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Slowing traffic downtown: grand slam or swing ’n a miss?

t Proposed traffic changes draw overflow crowd of mixed reviews.

POULSBO — By the looks of the city council chambers Wednesday night, there was nary a Philadelphia fan in Poulsbo. Instead of gathering around television screens watching history unfold on a baseball diamond, nearly 100 residents opted for a night of lively discussion on the city’s newest traffic study.

The topics at bat: a dozen new four-way stop intersections throughout downtown, a handful of speed tables and the possible one-waying of Front Street and Third Avenue, among others. The recommendations, proposed in phases, make traffic in parts of downtown more inefficient as a deterrent to nonresidential commuters. They also aim to increase parking and make downtown a more pleasant, walkable atmosphere for residents and tourists alike.

Wednesday night’s special four-hour workshop was a chance for citizens to express their opinions before any action is taken. City staff answered questions, council members listened to comments and citizens contended the ways changes to downtown roads could affect businesses, residents’ quality of life and the safety of pedestrians.

The recommendations are detailed in a study conducted by David Evans and Associates. To view the study’s final draft, visit www.cityofpoulsbo.com.

“The idea is to make this a pedestrian-friendly downtown,” said Bill Austin, a downtown property owner and member of the traffic study stakeholder group. Austin filmed Front Street at 4:30 p.m. that afternoon; the video showed bumper-to-bumper cars snaking along the historic corridor.

“I hear from a majority of my peers that something must be done ... because the downtown core is increasingly, quickly becoming an unfriendly place for pedestrians,” added Tizley’s Europub owner Tammy Mattson, also a stakeholder. Mattson is president of the Historic Downtown Poulsbo Association, a grouping of Little Norway business owners. She said many, including herself, have experienced close calls crossing intersections. She worries if drivers aren’t noticing adults, they’ll be even less likely to notice a child crossing the street.

“The day a child is in the crosswalk and gets hit and dies is the day Poulsbo dies,” she said.

Downtown business owner Michael Paxhia has long supported the idea of four-way stops downtown. He’s been a vocal advocate of enhancing crosswalk safety at the five-way intersection of Hostmark Street, Lincoln Road, Fourth Avenue and Front Street.

He emphasized the implementations will support local merchants.

“It will help businesses,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

But not all thought the study’s recommendations were a home run. Some felt the recommendations served to punish downtown drivers. Others breached driver behavior and the amount police enforcement on speed limits and crosswalk regulations.

According the Poulsbo Police Department, 1,158 citations have been issued so far in 2008, for anything from driving without insurance to failure to yield.

Torval Canyon resident Lori Gonzales has lived in Poulsbo 26 years, and said driving downtown to enjoy the atmosphere is something she loves. It’s something she thinks is in jeopardy under the proposed changes.

“Please don’t take that away from us,” she said.

She also made note of two four-way stops intended for the Torval Canyon area, one at Torval Canyon Road and Fourth Avenue, where she said cars already have trouble. The roadways meet at a curve on a steep incline.

“The ice is so bad in the winter cars can’t even get up the hill and you want them to stop?” she asked.

Gonzales’ neighbor, 10-year-old Courtney Cass, expressed her concerns via a little help from Gonzales. The youngster said the changes to Torval Canyon could make it “super-risky, especially for the kids and animals that live there.”

Raven Blues owner Peggy Fiorini worried the downtown streets would no longer be user-friendly.

“All of us business owners are really struggling down there,” she said. “I don’t want to see Poulsbo become a ghost town.”

Some attendees implored the city to finish fine-tuning SR 305 and let it take effect before infusing more drastic measures.

Engineer Andrzej Kasiniak said the city will move forward in collecting traffic volume and speed data before any strategies are implemented. Mattson will also circulate a survey to HDPA members.

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