Slowdown doesn’t faze cyclists — WSDOT cuts shadow service by half, but bike commuters remain determined

Dennis Pierce enters the Department of Transportation work zone on SR-3 accompanied by the project’s shadow vehicle Tuesday. Tuesday was the first day of the DOT using just one shadow vehicle at the project. - Tom James/staff photo
Dennis Pierce enters the Department of Transportation work zone on SR-3 accompanied by the project’s shadow vehicle Tuesday. Tuesday was the first day of the DOT using just one shadow vehicle at the project.
— image credit: Tom James/staff photo

Bicycle commuters at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard will faced a new development on their SR-3 ride to work Tuesday morning, as the state Department of Transportation cut its unique “shadow car” program by half.

Jerry Moore, DOT project manager overseeing the SR-3 road work, said Thursday that the service was being scaled back from two cars to one roving car, but that the hours when the car would be available were staying the same.

The cars escort cyclists through a quarter-mile section of SR-3 that is temporarily without shoulders during work to prevent rockfall from nearby cliffs.

“We’re going down to one vehicle,” said Moore, “because we have a track record of how many bicycles are going through, and we should be able to cover that with one vehicle.”

Steve Roark,  DOT assistant region administrator for construction, said that about 11 cyclists per day had been counted going through the area in the first five days of the project.

Cyclists were counted in both directions, he said, so the number is for total trips through the work zone, not necessarily the actual number of individuals moving through the area.

“We expect to have service every 10 minutes. That could be affected by heavy traffic volumes, but I think that’s a reasonable expectation,” Roark said.

Moore said the move represented the second cut to the service since the start of the project about two weeks ago.

Initially, he said, DOT provided four vehicles in response to predictions by local cycle advocates of a large number of cyclists moving through the area.

When the number moving through appeared to be smaller, he said, they scaled back to two vehicles.

The vehicles cost the state $78 per hour, Moore said. They operate between 6 and 9 a.m. and between 3 and 6 p.m., a total of six hours. The reduction will save the state more than $13,000 on the project.

Shadows helpful

Cyclists using the corridor had mixed feelings about the change Thursday.

Suzanne Diesen, who said she rides from Port Orchard to the shipyard three or four days per week and uses the shadow vehicles every day, said that she thought the cut was a bad idea, but that she would try waiting for the shadow vehicles.

Ten minutes wouldn’t be too long to wait, she said, but fifteen would. If the wait stretched beyond that, Diesen said she would probably consider using another mode of transportation.

“That’s a long time to stand [next to] traffic,” said Diesen. “And when you wait you cool down. I like to keep moving.”

Diesen said that overall she felt like the shadow cars were very helpful, and that she hadn’t had any negative interactions with drivers.

“I just ride up, signal the guy, and he follows me. It works like clockwork,” she said. “It is so dangerous otherwise.”

Another shipyard commuter, Dennis Pierce, said he only rides with the shadow car on about half of his 10 weekly trips through the zone now, the rest of the time riding in traffic on his own. But, he said, he plans to start using the shadow car more when the weather, and the visibility, deteriorates later in the month.

“That’s what the escort car provides for you besides shielding, is visibility,” said Pierce.

Pierce said one of the main reasons he often doesn’t use the shadow car now is that he doesn’t feel certain it will return to pick him up. At least once, he said, he has arrived during its posted hours of operation but not seen the shadow vehicle. If the shadow car is there, he said, he uses it, but if not he continues without it.

Once the weather deteriorates, though, Pierce said, he will start waiting for the escort.

“The risk is just too high. In the dry the cars can see me, but in the rain and the dark, I don’t want to chance it.”

If the escort is unreliable, he said, he will start taking the foot ferry.

Diesen agreed. “There’s so little space for a person to ride,” she said.

“People are groggy in the morning and want to go fast. Without that vehicle there it would be very dangerous and I would not want to ride my bike.”

Cliff Olin, a cycling advocate at PSNS who has represented shipyard commuters at meetings with the DOT, said that despite negative reports in local media, what direct feedback he has received on the shadow cars has been positive.

Olin said he thought the DOT move was driven partly by that negative coverage, but that he didn’t feel cyclists were losers in the change.

“We understood when we set it up that it would be a work in progress,” Olin said.

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