A proposal to stage a “pocket park” in front of the entrance to the Burwell Street pedestrian tunnel in Bremerton met with vocal and at times heated opposition during a public forum in Bremerton on Tuesday.
The park would block a section of Park Avenue to traffic just north of Burwell Street in favor of a walkable streetscape with tables and chairs, planters and other decorative touches.
Notwithstanding 57 percent public support according to an online survey circulated by the city, opponents attended the meeting at the Norm Dicks Government Center hosted by city engineer Tom Knuckey. Most said they worried the park would impede traffic flow downtown.
“It’s not just a happy little park,” said Laura Kneib, owner of a specialty soap shop on 5th Street, FROG Soap. “It’s another blockage in town that makes it more difficult to get around.”
The pocket park is meant to improve pedestrian safety, officials said. An average of 3,300 people use the pedestrian tunnel – which connects downtown Bremerton to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard – each day, and 1,100 use it during peak hour, according to a 2017 study.
“There’s a lot of [pedestrians] that just walk right through the street” to reach their cars at a nearby parking lot at day’s end, Knuckey said.
The study showed relatively low vehicle traffic during peak hour, just 250 vehicles, a high number of pedestrians, and a number of accidents. Since 2013, there have been 10 accidents at the intersection of Park Avenue and Burwell Street including a fatal motorcycle collision. One pedestrian and one bicyclist have also been hit, Knuckey said.
“We have very high pedestrians. We have very low vehicles,” Knuckey said. “So we’re trying to figure out, what can we do to try and make this safer?”
Owners of both Jimmy John’s and the SEEfilm movie theater, two businesses located on the stretch of Park Avenue in question, said they supported the idea.
But opponents said the road blockage would make it harder for people – potential customers for Bremerton businesses – to access the downtown core.
“You’re shooting yourself in the foot to try and get people to shop in downtown by closing off one of the main routes to get there,” one woman said.
Joe Hudson, owner of a trophies and kitchen supply store in Bremerton, pointed to other recent traffic control measures like adding a bike lane on Washington Avenue, making it one-way, and adding no left turn signs on Warren Avenue that have made it harder to drive in the city.
“Now you want to screw up our main access into Bremerton?” he asked. “It’s totally stupid.”
Chuck Henderson, a retail consultant who has worked with businesses in Bremerton including 7-11, said he worried about the plan.
“The key to retail is access,” he said. “Blocking off Park totally eliminates access.”
For those in support of the measure, they see it as an inviting addition to the growing city that would make it more pedestrian friendly, and even add to a communal atmosphere.
Deborah Woolston, a 30-year Bremerton resident, said she fully supports the idea.
“We need open gathering spaces for people, where they can socialize, relax, get together,” she said. “You see this in every other city.”
During the meeting, which lasted about an hour, Knuckey said that the proposal was just that – a proposal – and that public input would be attended to before the city moves forward. He also said he personally thought the idea was a good one, and at a cost of about $25,000, it would be an “elegant” solution to an emerging problem.
He noted that citizens “aren’t in the middle on this. They’re either strongly for, or strongly against.” Mayor Greg Wheeler also weighed in, saying he had more to consider.
“We have circulation problems,” he said. “I’m not convinced that this doesn’t hurt our circulation problems.”