Council chooses ‘road diet’ for pedestrian waterfront access

Lane width will be reduced to widen sidewalks on 525 bridge
By Brandon Gustafson | Apr 04, 2018

The Mukilteo City Council had an important decision to make in regards to pedestrian safety to the waterfront at Monday’s council meeting.

After hearing results of an online public survey, councilmembers had to choose whether to approve reducing lane width on the 525 bridge in order to widen the sidewalks or to approve a separate pedestrian bridge, for which they currently don’t have funding.

Ultimately, council President Steve Schmalz filed a motion to approve widening the sidewalks on the bridge rather than pursuing a separate pedestrian bridge.

The sidewalk project likely will be completed in 2020.

The current estimate for widening the sidewalks is $2.3 million, slightly over the city’s current budget for the project, but Assistant City Engineer Andrea Swisstack noted that WSDOT said they could likely get that project under budget, especially if they reduce some amenities such as artwork, an underpass going under the bridge, some stairs, and other “mid-term” projects.

If the city had gone with the pedestrian bridge option, that would have cost roughly $2 million more than widening the sidewalks, and they would have had to pursue grants and other funding.

During the public comment period, members of Mukilteo’s Ferry Advisory Committee Kevin Stoltz – a former Mukilteo City councilmember – and Kendall Harr offered their opinions on what the council should do.

Stoltz felt it shouldn’t be an either/or situation, but said they should widen the sidewalks first.

“I’ve lived in Mukilteo too long to give up an opportunity that at least helps, but I also don’t think you should throw out all the safety and other improvements you would get with a new, separate pedestrian bridge,” Stoltz said.

“It’s one of those things where a separate bridge has been talked about for at least a decade … This is something where you need to stick with some of the stuff you’ve planned for a long time now.”

Harr noted that Mukilteo is the busiest ferry in Washington in terms of volume of cars and, as a result, there is a huge amount of traffic.

“You just heard, ‘Let’s raise the sidewalks to make the pedestrians safer so we slow the traffic down,’” Harr said. “That’s a really bad idea. We already have huge congestion down there; you can’t continue to slow the traffic.

“If you slow the traffic, you create a situation where you create more car accidents.”

But Councilmember Scott Whelpley felt slowing traffic would improve safety.

Whelpley, who said he uses the ferry to get to work on Whidbey Island almost every day, noted that although the speed limit on the 525 bridge is 25, oftentimes he and other drivers are often going 35 to 40 mph.

“I hear a couple things that are hypocritical,” Whelpley said. “We talk about safety and speed, safety and speed. Well, I know for a fact that if we raise those sidewalks you’re going to slow traffic down. Isn’t that what you want? Safety?”

Whelpley noted that the city has lost grant money for the waterfront in the past, and he didn’t want to take the chance.

He also acknowledged the survey results, where roughly 60 percent of the 627 participants chose the road diet option, and many said they chose that because of the cost, as well as the construction timeline.

Schmalz agreed with Whelpley and felt that widening the sidewalks should have been done much earlier.

Councilmembers Richard Emery and Sarah Kneller voted against Schmalz’s motion.

“This (a pedestrian bridge) allows us to get creative,” Emery said. “It would be an attractive addition to our city.”

Kneller said they should consider the project’s cost in a different way.

“The cheapest option isn’t always the best option,” she said.

Emery felt the separate bridge would allow for more bikers to access the waterfront, as the new bridge reconfiguration doesn’t have bike lanes.

“If we chose the other plan, why have the BTW (By the way) plan?” Emery asked.

Councilmember Anna Rohrbough said they needed to go with the lane reconfiguration because of the survey results.

“It’s overwhelming to me that twice as many people chose expanding the current bridge,” Rohrbough said.

Council Vice President Christine Cook asked the other councilmembers to  consider starting with the lane reconfiguration and having city staff look at building a separate bridge in the future.

City staff noted the pedestrian bridge is still in the city’s current six-year transportation plan, but Kneller filed a motion to reaffirm that and to direct staff to keep pursuing funding for the bridge, which passed six to one with Rohrbough voting against the motion.

 

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