Learning to live with the pains of community growth can turn friendly neighbors into enemies, especially on Bainbridge Island. There are many such examples, but none like the pocket park or grassy knoll or whatever you want to call it that separates Ericksen Avenue from Hildebrand Lane. It’s where livability and density clash… where planned growth and easygoing island life butt up against each other.
How did this happen? When developers built the Island Village in the 1980s, the city, much to the consternation of business people and the delight of Ericksen residents, decided to offer access only from High School Road. It denied backside access to the development from Ericksen (via the new street, Hildebrand). The privately-owned “park” was supposed to be larger but it was a logical compromise, perhaps because it would be years before the planned business development south of the shopping center would be fully built. That has changed dramatically, however, with the growth of the development and the neighborhood surrounding it to the south. Now, hundreds of vehicles enter and exit the business park each day, using Wallace Way to gain access through a bank parking lot with several speed bumps.
Debate has intensified as the Winslow core area population has increased and developers have provided new homes along Madison and Grow, the primary north-south arterials that intersect with High School Road. They’ve definitely discovered the not-so-quiet-anymore Ericksen neighborhood, though traffic has been slowed somewhat by the Ericksen-Hildebrand plug and residents who have skillfully gained the ears of the city council over the years. But not for long. When access is at stake, merchants and traffic engineers cannot be kept at bay forevermore.
A City Council committee decided Monday that a study done last year by an engineering consultant firm wasn’t thorough enough and shouldn’t be forwarded to the full council. The report had favored a merger of the two streets, emphasizing the need to connect Ericksen with High School Road because of the projected prodigious growth of multifamily dwellings and office workers in the area during the next 20 years. The committee said the report’s failings included not fully addressing the impact on pedestrians and bikes if the street merger were allowed.
The three council members comprising the committee also acknowledged that the issue isn’t going to go away. Probably not, since it serves as an unlikely symbol of the city’s past and its future. Like it or not, by 2030 Winslow is going be sardine city if, as the comprehensive plan details, half of the island’s residents are shoe-horned into the core area. Whether the plan changes or not, it is certain that the community needs to continue to have an open dialogue about the island’s future in order to avoid problems such as the Ericksen-Hildebrand bottleneck, which occurred because of an ineffective planning and outreach process.
Traffic congestion north and south of Island Village is a mess and it needs to be readdressed, not just by applying a Band-aid here and there. And the same is true for the city as a whole since downtown congestion is going to be a major headache in the future. With the comprehensive plan in mind, the city needs to start addressing the density issue now, and not necessarily by planning a parking garage. Bicycles and walking shoes should be given high priorities, and the use of public transportation to move people from rural areas to downtown — not just during peak ferry hours — should also be considered.
If the emphasis is on keeping the outlying area as rural as possible, then Winslow is definitely going to become a real city by 2030. No plug, however big, can stop that.