The Spokane Valley Mall didn’t exist the last time Spokane Transit overhauled its bus system. Today, the mall and neighboring Mirabeau Point are the centerpieces of the growing Spokane Valley community. So starting Sunday, bus service at the mall will increase from two routes to five, including a route linking it to Liberty Lake. The increased service is part of STA’s first major service changes in seven years. New routes and improved frequency on some existing routes will increase the amount of fixed-route bus service across the entire system by 12 percent.
No area will see more dramatic changes than Spokane Valley, where service is being amplified by 23 percent, and residents will have more opportunities to travel within Spokane Valley without having to visit the downtown Spokane STA Plaza.
The biggest improvements are those at the Spokane Valley Mall. That’s only fitting since it’s now a prime shopping and community center for Spokane Valley residents rather than U-City, said STA Operations Director Steve Blaska.
The Valley Transit Center was built near U-City when that area was still at the center of Valley activity. In the ensuing years, development drifted east and north, leaving U-City behind. Centering all Spokane Valley operations at the Valley Transit Center no longer makes sense.
The Spokane Valley Mall is now a second Valley hub, featuring connections to the Valley Transit Center, Liberty Lake, Millwood, the Spokane Industrial Park, southern Spokane Valley subdivisions, Valley Hospital and Medical Center and downtown Spokane.
Pursuing Valley riders
Spokane Transit officials are betting that these improvements will boost ridership in Spokane Valley.
Right now most routes starting or ending in Spokane Valley attract between 130 and 230 people on an average weekday. The Sprague route, traveling from downtown Spokane all the way to Greenacres and the Spokane Valley Mall, however, carries about 2,700 people per day.
To encourage more Valley residents to try taking the bus, STA sent out fliers and two free bus ride coupons to more than 80,000 households in Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake.
“You’re looking at a market that has never been transit-focused to a large extent,” said STA spokeswoman Molly Myers.
The brochure promotes several new Spokane Valley routes as well as highlights existing routes.
One new line connects the Spokane Valley Mall to Spokane Community College and connections to points in north Spokane. Another provides all-day service between Liberty Lake and the Spokane Valley Mall.
“If you don’t advertise new service – ‘Oh, by the way, it’s now half-hour service, or now you can get to Liberty Lake at midday’ – they wouldn’t know,” said Blaska.
The new Liberty Lake route provides people living there with connections to neighboring Spokane Valley that they never enjoyed before, because STA’s retiring system only offered them express service to the downtown Spokane bus plaza and only during the morning and evening commutes.
The new SCC-Valley Mall route will allow people in Spokane Valley to travel to north Spokane without first transferring at the plaza.
Even areas without new routes will see service enhancements.
For instance bus frequency along the south Spokane Valley route that travels along University Road and parts of 32nd Avenue, Bowdish Road, Pines Road and Evergreen Road is increased from one bus every hour to one bus every half-hour. And it also now connects to the Spokane Valley Mall as well as the Valley Transit Center near University City.
Millwood will no longer be serviced by a bus traveling between its core and downtown Spokane. Millwood will be along the Trent portion of the bus between the Spokane Valley Mall and SCC, however, and a bus will run between the center of Millwood and the Valley Transit Center near U-City.
And the improvements may not be over for Spokane Valley.
STA is looking into expanding service past the Mirabeau park-and-ride lot into the Mirabeau YMCA and also may add an early-morning bus to serve Huntwood Industries employees at the new facility in Liberty Lake.