Make traffic decisions for reality of today

Those were the days, 1989.

You could buy a nice house on Bainbridge Island for $150,000, and a mobile home went for less than half that – with land. The Home Rule Committee kick-started a heated debate on all-island government that would spill into the next year and a climactic annexation vote. McDonald’s plopped down on High School Road, and as if to maintain the cosmic balance, the Land Trust preserved its first farm. Island population hovered around 15,000, a cozy crowd that spawned generally lazy traffic.

It was a time when, as they said, you could go to a cocktail party and run into your mailman.

These days you can’t buy a HoneyBucket in a swamp for 59 grand, and with half-again as many islanders buzzing about in their Audis and SUVs – and dramatic infill in the town core of Winlsow – it’s a much busier place. Times, as they will, have changed. So it’s hard to see how the actions of the 1989 City Council – tiny Winslow’s council, mind you, as the “City of Bainbridge Island” was still two years off – hold such currency in the rekindled debate over Ericksen Avenue.

The question of punching Ericksen through to Hildebrand was precipitated by redevelopment of the Village shopping area, but long-timers will recall that that commercial strip already included such bustling outlets as Village Foods, the Bazaar five-and-dime, a sporting goods store, a Sears catalog outlet, a garden shop, a bank kiosk, a tire center, a tavern and the now legendary Kel-Lin drive-in. Some saw a logical linkage between the revamped shopping area and downtown, but the plan was defeated by the Winslow council after objections by Ericksen neighbors. A grass strip was planted where the streets met, a lawn that some minds puffed up into a “park,” albeit one devoid of both visitors and a name.

From these circumstances, some extrapolate that the actions of 1989 Winslow council constituted a “promise” to the community that the roads would be cut off in perpetuity. Recent letters to this page argue that a connection would breach a solemn commitment set 18 years ago, a trust binding on the current council in spirit if not in law. But a council attuned to broader and more contemporary interests should avoid this rhetorical trap and decide the Ericksen-Hildebrand question based on today’s realities, not yesterday’s.

To this day, merchants cite the linkage as key to downtown commerce. Moreover, the city’s most recent roads analysis demonstrates that A) automobile traffic in downtown will continue to climb in future years, with or without the connection, and B) dividing that traffic out with another north-south connection would ease impacts across the downtown grid. Keeping Ericksen-Hildebrand closed isn’t going to keep anyone out of their cars, it just means they’ll find unsanctioned shortcuts or burn more gas driving the long way around. It’s hard to see how this can be touted as the “environmental” preference.

It’s silly to be boxed in by the actions of past council members, most of whom don’t even live on the island anymore and whose political relevance ended the day they left office. Times change and with them a community’s needs; today’s elected officials should be looking forward. Note that shortly after the Winlsow council made its “promise” on Ericksen, islanders created a new government with a broader, less parochial mandate.

One thing that hasn’t changed much: opposition to an Ericksen-Hildebrand connection still seems largely isolated to the neighborhood. Islanders at large vote for a connection every time they cut through the bank parking lot to get from one street to the other – as they’ve been doing since 1989.