Marshal suggests closing Bridge St. during busy times

By Don Nelson

After a busy Fourth of July weekend, traffic and safety were once again major topics of conversation at the Winthrop Town Council meeting last week.

Hal Henning, recently hired as town marshal, talked to the council about several traffic-related and policing issues, most of them familiar to council members and residents alike.

Henning said he kept a close eye on the heavy traffic through downtown Winthrop over the three-day weekend but concluded it was counter-productive to stand in the middle of the four-way stop intersection and direct motorists. Cars aren’t the problem, he said. Pedestrians are.

“I can’t control all the citizens” who start streaming into crosswalks as soon as he allows one direction of traffic to proceed while halting the other three, Henning said. Directing traffic may actually create liability problems for the town if someone is injured as motorists and pedestrians jockey for position, the marshal said.

Henning said he timed how long it took to travel eastbound from the Methow River bridge to the four-way stop in heavy traffic. That was about 4 minutes, he said. Eastbound from the Methow Valley Ciderhouse to the four-way took about 3 minutes in stop-and-go traffic, Henning said.

To expedite traffic flow, Henning suggested closing the one-block stretch of “pool hall hill” (Bridge Street) from Riverside Avenue to Castle Avenue to motorized traffic during heavy congestion periods. That way, if an officer chose to direct traffic they would have to control only three crosswalks rather than four, and pedestrians would be able to cross Bridge Street without worrying about traffic.

Henning suggested trying that idea out during the Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival this weekend (July 15–17), and was supported by council members.

Police parking

The marshal also explained why he parallel-parked his police vehicle in front of the Winthrop Visitor Information Center the past weekend. Henning said that the designated head-in parking spots in front of Town Hall don’t accommodate the long crew-cab pickups the town uses as police cars. And the spaces are difficult to get out of quickly, he said.

Parking in front of the visitor center allows him to leave more quickly and efficiently without having to back up, Henning said. He suggested designating that spot — which now includes a 10-minute parking stall — for police vehicles, and turning the existing police vehicle stall into general parking.

Henning acknowledged that some Winthrop Chamber of Commerce members weren’t happy about that plan, but council members agreed to try it out. “It will greatly diminish the risk of collisions,” the marshal said.

“It was a great place to have the vehicle parked last weekend,” council member Rick Northcott said.

Audience members Tom Sullivan and Lynn Northcott agreed. “It gets peoples’ attention,” Sullivan said.

Town Clerk Michelle Gaines said that traffic counting devices the town was loaned by the Okanogan County Department of Public Works for a week in late June indicated that 6,100 to 7,100 cars a day pass through Winthrop. In-town speed limits came up again last week, an extension of a previous discussion in which the council agreed to ask the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to make 25 miles per hour the speed limit the whole length of Highway 20 through town. Currently, the speed limit is 35 mph between the town’s eastern limit and East 20 Pizza.

Henning said he has made a few traffic stops for speeding, giving drivers warnings. Sullivan, who lives on Castle Avenue, said traffic on his street also moves too fast and he appreciates the emphasis on enforcement. He suggested a new town slogan: “Come to Winthrop and slow down.”

Pedestrian safety

Rick Northcott raised another traffic-related issue: pedestrian safety through downtown Winthrop. He particularly cited the Hotel Rio Vista parking lot, which has stalls extending nearly to the roadway and becomes crowded during heavy tourism periods. Pedestrians and bicyclists often are in the roadway, mixing it up with traffic, as they pass by the hotel, Northcott said.

“We have no sidewalk, no walkway, no good connection to the Susie Stephens trail,” Northcott said. He said he couldn’t understand how the parking lot arrangement was allowed. “I don’t want to hurt the business. But something has to be done there,” he said. “It’s a really dangerous spot.”

Town Planner Rocklynn Culp said the Rio Vista parking lot was approved several years ago after a previous hotel on the spot burned down and was replaced. The hotel’s property actually extends out into the highway, she said.

Culp said the parking lot was approved right after she took the job of town planner, and she didn’t look at it too critically. She would look at it differently were it in front of her now, Culp said.

“It’s a horrible situation, and it’s a priority,” Culp said. She said she would contact the hotel’s owners to see what might be possible.

In other business, Mayor Sue Langdalen reported that the town has received a $9,500 loan from the Okanogan County Electric Cooperative which will be used to make general repairs at the Winthrop Barn and Town Hall.

Langdalen also reported that a town-owned parcel on Horizon Flats, which is no longer needed, has been appraised at a market value of $118,000. The council agreed to put the parcel up for bids.