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Pine Street neighbors steamed as street becomes downhill racetrack to the ferry

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Neighbors living along Pine Street between 9th Avenue and State Route 104 are bristling at what they see as the increasing volume, speed and irresponsibility of motorists who recklessly blast by their homes, using their once quiet, residential street as a high-speed shortcut to the SR 104 ferry line.

Pine is the only street providing access to the ferry lines other than Dayton. But Dayton is problematic for ferry-bound motorists because it connects with the lines right next to the toll booths. Except on very light traffic days the queue typically stretches further south, well past City Park, making Dayton an unreliable route to take a place at the end of the ferry line. Pine, on the other hand, intersects the ferry lines east of City Park, providing more reliable access except on very heavy traffic days when lines extend to Westgate and beyond.  And residents of Pine Street are increasingly upset that their street has become what they see as a high-speed onramp to the ferries.

And the topography only adds to the problem.

Viewed from 9th Avenue, Pine has all the appearance of an Olympic downhill ski jump. Motorists turning from 9th immediately encounter a steep hill extending more than two blocks, requiring immediate braking to control speed and make a full stop at the four-way stop sign at the corner of Pine and 7th. For motorists coming down the hill eager to get to the ferry, a mere moment’s inattention can push them well in excess of the 25 mph posted limit, and according to neighbors many drivers simply don’t or can’t easily obey the four-way stop at the bottom of the hill.

Continuing west from 7th, the roadway immediately narrows significantly into what neighbors call the “choke point,” a section of Pine lined with homes relatively close to the roadway and occupied by several families with small children. Motorists not making the full stop at 7th and Pine tend to enter this section going faster than residents feel is safe for a narrow roadway with children frequently present. Adding to these concerns is the presence of a school bus stop where children board and exit the bus — often in dark, wet, low-visibility weather conditions.

Neighborhood children exit a school bus at the stop by 7th and Pine, adjacent to the choke point. Residents are concerned for the safety of children using the bus stop, with many reporting motorists blasting through, ignoring both the stop signs and the flashing lights on the bus.

One block further west is another four-way stop at the intersection of Pine and 6th, next to the Pine Street Playfield, before traffic is forced to come to a halt at the corner of the heavily-traveled 5th Avenue. Continuing across 5th, a downhill grade takes traffic to the intersection of SR 104 and the ferry line.

Jim Carroll lives adjacent to the choke point with his wife and two children. The original owner of his home, he’s watched the neighborhood mature over the years, but continues to retain a strong family orientation. He believes the traffic problems are getting out of hand.

“I’ve lived in the same house for 20 years. Traffic started to become a problem about 10  to 12 years ago, but has become markedly worse over the last five years,” he explained in an email to My Edmonds News. “I have a 4- and a 6-year-old, and the families living on both sides of me have five children combined. Across the street are two more kids, and there are at least 10 other families with youngsters living nearby, many of whom use the school bus stop at 7th and Pine.”

This school bus stop is particularly concerning for Carroll and other local parents. He reports frequent “problems with cars not stopping when [the school bus’s] red lights flash,” seeing it as a tragedy waiting to happen.

In his email to My Edmonds News, Carroll describes one such recent incident:

“I was getting into my truck at 6:20 a.m. this morning when I heard a vehicle coming down the hill at a high rate of speed,” he reports.  “A white 4-door Dodge truck ran the stop sign at 7th and Pine, sped past my house at 40 mph+, ran the stop sign at 6th without so much as tapping his brakes, and was out of sight before I could catch him.”

In response to these concerns, City of Edmonds officials met with an estimated 50 residents last fall to discuss the problem and investigate ways to address it.

“We wanted to talk with residents directly to dig into the issue and come up with strategies that could make things better,” said Edmonds Public Works Director Phil Williams. “While the residents generally favored solutions that would make it more difficult for traffic to travel between 9th and SR 104, we are faced with the fact that this is one of only two ways for motorists to do this, and we need to balance the needs of all our citizens, both those who live on Pine Street and those who ride the ferry. We simply can’t cut off every east-west street to ferry traffic.”

Williams pointed out that the city has conducted several speed studies that involved electronically monitoring both traffic volumes and speeds on this section of Pine Street.  He further explained that standard practice for traffic engineers is to set 8 MPH over the limit as the threshold for excessive speed, and that a problem exists if more than 15 percent of traffic is in excess of this. According to the speed study data, Pine does not meet this threshold, Williams said.

Viewed from 9th Avenue, the section of Pine Street connecting to SR 104 resembles an Olympic ski jump that runs right past the homes of local residents and contributes to problems of speeding and not observing stop signs

“At the meetings we offered other solutions including removing on-street parking in the choke point, widening that section of the street, and installing sidewalks,” he added. “The residents seemed to feel that these would be unnecessarily disruptive and ineffective, preferring alternatives that would make travel on Pine Street more difficult or prevent it entirely.”

Short of this, the city implemented several measures in January designed to address the problem and calm Pine Street traffic by making the four-way stop intersections more visible and attention-grabbing. According to Williams, these include bigger, wider, brighter thermoplastic stop lines, reflective strips on the stop sign poles to make them more visible in low light, and flashing red lights atop each stop sign pole.

While not yet in place for a month, residents are already weighing in on these efforts.  Many are critical, saying that traffic volumes, speed and stop sign running are as bad as ever, and that pedestrian safety has not improved. And even the solutions themselves are drawing the ire of some.

One of those concerned is Pat Hiebel, who lives adjacent to the intersection of Pine and 7th. He is particularly upset about the new flashing red light. In an email to My Edmonds News, he describes it as “beaming” into his dining room and as an eyesore that “will decrease the value of our homes,” adding that it has ruined the pleasure of his formerly unobstructed western view.

The four-way stop at 7th and Pine is identified by neighbors as one frequently ignored by motorists. To make the stop requirements more obvious, the City of Edmonds has increased the width of the stop line, placed reflective material on the stop sign poles, and added flashing red lights at the top of the signs. In response to neighbor complaints about the intrusiveness of the red light, the city recently added louvers to the light fixture to direct the glare away from homes.

Jim Carroll is convinced that measures taken to date will continue to be ineffective, and that only some combination of physical deterrents (for example, barriers or speed bumps) and stepped-up enforcement will keep this from happening. He goes on to say that to date “only increased enforcement by Edmonds PD has had any effect on these issues.”

Edmonds police records document an array of enforcement measures that have been taken along Pine. These include placing a portable radar trailer to provide instantaneous speed feedback to motorists as well as documentation of numbers and speed of vehicles, and focused patrols by traffic officers who have issued numerous infractions.

“Our traffic unit had the radar trailer out on Pine Street twice in 2018,” said Edmonds Police spokesman Sgt. Shane Hawley. “The first time was from Feb. 27-March 14 in the 800 block of Pine Street. The unit recorded the speeds of 10,696 vehicles during that time.  The average speed was 23 MPH, with fewer than one percent (90 vehicles) recording a speed of 11+ MPH over the speed limit.”

Homes along the choke point are close to the roadway, and many homeowners have put up their own signs reminding motorists to slow down.

The radar trailer was again placed along the 700 block of Pine between June 1-24, during which time it recorded the speeds of 33,148 vehicles. The average speed was 21.4 MPH, with 83 of the 33,148 vehicles recording speeds more than 11 MPH over the limit.  Hawley also reports that 34 tickets were issued to violators in that section of Pine Street during 2018.

“Our traffic unit worked emphasis patrols in that area several times during July, August, September, October and December,” Hawley explained. “One of our motorcycles spent several hours on different dates in those months doing speed and stop sign enforcement.  On October 3rd, for instance, this officer issued five infractions, four of them for failure to stop at a stop sign and one for failure to wear a seatbelt. Of note is the fact that two of the five violators lived within a few blocks of the location.”

He went on to say that speeding vehicles, stop sign violations and other traffic concerns outnumber all other complaints received from citizens, and that these are routinely referred to the Edmonds PD’s traffic unit and to patrol crews for specific enforcement.

“Pine Street is definitely ‘on our radar,’ literally and figuratively,” Hawley said. “We are aware of the complaints and will continue to address them.”

Williams remains committed to continuing to work with residents toward an effective solution, and in the meantime favors giving recent improvements enough time to thoroughly evaluate their effectiveness.

“We hope that these measures will get enough attention from motorists that they will be motivated to slow down, obey the stop signs, and travel the street responsibly,” said Williams. “If that doesn’t prove to be the case, we’ll continue to work with the residents and think about other ways to make things better.”

— Story and photos by Larry Vogel

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