Whatcom officials, residents at odds over how to safely cross Lakeway Drive

Residents just outside the city limits, who have petitioned the Whatcom County Council for a crosswalk on Lakeway Drive, have the support of several council members but are meeting resistance from the county’s road department.

Council members will make the final decision on whether to put a crosswalk somewhere between Parkstone Lane and Euclid Avenue, but staff in the Public Works Department have lobbied the council against it.

Public Works counted pedestrians and bicyclists on that stretch of Lakeway three times, and in every case the number was far less than enough to justify a crosswalk.

Adding a crosswalk when it’s not warranted can make crossing less safe, officials said.

“Painting white lines in the road doesn’t make anybody safer,” said county engineering technician Rodney Vandersypen in an interview Friday, Oct. 24. “As a matter of fact, it gives them a false sense of security, and they walk out in front of people.”

Members of the Parkstone Community Association and some council members say there’s more to consider than the data.

“People on foot should have equal treatment with, if not priority over, those in cars,” said Eileen Kadesh, vice president of the association, at a May 20 council meeting. “The need for safe pedestrian travel shouldn’t just artificially end at the Bellingham city limits. We’re only a block outside those boundaries.”

Besides, council member Pete Kremen said, the reason few people are counted crossing Lakeway could be that it’s unsafe.

“You don’t see many people crossing I-5, either,” Kremen said on May 20. “You’re literally taking your life into your own hands at certain times of the day, trying to cross Lakeway.”

County officials said Lakeway was one of the busiest roads in the county, with about 15,000 vehicle trips a day.

Public Works staff obliged a council request by outlining three crosswalk options at a meeting on June 3: a basic crosswalk where pedestrians would carry flags across the street, a crosswalk with a flashing light triggered by the pedestrian, and a crossing with a red light. Pedestrians have the flashing-light crossing off Lakeway on Cable Street, at the Firs Retreat Center; and on Lakeway in Bellingham, near Orleans Street.

Cost estimates ranged from $40,000 for a crosswalk with flags, to $300,000-plus for a red-light crossing.

Vandersypen said the option he is comfortable with is the most expensive — the red-light crossing commonly known as a HAWK signal.

“If we really do need a crosswalk, that’s what we need to put there. We need to get the traffic to stop for people, not to pause for them,” he said.

Parkstone residents applauded on May 20, after council spoke favorably of installing a crosswalk. Public Works staff indicated it’s not their job to be swayed by cheers.

“Our job is to give (council) the unemotional, unpolitical, ‘this is what the data says’ information,” county engineer Joe Rutan said on Friday, Oct. 24. “It’s not our opinion, it’s simply our recommendation based on data and engineering standards. It’s the council’s decision.”

The crosswalk proposal is in a council committee and is not yet scheduled to go before the full council for a vote. The Public Works, Health and Safety Committee will discuss the crosswalk at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 28. Council meetings are held at the county courthouse, 311 Grand Ave.