Of two minds on four islands for Madison

If, heaven forbid, a pedestrian were struck down at Winslow Way and Madison Avenue, could aid crews reach them in a timely manner?

Perhaps not, Bainbridge fire officials argue – and they cite, ironically enough, the planned construction of four pedestrian “refuge islands” in the Madison Avenue center lane in the vicinity of city hall. Over on today’s op-ed page, our three-member fire board weighs in against the traffic-calming project that was approved by the city council last month.

Fire officials cite the high percentage of calls in which emergency crews are sent winging down Madison and through the Winslow Way intersection, usually en route to the Parfitt-area retirement homes or the Winslow Clinic. They argue that such “engineered” calming measures as islands will create backups and bottlenecks, slowing emergency vehicles and leaving a lengthy strip in which they are unable to pass other vehicles.

Last month in this space, we tendered general support for the Madison project, less on its specifics than on the general principle of improving pedestrian safety on that corridor – an unmitigated disaster for anyone on foot. And we reaffirm that view today; it seems incumbent that the city provide some sort of relief on Madison, not least because the city itself has encouraged shared parking arrangements between the Pavilion, for example, and businesses across the busy street. City policy is forcing more people to cross.

And we agree with Councilman Bill Knobloch, who before the June 26 vote was taken, noted that regardless of conditions, most drivers can be counted on to go to great lengths to get out of the way of emergency vehicles.

That said, it’s hard to dismiss the fire department’s ongoing concerns, as expressed by the board today. Was the decision made without proper consideration of Madison’s function as a primary route for emergency vehicles? Are engineered calming features inappropriate for arterials – the same streets that pedestrian advocates say are most in need of calming?

For perspective, what we’re talking about here are four islands, measuring together about 200 feet in length, arrayed along the 1,100 feet of roadway between Madrona Way and Winslow Way. They have been shortened somewhat from the original design, and would be placed, in the words of Public Works Director Randy Witt, “where people are crossing anyway.” With 16 feet from curb to curb, Witt argues that an emergency vehicle should be able to pass safely even if a motorist is surprised by sirens and pulls over right next to an island.

Reasonable minds can certainly vary on the potential for

conflicts here, and we’re loathe to urge the reconsideration of already-made decisions. At the same time, while calming and pedestrian improvements are absolutely necessary along Madison Avenue, the plan approved by council may go an island or two too far.

Perhaps two crossings – one near city hall, another closer to the Pavilion – or even three would provide sufficient haven. City engineers could reconfigure the project on their own initiative, without the council’s involvement.

It would be a worthy compromise – giving pedestrians a fair chance on Madison, and giving fire crews the confidence that they’ll be able to help us all live long enough to brave crossing the street another day.

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