Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sehome Hill Arboretum project about to begin

In 1982, the view from the Sehome Hill Arboretum observation tower was drastically different than it is today. At one point, one could easily overlook the city of Bellingham.
Today, though, the visibility from the observation tower is limited due to the growth of surrounding trees and shrubbery, leaving decisions to be made about how to restore the once beautiful visage.
According to the updated Sehome Hill Arboretum Master Plan, which was adopted by the city of Bellingham and its board of governors in 2004, the project looks to trim overgrown vegetation and create views of Mount Baker, downtown Bellingham/Bellingham Bay, the San Juan Islands and the Canadian Coast Range.
At a Board of Governors meeting on Nov. 8 at Western Washington University, the public in attendance were in “unanimous support” of the project, said Bellingham Parks Operations Manager Marvin Harris.

Project parameters:
            The project to trim pockets and windows to create viewpoints from the Sehome Hill Arboretum observation tower is just about ready, Harris said, and all the city is currently waiting on is the correct permits to begin.   
            “Since its Sehome Hill, there are some concerns with the city’s policies for working in ‘Critical areas,’” Harris said. “Essentially, there are wetlands areas – areas that have steeper slopes – and areas that are along stream banks which are defined as ‘Critical areas.’ When you’re working in those areas, you have to get a permit or variance.”
            Other permits have to be attained from the state of Washington because the city is looking to cut trees that are on forest land, Harris said. The permit, Harris explained, is granted by the Washington State’s Department of Natural Resources.
            Harris added that a crew has been chosen, and said the work will be done jointly by members of the Parks Department with help from the landscaping crews at Western Washington University.
            The project is estimated to cost around $5,000, and it is set to begin sometime after the first of the year.

Wildlife preservation:
            Undertaking the project of trimming trees is paramount to the Sehome Hill Arboretum, said Chairman of the Sehome Hill Board of Governors and WWU Geology professor Steve Engebretson, for multiple reasons.
            When the observation tower was created and opened to the public on April 14, 1982, having a view of the city, Mount Baker as well as other attractions was important to the public, Engebretson said. He explained that the view from the observation tower was created for the public and needs to be maintained.
            The project looks to trim or cut down nearly 100 trees, creating nine windows for viewing purposes, Harris said.
Most of the trees that will be cut down or trimmed will be Alder and Cottonwood trees, while avoiding Evergreen trees.
            “(Alder and Cottonwood) grow like weeds,” Engebretson said. “If you go up there now and look over the north, they’re the main block of vision if you look north. They grow fast and have big leaves, and they are very effective at blocking views.”
            The city and its working crews will not be taking heavy machinery into the Arboretum, and will instead be doing all the work with the use of chainsaws and wood chippers, Harris said.
By doing so, all of what will be cut down or trimmed will remain in the Arboretum.
            “Everything we do in the Arboretum, whether trimming or trees falling, we leave them in the arboretum to naturally decay,” Engebretson said.
            The timing of the project is also purposeful in the sense that the project should be completed by the time the nesting birds return, Engebretson said.

Sehome Neighborhood Association:
Aside from a unanimous approval to trim the overgrowth in the Sehome Hill Arboretum to allow for a greater view from the observation tower, Jon Shaughnessy, association treasurer of the Sehome Neighborhood Association, said neighborhood members look to become more proactive in maintaining the Arboretum in the future. 
“Just like there are students that want to help keep the Arboretum looking good, there are people in the Sehome neighborhood that want to do the same thing,” Shaughnessy said. “In the past, we really haven’t done anything about it, so people would go for a hike in the Arboretum, but nobody thought in terms of ‘What can we be doing to maintain the place?’”
Shaughnessy, in his own way of getting more involved, has proposed paying for a mural to be done on the reservoir walls in the northern section of the Arboretum.
The mural, though, must first be approved by the Sehome Hill Arboretum’s board of governors – which consists of three Bellingham City Council members, three Western Washington University members and one student member – but because it won’t cost them anything, Shaughnessy said he believes it’s just a formality and the mural will be approved.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Bike Safety a major concern on Samish Way

The City of Bellingham has deemed Samish Way a dangerous road for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
             According to the 2010 Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Grant Application, between 2007-10, five accidents occurred on Samish Way involving vehicles hitting pedestrians and bicyclists.
             Construction is currently underway on North Samish Way on the intersections of Abbott and Consolidation to put in crosswalks with the hope of improving pedestrian and bicycle safety.
             Although the grant application is titled “Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Grant Application,” Transportations Options Coordinator Kim Brown said bike lanes are not in the current plans for improving Samish Way.
             Chris Jones, an employee at Fanatik Bike Co. as well as a regular rider on Samish Way, believes more should be done on the five-lane road to improve the safety for bicyclists.
              “I moved here from Portland and know (Samish) is a road you avoid,” Jones said. “The road surface itself isn’t in good shape and (it’s uncomfortable) being out in traffic with vehicles…I’ve always noticed it’s not a safe road.”
              Jones said he rides up to North 34th Street, which runs parallel to Samish Way to avoid the traffic. Jones also explained concern over the belief that crosswalks will improve bicycle safety on a road that sees nearly 13,000 vehicles a day, according to the 2010 grant application.
              “Honestly, I don’t think (the crosswalks) improve bicycle safety at all,” he said.
              Bellingham city council member Terry Bornemann has been advocating for more improvements on Samish Way because he himself was once struck by a moving vehicle while riding his bicycle.
              Bornemann said he a few years back, he was riding his bicycle when a girl ran a stop sign and hit him on East Holly Street.  The accident forced Bornemann to get numerous surgeries on the side he was hit, and he believes that although the crosswalk doesn’t immediately affect bicyclists, he does believe that it will help improve driver awareness on the street and make it safer for bicyclists.
              “Usually what happens is you get a little more traffic calming which makes it safer,” Bornemann said.
              He also said bike routes, including the route Jones takes on North 34th Street, will be marked as alternative routes for cyclists to get around the busy five-lane road.
              Bornemann corroborated what Brown had said that yes, nothing is currently in the works for bike lanes to be constructed on Samish Way, but did say that a part of the Samish Urban Village plan did involve the implementation of bike lanes.
              Unfortunately, Bornemann said, time and money force things to take longer than he would hope.
              Brown on the other hand, believes by implementing the crosswalks with flashing lights and medians, safety both for pedestrians and bicyclists will drastically improve.  
              Although the crosswalks and mediums placed on the busy five-lane highway are seen as a way to provide pedestrians a safe passageway from one side of the road to the other, a community-wide awareness program looking to educate drivers and pedestrians is also seen as an alternative means of preventing more accidents, Brown said.
              “We’re going to work with the neighborhood associations; we’ll be working with businesses in terms of getting information out into the media, posters (and) probably attend a neighborhood event,” Brown said.
              Brown also said the Bellingham Police Department is working alongside the city of Bellingham in the efforts of making Samish Way a safer avenue for pedestrians and bicyclists alike.
              “They’ll do enhance enforcement,” she said. “That entails speed and crosswalk enforcement. They may do pedestrian sting operations where they’ll have plane closed police office cross and then enforce whether vehicles are stopping for them.”
              Classes taught with the purpose of increasing driver awareness are pivotal to ensuring a greater sense of safety both for pedestrians and bicyclists, Bornemann said. Bornemann said he doesn’t know when the bike lanes and alternative bike routes will be constructed. 

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Construction of N. Samish Way

In the darkening days of fall, construction continues on N. Samish Way to create safer passageways for pedestrians.
                On Oct. 1, 2012, the N. Samish Way Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Improvement construction job began as a part of the Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program in the city of Bellingham. According to the Six-Year Transportation Improvement Program, construction on N. Samish Way is being done to place two flashing crosswalks – one at the crossing of N. Samish and Abbott and the other at N. Samish and Consolidation.
                Shane Oden, a public engineer for the city of Bellingham, said the construction job is beginning its fifth week of work, and is hopefully going to be 100 percent finished by the holidays.
                As the job stands now, certain sections of the five-lane highway are coned off, forcing vehicles to merge into left lanes, while also forcing pedestrians to walk around the construction into the road.
                Margo Madison, who said she often finds herself walking along the sidewalks on N. Samish Way, believes the construction is presenting possible safety concerns.  
                “The road construction makes it more dangerous because sometimes you have to walk into the street [to get by],” Madison said. “It’s like playing Russian roulette.”
Bellingham city council member and Ward 5 representative Terry Bornemann recognized these concerns, but said the construction is something that must be done to make the road a safer place for pedestrians.  Bornemann also said the changes being made are because N. Samish Way is an extremely dangerous road to cross, which is why the crosswalks are needed.
                According to the 2010 Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety Grant Application Form, N. Samish Way sees an average of 12,900 vehicles a day. According to that same document, between 2007-10 there were five crashes reported on N. Samish Way, including three vehicle/pedestrian crashes and two vehicle/bicyclists crashes.
                “It’s a dangerous place to cross and it’s a long ways in between [the two sidewalks],” Bornemann said. “[The crosswalks] are going to make it safer while drivers will be more aware of pedestrians.”
                Bornemann said the crosswalks are going to be lit with flashing lights to alert oncoming traffic of a crossing pedestrian. He also said there will be an island in the middle lane for pedestrian to wait for traffic to pass.
But pedestrians aren’t the only ones being affected by the sections of lane closures on the busy five-lane road.
                Brewed Awakening, a coffee shop located directly next to one of the merging lanes of N. Samish Way, is also seeing the drawbacks from the construction, said Christie Shiels, an employee who’s worked at Brewed Awakening for six years.
                Shiels said although her location isn’t extremely busy, she has recognized a drop in business since the construction has begun.
                “Usually when Western comes back, we’re a lot busier,” Shiels said. “But that hasn’t been the case this year.”
                The construction of crosswalks is just a part of the renovations taking place.
 Part of the plan instituting these changes, as written in the grant application, is to increase public awareness about crosswalk safety and driving responsibly.
                Putting in the crosswalks is just the beginning of the Samish Way Urban Village Plan, Bornemann said. 
                According to the Samish Way Urban Village Subarea Plan proposed in November of 2009, Samish Way will be slowly transformed into a “gateway to Bellingham.” The plan outlined a plan that could potentially add 1,291 housing units and 612,250 square feet designated for commercial use by 2022.
                “It’s all part of eventual development in that particular area,” Bornemann said.