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Harper ‘bend’ scrutinized

Southworth ferry commuters are familiar with the Harper Bend — the sharp turn that abuts Harper Dock and threatens to send any speeders hurtling into Puget Sound.

Residents near the bend, especially those who live along the narrow stretch of roadway between the bend and Olympiad Drive, see it as more than just a driving hazard. They see it as a danger to children, bicyclists, walkers and anyone else who tries to share the road with the near-constant stream of cars.

Some parents have stopped letting their children wait for the bus along the road because they fear for their safety.

“Traffic has increased so much, if a person wants to walk on the road, you pretty much take your life in your hands,” said local spokesman Jim Heytvelt. “You (have to) dodge from islands of safety — driveways, wider parts. It’s only a matter of time before somebody gets clipped.”

The Harper community has enlisted the help of Kitsap County to fix the hazard. Last Saturday, residents and county representatives sat down to talk about the problem and brainstorm possible solutions. Participants suggested everything from installing a roadside boardwalk to shutting down the road completely to ferry traffic.

County records show approximately 2,500 cars a day use that road, both residents and commuters. Although the speed limit around the bend is 25 miles per hour, the speed limits on the rest of Harbor Drive and Southworth Drive average between 35 and 40.

“The real culprits, we believe, are the people racing for the ferry,” Heytvelt said. “We’ve had people clocked doing 70 miles per hour.”

County Commissioner Jan Angel, who attended Saturday’s meeting, said a permanent solution has been elusive since the road became a problem 20 years ago. The main difficulty, she said, lies in the narrowness of the road and its awkward position.

The eastern side of the road overhangs the beach and, at high tide, water even laps at the pavement edge. The western side of the road stops right at the edge of homeowners’ properties, allowing little to no right-of-way to build on.

Angel polled participants on Saturday to see if those who own property along that stretch would be willing to donate 10 feet or so of right-of-way to the county.

The response was less than enthusiastic.

“They didn’t discount it, but they wanted to think about it,” Angel said.

Heytvelt had another explanation for the residents’ hesitation.

“A lot of those people, if they gave up any property, they wouldn’t have a septic tank drainage field,” he said.

Several people suggested putting a boardwalk along the beach side of the road. However, Angel said, Department of Fisheries officials have balked at the idea, saying it would shade the shoreline and impact marine wildlife.

Less permit-heavy options included making the road one-way, installing speed bumps and reducing the speed limit along the entire stretch of road to 25 mles an hour.

The last option, residents said, is only worth doing if the county invests some of its police force in actually enforcing the lower limit. They said people routinely break the current speed limit, and believe it has a lot to do with the relatively low police presence in that area.

Angel said there’s still a lot of discussion to be heard on all the suggestions. She also said she’s not ready to let the idea of a boardwalk drop just yet. Angel plans to invite a fisheries spokesperson to the next community meeting in hopes of finding a compromise which makes both pedestrians and ecologists happy.

“I think everyone (at the meeting) thought fisheries just came back with a blanket ‘no,’ and we’d like to talk to them about it,” Angel said.

The first priority, Angel said, however, is to slow traffic down. She proposes reducing the speed limit between the “Welcome to Harper” sign and Olympiad Drive. Any speed limit changes must be done via a resolution passed by the county commissioners.

“If people are driving slow enough, at least people have control of their cars,” Angel said. “If we got the speed slowed down, we may not even need the walkway because it may be OK.”

Heytvelt, for one, is holding out for the one-way option. He said it would not only cut down on speeding ferry commuters and provide plenty of room for pedestrians and cyclists, it would solve the Harper Dock’s parking problems as well.

Right now, anglers and the people who own a coffee shop at the point of the bend are at odds because there’s nowhere for the anglers to leave their cars while they fish, except in the coffee shop’s driveway. By cutting the two-lane road to one lane and dedicating the unused lane to parallel parking, Heytvelt said the county could effectively solve every problem associated with the bend in one fell swoop.

County staff said a change like that would require major research, including building traffic models for both that route and the alternate routes to which cars could potentially be diverted.

Heytvelt also hopes the county, whatever it does, will improve directional signage at the Southworth ferry dock. Heytvelt said non-natives compound the problem coming off the ferry by speeding through Harper looking for State Route 16 instead of following the single sign which marks the route via Sedgwick Road.

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