Neighbors share ideas on improving road for walkers, cyclists

Valley Road in Rolling Bay could be the next busy street on Bainbridge Island to see some infrastructure updates — provided the city wins a few grants — but neighbors will have to choose whether to go all in or stick to the basics.

The city’s planning department held an open house May 7 to discuss how best to improve pedestrian and cyclist access to NE Valley Road, between N Madison Avenue and Sunrise Road. The corridor has been slated for improvements since the city’s Sustainable Transportation Plan was adopted in 2022, and the meeting was the first public step toward making those changes a reality.

About 60 residents, many who live on Valley Road, listened to public works director Chris Wierzbicki explain the road’s current state, the city’s vision for the street and present a few options.

Attendees then discussed the topic and pored over large diagrams printed on 10-foot-long sheets of paper. The city provided highlighters, markers, pens, pencils and Post-it notes for people to leave comments and sketch out their own ideas.

As it stands, Wierzbicki said Valley Road has no paved shoulder, and cars, cyclists, pedestrians and everything in between must share the asphalt. While that is not uncommon for residential roads on BI, Valley Road sees over 2,500 vehicles per day — most of which are speeding, city data says. About 73 cyclists may ride on Valley Road the same day, and many people walk on the street almost daily.

The city wants to add shoulders, which would separate nonmotorized traffic from the rest of the street. Wierzbicki favors a raised walkway on both sides of the road with a wedge instead of a curb that would cater to pedestrians and cyclists.

“Once you get the space, building a shoulder and building this [walkway] is not that big of a difference in cost,” he said. “We’re trying to build something that everyone can use and feel safe on.”

Public works offered several other examples of road shoulders, each with varying degrees of complexity — the lowest being a simple painted line, graduating to a painted line with flexible bollards and culminating in the raised wedge curb. Ultimately, the city wants a solution that achieves “Level 1 Stress,” meaning a child could use the path independently.

Officials estimate that the project would require a grant for up to $4 million dollars, most likely from state or federal funding. The BI City Council has allocated $150,000 to the project — public works has spent $25,000 on information gathering and surveys.

But the project has yet to take form as the May 7 event was a call for public input.

Most neighbors in attendance were excited at the prospect of a friendlier walkway. There have been no crashes on Valley Road involving a bicycle or pedestrian in the past five years, but several neighbors expressed seeing “close calls” and feeling fearful walking on the street during heavy traffic.

“You rely heavily on people being courteous and giving you space, but not everyone is from here,” said James Allen, who lives near Bay Hay & Feed.

Allen and his wife are expecting a baby, and he is concerned about walking a stroller on the busy road without separation from cars. A raised sidewalk would be great, he said, but any improvements are welcome.

Some attendees favored Wierzbicki’s raised curb suggestion, some leaned more minimalist, but the majority were impartial as long as something got built. Other neighbors questioned whether a shoulder belonged on Valley Road at all.

Ceramic artist Terry Siebert and her husband Tom Kuniholm have lived on Valley Road for 32 years. They often “hear cars go zooming by,” and look forward to the potential traffic-calming effects that a pedestrianized shoulder may bring. However, Kuniholm felt that a raised curb is too suburban for the rural area — instead, the couple suggested the city look into creating a trail along the road, like the one that exists along Highway 305.

Cyclist Kent Scott pointed out that Valley Road traverses a steep hill that peaks near the intersection with Madison Avenue. He expressed concern that the city was choosing the wrong road to pedestrianize. “I’m a strong rider, and I never go up Valley. It’s too hard,” Scott said. “Making the road safe and accessible for kids is one thing, but I wonder if the hill is a deterrent.”

A contingent of neighbors had a different concern — traffic management at the intersection of Valley and Sunrise Road. The room erupted into applause when Wierzbicki announced that the city is investigating a four-way stop at the intersection.

“Kids walk down there to get candy, there’s coffee shops and other stores,” said Viviana Van Ness, a cyclist and runner. “It needs to be more bike and walking-friendly. It’s too dangerous with no shoulder.”