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Citizen's Report Sways Council On Proposed Mercer Way Parking Ban

A citizen's analysis of 142 bike accidents on Mercer Island prompted a majority on City Council to table proposed parking restrictions along East, West and North Mercer Way.

After months of trying to advance a no parking proposal, Mercer Island City Council tabled indefinitely a proposal on Monday to along East, West and North Mercer Way — collectively known as "The Mercers".

A "No Parking — Dawn to Dusk" ordinance along The Mercers was first offered by the city on Feb. 21, with the stated purpose of the restrictions to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists who could use the shoulder as motorists attempted to legally pass them. But an outpouring of public criticism pushed of the parking restrictions from city engineers in March, based primarily on a proposal circulated by Deputy Mayor Dan Grausz. At the July 16 meeting, another analysis was widely circulated and discussed — but it wasn't a product of or the council.

Local resident Joe Barer, the president of Seattle-based consultant firm Lake Partners, drafted his own analysis of cyclist safety on Mercer Island by reviewing all 142 reported accidents that involved cyclists over the past 11 years on all of Mercer Island.

In the report's executive summary, Barar states that of the 142 accident reports, parked cars on the Mercers have never been cited as a contributing factor — the primary reason cited for the parking restrictions. Cyclists never state, according to police reports, that the accident could have been avoided if the road were wider. He also found that only two reports where a vehicle parked on the shoulder of those roads were involved in an accident, and both times the cyclist was found at fault.

"The public input has been great we have had a lot of it," said Mayor Bruce Bassett. "I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and work that was done."

The report analyzed the details of 120 Mercer Island Police reports and cross-referenced them with the WSDOT collision database, which had records of an additional 22 accidents. The analysis also found that bikes hit by passing cars are rare (not a single bike hit in the past 5 years) but bikes passing moving cars account for 12 percent of accidents. Meanwhile, a stretch of North Mercer Way with shoulders added between the Roanoke Inn and 76th Ave. SE had seen no accidents in the 11 years studied.

About 53 percent of car-bike accidents occurred at intersections, according to the report, and about 25 percent of all accidents happened at five "Problem Spots": North Mercer Way and 77th Ave. SE, SE 26th St. and North Mercer Way/I-90, West Mercer Way and 78th Ave. SE, East Mercer Way and SE 53rd Pl., and SE 68th St. and 84th Ave. Southeast.

Barer's report cites cyclists to blame in the majority of accidents, with 24 percent of accidents involving only bicycles. When cars are added to the mix, however, motorists cause most of the accidents. Accidents at intersections and driveways account for 56 percent of all accidents, with motorists twice as likely (61 percent) to blame as cyclists. Of the accidents that occur on the open roadway, less than 15 percent of them happen on straight or curved roads and cyclists and motorists are roughly equal at fault (45 percent for motorists; 48 percent for cyclists; 7 percent jointly).

The report also observed that most accidents involve off-Island residents, and parking restrictions would unfairly be bourne by local residents, an issue Bassett and Grausz took exception to.

"I get very uncomfortable when it becomes an us-versus-them argument — that is not a good conversation to have," Bassett said. "It may be that I'm that somebody on a bike driving you crazy by not going fast enough, not some 'off-Island' person."

The report suggests improved signage at intersections and a closer look by staff at problem intersections, and avoiding parking restrictions that encourage drivers to enter and exit hidden driveways.

"Cars entering/exiting driveways to park pose a far greater risk than cars parking in shoulders (no historical risk)," notes the report.

Assistant City Engineer , who originally recommended leaving decisions to restrict parking to City Hall, agreed to investigate the so-called problem spots and said she would review and attempt to verify the report's findings and conclusions.

"(We will) look at each of these intersection a little more in depth and apply engineering fundamentals," she said. "Some problems are correctible, others aren't."

The council also committed to forming a 7-person citizen's committee by the end of the summer to consider "opportunities for further shoulder improvements/lane adjustment projects on the Mercer Ways in order to enhance user safety without adversely affecting residents." The committee would consist of three residents from the Mercers, two Island cyclists and two persons who regularly use the Mercers as pedestrians. The Mayor and Deputy Mayor will also sit on the committee.

Once the committee issues its report, the parking issue on The Mercers could return to city council in the form of a new ordinance.

For more on the report, click on the pdf image of the report below the picture box to the right of this story.

Thomas Imrich July 21, 2012 at 04:10 PM
The proposed committee idea as presently configured is seriously flawed. It needs to include significantly more stakeholders representing the various key route resident auto constituency, the safety services (fire/police), frequent commercial traffic users, as well as independent transport technical specialists who are not from, or need to answer to, the city engineering department or Council.
Kendall Watson July 21, 2012 at 04:18 PM
It bears mentioning (well, in the comments at least) that this proposal, while tabled, is NOT DEAD. There were a few citizens at the July 16 meeting who seemed surprised that the issue returned to the council agenda. Guess they missed our March story on that, "Council Tries Watered-Down Parking Rules on The Mercers"!
Vince July 21, 2012 at 07:08 PM
Cyclists on Mercer Island don't even follow any rules of the road. They block the entire road in rush hour traffic, never use bike lanes or the paths. They are downright annoying. Other people have to get to work, everyone on Mercer Island isn't part of the trust fund baby club.
Kendall Watson July 21, 2012 at 07:53 PM
Vince, the report actually indicates otherwise. While cyclists are often to blame in the accidents caused, when the accident involves a car it's more likely the driver's fault — according to the report. Also, I thought page 8 of the report was particularly revealing, especially where it discusses bicycles passing cars. From the extracts of three of the four reports mentioned, the motorists in each case admitted they failed to use a turn signal, a traffic violation (RCW 46.61.305). Cyclists are legally permitted to pass other vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians on the left — just as cars are (RCW 46.61.755).
Sarah Weinberg July 21, 2012 at 09:39 PM
I'm not sure if my concern was addressed by this report: I use the Park and Ride lot on N. Mercer Way frequently. I usually travel north on 80th Ave. SE, which leads, through a traffic light, directly into the P&R lot. More than once I have had to screech to a halt because of a runner (with ear buds in the ears) or a cyclist crossing the entrance to the P&R lot at a high rate of speed and with total disregard to the traffic light or an oncoming car. This intersection is an accident waiting to happen. By the way, cyclists regularly ride through the busy bus stop at the P&R lot. I think they're supposed to dismount and walk their bikes there, but that courtesy is ignored.
Ken Glass July 21, 2012 at 09:56 PM
I think Sarah is right about some cyclists/runners causing issues. I think it's also right that some motor vehicle operators cause issues by not looking when backing up, speeding, cutting people off, etc.. My view is all people are susceptible to the same mistakes (or bad behavior) whether ambulatory, driving or pedaling.
Kendall Watson July 21, 2012 at 10:35 PM
@Sarah, I'm pretty sure that this report doesn't specifically identify problems with that intersection. It said the intersections of NMW and 77th and SE 26th St. and NMW/I-90 off ramp have more accidents and should be looked at first.
Dwight Schaeffer July 22, 2012 at 12:15 AM
Three cheers for Joe Barar! We need more analysis before proposing remedies instead of unsubstantiated preconceived notions. Dwight Schaeffer
Ken Glass July 22, 2012 at 01:52 PM
FYI, the correct spelling is Joe Barer.
Kendall Watson July 25, 2012 at 08:51 PM
Thanks Ken, good catch. I'm not saying I personally agree with the report, but the correction gives me a great opportunity to observe how much my fellow Quakers rock — wouldn't you agree? ;-)

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