No-Bad-DaysBy Don Nelson

It probably wasn’t much easier, back at the turn of the previous century, to practice the pioneer version of “multimodal mobility” in Winthrop. That’s more or less the era that the town’s current Westernization motif is based on, in terms of building materials and adornments, colors, typefaces and prevailing architectural styles.

I’m not sure the town had much in the way of boardwalks then, but it did have crude streets that were probably dusty in the summer, muddy in the spring and fall, and either frozen hard or treacherously slushy in the winter. The traffic was pedestrians, horseback riders and horse-pulled wagons. So add equine byproducts to the mix. Bicycles and motorized vehicles weren’t part of the picture yet. The bridges were rickety and flood-averse compared to our modern, more-sturdy structures. Travel conditions were likely even more daunting once you left town, and the options limited.

Yet folks had to get around, however ponderously compared to our current sense of movement. Getting from one place to another required planning, patience and the expectation of unforeseen impediments.

Of course, it was a small population of hardcore residents then, and not many people were simply passing through before the mines out west of Mazama started to draw prospectors and other fortune hunters. Local traffic was pretty much it.

More than a century later, our Western town is struggling with not only residential and commercial traffic, but also a heartily encouraged onslaught of visitors who are eager to revisit the old days at their leisure. Only now they number in the thousands, driving cars, pickups, SUVs, RVs and log trucks; or riding bicycles; or ambling at a comfortable pace through the charming downtown corridor, and wandering back and forth across what is actually a state highway with apparent disregard for multi-wheeled conveyances.

With all that extra activity, it has become increasingly evident that the town faces a logistically intransigent challenge: The downtown corridor hasn’t gotten wider since the dirt road days. It’s a stricture that can’t be expanded, through which everyone must squeeze, also featuring the only place vehicles are required to stop on Highway 20 between Sedro-Woolley and Pateros.

The quaint boardwalks are thematically authentic but practically impaired. They are inconsistent and often difficult to navigate. Where there are no boardwalks, sidewalks, crosswalks or clearly designated walking paths, confusion and risk-taking often ensue as all our modern modes try to travel through the same space. What keeps our nostalgic, escapist realm from turning into a war zone is that (1) most people aren’t in a hurry, because what’s the point, and (2) the same conditions that make movement difficult tend to slow us all down, locals and tourists alike, even if we want to hurry. Slower is safer, but it’s not a surefire protection against accidents.

To its credit, the town is tackling the mobility matrix through the “Winthrop In Motion” project, a planning effort to come up with ways to make it easier for everyone to negotiate downtown Winthrop (see story, page A3). There has been and will be public involvement in deciding which proposals to adopt from a long list provided by the consultants who are developing the plan.

The most important takeaway from the exercise is this: There is no simple way to make it all better. Dozens of issues arise in the few blocks of prime movement space in downtown Winthrop. None can be addressed without affecting the others.

Solutions will come, but they won’t be easily thrashed out or free of compromises. There will be give and take, agreements and stalemates. Sort of puts the idea of “my way or the highway” in a different light, since it’s everyone’s highway.

Every proposal will have advocates, doubters and undecideds. And if my experience in watching such processes is any indicator, there will be a small, grumpy cohort of naysayers who hate every idea yet have not a single one of their own. They’ll be the grim-faced ones in the back of the room with their arms folded, muttering about bicycles, Westernization rules and those annoying people from the “west side.”

It’s been said that God — or alternately the devil — is in the details. In solving our “motion” problems, you can have it either way depending on your point of view. When it comes time, the planners and consultants will be happy to help us figure it out. They’ll walk us through it.


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