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Winslow (Un)Paves the Way

A major makeover transforms Bainbridge Island's town center - in a really cool way.
Winslow Way has rain gardens, walkable sidewalks and comfy seating.

Winslow Way has rain gardens, walkable sidewalks and comfy seating. Photo: SvR

Over the past couple of years, the City of Bainbridge Island has been transforming its town center. A massive makeover of Winslow Way is the latest effort in a series of public and private investments that have been taking place.

Back the mid-90’s the City made a deliberate decision to deflect the majority of new development away from the pastoral parts of the community and into the town center. Since then, town houses, apartments, condominiums and cottage houses have cropped up in an area around Winslow Way between the ferry terminal and Madison Avenue.

The City built a new city hall, along with a village square that serves as a location for the weekend farmer’s market. Other civic structures have been developed as a result of significant community financial contributions, including a performing arts theatre, a children’s museum and, recently, a dramatic new art museum. All these reflect the high level of interest in the arts among the island’s residents.

As the centerpiece of the town center, Winslow Way has lagged behind. For many years, it has served as a sort of linear commons, both in the physical sense and as a subject of debate — often with great heat — about the future of the city. This is a place that managed to fend off the invasion of chain restaurants and stores that has been the bane of many other communities.

Most of the Winslow Way stores are locally owned and display a homegrown quirkiness that has been gradually disappearing from many small towns. Bainbridge Island residents fiercely defend their turf; the political landscape is littered with both developers and public officials who were ripped apart by protracted periods of dissension over building height, density, parking, signs and almost every civic minefield one can list. 

So it is all the more remarkable that despite this prickly atmosphere, Winslow Way has now been re-invented to incorporate state-of-the-art principles of sustainability. Previously, the street was nothing much to write home about. An overly wide swath of paving for cars and trucks was flanked by narrow sidewalks and angled rows of parking stalls. At several points, artists had added small touches to provide something interesting to look at or touch — a decorated bench, a planter. But for the most part, it was a pretty ordinary commercial thoroughfare (below).

Now, the street has been reconstructed (below right). The traffic lanes have been narrowed and the curbs lined with generously-sized rain gardens that break up the angled parking. Some of the gardens are larger than parking stalls and infuse the street with a park-like quality.

Having been through one season of growth, the gardens have become lush with grasses and other plantings that thrive on stormwater running off the pavement and into recessed pockets of soil. Rain water used to be channeled via curbs and gutters into underground pipes and eventually into Puget Sound. The new rain gardens feature inlets cut into the surrounding curbs, or no curbs at all. This allows the water to be collected, scrubbed free of contaminants by the rain garden’s plants and filtered back into the ground. This more natural system of surface water drainage was designed by the Seattle firm SvR (part of a team headed by Heery International engineers and architects).

This technique has been gaining popularity across the country and even has its own science and name: “low impact development.” It’s been showing up in places from New York City to Lexington, Kentucky to Portland, Oregon, which helped pioneer the idea in the middle of the last decade. It’s hard to go anywhere in Portland without encountering a street that has been refashioned in this manner.

Seattle has been installing rain gardens too. A failed attempt in Ballard in 2011 slowed the momentum for a while. Still, designers have applied the lessons learned from those early efforts to more recent projects. Bell Street in the Belltown neighborhood is currently being refashioned along low impact development lines.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Jun 21, 11:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Good article. As the writer suggests, since incorporation the City of Bainbridge Island has become a politically contentious place. That's what happens when you have a lot of smart, successful people with time on their hands trying to make a flawed governance system work. They fight over everything and blame one another for what are often simply structural malfunctions. Land use politics is a blood sport on Bainbridge.

But the Islanders have come up with an appropriately clever way to dispel built-up stress from the system. Whenever tensions mount to the boiling point, the City Council simply blames the incumbent City Manager for everything that has gone wrong and begins the ritual of firing that unfortunate soul. The grace period for a new City Manager is about four months, then the sniping begins. For readers with a literary bent, the operative model appears to be derived from Shirley Jackson's short story classic, "The Lottery". The process seems to relieve stress well enough, except that at some point even a starving fool won't want the City Manager's job.

But unlike members of Congress, Islanders don't fight over everything. As Hinshaw suggests, there is indeed a strong community consensus for things green like rain gardens and for cultural amenities. And some day the good citizens may figure out that a major source of their discontent is a collection of municipal land use codes that are maddeningly circuitous, unnecessarily complicated and frequently contradictory -- and often lacking clear decision-making criteria despite the surfeit of complexity.

woofer

Posted Sat, Jun 22, 10:59 a.m. Inappropriate

Looks like they (un)paved paradise and they stole a parking spot.

Posted Sun, Jun 23, 8:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Both photos of the street look basically the same - boring.

Posted Mon, Jun 24, 6:45 p.m. Inappropriate

The new street is not pedestrian, skateboard, or bike friendly, since the traffic lanes are too narrow, with islands of vegetation projecting into the street, decreasing visibility, especially at corners. I do not understand why proponents of smart growth wish to "microsize" city streets. Cities who do not have smart growth have wider streets, wider bike lanes, and wider sidewalks, and are therefore very bike friendly. For example, look at Truckee, California, and Thousand Oaks, California, where athletes even train - runners and cyclists.

Angled parking is never safe for cyclists, since cars back out, and cyclists are not looking for this. A truly walkable downtown would relegate the parked cars to parking lots or parking garages. Truckee, California has parking lots along the railroad tracks for tourists. Thousand Oaks has a large parking lot next to the Civic Arts Plaza. It's best to get all of the cars outside of pedestrian-designated shopping areas. The Pearl Street Mall in Boulder is a great example of this, although, the rest of Boulder is clogged with thousands of parked cars, even in 6 story parking structures.

Bike lanes should never have cars parked next to them. This photo in Reno shows a parking strip for emergencies and special events only. This is the standard design for bike lanes in CA, AZ, and NV, yet WA and OR don't use this. Do you prefer this, or, Bainbridge Island? Why do OR and WA cities "copy" each other in terms of narrowing streets and lowering visibility? I see the same thing from Medford up to Issaquah. Why not make things wider, and safer, like in Reno? http://smartgrowthusa.files.wordpress.com/2012/09/nw-reno-robb-drive-no-smart-growth.jpg

TomLane

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 9:23 a.m. Inappropriate

"Micro-sizing" streets is part of the misguided "war on cars" syndrome that believes slowing cars way down on narrowed streets will somehow discourage people from driving, and thus encourage them to walk, bike or take transit. Unfortunately, as those of us in the new uber-dense Seattle have discovered, it does none of those.

It does, however, contribute to more traffic jams, more vehicle pollution being spewed into the air, more lost hours of production, more road rage, more collisions between cars, cyclists and pedestrians and higher car tabs, while, ironically, the city and county massively cut back transit hours and routes. To date, there isn't a single new high-rise or condo complex I know of, downtown or anywhere else, whose prospective tenants are told, "Yes, you can live here, but you may NOT own a vehicle." (Right, Amazon, with your approved 3000 underground parking stalls in SLU? Or the 2030 Eighth Ave project across the street: 355 luxury apartments, 13 million square feet of commercial space, 10 levels of parking.)

Unless and until that happens, the rest is all just so much green-washing. Winslow's just using a little less paint.

Jones

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 9:56 p.m. Inappropriate

The war on cars is not smart. "Smart growth" is the opposite of smart, but our tax dollars are paying UW to produce architects and planners of the future to think that we all *want* smart growth and a war on cars.

Just move. It solves the problem nicely. I rarely go downtown Seattle, or downtown Bellevue. I loooove the Costco/Home Depot/Fed Ex Kinkos/Banks/food/gas and assorted other businesses that have become the best model for no-hassle shopping around. Aurora Village, Everett, Kirkland, South Seattle, Issaquah ... looooove 'em all. I often am in Oregon, and also find the Costco/business mix outside of Astoria is BOOMING, bringing in lovely tax revenue for a small county.

The bigger the Amazons of the world become, I wonder in 15 more years as their employees are past middle age ... will they want to keep their jobs in the jammed auto-phobic city called Seattle?

I maintain my vehicle, and I avoid rush hour and traffic situations as much as possible. Otherwise, I might explode.

Trains? Lovely thought, but we can't afford them.

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 2:35 p.m. Inappropriate

Yes, I see your point that pedestrian sight lines are important and too much vegetation near the right of way and crosswalks is a safety problem.

Personally I like angled parking and I think it is the best type of street for easy access to business therefore successful business. Railroad Ave. in Bellingham with traffic in both directions, an island, and 4 rows of angled parking is a great configuration.

Bikes should ride in the traffic lane, as traffic should not be going more than 20mph with pedestrians and angled parking.

Boulder's Pearl St. Mall is not to bicycle or skateboard friendly, considering the police are about as lenient as the Iranian guard in handing out tickets.

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, yeah, "sustainability." Did they also sustain the legendary Winslow speed trap, which, as far back as I can remember, accounted for most of the city's budget?

Jones

Posted Thu, Jun 27, 11:38 p.m. Inappropriate

Jones - I disagree. Microsizing streets isn't really part of the war on cars. Instead, it's bad design based on a perception that smaller streets are cute and more inviting. That is certainly true, I mean, look at Santa Fe, NM and its narrow streets among adobe buildings. But the difference is that there are no cars on many of those streets that serve residential areas, NOT commercial areas.

My concern is public safety. Narrow streets and angled parking are not that safe for cyclists, pedestrians, and people backing out and hitting them.

The most dangerous example of this that I've found is downtown Orinda, CA, since the downtown street has angled parking, but also serves as a road directing traffic eastbound on hwy 24 towards Walnut Creek. YIKES !

Bainbridge is more than welcome to re-vitalize their downtown. However, like Issaquah highlands and many others in the Northwest, the streets could be wider and safer.

To, CommononeSense, yes, unfortunately, the professors are being paid, sometimes with federal grants, to promote smart growth both in their papers and also projects with their students. This is a recent phenomena, and since smart growth is a fad, it will eventually be replaced by something else. I'm hoping for a massive nationwide revival to "Landscape Urbanism" and Mid-Century Modernism from Charlie Waldheim of MIT.

toughbretts - Boulder could try closing down more of their downtown streets, but then their traffic problem would only get worse. Their problem is an urban growth boundary causing excess density, and not enough loop freeways EAST of Boulder. It is ridiculous when people drive from Superior down into Boulder, in order to proceed north to Lyons or Lafayette. A loop freeway east of Boulder would solve this problem.

Also, downtown boulder is not centrally located within the City, therefore, congestion is worse. Same problem in Chico, CA. While Boulder can't expand to the west and solve this problem, Chico could, by expanding their UGB 1 to 2 miles west of town.

See, Boulder, air pollution problem from Dr. Bartlett at UC -
http://smartgrowthusa.wordpress.com/2010/07/05/boulder-exposed-brown-cloud-choked-highways-and-parking-meters/

TomLane

Posted Fri, Jun 28, 10:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks for the link. A.A. Bartlett was on to something with the problem of exponential population growth. Jeb Bush should take heed from Bartlett cause the bolo tie doesn't lie, overpopulation is the root problem.

Posted Mon, Jul 1, 2:14 a.m. Inappropriate

I don't think it's overpopulation, instead, it's Frank Lloyd Wright's observation that high density cities create problems with high density, and that it would be best if folks lived in the country and had their own one acre lots with vegetable gardens and solar power - off the grid.

And, Wright's position is the far left position. The true, genuine hippies don't live in big cities. They left them. "Smart Growth" is from corporate construction interests who are Republicans and pay our city councilors under the table.

Boulder is run by such interests as are developments in Washington and the Seattle area under the growth mgmt. act. i.e. Port Blakely Holdings who built Issaquah Highlands, they are a Timber Company who clearcuts timber, including the land where Issaquah Highlands is today.

But the far left opposes clearcutting!

TomLane

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