With students tentatively returning back to school for in-person learning Jan. 25, 2021, the issue of traffic congestion on Bainbridge Island could be pretty ugly if a solution isn’t figured out, given that many parents won’t want their children riding school buses due to the close proximity and potential spread of COVID-19.
A proposal was brought to the City Council recently to consider a Safe Routes to School project consisting of four pop-up locations near some public schools where students can be dropped off to either walk or bike to school. Students may even receive a school PE credit for walking or biking to school.
The project is being developed by representatives from the Bainbridge Island School District, the parks department, Squeaky Wheels (bike advocacy group), Bainbridge PTO, Bainbridge Greenways, Sustainable Transportation Plan Task Force and island parents.
“Essentially, a number of people have come together and recognized that kids are going back to school but not very many of them will be going on buses,” Councilmember Christy Carr said. “We’re going to have a really significant traffic issue.”
Tamela Van Winkle, BISD executive director of Facilities, Operations & Capital Projects, said the health department has given the district an exception to full capacity on school buses to accommodate the limited amount of buses and drivers.
“Our parents have become quite concerned about the close proximity on the bus and are choosing to drive their kids to school,” she said. “I keep talking about traffic congestion, and it is going to be horrendous in those morning times.”
Paula Holmes-Eber, president of Squeaky Wheels, spearheaded the effort to provide the locations for student dropoffs. She said normally 1,800 kids ride the bus every year but this year it will drop to 600.
“So 1,200 children are going to get in cars every day,” she said. “This is not a joke, it’s going to be horrible … There’s a way to do pop-up infrastructure … that could change the patterns of kids commuting by bicycle and walking and encouraging them to do that.”
The “pop-ups” would be created with traffic delineators placed in critical locations to encourage kids to bike or walk at least a portion of their route to school.
“It would not change the roads, it would not move any lines,” Holmes-Eber said. “It’s temporary, so if it (doesn’t) work, we don’t like it, and the traffic doesn’t work, we just take it away. That’s the lovely thing about these pop-ups, it gives a chance to try out new infrastructure and get feedback from the community.”
Scope of Project
The four pop-up areas would be located on Grow Avenue, Day Road between Wilkes and Kalgren, Sportsman Club Road from Island Church to Sakai, and from the Aquatic Center to Dana’s trail.
According to a council presentation, North- and South- area schools have limited options with Wilkes, Island, Sakai and Hyla being located in hilly, rural areas on roads with no shoulders and heavy traffic. Central-area schools have many options and will cause most traffic issues, documents say. Six schools are located within one mile of each other and the densely populated area of Winslow: Bainbridge High School, Ordway, Commodore Options, St. Cecilia, Woodward and Sakai.
Parent dropoff areas near central schools would be Island Church for Woodward and Sakai; BI library for Ordway, Commodore, St. Cecilia and BHS; and the Baptist Church for all central schools, per documents.
Proposed solutions for all schools include:
• Use maps to set up a Safe Routes to School website and materials to be sent to parents.
• Offer PE credit to children who walk or bike to school.
• Offer safe biking and walking videos as part of school PE curriculum.
• Give credit to bike and walk to school classes by BI Parks District.
• Provide covered bike parking and safe places to lock up bicycles.
• Offer parent incentives such as covered coffee/tea stations for parents arriving at school with kids by bike or foot.
The next steps for the project include city staff bringing back more information to the council, such as details on project specifications, cost and staffing needs. The project will be further discussed at a council meeting in January.