Letter | More on mid-Island traffic access
March 2, 2011 · Updated 9:16 AM
I read with interest recently the letter by a proponent of providing better access to West Mercer Way from Island Crest Way. I echo the writer’s concerns and think she has some very valid points concerning 78th, Merrimount, 46th, 53rd, and 68th and 72nd access points. In severe winter storms, much of the western part of the Island is left without access, or with restricted access. In an emergency it is very difficult for emergency vehicles to access either from the business district to the south end, or from Island Crest Way to people on a significant portion of the Island, 2 1/2 miles long. This is compounded by the inefficient solution at Island Crest and Merrimount, the fact that 46th is a narrow one-way street as it accesses West Mercer Way; that should be improved to provide two lanes for the entire length of 46th to Island Crest Way; and that 53rd stops short of West Mercer Way. Although I am not a traffic engineer, I did work on the I-90 EIS as a staff member on Mercer Island and the ’68 and ’73 city Comprehensive Plans as well as a number of plans/EIS’s on transportation corridors in a variety of jurisdictions, as a private consultant.
As to the second letter, as a 53rd Street neighbor, let me add to the story. I was the Mercer Island Assistant Director of Planning and the staff advising the Planning Commission and Council on the 53rd Street extension. The recollection of one of the neighbors is only partially correct. There were several alternatives considered. The developers, Black and Colwell, proposed this linking of 53rd to West Mercer Way because it was shown as a collector arterial on the city’s Comprehensive Plan developed by Harstad in 1968, and the 1973 Comprehensive Plan. Due to the neighborhood’s concerns there were split votes, both in the Planning Commission and Council, but very close votes on both matters, to terminate 53rd short of West Mercer Way, contrary to the Comprehensive Plan. Had we had the wisdom at that time, staff probably would have recommended that it connected to West Mercer, but limited to emergency vehicles/bikes, and pedestrians with bollards placed that could be removed when necessary. It could be more friendly for bikers or walkers, and it could be much improved with removable bollards or breakdown barricades, preventing traffic during normal times, except for emergencies.
People in individual neighborhoods, from my experience and being involved in since 1968 in planning issues on the Island, have a desire to push traffic problems off to another neighborhood. However, access
is needed for residents/visitors on West Mercer Way, and the neighbors in that area look to the city staff/commissioners and Council for solutions to these issues. Residents who seek access to one of the Island’s most important community activities area, i.e., the high school, PEAK, Wyatt Pool, library, Episcopal, Catholic and Lutheran facilities, Rotary Park, etc., when coming from West Mercer Way oftentimes go east on 46th, crossing Island Crest Way to go north on 86th Street to all these key community facilities. With access being limited on 40th east of Island Crest Way, this puts further pressure on 40th and 47th, as well as the challenge of the Merrimount crossing. The two new signalized walkways on Island Crest will be an improvement, thanks to staff and the Council. However, future Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP) should include:
1. A safe redo of Island Crest/Merrimount; the current system is very dangerous, unfriendly and creates problems for buses.
2. Improving 46th, avoiding cars backing down to West Mercer.
3. Yes, even looking at an emergency vehicle access only on 53rd Street.
Submitted with respect to all people interested in these issues, including the two writers.
Robert W. Thorpe