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City Drags Feet As Division Follies Continue

She tied a yellow ribbon round the old street sign.

Although green at fighting city hall, she pleaded her case to bureaucrats who patronized her and made empty promises.

Now Patti Lauber sees red whenever she gazes out her office window and counts the daily motorcade of befuddled wrong-way drivers who think they still can travel north on Division from Sharp.

“There’s at least 20 cars a day, sometimes more,” says Lauber. “It would be funny except that someone is going to get seriously hurt. It’s only a matter of time.”

Lauber has a ringside seat for the Division Street Follies.

The woman manages Practical Rent-aCar, a business on the northeast corner of Sharp and Division. Lauber need only look through the picture window in front of her desk to see a problem that quickly needs correcting.

“There’s one right now,” she said during a telephone call, giving me a spirited play-by-play of what she was seeing on the street.

“It’s a beige pickup truck. A Ford. It’s heading north. It just passed Zip’s Drivein. Look at that, it made it all the way to Mission.” That’s a full two blocks the wrong way.

What Lauber describes isn’t an oddball occurrence. The situation is so bad she actually tied a yellow ribbon around the one-way sign on the corner in front of her business. But nobody noticed.

The trouble began last July, just after Spokane Mayor Jack Geraghty opened the multimillion-dollar Ruby-Division couplet.

Division is the main drag for drivers heading south or north through Spokane. The heavily traveled street - which also is the north-south route of U.S. Highways 2 and 395 through Spokane - often becomes a snarled slug of a road.

So a $13 million construction project was conceived to control the traffic flow. Part of that work turned stretches of Ruby and Division into one-way arterials.

But old habits die hard. In the minds of many, Division remains a two-way thoroughfare.

On Saturday, I sat in my car in a parking lot off Sharp to see what this woman was talking about. Within a half-hour, I saw the driver of a late model Chevy turn the wrong way. Then a copper Plymouth swerved and corrected itself after its driver attempted to turn onto Division north.

Lauber recently spotted a county water truck cruising two blocks the wrong way. She said she knows of three accidents caused by confused drivers.

“Every time we hear horns honk and brakes squeal, we run to the window to look,” says Jill Dolle, who works at the Party Palace on the northeast corner of Division and Sinto.

“I saw two old ladies make it all the way up to Mission,” says Laurel Nill, who manages Zip’s on the southeast corner of Division and Sinto.

You don’t have to be a traffic engineer to figure out what needs to be done. The one-way signs on the corners are too small, too low. They easily are missed on such a wide street.

For months, Lauber has wrangled with the city to put bigger one-way signs where they will be noticed: high on the crossbar next to the traffic lights.

It’s a simple solution that wouldn’t cost much more than $500 to cover four intersections. So brilliant, in fact, that even pooh-bahs at the city’s Transportation Department finally are admitting the beauty of it.

If only they would get off their duffs and get the job done before any drivers get creamed.

In early December, city Transportation Director Bruce Steele assured me the sign change was on his list of things to do at the first of the year. But now it’s February, and an apologetic traffic engineer tells me the signs will be up next week.

Probably fearing bad press, the guy quickly called Lauber and promised the same thing.

Lauber, however, is hanging onto her yellow ribbons. “I just laughed while he went on and on,” she says. “It makes you wonder what they do down there.”

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