By Don Nelson
A Winthrop business owner has renewed her plea that the Town Council enforce speed limits on Highway 20 within the town limits because speeding motorists continue to create dangerous conditions for pedestrians, bicyclists and other drivers.
At last week’s Town Council meeting, Alison Philbin, owner of the Mt. Gardner Inn on Highway 20, cited a June 2016 study by the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) which documented that most motorists are exceeding the posted limit of 25 miles per hour on the stretch of highway in front of her business.
Philbin had urged the council to do something about the speeders last summer. The council agreed to ask WSDOT about the possibility of reducing the speed limit to 25 mph throughout the town.
“I am not concerned with the extension of the speed limit as much as I am with better and more signage, including the potential of a digital speed limit sign that tells motorists how fast they are going,” Philbin said in a statement to the council. She suggested that bright orange reflective “diamonds” be placed on speed limit signs near the Robins Egg Bleu and Arrowleaf Bistro businesses.
Philbin said that “enforcement is not my ideal means of handling this” because of the possible negative image that might cause for the town among tourists. “Light enforcement through physical presence may be necessary,” she said.
Philbin also noted that there are private residences along the highway, and it is often dangerous for residents to pull out onto the road.
Pedestrians and bicyclists have been squeezed onto narrow or barely existent shoulders while walking on Highway 20 between the eastern town limits and the downtown area.
“My instinct was that most people were driving over the speed limit but it was not until the [WSDOT] traffic report results came in that I was validated that this is a real problem,” Philbin said.
Over and eight-day period in June 2016, WSDOT found that the average vehicle speed in the studied stretch of highway, where the speed limit is 25 mph, was 43 mph. Of the 44,375 vehicles that passed through the study area during that period, more than 12,000 were driving between 30 mph and 40 mph, more than 27,000 were driving between 40 mph and 50 mph, and a few were driving as fast as 70 mph to 80 mph.
“We’ve been lucky. I’ve seen a lot of close calls,” Philbin told the council last week.
“I don’t want to see someone get hurt,” she added. “That would be way worse for business than a flashing sign.”
Council member Rick Northcott, who lives in the area that WSDOT studied, said “I take pleasure in going 25 and slowing everyone down.” Getting out of his driveway is often an adventure, he said.
He said the speeding problem needs to be addressed, probably through a combination of signage and enforcement.
Council member Mike Strulic suggested parking an empty Winthrop Marshal’s Office patrol vehicle somewhere on the highway to at least create the impression of enforcement. For many years, the town parked the so-called “purple police car” at the ball field on the west side of town, with a mannequin wearing a cowboy hat in the driver’s seat, as a visual deterrent to speeders. The 1977 Pontiac Trans-Am 400 hardtop coupe, also known as the “DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) car,” was sold by the town in 2015.
Town Clerk Michelle Gaines said there’s no reason that one of the town’s two patrol vehicles couldn’t be parked in a visible location, as an initial action.
Strulic also suggested that the town look into photo enforcement of speed limits, which other areas including Seattle have installed on busy streets or at intersections.
In other business:
• Mayor Anne Acheson told the council that the town is working with the contractors who are installing new water lines along Highway 20 west of the Methow River bridge to ensure that planned water shut-offs occur as planned, and that residents and businesses on that part of the highway are not surprised by unexpected shut-offs. The contractor has caused some damages to existing water services, Acheson said.
The mayor also reported that an unrelated water main break on Bridge Street (“Pool Hall Hill”) on April 14 has been repaired.
• Shoppers in downtown Winthrop who are hoping to take part in a “Where’s Waldo Scavenger Hunt” promotion by a couple of dozen Riverside Avenue businesses may have to look a bit harder to begin their search. The council turned down a request to place promotional materials in shop windows because they violate the town’s Westernization code.
Trail’s End Bookstore manager Abilene Hagee said that the promotional window display materials would be used July 1-July 28. Hagee said the bookstore will host a month-long scavenger hunt to find Waldo in 25 participating businesses in Winthrop. Each business would display a small representation of Waldo somewhere in their store. Shoppers would have “passports” to be stamped by a participating merchant when they spot Waldo in the store somewhere. The town’s Westernization code is restrictive when it comes to what can be displayed in business windows in the downtown area.
Hagee said this week that the promotion is still scheduled as planned.
• Council member Kellen Northcott again asked if the city can take any action regarding the horse corral across Highway 20 from Arrowleaf Bistro, which he said is not only an eyesore but also may be hazardous to the horses kept there.
“I’m worried about the horses’ welfare,” he said. “It’s a hazardous situation and should be treated.”
Northcott said the area should be cleaned up. “It’s not pleasant to look at,” he said.
The corral was tidied up somewhat last year after Northcott raised similar concerns.
Acheson said the town will look into its public nuisance enforcement possibilities.
• Ten Winthrop residents and business owners were granted adjustments to their water use bills because their service connections froze during extreme weather conditions last winter.