The intersection of Harborview Drive and Pioneer Way is the focal point of downtown Gig Harbor. Centrally located in the heart of the business district, the three-way stop connects downtown with traffic going east down the hill to the waterfront.
Some people in downtown say it’s also an often dangerous place, both for drivers and pedestrians.
“It’s very dangerous,” said Bill Fogarty, the president of Waters Edge Gallery & Framery, which sits just up the hill at 7808 Pioneer Way. “I’ve been hearing more and more complaints from people.”
At issue are poor sightlines and, often, a lack of attention paid to crosswalks, Fogarty said. Last week, he saw a mail carrier dodge a driver who rolled into a crosswalk while she checked her cell phone, and he’s observed many similar incidents from his store’s front window.
Sightlines for pedestrians and drivers are complicated by the brick wall and planter that sits at the intersection’s east end in front of the Windermere Real Estate office at 3111 Harborview Drive.
“The problem is, when they redid (the building) they made the planter too high,” Fogarty said. “People walking can’t see over it, and drivers can’t see around it.”
The wall originally was built in 1989 after a dump truck crashed into the former Harbor Inn Restaurant, located in the same building. That accident killed one of the restaurant’s waitresses, and the City of Gig Harbor constructed a low wall outside as a buffer against out-of-control traffic coming down Pioneer Way.
In a second accident on the morning of Sept. 17, 2008, a driver crashed his sport utility vehicle through the wall and into the then-unoccupied restaurant space. The accident left the building damaged for months, and the city eventually replaced the wall with the steel- and concrete-reinforced brick planter that currently stands.
“That isn’t just decorative brick,” said Warren Zimmerman, the president and CEO of the Gig Harbor Chamber of Commerce, who was exercising at 123fit, a former gym in the building, when the 2008 crash occurred.
Zimmerman, who tried to help pull the SUV’s driver out of the dusty wreckage after the crash, understands the need for the wall. But he acknowledged its placement also creates a blind spot at the Pioneer and Harborview intersection, particularly crossing Harborview from the wall’s north end.
“When you try to cross going west, it’s tough for the driver and the pedestrian both,” Zimmerman said, noting that the slope of the sidewalk up toward the wall also obscures pedestrian activity from cars on Harborview.
After the city built the brick planter and repaved much of the sidewalk following the 2008 accident, modifications were made to try to make the intersection safer. Trucks are no longer allowed to drive down the steep hill of Pioneer Way into downtown. Now, they must enter downtown via Burnham Drive.
Crosswalks also were adjusted, and warning signs were installed after residents informed the city of ongoing safety concerns, said city engineer Stephen Misiurak said.
“We had some complaints about crossing at first,” Misiurak said.
To that end, the city condensed the intersection’s three crosswalks, moving the southernmost crosswalk closer to the intersection to create more awareness of pedestrians. Signs to alert drivers to watch for pedestrians, and pedestrians to watch for cars, were installed on each side of the brick planter and across the street in front of Heidi’s Sweet Shop.
Since then, Misiurak said he hasn’t heard of any complaints filed with the city about the intersection.
Cheryl Eads, the owner of Reverence Jewelry Design Gallery at the intersection’s southwest corner, said she’s both observed and experienced nervous moments as she’s crossed the street in front of her business.
“To get to my store, you cross from (the west) side of the wall,” Eads said. “Sometimes it’s like, ‘Whoa, do they even see me?’ ”
While Eads said her store’s location is mostly a great spot — she sees a lot of foot traffic from sightseers and shoppers downtown — she thinks the intersection creates problems.
“Sometimes there’s road rage,” she said. “I hear people honking a lot. I think they need to put in crosswalk lights, like they have down at Skansie Brothers Park.”
Farther down Harborview Drive, in front of the park and at the intersection with Dorotich Street, large crosswalk signs and mounted warning lights alert drivers to the coming crosswalk.
Eads said she believes similar lights at Pioneer Way would slow drivers down and facilitate the flow of car and foot traffic through the intersection.
Part of the issue for pedestrians is the steady traffic on Harborview Drive, which remains consistent throughout the day and only increases during the summer tourism months, said Shannon Anstett, an agent at Fournier Insurance Solutions, which has an office in the 3111 building.
“It gets so congested,” Anstett said. “I can’t pull my car out from our parking lot – if I’m lucky, somebody lets me in.”
The congestion of traffic, along with the crosswalks and the visibility issues, can create a mess in front of the Fournier office during rush hour. Anstett said she hopes the city is working to address the issue.
“They need to put a board together and discuss it,” she said.
Misiurak said the City of Gig Harbor has no plans to work on the intersection. He said the signage and crosswalks are up to code.
“Right now, we’re satisfied with the way it’s been operating,” Misiurak said.