Expect to ‘drool’ over transportation plans

Leslie Schneider wants to come up with transportation projects that make Bainbridge Islanders “drool.”

The councilmember, speaking with the city’s Sustainable Transportation Committee, said the group needs to support AAA ideas that are practical and make sense financially.

“Then people will start to drool over the projects that didn’t make the cut,” she said.

The priorities of the committee will be presented to the City Council Feb. 15.

Schneider was responding to two committee members critical that projects were placed down on the list of priorities because they might be hard to accomplish.

In setting priorities, staff was cognizant of whether the city already owned the land or if things like easements would have to be obtained. It also looked at whether the city had the money or if state or federal funds or grants or donations from other sources would need to be secured.

That’s no way to set priorities, committee member Susan Loftus said, adding: “We need to put it where it belongs.” She said it’s their job to find solutions, not be concerned if a project would “bog us down.”

BI Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki said the goal is to get people from Point A to Point B, and the best way to do that is where the city has control. If they can do a project, for example, without crossing State Highway 305, all the better.

He said working with others like the state Department of Transportation would be great but would take more time. He added getting easements can be time-consuming, and they want some successes right off the bat.

Mark Epstein, a BI engineering project manager, said: “Using other people’s money is an uncertainty. There’s a level of risk” planning projects like that.

Committee member Don Willot agreed with Loftus. He said he helped get a $6 million grant for the Sound to Olympics Trail.

“Yes, it’s hard to do,” he said of getting other people’s money, but it can be done. “We’ve been on kind of a hiatus” from doing that, he said about BI.

He mentioned that Poulsbo was very successful in working with DOT in putting roundabouts on Highway 305.

Loftus added that making the STO a priority would help in efforts to get grants. It would also help in getting DOT money if BI had connectors to STO. Having already obtained one large grant also helps. She said an overpass over Highway 305 would be more likely if that area was a priority.

Schneider said while some of the ideas are inspirational they may not be practical. Since the committee is putting together a list of priorities, she recommended having a separate category so the public could see projects that would be awesome to have, but harder to obtain.

“That opens the door to the conversation of how to get the other high-inspiration projects going,” she said.

If the city just looked at those projects, “They would suck up all of our current funds,” she said, adding if the harder projects to do were listed separately they would look like a vision, and not just be buried in a spreadsheet.

Epstein said when the council looks at the projects it could decide a variety of things, including building some of the projects and going to voters to “support marquee projects.”

Process background

In starting the meeting Epstein reviewed that the committee was formed to address climate change, discuss new ways to get around and to address the benefit of physical activity.

Seven values were set: climate action, natural systems and rural character, safety and comfort, equity and accessibility, connected and convenient, implementation and funding. They wanted to fill the gaps in bicycling, walking and transit. They came up with 300 projects, then targeted 100 that included cost estimates.

Wierzbicki said some of the projects have been on similar lists since 1992. All of the projects would cost up to $200 million, which is “way beyond our ability.” The list received hundreds of public comments from dozens of people.

He said the public wants better shoulder maintenance so it can use the side of roads more, so the city would like to do some inexpensive things like mow or put down gravel. Where there is only room for bike and pedestrian lanes on one side of a road, they would be built 8 feet wide so people could go in both directions. “It’s not ideal but it’s a significant improvement of what we’ve got,” he said. On bigger projects, raised bike lanes are planned. “That’s better for women and children,” Loftus said of the safety factor.

It setting priorities, the city looked where goals overlapped, such as including traffic calming, locations and things like bicycle trips.

Some committee members, such as Alyse Nelson, were concerned about project isolation. Not connecting projects “is a missed opportunity,” she said.

Wierzbicki said they wanted to stretch “the dollars throughout the island.”

When asked if this was the final priority list, he said, “We’re not going back to the drawing board,” or why have a list at all? But, “There’s a little bit of flexibility.”

Before asking for public comments, Wierzbicki asked committee members about their thoughts on the plan.

Nelson liked the networks and corridors, and building out short-term projects before asking voters for more. “That’s a real successful strategy,” she said.

Kirk Robinson suggested members go out in the field and see “how doable some of these grand projects are.” One popular one would require 17 easements, for example, he said.

Melissa Bang-Knudsen called the listing “bike heavy.” She said it gets dark at 4 p.m., and it’s rainy and hilly so while she likes bicycles and “bike people would vote yes for money on this, I feel there is a big miss here.”

Wierzbicki said lots of things in all of the funding options hadn’t been discussed, such as transit, safe routes to school, lower speed limits, community education, etc.

Public comment

Andy Marin said he thinks voters would support a “connector or spine” group of projects over a “scattered or spread” option. People could then be shown what could be done, such as examples of raised bike lanes. People would then be more willing to donate money for projects.

Demi Allen of the bike group Squeaky Wheels also liked the spine plan. “That would set the table for future improvements.” He also liked the city-funded idea, “which is a different approach than what we’ve been taking.”

Barb Trafton said STO needs to be more of a priority because it’s well-known regionally and would connect people to Winslow and schools.

Stefan Goldby of the Bainbridge chamber said he’s excited about the projects as at their kiosks they welcome up to 150,000 people a year to the island. But the No. 1 tourist attraction, Bloedel Reserve, is hard to get to.

“This can directly impact that problem,” he said, adding Chilly Hilly is a very popular bicycle race so improved paths could bring more of that type of thing to BI.

A few committee members gave closing remarks.

Loftus said she thinks a quality route from Lynwood Center to Rolling Bay would be inspirational, but added the process has been tiring, taking a year longer than planned.

Willot said they should not forget nonprofits and other organizations that can be funding sources. He also said he doesn’t want to see STO have to compete with other local projects for funds.

Robert Weschler wanted to know if committee members could see the final plan before it goes to the council.

Or do they think, “Too many cooks spoil the pot.” He said that he hopes a transportation czar can be hired because too many projects in the past have never been implemented without one.