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Islanders create Web site to vet Island Crest Way issue

In a photograph of the current configuration on Island Crest Way, red dots signify “trouble areas.” The photo is one of many on a newly posted Web site that supports a three-lane  option for Island Crest Way.   - Photo courtesy of www.mercerislandabc.gov
In a photograph of the current configuration on Island Crest Way, red dots signify “trouble areas.” The photo is one of many on a newly posted Web site that supports a three-lane option for Island Crest Way.
— image credit: Photo courtesy of www.mercerislandabc.gov

A new Web site created by Citizens for a Better Island Crest Way Corridor, a group of Islanders in support of the proposed “road diet” reconfiguration for Island Crest Way (ICW), has garnered dozens of names in support since its creation last month.

The site, www.mercerislandabc.org, includes comprehensive visuals, diagrams and data on the potential three-lane configuration along Island Crest Way. In particular, the site focuses on the ICW intersection of Merrimount Way and S.E. 44th Street; its current configuration, a proposed three-lane road reconstruction and the potential for a four-way stoplight.

Citizens for a Better Island Crest Way Corridor are about sharing a very simple vision: “By reconfiguring Island Crest Way to three lanes, we can address the shortcomings and create a true community asset.”

Yet the reasoning, data and conclusions behind this vision are anything but simple.

Former Mercer Island Mayor Elliot Newman is one of the founders of the “Mercer Island abc” site. Last summer, he and three other Island residents — Bonnie Wojciehowski, Sam Hickman and Jonathan Harrington — got together to create a source of information on ICW, its current design and the city-proposed changes currently on the table for 2010.

The group, which as grown since last summer, is an off-shoot from the 15 people who served on the Island Crest Way Project Citizen Panel last year. The panel, chosen by the city in 2008, spent hours exploring options for improving the Island Crest Way and Merrimount intersection. In the end, the members voted to support the road diet option. According to Newman, the primary motive behind the group’s decision was safety.

“We went to the [Mercer Island] Police Department and KPG [engineering firm] for the data [on ICW accidents and statistics]. The police data was very revealing: ICW is a corridor with lots of accidents, and not just in one or two places,” he said.

The Web site includes tables and statistics, supplied by the MIPD, on the number of accidents along Island Crest Way between 2004-2007, and then in 2007, after the city put in a barrier turning configuration at Merrimount and S.E. 44th Street.

Photographs and detailed visuals are also a key component of the site. There are several photographs and diagrams of the current four-lane Island Crest Way, with explanations of potential accident scenarios and risky areas for bikers and pedestrians. To compare, the site illustrates what ICW would look like as a three-lane configuration. The medium also includes examples of King County thoroughfares that have been changed from four lanes to three lanes. Quotes of praise from city officials about the these changes accompany the photographs. Local examples include Eastlake Avenue East and California Avenue in Seattle, N.E. 116th in Kirkland and N.E. 85th in Redmond.

More than three months of work went into the online project, with the group members splitting up the research and Sam Hickman doing most of the Web design work.

Accuracy, Newman emphasized, was crucial in collecting information for the site.

“We were constantly reassessing and tweaking the information. We asked the city engineers if we did anything that didn’t make sense and their answer was no,” he said.

Nearly all of the information provided comes from MIPD statistics or data that KPG Inc. computed for the city last year.

So far, the Web site has earned much response. More than 160 Islanders have written to the site, expressing their support for a three-lane option. Many of these individuals left online comments explaining their preference for the road diet.

“We’re absolutely happy with the response,” said Newman. “The fact that people are sending us unsolicited comments shows that Islanders want to be part of our list.”

Yet just as many others on Mercer Island vocally oppose the three-way ICW plan.

City Council candidate Ira Appelman has rallied a large group of citizens who are blatantly against the road diet. Instead, Appelman — along with many of his supporters — favor a four-way stoplight at the intersection of Merrimount and S.E. 44th Street.

Asked about the Mercer Island abc Web site, Appelman said that he had not viewed it. Yet he was convinced that most people on the Island are against the road diet proposal.

“If they’re for the road diet, let them focus their attention on the Web. But in my experience, there are very few people for the road diet,” Appelman said. “I’ve talked with lots of people — people I know and people I don’t know — and when I mention the road diet, there’s a lot of anger about it.”

The city has said that a four-way stoplight will cost up to $1.5 million and have little impact on accident rates along the corridor. A road diet would presumably be less.

“The cost to implement the three-lane reconfiguration as recommended in our study relative to upgrading the current ‘experimental’ fix is about the same at plus or minus about $500,000,” Newman said.

Both options are exhibited, compared and contrasted in the “Mercer Island abc” site. The Citizens for a Better Island Crest Way Corridor took care to include all potential options proposed by the city. Informing citizens, after all, is the reason that they created the site in the first place.

The Web site can be visited at: www.mercerislandabc.org.

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