Opinion

Bygone days of 'Suicide Lane'

We’re not sure “Suicide Lane” ever appeared on an actual road sign. But the phrase was once part of the local atlas nonetheless, and referred to a demonstrably dangerous stretch of Eagle Harbor Drive.

Straightening and better maintenance eventually curbed traffic mishaps there, and the name fell out of common use; most of today’s islanders have probably never heard it. But over on page A5, John McKillop digs into the archives to offers a droll take on the island’s last Great Raccoon Threat, and in passing, the phrase “Suicide Lane” returns to light.

For decades before all-island government, islanders outside of Winslow were at the mercy of Kitsap County for such services as street maintenance and law enforcement. And Bainbridge roads were the ugly stepdaughters of the county public works department, forlorn and forgotten tracks often unknown to the caress of the grader. In November 1955, the Review ran a front-page story and photo highlighting poor conditions in the Westwood neighborhood (north of Crystal Springs), showing a motorist mired in ruts 14 inches deep – on a newly built road. Residents complained of going months without regular newspaper, mail or milk delivery; winter fuel oil service was in doubt, while a garbage truck bogged down halfway through its rounds and abandoned the route. “It’s not as bad as they say,” protested Poulsbo’s Ed Swan, the county commissioner representing Bainbridge at that time; neighbors responded by branding Swan “inept” and “derelict,” and he was subsequently stripped of authority to spend road money in his own district, for mismanagement of funds.

No doubt there are other good tales, but perhaps no road enjoyed the notoriety of “Suicide Lane,” a winding and perilous stretch of today’s Eagle Harbor Drive roughly from Place 18 south and east to McDonald Avenue. A spate of a traffic accidents there in 1961 brought news coverage to the road, which in turn prompted complaints from a nearby merchant unhappy with the street’s informal moniker.

In a July 26, 1961 commentary in these pages, Review editor Walt Woodward wrote: “Lew Daughters, who certainly will do as the ‘mayor’ of Eagledale until you can find a better nominee, recently protested out use in news articles of the name ‘Suicide Lane,’ for a short portion of a twisting thoroughfare in his community. We’re not sure Mr. Daughters is talking about the same piece of road we are. Mr Daughters’ store, for example, is on ‘Eagledale Road’; his store is about a mile away from ‘Suicide Lane,’ in our book. We’ll confess to one thing only. About a quarter of a century ago (whew...has it been THAT long?), the Review first coined the name “Suicide Lane” in an effort to get county officials to improve that dangerous portion of Eagledale’s main road. The name stuck; if we were to stop using it, we doubt it would have much effect. Meanwhile, some improvements have been made. Basically, however, it still is a ‘suicide lane.’ The repeated accidents there just prove that point. Mr. Daughters’ quarrel is with county road officials, not with us.”

What eventually became the more benignly known Eagle Harbor Drive was eventually straightened (although you can still see a stretch of the pre-alignment road, a wayside of beaten asphalt dipping down toward waterfront homes in the 6200 block), and as the island became more populace, better maintenance followed by sheer virtue of demand. Today, under city care, a road maintenance budget of $1.7 million keeps local streets in pretty decent shape.

Suicide Lane is now part of the island’s colorful lore,

but its passing reminds us that safety is now in the hands of the person at the wheel. Good to remember, as daylight wanes and autumn rains slick our long-coveted asphalt.

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