Town will seek uniform 25 mph speed limit on Highway 20
By Don Nelson
Thirty-five miles an hour could go the way of the horse and buggy in Winthrop, where some residents and town council members support lowering the municipal speed limit to slow motorists down.
The idea of reducing the speed limit to 25 miles per hour throughout Winthrop drew strong support at last week’s council meeting.
Currently, the posted speed on Highway 20 – a state highway that becomes Riverside Avenue on its way through Winthrop – drops abruptly from 60 mph to 35 mph at the eastern town limits. The posted speed then drops to 25 mph from about East 20 Pizza to the western town limits. Eastbound traffic slows to 35 mph before Winthrop’s western town limits.
Lowering the speed limit at the east end of town would require action by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), which has jurisdiction over speeds on state highways.
A plea for action came from Alison Knab, who with her husband, Greg, owns the Mt. Gardner Inn on Highway 20 just west of East 20 Pizza. Knab told the council that, from her perspective at the inn, much of the westbound traffic doesn’t slow down despite the reduced speed limit. Knab said she recalled that speed limit had been 25 mph on that stretch of the highway when she and her husband bought the inn 12 years ago.
Knab said there are five residences between East 20 Pizza and the Arrowleaf Bistro at the corner of White Avenue, and shoulders are almost nonexistent – making it dangerous for pedestrians. She has seen several scary incidents play out in front of her business, Knab said.
“We need help down there,” Knab said, adding that “it’s not just tourists” who are speeding past her business but also local residents. “Twenty-five [miles per hour] is appropriate for the whole town,” she said.
Mayor Sue Langdalen said that “we don’t want to be known as a ticket-giving town, but we do need enforcement.” The town’s recent hiring of a new marshal could help with that, she said.
Council member Rick Northcott agreed with Knab’s assessment and added that motorists leaving town are just as big a problem as those entering. “It’s terrible … We need to address it,” he said.
Northcott said he doesn’t want Winthrop to become know as a speed trap, but “we probably will have to write a few tickets” to get drivers’ attention.
“We just want some attention and enforcement,” Knab said.
Kristen Smith, marketing director for the Winthrop Chamber of Commerce, said “enforcement is the greatest action we can take.” Lowering the speed limit from 35 to 25 mph won’t be much of an inconvenience, she said, as it would add only about 20 seconds to the typical driver’s trip through town.
Smith also argued that the digital speed readout sign, a portable unit now set up on Highway 20 just west of East 20 Pizza, is not a good way to welcome people to town. “It doesn’t make a good first impression and it hasn’t worked,” Smith said. She too called for a 25 mph limit throughout town, and several audience members supported the idea.
It was also noted that if the speed limit is reduced to 25 mph, the town won’t have to install a flashing warning light at a Highway 20 pedestrian crossing planned as part of the Susie Stephens Trail. Council members Mike Strulic and Gaile Bryant-Cannon both said they don’t want to see a flashing light on the highway if it can avoided.
Langdalen said the town will begin discussions with WSDOT about the possibility of a lower speed limit.
In other business, the council learned that a Westernization ordinance violation recommended against Nectar Skin Bar on Riverside Avenue has been dropped because the business had come into compliance.
On May 17, the business was notified that it was in violation of the town’s Westernization ordinance because the painting and signage in its front windows had not been given prior approval by the Westernization Architectural Committee (WAC). Nectar Skin Bar was directed to immediately remove the painting and signage.
Cindy Hicks, the town’s Westernization administrator, said in a memo to the council that the problem had not been resolved by June 8, when the WAC forwarded the matter to the town council with a recommendation for enforcement that could include fines.
But by last week’s council meeting, Nectar Bar had complied and so no action was necessary, Langdalen said.
The council also renewed its contract with the nonprofit Winthrop Ice & Sports Rink (WISR), which operates and maintains the town-owned rink. The town will pay WISR $10,000 a year from hotel/motel taxes to help support the rink’s operation.
Kellen Northcott, who was recently appointed to fill a vacancy on the council, was sworn it at last week’s meeting. Northcott’s swearing in had been delayed because although he lives and owns a business in Winthrop, his legal address had been in Twisp. Northcott changed his address after the recent primary election to reflect his residency.