WALLA WALLA — Nearly 50 supporters of a three-laned Rose Street failed in a last-ditch effort Wednesday to convince Walla Walla City Council members to do away with a four-lane configuration before lane painting was to begin today.
“We knew this was a ‘Hail Mary.’ We knew we were going to get tackled. But we were going to throw the ball,” rally organizer Charles Stanger said after the Council voted unanimously against setting a public meeting that, if approved, would have delayed the lane painting.
A half-hour before the City Council meeting, the supporters gathered across the street from City Hall, holding signs, drinking hot cider and planning their meeting strategy.
Once the meeting started and the public comment section began, Bill Bialozor led off the testimony, noting that supporters had collected more that 300 signatures on a petition calling for three lanes on Rose Street.
A total of five individuals testified over issues of safety, increased visibility and the possibility of future lawsuits because city officials won’t be using a lane configuration that city engineers previously testified as being the safest configuration.
“If we all clearly understand that the engineering data shows us three lanes are safer then four, then the question is why did we go back?” Bialozor asked.
In March, Council originally approved the three-lane configuration, which would have changed Rose Street to two lanes, a single turn lane and bike lanes on both sides of the street.
What followed was a public outcry by local business owners and residents who gathered petition signatures form 125 residents of the neighboring Golden West Estates community and 23 local business owners who complained that the lane reductions would hurt business and homeowners.
The group also criticized the methodology used to determine three lanes were safer than four.
The result was that in May the Council voted to reverse itself and go back to the four lane configuration, which was not what cycling enthusiast and Walla Walla University faculty member Gary Ritenbach wanted.
“Right now we have no good safe corridor to get this way into town,” Rittenbach told the Council on Wednesday. “This would be a much safer and nicer way to get back and forth.”
Unlike the previous meetings over Rose Street’s configuration, the Council did not go back and forth over their decision.
Barbara Clark — who has always voted in favor of the three-lane configuration — motioned to set a public meeting to further discuss lane configuration.
After a short but adamant discussion, the remaining Council members voted 5-1 against holding that meeting. Council member Conrado Cavazos was absent.
“I don’t want to turn Rose Street into this huge thing that it doesn’t want to be. I just want to finish it, and I think the community would like it finished,” Council member Chris Plucker said.
The issue is not necessarily a dead one, as city officials have pointed out that the lanes can be repainted in the future to a three-lane configuration.
Stanger said at this point he would focus his efforts on the upcoming elections.
“I don’t see this project changing,” he said. “I see City Council members changing.”
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.