mostly in current-year dollars – but does not factor in right-of-way acquisition costs, which can equal or exceed the costs of the on-the-ground work.

The plan is quite specific. For example, it calls for five-foot bicycle lanes and three-foot pedestrian paths on both sides of High School Road from Fletcher Bay to Sportsman Club, something that it calls a “low priority” item.

Our hesitation involves incorporating highly specific, costly and long-range projects into the Comprehensive Plan. As it is, that document is becoming less a specific plan than a compendium of sometimes conflicting goals, which need to be reconciled upon implementation, often after considerable debate. As a prime example, we need look no farther than Ericksen Avenue, where Comp Plan language on preserving the historic character of the street is doing battle with Comp Plan language calling for sidewalks and bike lanes.

We think that putting something into the Comprehensive Plan ought to represent a real commitment to actually do it. If we are not really ready at this stage to commit to things like five-foot bike lanes on both sides of High School Road, without even knowing how much that would cost – and we should not be ready to make that commitment at this stage – then that project ought not be part of the Comprehensive Plan.

The overall goal of the non-motorized plan is to “provide the citizens of Bainbridge Island with a...planned and coordinated network of sidewalks, trails, footpaths, bikeway and multi-purpose trails that connect neighborhoods with parks, schools, the shorelines, the ferry terminal and commercial areas in a way that maximizes mobility, provides a sense of safety and comfort...and maintains the character of existing neighborhoods.”

Let’s put that statement in the Comp Plan, and leave the specifics until we’re actually ready to deal with them.

Meanwhile, let’s not overlook some things we can do now that are not in the non-motorized plan, but that would advance its goals. Specifically, let’s take this opportunity to explore creating a pedestrian path from Shepard Way to Madison Avenue across the old Packard property south of the Pavilion, which is now partially vacant.

That cut-through would provide a direct path to downtown and the ferry terminal to a number of folks living west of Grow Avenue, who now have to take a circuitous route. It’s the kind of thing that instantly makes a town more walkable.

Looking into the future is necessary. But let’s not overlook the present. And let’s not further burden our governing Plan with details that we haven’t really resolved.

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