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North Central Region Newsletter - June 2014

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June 27, 2014

Welcome to the June North Central Region WSDOT monthly newsletter. This issue focuses on stories with only two wheels!

Among the six new "U.S. Bicycle Routes" approved this month by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) is the first designated route in the system in Washington State. It is SR 20 which includes the North Cascades Highway section with Rainy and Washington Passes, Loup Loup summit, Wauconda summit and Sherman Pass in the Eastern Region. SR 20 is referred to as U.S.B.R. #10 on the U.S. Bike plan and covers 416 miles with 172 miles of side routes including connections to British Columbia. SR 20 passes through Skagit, Whatcom, Okanogan, Ferry, Stevens and Pend Oreille counties and through 18 cities and towns from Anacortes on Fidalgo Island to Newport at the Idaho border.

Eventually "Bike Rt. 10" is to link the northern tier states from Washington to Maine. It does connect us with the effort to complete the National Corridor Plan established in 2005. However it does not include grants or funds for route improvements.

One local bicycle project was completed in time for Memorial Day on SR 150 at Rocky Point between Manson and Chelan. There are new flashing beacons in place to alert drivers to bicyclists ahead. This $16,000 system is the first-of-its-kind. Its solar powered yellow lights are automatically triggered when a bicycle passes, calling attention to the “Narrow Shoulder” and “Watch for Bikes” signs.

The project began three years ago when we were contacted by a Manson resident concerned about the increase in vehicle and bicycle traffic on the highway. Over the next two years, we analyzed traffic and collision data and reached out to residents and user groups who confirmed the need. Flashing beacons were determined the best alternative, but bringing power to the site was too expensive. Eventually, a solar panel system combined with the detection system was developed.

Here's a link to pictures of it on Flickr: www.flickr.com/photos/wsdot/sets/72157644730059387/ 
 
We pushed to get the bike beacons installed by Memorial Day since May was National Bike Month and Washington was honored for the seventh time as the most bicycle friendly state. Bike month is focused on education and safety for both drivers and riders. This also supports WSDOT’s strategic plan - "Modal Integration" is one of six goals. Its priority outcomes are: reducing fatalities and serious injuries, aligning the operation of all modes in strategic corridors for the greatest capacity to move people and freight.

Reducing bicycle fatalities and injuries also aligns with Governor Inslee’s state initiative, the Washington Traffic Safety Commission’s Target Zero program as well as WSDOT’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan. During the past 10 years, our Bicycle/Pedestrian plan has invested $44 million in more than 100 improvement projects at 80 pedestrian and bicycle "risk" locations.

Another "two wheeler" issue getting attention is motorcycle fatalities. While only one was fatal, we've recorded five motorcycle collisions on state highways over the past four weeks in this region. Between now and the end of August, WSDOT, the Department of Licensing and the Traffic Safety Commission are putting up 17 large signs in rest areas across the state to reach both riders and drivers with these messages: “Look Twice-Save a Life - Watch for Motorcycles”, and: “Ride Safe – Ride Sober – Ride Endorsed”.

A motorcyclist is 30 times more likely to die in a wreck than is someone in a car. By the numbers, motorcycles make up 4% of registered vehicles, but accounted for 19% of the fatalities in 2012, up from 15% over the prior 10 years. Speed, running off the road and alcohol top the list of causes.

Two years ago, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the local State Patrol and WSDOT participated in a campaign to raise awareness and try to reduce those numbers on SR 20. One element was an engineering experiment to reduce speeds associated with run off the road collisions on curves. They’re called Optical Speed Bars which are two-foot horizontal stripes painted out from the centerline and fog line on the pavement leading into a curve. The stripes get progressively closer together making you feel like the road is not only narrower, but the lines are flashing by faster making you feel like you're going faster. Your natural inclination is to slow down.

We put them at the "Seven Devils" curves on the east side of Loup-Loup summit on SR 20 between Twisp and Okanogan and at another test site on US 97 near Ruby Creek on Blewett Pass. It's too early to provide any objective conclusions, but there have been NO motorcycle fatalities and the number of crashes has decreased since they were installed. We are now going to re-apply new Optical Speed Bars on a section of SR 20 that was just chip sealed so the test can continue.

Speaking of projects, three were completed over the past couple weeks: the I-90 paver from Vantage to George, the new signal at Woodin and Saunders in Chelan (SR 150 & US 97A) and the eight new rapid flashing beacon pedestrian crossings on Broadway in Moses Lake (SR 171).

One final note: We have an informal "Speakers Bureau" here and welcome the opportunity for one of our "experts" to speak to your council, commission, board, club, class or staff. Just call or email me.
 
If you have any questions on items in this newsletter, or other transportation issues, please let me know. Call me at (509) 667-3001 or send me an e-mail at: sarlesd@wsdot.wa.gov

Dan Sarles
Regional Administrator
WSDOT North Central Region