PORT ANGELES — Should the city of Port Angeles re-time its downtown traffic lights to make vehicles stop repeatedly on First and Front streets?
City Council Mike French floated that idea as a possible way to increase pedestrian safety and to encourage more downtown commerce.
French suggested re-timing the traffic signals on First and Front streets to prevent drivers from racing to make three consecutive green lights at Oak, Laurel and Lincoln streets or vice versa.
“The timing of the traffic lights incentivizes drivers to speed to make the next light,” French said in a Jan. 15 City Council think tank.
“We should not time our traffic lights together, and we should slow traffic down significantly by having differently-triggered traffic lights.”
French said the lights should be re-programmed so that motorists are made to stop at every signal, similar to the way traffic flows downtown in the summer.
“We should incentivize people to stop at stoplights and look around at the businesses that are right there,” French said at the think tank.
“They should be timed so you stop at every stoplight downtown.”
Council think tanks were instituted this year to allow city lawmakers to brainstorm ideas. No action is taken in the informal sessions.
When reached by cell phone Tuesday, French said he made the suggestion to generate a community conversation about pedestrian safety issues and downtown tourism.
Pedestrian safety became a concern at the inaugural Port Angeles Winter Ice Village at 121 W. Front St., French said.
French, who owns First Street Haven restaurant 107 E. First St., said he regularly experiences “close calls” while navigating downtown crosswalks.
“I’m not sure what the right solution is yet,” French said Tuesday.
“I think it’s something that we as a community need to think about.”
French said the downtown crosswalks, including mid-block crossings like the one near the Ice Village, are poorly lit.
“When people make left turns, they often don’t even look for pedestrians and sometimes come very close,” French told the City Council.
“In the summer, you can stand at the [Conrad Dyer Memorial] Fountain and see a pedestrian almost get hit daily.”
Mayor Sissi Bruch agreed that the traffic lights on First and Front streets encourage drivers to exceed the 20 mph speed limit.
“If you barely make that first one, you are trying to catch up,” Bruch said.
“But you must admit that it’s also really convenient, if you make that first one, to make the second one and the third one.
“But you are absolutely right that it’s for the convenience of the auto person, and not for the convenience of the city,” Bruch added at the think tank.
From an economic development standpoint, French said the timed lights encourage drivers to “travel through and out of downtown quickly.”
“That is not in our best interest,” he said.
As an experiment, French suggested that the downtown intersections be made into four-way stops with blinking red lights.
“Traffic would slow down to a crawl,” French said.
“Pedestrians would be far safer and it would be fine.”
Council member Michael Merideth said the city should endeavor to improve pedestrian safety but should not alter the traffic lights.
“As far as keeping cars sitting downtown? No,” Merideth said at the think tank. “No way.”
Merideth, a truck driver, said motorists would turn off their engines at intersections or engage in the “extremely dangerous” practice of coasting down hills when gasoline prices were high.
“People were doing all these things to try and save a dollar, save gas, and now we’re going to sit at a red light?” Merideth told French.
Council member Lindsey Schromen-Wawrin said a person has a 90 percent chance of surviving a hit from a vehicle that is traveling at 20 mph. The survival rate drops to 50 percent when the vehicle is going 30 mph and 10 percent at 40 mph, Schromen-Wawrin said.
“When we’re talking about pedestrian safety and safety in relation to traffic, we really should keep in mind that keeping traffic slow is one of the best things we can do for safety, for human life and safety,” Schromen-Wawrin said.
“With that in mind, there’s also some research that says you even want to go below 20 mph in a pedestrian zone, so more like, you know, 12 to 18 miles per hour.
“So it’s not so much cars stopped downtown, but cars should be moving slowly through downtown,” Schromen-Wawrin added.
Schromen-Wawrin suggested that the city apply for grants to improve walkability and pedestrian safety downtown.
Council member Cherie Kidd said the timed traffic signals and 20 mph speed limit downtown should remain.
“I just think if we deliberately mess up the lights that cause inconvenience to everyone coming off the [MV Coho] ferry, anyone coming into our downtown, we will have fewer visitors to our downtown,” Kidd said.
“And our downtown will have a reputation that we can’t get back, because once you drive people away for a negative reason, then they won’t be back.”
Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].