All engineer Todd Whipple wanted was to talk traffic Tuesday with residents of Spokane’s Valley’s Ponderosa neighborhood. Neighbors just wanted him to hit the road.
The crowd of 150-plus laid into Whipple with all the subtlety of tar and feathers as he disclosed that a subdivision proposed for their neighborhood would generate roughly 1,800 vehicle trips daily through the piney, upper-middle-class neighborhood. Whipple was presenting the results of a traffic study on behalf of developer Lanzce Douglass, who skipped the event.
“How a traffic study works is, I come here and you all are supposed to be civil,” Whipple told the audience, gathered at Painted Hills Golf Course.
The audience was anything but civil. Tuesday night’s meeting at Painted Hills Golf Course was the neighborhood’s first chance to confront anyone associated with the 181-home subdivision since it was proposed by Douglass in May.
The project calling for six homes an acre surfaced two months ago, just as neighbors asked Spokane Valley officials for special, one-home-per-acre zoning to keep their community of large lots from being built over.
Resident Jerry Garratt said traffic was already so bad in the neighborhood that he knows of three people who had been hit by cars on the road leading to the proposed Douglass development.
His family dog was hit on the road, Garratt said, adding that his young daughter was running behind the animal when the accident occurred.
Whipple tried to keep the meeting focused on traffic generated by the proposed development.
A traffic discussion with neighbors is required if the project is to go through. But everything the engineer said during the meeting’s first half-hour was met with cynicism and boos.
Residents accused the engineer of underestimating the amount of traffic in the neighborhood.
Traffic drops considerably in the summer, they said, because nearby Ponderosa Elementary School, which often generates morning traffic jams, is not in session. They also questioned Whipple’s traffic counting method.
For the study, Ponderosa traffic was counted mornings and evenings on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during one week.
The counting was done by a man seated in a folding chair in the back of a parked pickup, which was strategically positioned at neighborhood intersections.
Linda Wing, a Ponderosa resident for 18 years, said there was no way the study could account for school traffic or a future evacuation should the forested neighborhood catch fire as it did in 1987 and during 1991’s firestorm.
“Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday doesn’t count for squat when firestorm comes,” Wing said.
There are days during the school year, Wing said, when she cannot make it to her house because of the traffic.
And she said road congestion was unbelievable in 1991 as neighbors drove in and out of the fire-threatened neighborhood in a panic.
“Firestorm is not a traffic issue,” Whipple said.
Likewise, the engineer said, he’d never done a traffic study in which school traffic made a significant difference when it came to traffic counts during peak travel hours, between 6:30 to 8:30 a.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m.