Businesses say 1st Avenue and Main Street signal change has hurt business

A southbound car waits on 1st Avenue to turn onto Main Street after the traffic signals had been removed 2017-12-5
A southbound car waits on 1st Avenue to turn onto Main Street after the traffic signals had been removed (December 5, 2017). Photo via Discover Ferndale webcam
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At last night’s Ferndale City Council meeting, business owner Steve Martinson addressed the council and City of Ferndale (COF) staff during the public comments segment. He explained how, since the implementation of the traffic signal change at 1st Avenue and Main Street, he has seen his retail business drop off enough that he has had to lay off nearly half his staff.

According to Martinson, who operates Ferndale True Value Hardware on the corner of 1st Avenue and Main Street, his sales have consistently fallen by more than 10% month over month since April when the signals were changed to allow Main Street traffic to flow through the intersection without interruption.

Martinson said, during the same period, his staffing level has gone from 7 to 4 employees due to the loss in business.

Typically, people that speak during the public comment segment of the City Council meetings do not expect an immediate response but Mayor Jon Mutchler asked Public Works Director Kevin Renz to speak on the subject.

Business owner Steve Martinson speaks to City Council during opening comment period 2017-12-4
Business owner Steve Martinson speaks to City Council during the public comment period of the City Council Meeting (December 4, 2017). Photo: Discover Ferndale
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Renz told Martinson there had not been a final decision on the traffic signal change as they needed to “have regular traffic patterns in place” before a comparison traffic count could be done to measure any potential benefit. The Slater Road closure displaced an unusual volume of traffic onto Main Street which delayed doing a count. The scheduling of conducting a new traffic count by the City’s traffic engineering contractor has begun according to Renz.

Renz pointed out the subsequent removal of the signal lights was not an indication of a permanent change but a response to the confusion the blinking yellow and red lights seem to cause drivers on all legs of the intersection. Renz said, “If the studies show the change didn’t produce a benefit, those [signal lights] could be reinstalled.”

Renz said a presentation of the anticipated new traffic count data to the City Council by the City’s traffic engineering contractor is hoped to be on the agenda for the February 5th City Council meeting.

Mayor Mutchler added he had been to the Ferndale True Value Hardware store earlier in the day and felt the delays he encountered at the intersection when arriving and departing were no more than he would have expected if the signals were still in place and functioning as they were before the change.

When asked today, Main Street Bar & Grill Owner John Wirts said that, while he hasn’t seen a drop in his business, he has had to give up walking over to Martinson’s hardware store. “Crossing Main Street at that intersection isn’t even worth attempting,” Wirts said. “Instead, I will walk to my truck, drive around the block and park next to the hardware store. And then I will drive back and park, all just to go across the street.”

Other businesses adjacent to the intersection echoed Wirts’ and Martinson’s concerns today when asked. All expressed concern for the safety of Central Elementary students who have to cross Main Street to get to school and get home afterwards. A reduction in the amount of foot traffic and complaints from customers about how difficult it was to access nearby businesses were also common concerns voiced.

One business person, who requested to remain anonymous, said, “of all the places in the area to make it harder for people to get around, the area adjacent to the Riverwalk Park, Ferndale Farmers Market, the access route to Pioneer Park, the entry to downtown and one block from an elementary school was deemed the place to do it.”


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14 COMMENTS

  1. Push Thorton thru to Vista. we don’t need rush hour traffic guided through mainstreet, Leave it open for people who want to shop, or cross the street. Give me a quicker way to get home.

    • Amen to connecting Thornton through to Portal Way. If only the Railroad would let the city build the overpass. I don’t get why they don’t; it won’t bother them at all.
      While the absence of the 1st Ave light may make straight through traffic flow better, cross traffic and turning traffic suffer greatly. Even if it might not objectively be that much worse getting in and out of True Value, there’s something to be said for the convenience factor that the light offers. Without it, people’s perception is that it’s too hard to get in and out, so they just don’t bother trying and end up doing business somewhere else.

      • The railroad has expressed no hesitance about the overcrossing and only needs to review the designs for obvious reasons. But they are not a likely source for the $10 million or more needed to get the project fully under way.

        What gave you the impression the RR was an obstacle?

      • Unfortunately for that proposal, the City negotiated the closure of both the Thornton Street and 2nd Avenue RR crossings many years ago. In return, (if memory serves) the Washington Street crossing was improved by BNSF (at the time you had to reduce your speed to under 20mph when crossing the tracks at Washington to avoid damaging your vehicle) and Griffintown Park developed and deeded to the City by BNSF. The railroad’s goal is to minimize the number of crossings and will close any that can be. So reopening a closed crossing would require closing others.

        What’s silly about this is how people have failed to realize the bypass into north Ferndale already exists. Leaving town via Brown Road and then to Portal, while a longer distance, takes less time given the higher speed limits and lack of traffic controls (ie lights and stop signs). But it’s too hard for many to drive the opposite direction even though it bypasses traffic jams and utilizes much high speed limits.

        Anyone who lives north of downtown should be aware of their ability to exit northbound at Portal Way and TURN RIGHT (skipping the left turn backup) onto Portal Way. Following Portal Way to Brown Road and then taking Brown Road to Malloy, Vista or Church utilizes roads that are 35mph or more, bypasses the off-ramp mess and the right turn onto Vista from Washington choke point. It’s smooth sailing all the way with potentially only 1 stop (at Vista and Brown) for some. And the reverse applies when leaving town. This beats spending $30 million and it is ready to use now. NOTE: doing this via Grandview Road is not advised given the traffic challenges Grandview Road already faces around the Portal Way intersection.

    • Or a walk across bridge across main for pedestrians and children to safely go across..Ferndale is way overpopulated for the size of the city it needs a lot of upgrading.I avoid Ferndale between 4-6-6:30 just because of the jam ups in traffic mom-fri’s lack of funding for upgrades always seems to be an issue.

    • I totally agree and have been thinking the same thing. Since that light has been taken out, I have to remind myself to watch for pedestrians there.

  2. In addition to the 1-5-Portal Way-Brown option, don’t underestimate Slater to Imhoff to Main. This is my go-to almost everyday! The difference even with light traffic on Mainnis maybe two minutes on a bad day, faster on Friday afternoon.

    • Agreed and perhaps that is a better option to propose to the masses given it doesn’t require the need to drive, albeit even only a short distance, away from the destination as is required for the Portal Way alternative.

  3. What if the decline in business is infact due to high traffic on Main St? I refuse to shop in such a crowded area, plus parking is always a problem. I feel the light being taken out helped improve traffic somewhat. I hope is not added back.
    Also, I feel that directing such a high percentage of the traffic thru Main St was done on purpose, perhaps to bring more business to downtown.

  4. Having kids going to Central it is a pain in the mornings and afternoons without the light honestly so we take different streets. I don’t see how business has slowed that isn’t an easy place to get in or out of even before when the light was there due to no parking. How about syncing the lights to make traffic flow? I’ve noticed they aren’t and one will be red while others are green and maybe 3 or 4 cars get through then a backup. In the 4+ years we’ve lived here it’s gotten a lot worse traffic wise! It’s nothing compared to where we used to live but for a small town it’s pretty significant so alt routes are the way we go if we don’t need to go downtown after 3:30-6:30.

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