Who’s got the ferry traffic ‘beat’ in Edmonds? At the moment, no one

A WSP vehicle sighting at the Edmonds Ferry Terminal Wednesday — but it wasn’t for traffic control.

This story started with a July 24 My Edmonds News commentary from Peggy and Ralph Sanders.

“It seems there are,” wrote Peggy Sanders, “no traffic officers anymore so waiting lines for the ferry are now blocking the pedestrian crosswalks and often the intersections at Dayton and Sunset.”

She and others want to know why.

State Patrol officer Mike Walstad and his K-9 partner, Bacy.

But, what’s this? On Wednesday, My Edmonds News found State Patrol officer Mike Walstad and his K-9 partner, Bacy, parked in the holding lanes at the corner of Main and Sunset.

Don’t get your hopes up.  Mike and Bacy were running a federal Department of Homeland Security exercise.

Back on the job.

Bacy, a German Shorthair, is an explosives-sniffing dog, was getting in a little practice checking cars waiting for the next boat. Walstad, a 22-year veteran, said that if there was a traffic problem or accident while he is there, he would certainly respond, but that’s not his beat.

Turns out, Edmonds ferry traffic is not anyone’s beat.

Off-duty Edmonds cops have not patrolled ferry traffic since 2016. That’s when a State Patrol contract with a private contractor to hire off-duty Edmonds officers ran out.

At that time, Lt. Troy Tomaras of the Washington State Patrol’s Homeland Security Division, said it wasn’t necessary to staff the Main Street intersection with any officers. WSP conducted an in-depth study of the Edmonds traffic plan and duties, and determined it wasn’t necessary to have a law enforcement officer at the Main Street intersection, he said in an email. Instead, that intersection can be “adequately staffed” with a Washington State Ferries (WSF) employee and/or flagger, “which will save the State Patrol between $75,000 and $100,000 per year.”

A ferry worker directing traffic at Main Street.

The Edmonds police, the state patrol and the ferry system all say they don’t have the money to hire anybody to handle those intersections; that’s why ferry system workers are there.

Here is where it gets complicated. The police, state patrol and ferry system all say it should be up to the “other guy” to pay for traffic control if necessary.

State Patrol Director of Communications Chris Loftis said in an email earlier this week that last October, the WSP and WSF signed an agreement that if the ferry system wanted traffic patrols, it had to put in an order for them at Edmonds, and the state patrol would do that. But, Loftis added, “On July 1, 2020, after a transition period lasting more than one year, WSF terminated the master agreement with WSP and assumed all responsibility for contracting and scheduling uniformed traffic control services outside the terminals, system wide.”

Ian Sterling, communications chief for the ferries, said that traffic control should be up to the state patrol, State Department of Transportation or Edmonds police. “There’s no money for traffic control in the budget,” Sterling said. “We run ferries, not cars.”

Ferry traffic backed up earlier this month on Sunset Avenue and Dayton Street. (Photo by Ralph Sanders)

According to Edmonds Police spokesperson Josh McClure, “there has been a great deal of back and forth between the two (State Patrol and ferries), but the short story is that they have both pretty much washed their hands of it and are no longer providing traffic control at any of the terminal locations.” Edmonds police, McClure added, “do not have the staffing to provide full-time traffic control.”

Of course, Edmonds police say they will respond if there is traffic trouble.

To help ease some congestion, the ferry system will install an “on-demand” traffic light at Dayton, which ferry flaggers can control just like the one on Main Street. But Sterling said he does not know when that will happen.

And, he added, what ferry workers are seeing on the ground this summer in Edmonds is an “improvement on years past.” If you want real ferry traffic snarls, said Sterling, that is happening in Kingston and Mukilteo, not Edmonds.

— By Bob Throndsen

16 Replies to “Who’s got the ferry traffic ‘beat’ in Edmonds? At the moment, no one”

  1. Public safety should come first, and the problems at the ferry terminal warrant a police presence. “Passing the ‘who-should-pay’ buck” is no excuse. Trained traffic officers should be controlling both the Main Street and Dayton intersections during high-volume times. WSF staff are most concerned with getting the boat loaded and not with general traffic flow at Main Street. Ferry patrons are worried someone may cut in from Dayton or with a U-turn from Sunset to ace them out at the toll booth and thus move into the intersection when there is not enough room to clear it. Controlling vehicle traffic is a police responsibility, not the ferry system’s. We need to stop the turf/money war and make public safety and convenience the priority.

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    1. SR-104 is a state highway, so therefore policing of it is the responsibility of the state. They simply decided that they don’t want to spend money anymore carrying out their responsibility. This is an issue that could be dealt with by our state representatives.

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  2. I guess my initial thought is, let’s not assume facts not in evidence. I am not discounting the Sanders’ experience trying to navigate the intersection. But at the same time the WSP say they studied the traffic flows and did not feel an officer was needed, and the WSF, per Ian Sterling, said that traffic is worse at Mukilteo and Kingston.

    Getting all drivers to follow all laws at all times and to be courteous to fellow drivers and pedestrians would be a daunting and expensive task.

    Governmental resources, that is our taxes, are like a pie. If we the city, WSP or WSF take a piece of the pie to fund an officer then some other need will not get a piece. Or we buy a bigger pie, that is increase our taxes. Considering this, perhaps the “on demand” traffic light at Dayton will be a onetime expense that will help to minimize the problem.

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    1. To whom are you attributing “assumed facts”? I presented only facts, and I believe that Mr. Caldwell’s comments are also factual. Mr. Sterling’s alleged statement is ridiculous. Because some other places are worse makes ours ok!!
      I’ll leave it to a traffic engineer to make a decision on an “on demand” traffic light. I do know that that will not fix the situation at Main St. where WSF people are interested only in getting vehicles onto their ferries with often no interest in pedestrians waiting forever to make a crossing.

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  3. The blocked crosswalk and obstructed lanes of Dayton are an alarmingly regular occurrence. It happens almost daily, especially during busy ferry traffic times.
    This poses a real safety hazard for pedestrians, for cross traffic on Dayton, and especially for anyone with a mobility disability. It’s bad enough for pedestrians to have to squeeze between the cars in the line, or to have veer into a traffic lane just to cross the street, but it has to be almost impossible for someone in a wheelchair or scooter or with a walker. Please notice that Edmonds Landing, a long term care community, is right at that corner.
    I’ve been told that a disability rights advocate is monitoring the intersection daily.
    Ian Sterling’s response that “We run ferries, not cars,” is mouth-droppingly absurd.
    According to Police Chief James Lawless, “I have personally had several conversations with the WSP, given SR 104 is a state route (and the ferry is an extension of that), but neither they nor WSF is willing to budge at this point. We respond to issues as they arise and deal with them as best we can, but we do not have the staffing to provide full time traffic control.”
    For now, he suggests calling the Edmonds Police non-emergency number, 425-771-0200, to report serious violations.
    Ferry line cutters can be reported at https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/travel/highways-bridges/hov/report-violator.
    Thanks to Council Member, Vivian Olson, for her help with this story.

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  4. For decades off duty Edmonds officers provided traffic control at both intersections. Mainly during the summer, weekends and during peak holiday traffic. These officers also mitigated many other hazards besides traffic at these intersections. They would keep traffic clear at SR104 and Pine, monitor lane cutters, and jump dead car batteries which delay ferries. All of these duties are of value to WSF. Without the WSF taking ownership of this the 911 system and EPD will be on the hook.

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    1. You’re absolutely right, Peter. In 2016 they apparently concluded that things were too good at Edmonds compared to Mukilteo and Kingston, so instead of making improvements at M & K they made a decision that worsened the Edmonds situation.

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  5. Ron had the best idea … put up traffic cameras . Both at main and Dayton the ferry people will quickly get the idea that a $125 ticket fit blocking the crosswalk or an illegal turn might not be worth it .

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  6. I don’t know whether this is also a recent regular development, but as of 3:30 today, there are also no barricades across Pine Street below 3rd Avenue. I haven’t been out at this time on a Friday this year I guess, but those barricades used to be out well before 3:00 in the past, to keep people from driving down to Edmonds Way during heavy traffic periods. I wonder if this is another budget consequence, a COVID casualty, or just an anomaly today?

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  7. I’ve seen agile people in internet videos walk into the side of cars blocking the crosswalk. When the driver got out to complain, the pedestrians would point out to them that they have right of way in the crosswalk. Some of them would even climb over the cars’ hoods in defiance.

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    1. Years ago, I was in the U-district one day and a car pulled into the crosswalk on Brooklyn at 45th. There was a tall, slender man waiting to walk, and the car was now in his way. He looked at the car, shook his head in disbelief or disgust, and turned away. He took two steps, turned back around, stepped quickly at the car and then leapt over the entire front end of the car in the crosswalk. When he landed, he kept walking like it was no big deal. Everyone else on at the intersection just started applauding.

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  8. I vote for the idea of photo cameras to enforce blocking and cutting in issues. I got caught on a school camera on Greenwood in Seattle a couple years ago costing me over $200. Believe me, I remember to slow down in that area now or ,try to avoid it altogether. Word would travel fast I suspect. Just the photo enforced signs would have a great positive affect in curbing abuses.

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  9. I drove thru the intersection on Dayton this morning. I was at a red light in the left turn lane onto SR-104 headed east. For the couple of minutes that I waited there I observed cars headed to the ferry constantly blocking the crosswalks. Do ferry users believe that laws do not apply to them? This, of course, did not happen when the police handled traffic there.

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