Reducing speed limits discussed at BI council meeting

When Simon and Garfunkel wrote the 59th Street Bridge Song in 1966 they could have been thinking of Bainbridge Island — just 56 years in the future.

“Slow down, you move too fast” they wrote to start off the song, also called Feelin’ Groovy.

It’s no secret BI wants to move more toward nonmotorized transportation to do its part to reduce climate change.

But safety is a major concern. Those in motorized vehicles are going to have to slow down and quit moving so fast. At the Sept. 13 City Council meeting, it discussed reducing speeds on many roads.

The need for the discussion arose in 2021 when there were 334 requests for traffic calming projects from BI residents. A study shows that speed limits range from 20 miles per hour to 35 mph on 92 miles of the major roads on BI. But the speed limits are not consistent, even on the same roads.

The city wants to re-evaluate speed limits in areas that are higher risk to vulnerable users — those who walk, bicycle or use mass transit. Even though the city is supporting those modes of transport, it has not adjusted its speed-limit practices to reflect that effort.

Concerning safety, statistics show if a pedestrian is hit by a vehicle going 20 mph, the person has a 90 percent survival rate, compared with just 10 percent if the speed is 40 mph. Statewide, statistics show fatalities are likely to happen 86 percent of the time when the speed limit is 25 mph or more. And 65 percent of fatalities involve a pedestrian or cyclist.

So, the council discussion will include increasing the number of roads with 20 mph and 30 mph limits, while decreasing the number of 35 mph areas and keeping the number of 25 mph areas the same. Examples would include limits going from 35 mph to 30 mph on both Miller Road and Blakely Avenue, and from 25 mph to 20 mph on Lynwood Center Road.

Also, roads with local access would decline to 20 mph in 95 percent of areas. Those same areas have 25 mph speed limits in 60 percent of those locations now.

Councilmember Leslie Schneider said in reality many people ignore speed limits, so she asked if traffic calming devices could be part of the effort.

Public Works director Chris Wierzbicki said, “Nothing keeps us from doing that.” He added that the speed limits could be re-evaluated every few years.

City manager Blair King said staff will come back with an implementation plan for the council to adopt.

During public comments, LoAnne Harmeling said speed limits need to be reduced within one mile of schools because children who live that close don’t often get to ride buses.

Peter Harris said increased enforcement also is needed. He also said shoulders on roads need to be improved islandwide for safety’s sake. “With new speed limits and the rapid growth in e-bikes, building inexpensive shoulders to make good connections would greatly increase their use and their impact on gas emissions,” he said.

Bethany project

A public hearing was set for Oct. 11 on the 8-acre Bethany Lutheran Church affordable housing project.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos brought up an idea that while it was shot down to be part of the ordinance, it was approved to be discussed at the public hearing.

She said she thought fellow councilmembers might join with her because it would limit the ordinance to Bethany. It would have allowed 15 to 20 units, rather than the 23 in the proposed ordinance. Her changes would have ensured that the housing truly would be affordable to service workers as it would require rentals.

She said restaurant and home health care aids couldn’t afford the housing in the proposed ordinance because it would require making $58,000 a year or more. Under her plan, it would be $43,000.

Councilmember Michael Pollock supported Hytopoulos’s idea. He said he’s not sure why islandwide is included in the ordinance since so many more people wanted it to apply to Bethany only. He also liked the idea of rentals because those are more affordable than buying. He said they need to figure out what service workers can afford.

“I’d love to hear what the public thinks of this,” he said.

Schneider said while she’d love to have more rentals, Hytopoulos’s plan was too complicated.

Public comments were fairly split on the issue.

Joe McMillan said the development would damage a conservation area. “The bottom line is we can do better,” he said.

Chris Frye said affordable housing is needed everywhere. But he can’t see that happening because affordable housing is not profitable for private developers.

Steve Johnson said he also supports the project because half of the department’s police live off-island, and they need to live here in the event of a natural disaster. He said those against the proposal are “fear-mongering,” but he has faith in democracy.

Lisa Macchio said she didn’t support the project when she was on the planning commission. “It’s fatally flawed,” she said, adding they “owe the community transparency.”

Marilyn Mclauchlan said the Comp Plan is their constitution. She called for open town hall meetings. She said she’s not against affordable housing but she is when it doesn’t have adequate infrastructure.

Jonathan Davis, Bethany’s architect, said this cluster of homes is exemplary. He said it’s a great hub for transportation and it shows how to develop in a conservation area.

Harmeling said there are eight religious properties in Winslow, and she’d hate to see them discouraged because they can’t do what Bethany did until 2028.

Farm trail

The council was asked to endorse the Farm Trail, but it said hey not so fast. They want a better surface on it.

The trail has been planned for over a decade. It runs north and south from Day to Lovgreen roads, west of the city’s Suyematsu and Morales farms. The council agreed to spend $26,000 on the trail in April. It is 8 feet wide, with a compacted rock base and wood chip surface. It would cost about $200,000 more to pave it so it becomes a multi-use trail. Part of the trail crosses a wetland, so it is likely a boardwalk will need to be built there.

Mike Lapierre, who owns a vineyard nearby, said during public comment that the city does not own the easement for the trail. “The city needs to prove to us landowners that they have a right to use it.”

That bothered Councilmember Jon Quitslund because of potential litigation. I’m “so much in the dark” on this project, he said.

Schneider was also concerned. She thought the trail would be gravel, not wood chips. She said people can’t ride bikes on that. She said off-road paths are a priority in the Sustainable Transportation Plan and something “we had control over.”

She called for creation of a transportation commission, which passed 5-2. She also called for an alternative surface, which also passed 5-2. Staff will come back and share what it would cost to put gravel or pavement on the trail.

The Farm Trail as it looks now. Courtesy Photo

The Farm Trail as it looks now. Courtesy Photo


The Farm Trail as it looks now. Courtesy Photo