Bainbridge Island’s newest roundabout – on the corner of Wyatt Way and Madison Avenue – will open to thru traffic soon. But if you’re a long-time islander like me, you might recall the big dust up over Bainbridge’s first roundabout some 20-odd years back.
Back then, roundabouts, or rotaries, as they were sometimes called, were not as well known or as popular a traffic moving device as they are nowadays.
In fact, most people who were familiar with a roundabout more than likely saw them on a European vacation – think Rome or Paris – or perhaps on a visit to another state. Generally speaking, Washington, Kitsap County and Bainbridge Island were behind the curve on adapting to this evolving technology.
Suffice to say, there was no shortage of opinion on whether it made sense to put one of those new-fangled circles on the intersection of High School Road and Madison Avenue – sandwiched between the high school campus and the library – or let things continue as they were.
As you can well imagine that four-way stop, even back then, was a hot mess, as school kids and parents in their own vehicles – along with an assortment of buses – interacted with cars and trucks going to nearby Island Village, where Safeway is located, or trying to traverse east and west or north and south on two of the island’s busiest arterials.
Our local newspaper was filled with letters-to-the-editor either for or against the roundabout and there was no shortage of opinion by friends and neighbors chatting it up in local coffee shops, in the aisles of T&C and Safeway, or on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry.
The City Council eventually gave the project the green light, but that didn’t stop it from becoming a campaign issue during a council race around that same time.
One candidate was so opposed to the new roundabout that he paid for an ad that appeared on the local cable news channel – popular in those days – of himself standing in front of a pile of dirt (from the roundabout excavation) complaining it was a waste of taxpayer money.
Turns out, he lost the race to an opponent who was in favor of the roundabout and who went on to serve on the City Council for the next decade.
Skepticism over the then “new” Roundabout soon faded as locals quickly caught on to the ease of driving through the intersection without having to wait their turn at a stop sign.
And soon, the island will be christening it’s second roundabout on the corner of Madison Avenue and Wyatt Way. This particular traffic circle, like it’s larger predecessor, has been years in the making.
Much hand-wringing and debate surrounded its design and inception before it was eventually tied in to the larger Wyatt Way reconstruction project that has been unfolding over the past year, snarling traffic to and from Downtown Winslow and forcing drivers to take circuitous detours.
But all that is about to change. Most of the asphalt paving work is completed, according to city officials. And next up is the installation of accessible ramps and concrete crosswalks, which will mark the project substantially complete. The last remaining work will be signage, painted bicycle symbols and landscaping – and that should take place the week of April 5th.
Drivers should soon be able to whiz up and down Madison Avenue from High School Road, moving through not one, but two roundabouts. It will be a joy and relief for many islanders, who have had to endure the long Pandemic public works project, to finally get their roads back!