April 10, 2010 in Opinion

Consider cost of streets plan

Dallas Hawkins Special to The Spokesman-Review
 

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Spokane, WA 99201

Are “Complete Streets” a good idea for Spokane?

Spokane is considering a Complete Streets program, which the City Council could adopt after further discussion. As chairman of the Citizens Streets Advisory Commission, I believe that the residents of Spokane can use some additional information before such a program becomes the city’s official policy.

As a practical matter, the current 10-year street bond program is designed to rehabilitate streets from curb to curb and did not intend to pay for enhancements or amenities to street projects. It is noteworthy that the public did not express interest in adding pedestrian or bicycle enhancements during the seven public meetings I attended with city staff and then-Mayor Jim West to gather public opinion and support for the street bond program.

People were more interested in 2002 in finding a way to fund the repair and maintenance of city streets as a first priority.

It is important to understand that when new streets are built, the city of Spokane currently incorporates well-established design standards as described in the Comprehensive Plan related to bicycle and pedestrian enhancements such as sidewalk setbacks and street trees. When we look to improve and rehabilitate existing streets in our neighborhoods, we run into difficulties securing funds for pedestrian and bicycle improvements and enhancements.

I support a global approach to street rehabilitation, which will consider all of the users of the roadway system and could include traffic calming and bicycle and pedestrian improvements when funding can be secured and where they are appropriate. To that end, Complete Streets may become a useful tool.

It is clear that the Complete Streets policy proposed by City Councilman Jon Snyder and supported by the majority of council members contains many useful and desirable ideas that we can all embrace and support. Considerable time during the council’s discussion on Monday evening was taken up describing the benefits to our community related to transportation choices, public safety, economic improvement, job growth, better health and neighborhood “walkability” and environmental sustainability. These goals are all worthy ones.

It is important to understand, however, that the Complete Streets program as presented does not offer funding solutions. This should be of concern to us as we consider approval and implementation. It will be very important to work together regionally and collaboratively with all stakeholders if we hope to create a Complete Streets program that is beneficial and appropriately funded.

Recently Mayor Mary Verner established the Design Review Committee to study street projects and to identify opportunities to add pedestrian, traffic calming and bicycle enhancements. That committee continues to meet monthly and continues to discover that funding continues to be the persistent problem they must overcome.

When Spokane completes the current 10-year bond program in 2014, we hope to have rehabilitated one-third of the streets in Spokane which need to be rebuilt. In the end, many people feel that the next street rehabilitation program should include funding for pedestrian and bicycle enhancements and improvements. It is extremely important that the voters of the city of Spokane tell us what they want to include and what they are willing to pay for. Voters should ultimately determine what a Complete Streets program will look like and then vote to approve it if they find it worthy.

Supporters of the Complete Streets program have said the additional cost for bicycle and pedestrian enhancements, when they are constructed in conjunction with a street rehabilitation program, would be marginal and affordable. In some instances that is true, particularly if we are simply restriping a street to add a bike lane. There are, however, some ongoing maintenance costs that will need to be covered each year in addition to the initial cost.

For many projects planned for existing streets, incorporating set-back sidewalks, bike lanes, planting strips and street trees while still permitting street parking will involve the purchase of additional right of way as well as engineering redesign for the relocation of sidewalks, drainage, curbing, catch basins and storm water vaults, which will most certainly add significantly to the total construction bill. Even though Complete Streets with its enhancements and improvements is appealing and desirable from many perspectives, during these tough economic times it is possible that many may prefer to forgo such expenditures in favor of a more practical approach.

Dallas Hawkins is chairman of the city of Spokane’s Citizens Streets Advisory Commission.

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