Opinion

EDITORIAL | Freeland pedestrian concerns are valid

State lawmakers and road officials will convene with Freeland residents, business leaders and representatives of the Island County Housing Authority this month. The topic under discussion: pedestrian safety associated with Sunny View Village, a 26-unit affordable housing development currently under construction in Freeland.

The project has taken a lot of flak over the years, some of it warranted and some of it not so much. Safety, however, is not a baseless complaint and this is one concern that decision-makers should not take lightly or simply cast off as just another gripe from nimbies who don’t like the development.

Freeland is growing. It’s not a one-horse town anymore and hasn’t been for a long time. Along with being an urban growth area, a legal designation given to locales that no longer fit the bill as rural, it’s the economic hub of the South End. It’s home to the largest private employer on South Whidbey (Nichols Brothers Boat Builders), a grocery store, retail shops, a host of restaurants and commercial businesses, gas stations, a post office, a retirement home — it even has a satellite police station for sheriff’s deputies. Thousands of people visit Freeland every day, and have houses in and around the surrounding area.

It’s for the above reasons that the housing authority decided Freeland was the place in greatest need for affordable housing. They were right, and Sunny View Village is a positive addition to the community, but that doesn’t warrant a lack of appropriate infrastructure or mitigation.

Coupeville is a good example. The town is bisected by Highway 20, with a retirement home and residential areas on one side and amenities on the other. In the past decade, at least two people were killed crossing the road near an intersection with no traffic light, along with a string of traffic accidents. Complaints were common, but action wasn’t taken until recently when the speed limit was lowered.

That people had to die, and others injured, before something was done is unacceptable.

The housing authority’s plan to mitigate pedestrian safety concerns with jaywalking prohibitions built into tenant leases simply won’t fit the bill. And state officials mustn’t balk about the cost or unpopularity of traffic improvements when lives are at stake.

Growth has many benefits, but they aren’t free and the price tag isn’t just dollars and cents — it’s responsibility. The cost of a single life, on any day of the week, far exceeds the expense or inconvenience of a traffic light.

 

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