With no ‘force field’ of protection, BI coasts on project

Instead of racing to the finish line, the Bainbridge Island City Council decided May 23 to coast instead, concerned that safety measures were not a “force field” of protection.

The topic was the Eagle Harbor-Wyatt Way bicycle and pedestrian path.

Most seemed to favor a new alternative based on recent community input that would cost a little more, but extend a bi-directional path farther toward Lynwood Center. But some wanted time to think about it while city staff researches more data. Others were concerned that bidirectional paths are dangerous, despite them being used all over the world.

Councilmember Clarence Moriwaki was the most outspoken against it. He said bicyclists riding slowly uphill and riding fast downhill is dangerous and will lead to accidents. He said you don’t have to worry about someone coming at you if the path is one direction, which is another alternative.

As for the general safety of the path, he said a yellow line separating non-motorized transportation from vehicles “is a suggestion, not a force field.” Moriwaki said a better use of money that would go farther would be to construct simple shoulders on the sides of roads for cyclists and walkers.

Councilmember Joe Deets had the opposite view, saying bi-directional paths were safer. He said Squeaky Wheels and Bainbridge Greenway both support that alternative.

Moriwaki said he was surprised by that, and Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos said that meant a lot to her. “I never thought Squeaky Wheels and Bainbridge Greenway” would agree on anything, she said, adding even though she likes the bi-directional idea she wants more discussion.

Mayor Brenda Fantroy-Johnson agreed. She said she’d vote for it if she had more information. She also said she liked the idea of extending the project up Bucklin Hill.

Deputy mayor Jon Quitslund and Councilmember Michael Pollock said both sides made strong arguments.

Quitslund said it’s a “quandary” as people on both sides he respects are in opposition to each other. He did say an idea not mentioned was to make car lanes narrower in some areas to slow traffic down and allow bike lanes to be wider.

Pollock wondered if electric bicycles would be allowed on the paths. He also was concerned about bright bike lights that don’t have dimmers confusing motorists. Like Moriwaki, he rides his bike in that area and is concerned about how fast they go downhill.

He said experienced bicyclists probably wouldn’t even use the path going downhill. “They will continue to just use the road,” he said, adding then it wouldn’t really be a path for all ages, all abilities. He also wondered how easy it would be to convert the two-direction to one-direction paths if problems develop.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider agreed the path really wouldn’t be for everyone. “I don’t think we’re building it for them,” she said of serious bicyclists as the city is trying to get new people involved in nonmotorized transportation.

She said she likes that alternative because it gets more facility per cost per mile, it has less environmental impact, is better for pedestrians and that it adds a new segment up Bucklin Hill. “It’s super exciting that” in the future it will go to Lynwood Center.

Schneider did agree that more information is good. “It’s a little bit like a roundabout. It’s something new that is going to create a lot of conversation in the community.”

In his presentation, Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki’s slide show says pros for Alternative E include: looking to Lynwood, more facility per dollar per mile, wider for electric bikes, separation from vehicles, intersection safety and traffic calming. Cons include: crossings, and more city funds would be needed as some grant money would need to be returned.

Alternative D also would require the return of grant money, but not as much. Other pros include: within budget, more buffer from vehicles, traffic calming and intersection safety. Cons include: Does not address Bucklin Hill, less facility per mile per dollar and great environmental impact.

Wierzbicki said connecting centers is an important part of BI’s Sustainable Transportation Plan. He added there are a lot of critical areas along the corridor, including wetlands, buffers and shorelines. The city wants the least impact possible on those areas.

He said they eliminated part of the plan along Eagle Harbor because the space is so tight a guardrail would have been needed next to the shoreline. He said because the project was truncated grant money likely will be truncated, too.

Overall, Wierzbicki seemed to favor Alternative E for many of the reasons already listed, but also because it would help cyclists in efforts to get to other parts of the island.

“To get this budget across the finish line,” he recommends taking $200,000 for Lynwood Center planning and investing it in an “on-the-ground project.” He also recommends using $200,000 in road repair money for that area.

Public comments that evening were split.

Paula Holmes, president of Squeaky Wheels, favors the bi-directional path. She said 10 feet is a lot of space for two bikes going in opposite directions. That space is even enough room for e-bikes to pass, she said. And it is enough room for a bike going downhill. She said it’s more efficient in space and cost.

Elise Nelson, vice president of Squeaky Wheels, said it’s designed for a variety of users and will one day connect two major parts of the island. “Design it right; details do matter,” she said.

But Tim Hochfeld said Alternative E “will put me at greater risk of death than riding on the road.” He said going down Bucklin Hill if a cyclist fell into the road and collided with an oncoming vehicle it would be fatal. He said the focus should be on uphill travel and shoulders where none exist.

Peter Harris said the decision should be simple. One is within budget, the other is 20% over budget. One is safe, the other isn’t.