Seeking pedestrian safety for Suquamish

SUQUAMISH — In a county-wide push for Kitsap County Public Works to install road shoulders for more walkability and bike-ability, Suquamish residents feel they’re taking a back seat. Public works agrees.

It’s not out of bad-intentions, said Jeff Shea, public works’ traffic engineer and program manager.

“One of the difficult things is the older developments that don’t have them (shoulders and road improvements) already, it’s difficult to go back in and it’s incredibly expensive,” Shea said.

Compared to new developments, which now legally require certain roads and infrastructure, Shea said older communities such as Suquamish take a back seat.

The Suquamish community’s roots travel back hundreds of years; some of its roads are still the original ones platted when Kitsap County was known as Slaughter County when Washington was a territory, said Bill Zupancic, non-motorized transportation planner for public works.

“I wouldn’t even want to hazard a guess to how old some of those roads are,” he said. “The county has maintained those roads up there for decades and decades. The original plat of the community goes back to the turn of the century.”

Zupancic, who is also an advocate for bicyclists and pedestrians, said the other major problem for the county is obtaining and purchasing necessary right-of-way required for road improvements.

Right-of-way, or county public ownership, is inclusive of the traveled roadway, pavement, shoulders and surrounding ditches. Zupancic said a general gage of a road’s right-of-way is to look at the telephone poles, which are installed on the outskirts of the public right-of-way.

“Right-of-way acquisition can be a real ‘deal killer’ with funding,” Zupancic said. “The county only has 40 feet of right-of-way on most all of the roadway network up there and that’s just not enough room to place bike and trail amenities.”

This is why community-backed support for grant funding such as SCAC’s acquired Safe Routes to School is such an integral part to getting improvements, he said.

Safe Routes to Schools, a competitive state grant of $500,000 from Washington Department of Transportation, was received in 2002. The purpose of the grant is to create sidewalks or road shoulders to increase the safety of children getting to and from school. The county advisory group, Suquamish Citizens Advisory Committee and member Gail Peranek were the driving force behind getting the grant. Planning and construction continues to make slow progress Petranek said last week.

Before safe routes to school construction can start, public works found it necessary to take care of the area’s drainage and stormwater issues, Shea said. The Augusta Avenue road-improvement project recently complete in Suquamish’s downtown core, installed wider roads to serve vehicles and bicyclists.

“The (safe routes) grant came up and the big effort was really put up by the county. In the midst of designing (safe routes) the Augusta project was the first step,” Shea said.

Last week, Suquamish resident and bicycle commute specialist, Every Day, said it came as a surprise that the bicycle lanes weren’t striped on the new asphalt of Augusta, when the blueprints of the project called for bike lanes. Day, who works for Bicycle Alliance of Washington, said she’s always on the lookout for safer bike rides and is an advocate of which “hounds authorities to make your ride safer!”

Shea said the decision not to stripe the bike lanes was a last-minute one. The new road is about a block long and new regulations call for a sign at both ends of the bike lane. Putting paint down and signs in for that small stretch of asphalt just didn’t make much sense, he said.

“It’s just so short a distance. We won’t put signs or striping in until we have something on either end of the roadway,” he said.

Pavement plans inclusive of shoulders are in the works for more of the downtown area and Gunderson Road, however the time frame for which they’ll occur is not yet known, Shea said.

Zupancic said when his family moved to the area 30 years ago there were no shoulders for pedestrians or bicyclists.

“We had a road, a ditch and then blackberries,” he said. “Of course you can have bicycles riding on the roadway but that’s not a good place for kids to be. We try to pave shoulders on everything we do.”

The county gets its funding for roads through gas tax and property millage. However, it’s not enough to cover all the calls for new roads serving newly constructed housing developments and maintenance of older community roads.

“If we relied only on the local revenue stream we’d be hard fit to maintain what we have much less reconstruct and build new,” he said. “We are constantly chasing money and chasing grants.”

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