Opinion

Mercer Island is not just special, it is unique

People often say that Mercer Island and its residents are “special.” Sometimes the word is used in a sarcastic manner to suggest that we think too highly of ourselves. Personally, I don’t take offense at being characterized as special, but I do prefer a different word to describe our Island city, and that word is “unique.” As incoming Mercer Island Chamber president, I believe it is important to recognize the unique characteristics of our city and to foster and preserve those qualities that we hold dear.

Why is Mercer Island unique? That is easy to answer, since the first recognizable characteristic is that we live on an island with clearly defined borders that is connected to the “mainland” only by I-90 bridge access. Being an island is an attribute but also poses challenges, such as commuting without alternate routes. It also brings the need to adequately prepare for emergencies, such as an earthquake, winter storms, and long-term power outages. We have been told over and over that a major earthquake could cut off access and egress to the east or west. We, therefore, individually need to prepare our homes and businesses to adequately store sufficient food, water, heating sources, etc., for a period of seven to 10 days or more. Last year, the Chamber added MIBNA (the Mercer Island Business Neighborhood Alliance) as a Standing Committee, given its important role in emergency preparedness and planning.

All of us recognize the visible and rapid growth which has occurred in our downtown core. In the past, Island businesses were either primarily located in one-story developments or as home-based endeavors. We now see entire city-block high-rises with multi-purpose, including residential homes and commercial operations. While it would have been preferable to have seen this development staged or spread out over time, the economic investment and demand shows up with opportunity and not by regulation. Along with this growth arrives the resultant need for traffic management (e.g. new signals at busy intersections), more parking options and city services.

I am a strong supporter of public safety as the number-one priority of local government. As a relatively small city, we are necessarily dependent upon our regional neighbors in Bellevue and Seattle for their on-call assistance. With only seven firefighters allocated per full-time shift, any major fire must be assisted by off-Island support. The bottom line is that no city is an island, and we are uniquely co-dependent with our regional neighbors in matters of public safety, water resources, transportation, higher education and employment, to name a few topics.

We are all anxious to have the new Park and Ride finally completed. Equally vital is an adequate “feeder system” to provide intercity transport for residents to commute to our shopping areas and I-90 transit. We should also reduce traffic congestion by providing more bike lanes and safe walking paths. We need balance in our development and planning to preserve our Island’s character and quality of life. Sustainability is more than a word with an amorphous definition.

Lastly, the Chamber is an active organization representing our local businesses. Come to our informative luncheons and join our efforts as a member. Shop on the Island and support our local community and economy. Together, we benefit from your involvement.

Jason King is the new Mercer Island Chamber of Commerce president.

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