Merchants in downtown Spokane have finally gotten back control of the streets in front of their stores.
But it will still take a bold effort by business, government and the community to clean up the mess left on the sidewalks behind a wall of big ugly smelly buses.
For long years, a barricade of unsightly reeking buses lined the choicest business blocks in the heart of the core, dominating the streetscape and blotting out views.
Worse yet, the wall of buses spawned a counter culture of troublemakers - unsavory street types, aggressive bums, borderline wackos, low-life scum itching to inflict themselves on others. In places, thugs commandeered the sidewalks, discouraging and displacing mainstream use.
David Peterson, the former executive director of the downtown property owners association, used to refer to the notorious Howard and Riverside intersection as “Howweird and Riverside.”
But, hopefully, this is part of the past, thanks to the Spokane Transit Authority’s downtown bus center, which opened Sunday.
The architectural effect of the STA Plaza, fronting on the corner of Riverside and Wall, is that of a giant breath of fresh air. A vast skylight in the top of a cavernous three-story atrium draws the eyes of visitors in the central rotunda upward to the open sky, exerting a highly pleasant lift to the spirits.
That one word best describes the central rotunda, and it was the word repeatedly used by various viewers during my visit Monday.
Inside and out, the sweeping lines and spaciousness of the luxurious public structure serve to brighten and light up what historically has been one of the most important intersections in the city.
Equally important to restoring downtown viability is the phasing of arrivals and departures under the new system. The buses come and go in short bursts of a half dozen or so, none stopping more than a few minutes.
The resulting periodic parade of buses nosing into the transfer center briefly to take on passengers, then quickly departing, is truly a sight for sore eyes.
If anything, this level of activity could be a plus, a vibrant thread of energy running through the core. That presumes, of course, that the system continues to operate as promised and promoted.
And nothing should be taken for granted in this operation. The promoters and politicians and transit executives promised to make this work. So now it’s entirely proper and incumbent upon taxpayers, bus patrons and the general public to make doubly sure the people who gave us this spectacular structure for $20 million-plus - twice the original projected cost - deliver as promised.
In that regard, nothing will be more important than ensuring the comfort, safety and security of people in and around the new bus center. Whether the STA Plaza indeed, whether the whole new bus system and the adjacent Wall Street Trolley and Pedestrian Mall - succeed or fail will all come down to providing good security in and around the center.
Bad actors must get the message point-blank that if they harass or threaten or endanger others they will be dealt with surely and severely. Troublemakers neither comprehend nor respond to anything less than certain and strict consequences.
A brush with disaster on Monday morning underscores the point. I had just finished admiring the sparkling marble stairways and cascading waterfall of the plaza’s interior, then stepped outside onto Riverside.
All up and down the street, there wasn’t a bus in sight.
Beautiful. Spectacular. Panoramic. What a view.
Young folk lounged on the sidewalk. More mature adults leaned against the building’s exterior walls. Elderly ladies passed in an out of the doors in twos and threes, evidently joining up to try out the new terminal on a shopping outing. The sun shone brightly.
From out of nowhere hurtled a human projectile. A young rollerblader slashed and slalomed at breakneck speed in and out among the stream of pedestrians entering and exiting the plaza. A simple sidestep by any one of several elderly shoppers could have been lethal.
Horrified, I held my breath as this miscreant imperiled lives right and left in front of my eyes, slashing past people’s elbows full tilt from the rear. Then, careening out of control, the maniac slammed a glancing blow against a wall, and flashed out of sight around a corner.
So far, nobody has died from random sidewalk mayhem.
But, unless an acceptable level of safety and security is established and enforced, it’s just a matter of time.
, DataTimes MEMO: Associate Editor Frank Bartel’s column appears on Monday, Wednesday and Sunday.