Poulsbo City Council agrees to make Fjord Drive one-way, gives nod to Summer Fair

As part of the city’s COVID-19 response plan, the Poulsbo City Council approved this month changes to Fjord Drive and Mayor Becky Erickson’s voluntary “Summer Fair” proposal.

Fjord Drive has long been both a popular walking, running and biking route given its proximity to downtown Poulsbo, but it is relatively narrow for such a heavily-trafficked road and only has a sidewalk on one side. Currently, there is a five-foot sidewalk and an average of 11 feet of roadway on the northbound side and about nine feet of roadway on the southbound side.

A proposed change to make Fjord a one-way street southbound was passed 5-2 by the council at its July 1 meeting; though all seven council members agreed that changes were necessary, the two dissenting votes from Connie Lord and David Musgrove were cast because they wanted to use the city’s own money to pay for the project rather than COVID-19 funds.

“I just feel like if we really have our minds set on doing a one-way on Fjord, why not just dip into our reserves and use it and free that money up, the COVID money, for COVID purposes that are more direct?” Lord asked.

Fjord will become a one-way street southbound between Hostmark and 6th Avenue. The northbound lane will become a shared-use path for cyclists and pedestrians.

“We want to make sure what we do out there is safe,” said Public Works Superintendent Mike Lund at a prior meeting when this was first proposed. “We want to make sure what we do out there is complaint with MUTCD. We don’t want to do any undue risk to the city, or to the pedestrians or the citizens out there.”

The city undertook an outreach initiative to ask residents in the area about the possible changes and city officials said they were generally receptive to the idea.

“I think all of us have received a lot of feedback on this proposal, most of it favorable, particularly from residents in that area, as well as outside the area,” said council member Gary McVey, who lives in the area as well. “It’s a very popular pedestrian walkway and biking area.”

Funding for the $60,000 to $70,000 project was the source of disagreement. Lord argued that the COVID-19 funds the city has received should remain set aside for more direct COVID-related uses. However, council member Britt Livdahl countered that this project might not be moving forward at all if it weren’t for the pandemic.

Livdahl said COVID had made Fjord drive “a really acute” issue as people move on and off the sidewalk and into the roadway in order to maintain physical distancing.

“It quite frankly feels like a lawsuit waiting to happen,” Livdahl said.

Erickson relayed her own experiences seeing residents walking in the roadway with their back to traffic or walking on the northbound side of the road that does not have a sidewalk in order to keep their distance as well.

“I went down and I checked it out, and people are jumping off the sidewalks because of COVID,” Erickson said. “It’s because they’re trying to get the physical distance, the six feet of distance for walking and they’re literally getting off the sidewalk. Not only that, they’re walking with their backs to traffic.”

In explaining his ‘no’ vote, Musgrove called it a “mistake” that changes to Fjord hadn’t been in prior budgets and that more changes would likely be necessary, perhaps all the way out to the city limits. He expressed his concern that any further improvements could be left behind if this isn’t paid for with city funds.

“I want to use regular funding sources so that it gets carried forward properly,” Musgrove said.

Summer Fair approved

The council passed unanimously Erickson’s “Summer Fair” proposal, which essentially relaxes city code and allows businesses to expand out into public spaces as they see fit.

Participation is completely voluntary and would not involve the closure of any streets, including Front Street.

However, the idea isn’t limited to just downtown. Any place of business, including those in Poulsbo Village and College Marketplace could apply to expand their footprint if they chose to do so.

“All I’m trying to do with the summer fair proposal is put forward the idea that in a time of crisis … that sometimes we have to loosen regulations to give people more freedom and more flexibility to run their businesses,” Erickson said.

The council did nix the ideas of closing King Harald Vei to add tables and allowing businesses to use parking spaces in the street or sidewalk on Front Street, though they approved of the idea of adding more tables, chairs and places to sit in Waterfront Park so that residents could grab takeout and find more places to eat outside.

Businesses will have to go through an application process and are only limited by what the city approves and disapproves. The idea is to allow businesses to be creative in how they expand their footprint in order to help stem the loss of business due to the pandemic.

“It’s going to be an evolving process,” said council member Jeff McGinty.