MakingBlaine more appealing to walkers

Published on Thu, Dec 22, 2005 by ara Nelson

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Making Blaine more appealing to walkers

By Tara Nelson

More bike lanes, wider sidewalks, view corridors, open spaces, and lots of trees were some of the things that Dan Burden suggested could improve the walkability of Blaine and Birch Bay.

Burden, a senior urban designer with the Glatting Jackson design firm in Florida and executive director of Walkable Communities, a non-profit organization, visited Blaine, Birch Bay, and other Whatcom County communities earlier this month to perform walkability audits.
His visit was sponsored by the community transportation advisory group (CTAG), a citizen group formed to involve Whatcom County residents in the planning and implementation of the county’s transportation policies.

In Birch Bay, Burden was joined by Kathy Berg, a member of CTAG and chair of the Birch Bay steering committee, as well as several Birch Bay residents and Whatcom County officials.

Burden said Birch Bay needs a lot of protection, preservation and an understanding of what kind of buildings should be built there. He used the Sand Castle building currently under construction on Birch Bay Drive and the Sands building on Birch Bay Drive and Harborview Road as examples.

“People can draw their own conclusions, but which building looks like it belongs there?” he said.

In Blaine, Burden was joined by a handful of city officials including community planning director Terry Galvin, city manager Gary Tomsic and public utilities director Steve Banham.

Burden suggested building a pedestrian overpass above the railroad tracks near downtown Blaine, and constructing a roundabout at the intersection of Marine Drive and Peace Portal Drive.

“A roundabout has a lot of benefits. They eliminate delay at all times of the day, they also are much safer — 80 to 90 percent of all injuries occur at intersections,” he said. “They’re better for pedestrians because they slow traffic down. They are quieter, too.”

Burden said the average community can expect approximately 25 percent more traffic every 10 years; more intersections failing; people spreading out into canyons, ridges and other high risk locations; and more cars per household.

“Add to that the fact that the whole Whatcom County is about to explode with growth,” he said.

Galvin agreed and said he was enthusiastic about making Blaine pedestrian friendly and said he wanted to do this by keeping building codes to human scale and pushing taller buildings back from Peace Portal Drive with the planned boardwalk under construction linking urban pathways to downtown.

“You need a certain density, too,” Burden said, adding that an appropriate density for Blaine’s downtown is about 20 living units per acre. “Because you want people coming down here for things they can’t get other places, much as Fairhaven draws people out of Bellingham.”

Galvin also expressed concern about keeping height restrictions and maintaining view corridors as well as parking downtown.

“All street-end views should be sacred, and protected as such,” Burden agreed. “Honor the view shed as sacrosanct, and do that by working out higher densities mid-block first. Put the higher buildings on the east side of Peace Portal Way, and back behind shorter ones in front.”

Burden also warned of the difficulties of off-street parking and instead, recommended back-in angle parking to prevent collisions.

“Off-street parking takes three times as much land as on-street parking,” he said. “Don’t be too ready to do that. When you do, don’t make it look like a parking structure. Put stores in it.”

He also mentioned slowing down traffic by narrowing the parking lanes from eight to six feet, such as the ones on Peace Portal near the red caboose, widening bike lanes, and making the stripe between traffic lanes thicker. This, he said, will make the road feel narrower and likely encourage people to slow down.

Burden suggested increasing the size of tree wells currently in the middle of Blaine sidewalks or moving the trees to the current parking lane where they would take up more room but create the feel of more open sidewalks. “Remember, the land is very valuable but trees are even more valuable,” he said. “People spend 12 percent more time in a shopping area with trees as opposed to one without.”

Some participants asked about the Norway Maples that currently occupy the sidewalk growing up and obscuring signs.

“People come in to an area to spend money because of one, the attractiveness of the building and two, the window displays,” he said. “Not signs!”

Editor’s note: Jack Kintner contributed to this story.