Walking Downtown Bainbridge Island (and Taking a Look at Their New Complete Street)

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about the ferry to Bainbridge Island, which is of the best mini-day trips that you can do from Seattle without a car. While I covered the trip itself, I didn’t talk about what to expect on the other side. I’m going to correct that right now. Bainbridge Island’s downtown is an easy visit and very walkable. Virtually all of the restaurants and shops are within 15 minutes from the ferry at a casual pace and if you take your time to browse all of the shops and have lunch, Bainbridge Island will give you a solid afternoon retreat from Seattle. It’s a great place to explore yourself, but in this post I’ll share a few of my favorite places downtown.

The ferry itself can carry cars, but bringing a car along doesn’t add anything unless you intend to continue on to the Olympic Penninsula. Instead, just walk to the ferry terminal and then on to the boat. It’s $7.50 for an adult and $6.05 for kids 6-18, but you only pay westbound. The return trip from Bainbridge Island is free on foot (although if you drive, you pay to come back as well). Once you’re off the boat, there are two options to get downtown, the first is along the main street and the second is a more scenic route that goes by the water. When you’re walking up towards Winslow Way, look for the waterfront trail sign if you’d like to take the scenic path.


There are a couple of spots that stand out and are personal favorites here, as well as a place or two that I decided to try this time. I took the opportunity to try Hitchcock’s Delicatessen, which opened adjacent to their established dinner restaurant in the final months of 2011 and Mora Iced Creamery, which has been offering flavors influenced by the tastes of the Argentinian owners since 2006. In addition, I also visited three of my favorite local spots: Blackbird Bakery, Pegasus Coffee, and the Harbor Public House. Stay tuned and after the break we’ll take a photo tour of the area.

Plus, at the very end, we’ll even talk a little planner shop about the new “complete street” improvements that were recently completed on Winslow Way to make it more pedestrian friendly (If you’re feeling impatient, you can jump to that discussion by clicking here).

1. Blackbird Bakery

The ferry cookies are the most popular, naturally.

When you’re walking down Winslow Way on the right side, you’ll eventually meet up with Blackbird Bakery. It’s a small bakery on the corner and a focal point for activity downtown. The coffee is good and their cookies, including one shaped and decorated like a ferry is always a hit with the kids. The shop itself is located on the sunny northern side of the street, which means that sitting here is a great way to warm up in the winter sun (like today) or for enjoying the summer light.

2. Mora Iced Creamery

Behind Blackbird is Mora Iced Creamery. In Spanish, Mora means “Blackberry” which is one of the signature flavors that the owners Ana Orselli and Jerry Perez offer. Along with Marsala wine and egg custard “Sabayon”, Maraschino cherry cream, and “Buenos Aires”, which is Dulce de Leche on more Dulce de Leche, this is a great shop with plenty of seasonal variety and a long list of options. Their flavor selection is pretty massive and samples are free… after you’ve ordered what size you want (a small quirk in their approach). Their sorbets are also a great alternative for those looking for a lighter option (pineapple was my personal favorite). If you’re just walking along the street, you might miss this but in the summer this is sure to be a great stop.

3. Eagle Harbor Book Company

Returning to the main street and crossing to the other side, Eagle Harbor Book Company is a landmark for the downtown area. The store has been here for over four decades and still offers a great selection of books to the community. It’s a quintessential local bookstore and well worth a visit. They even have an online eBook store via Google Books as an alternative to Amazon. While you’re walking through, be sure to stop in and take a look around here.

4. Hitchcock Delicatessen

A half-block down from the book store is the new Hitchcock Delicatessen that just opened a few months back. Almost every part of every item on the menu is done in-house, from the mayonnaise to the bacon and roast beef. Next door is the main restaurant, which opens at 5pm, but the delicatessen offers sandwiches and local products by the pound all day. When we were there, we tried the macaroons and the roast beef sandwich, along with a macchiato. The sandwich was good and the macaroons had the right consistency with good flavors overall (although the rose macaroon was a bit too strong). I’m looking forward to trying some of their other sandwiches and will definitely keep this on my list for the next time I’m here.

5. Pegasus Coffee

After taking a left at Cafe Nola at the end of the block and walking all the way to the waterfront, you’ll end up right by the marina and by some of the best coffee on the island. Pegasus Coffee has been around for nearly three decades and serves up excellent coffee. The building has a lot of charm with Virginia creeper covered brick sides and large storefront windows, plus an outdoor patio for warmer months. Beyond just coffee, Pegasus offers their own tea blends, a selection of local beer and wine, and local baked goods.
  1. Harbour Public House 

A couple of doors down and right along the water there is the island’s best pub: The Harbour Public House. This is a place that serves up some delicious pub fare made with local ingredients and features an expansive selection of local beers on tap, including two cask conditioned beers at any time. They serve up their beer in “honest” pint glasses that are measured in imperial pints, and not the standard US pint. The result? Nearly 20% more beer per pint. During the summer months, their balcony and the water views are great for a evening with friends. It’s also far enough out of the way that it attracts primarily locals looking for a drink as opposed to tourists. Highlights on the menu in my opinion include their fish & chip, the Sunday roast, and  any of their burgers. The best thing though is that this is a welcoming environment and a place where you can relax before walking to catch the boat back to Seattle.


Those are my favorite spots and I’m sure that if you visit, you’ll love them too!

Complete Streets in Bainbridge Island
As mentioned, I’d also like to take a moment to talk about the new Winslow Way redesign. My background  is in urban planning and this is the sort of stuff that interests me when I’m traveling (even when it’s in my own local community). The city has done a major reinvestment in the main street that runs through downtown, and while a lot of the improvements can’t be seen (such as sewer and water mains), there’s a lot to like about the new street now that it’s done.

The aim with the redesign was to move from a traditional suburban street to what’s referred to as a “complete street”. The core value of the complete street concept is that streets are for everyone, including pedestrians, bikes, and (of course) cars. Creating a street that works, is inviting for all users, and improving it as a raw piece of infrastructure is what this redesign was all about (although that goal can sometimes be much more controversial than you would imagine). In the picture above, we have a couple of features that show off the general approach.The first is the the planter boxes (“rain gardens”), which are not there for show. These function as storm water facilities that use the plants and soil to naturally slow and filter runoff. This reduces the overall load on the sewer system and cleans the water without having to process it. As an added bonus, once the plants start to thrive and are established these will be a low maintenance and visually appealing part of the street that helps separate traffic from the areas for pedestrians. This helps create a safe place for people of all ages to walk in their own neighborhood.

The tree in the street seen above is part of this system as well, even though it looks like it’s surrounded by pavement. The pavement is porous, so water is able to soak through it and enter the soil beneath the street instead of turning into a river along the edge of the street. In the past, streets made with traditional concrete creates strong streams of runoff which can overwhelm the sewer system. When this happens, that water can end up flooding some unlucky property owner instead of ending up where it’s supposed to be. Porous concrete helps avoid this and as a bonus, this tree will eventually provide shade to parked cars and add more greenery to the street overall.

You can also see the new bike racks in the picture that are part of the amenities on the street. There are places to sit and relax along the entire street and the sidewalk is wider through all of downtown. There are also bulb-outs at key crossings which extends the sidewalk out into the street slightly. This reduces the distance that a pedestrian has to walk to cross the street and reduces the amount of time they spend in traffic. Overall, it adds up to a safer place to walk and a better place to visit. By doing the whole street at once, it also introduces a consistent “language” of objects in the downtown area, which gives a sense of continuity as you walk.

The Old Winslow Way in 2010. Picture courtesy of camknows.
The New Winslow Way in 2012

These two pictures above show typical before and after environments for the actual walking space. We can clearly see that parked cars are a good three feet farther away from the actual sidewalk and that there’s more room in general to walk. This gives the area a feeling of safety because moving vehicles never come close enough to you as a pedestrian to draw your attention to the car as a potential threat. Cars parking before could come within a foot of someone normally walking on the street, which puts that person on alert when it draws near.

Quite clearly, there’s also no space for bikes in the old street. Adding bike racks involved impeding pedestrian traffic in most cases or parking farther away. We can also clearly see that there isn’t a lot there that’s meant to handle run-off and storm water. In the old Winslow Way, any oil or grim on the street would get whisked away directly into a drain and then out into the harbor. Now those pollutants get filtered through the root system of the plants in the rain gardens.

Overall, I think this is an excellent project, although there were a few bumps in the road (figuratively). The redevelopment was not universally popular with everyone on the island and there were some conflicts surrounding the need to keep downtown alive and active during construction. From my perspective, the biggest thing that I would change is the orientation of the angled parking. Angled parking makes sense for the street, in terms of creating more spaces and because it’s historically always been that way, but back-in angled parking (as opposed to head-in which it is now) is actually safer overall because there is better visibility when pulling out into traffic. There are on average less collisions and injuries with that style of angled parking. Back-in angled parking requires a relatively low traffic volume and a bit more finesse on the driver’s part, but my gut instinct is that it could have worked here. There may well be good reasons that this idea wasn’t adopted, but overall this is a street that will serve Bainbridge Island well for the decades to come.

If you’d like more information on this project and the complete streets concept, please keep reading over on CompleteStreets.org and specifically about this project over at SvR Design.