October 28, 2010 in City

Division project puts safety, aesthetics at fore

By The Spokesman-Review
Jesse Tinsley photo

A cyclist crosses Division Street at Main Avenue in Spokane Wednesday. Some say that pedestrian and bicycle traffic going to and from the University District is not safe because they have to cross the busy Division traffic.
(Full-size photo)

The crush of vehicles moving north on Division and south on Browne streets through downtown Spokane is intimidating enough for any pedestrian trying to cross.

Growth of the University District a few blocks to the east combined with increasing services and activities in the area have revealed a need to rethink the layout along the two arterial streets, officials said this week.

The city of Spokane and the University District are about to launch a Division Gateways Corridor project to redesign those streets to make them not only more pedestrian-friendly, but also a more welcoming gateway to the city.

The corridor extends from Interstate 90 north to Sharp Avenue and includes northbound Ruby Street where it bumps into the west side of Gonzaga University.

It carries more than 50,000 vehicles a day at the Spokane River, based on 2007 traffic counts.

Because of the sheer volume, the corridor has become “a huge barrier to east-west movement,” said Brandon Betty, program manager for the University District.

At the same time, he said, “Division is the entrance to our city.” In its current state, “it doesn’t really show what the true character of Spokane is.”

The Division project is expected to get started next year and will include public input on possible changes, such as street trees, pavement markings, curb extensions at crosswalks, artwork and bike racks.

It is one in a series of plans and projects under way to revitalize the area and to streamline transportation.

At an open house Tuesday, Mayor Mary Verner said the Division Gateways Corridor project over time will give visitors a sense that “they have entered a grand place.”

The area has several examples of using engineering techniques and street-side amenities to improve pedestrian safety, to moderate vehicle speeds and to beautify a community.

Airway Heights in past years improved the safety of its strip of U.S. Highway 2 with turning channels, shorter pedestrian crossings, street trees, banners and speed enforcement.

Smaller projects along Perry Street in southeast Spokane, Hillyard in northeast Spokane and West Broadway Avenue are other examples.

In Coeur d’Alene, the Midtown neighborhood has seen improvements along Fourth Street. The city of Hayden has slowed traffic on Government Way.

A 2009 transportation study for the city of Spokane calls for the kinds of improvements envisioned by the Division Gateways project.

DKS Associates, the consultant in that wide-ranging study, recommended curb extensions, also known as “bulb-outs,” at key intersections to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians. They also help to slow traffic.

The consultant identified Main and Sprague avenues and Spokane Falls Boulevard as the highest priorities.

The goal, the consultant said, was to reduce vehicle speeds to 25 or 30 mph, in part through signal timing.

The city is currently negotiating a contract to hire engineers and designers for the intersection and “streetscape” improvements.

Nearly $2 million could be spent on the designs along the entire corridor, said Katherine Miller, senior engineer for the city.

“What we are trying to come out with is a project that is ready for construction,” she said.

That construction will likely have to rely on grants or funding sources that might take years to obtain.

Money for the planning and design is coming in part from a newly organized University District Revitalization Area that allows increasing property taxes from the area to be spent on revitalization.

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