December 29, 2011 in Opinion

Editorial: New leaders must find right balance for streets

 

Sidewalks, bike lanes and other traditional and nontraditional elements will necessarily be a part of all future road construction projects. The focus on roadways exclusively for motor vehicle use becomes counterproductive as residents ponder alternative ways to commute and recreate for health and environmental reasons.

Several municipalities within Spokane County have already modified existing streets and rights of way to allow pedestrians and bike riders to get to more places safely, and with stronger heartbeats.

So-called complete streets are pavement, multitasking.

But productive as these new byways are, they are not the answer for every mile of transportation corridor. And because the extra costs – if there are extra costs – will fall exclusively on motorists until bicyclists and other users pony up, planners must have enough flexibility to balance competing interests as new projects are mapped out.

The ordinance adopted a week ago by the outgoing cast of the Spokane City Council may be too rigid. Dedicating as much as 20 percent of a project’s cost to pedestrian, wheelchair and bike infrastructure will have a very tangible impact on the amount of roadwork that gets done.

For example, the $117 million street bond issue passed by city voters in 2004 has so far replaced 78 miles of some pathetically broken down pavement. When the construction program ends in 2013, as many as 110 miles will have been overhauled.

The program has been very successful, in part because hard-pressed contractors have bid very competitively for the work.

If 20 percent of bond funds had been rededicated to sidewalks and bike lanes, 15 miles of streets fixed to date might not have been repaired.

Complete-street supporters can rightly assert that getting more people out of their cars will extend pavement life and improve Spokane’s overall quality of life. The arguments go both ways. But after another season of whack-a-pothole, jarred motorists will be feeling a mite surly.

When – not if – the new council and mayor begin consideration of a second bond issue to continue the good work of the first, they should consider rebalancing the distribution of construction dollars. At the very least, they should be candid about the tradeoffs involved in meeting the newly imposed standards.

The good work done with the money raised in 2004 has repaired not just roads, but voter and motorist confidence in the city’s ability to perform.

Complete streets have their place in the configuration of a durable, healthy, flexible and economical transportation network. The discussion of how big that place should be needs to continue.

To respond to this editorial online, go to www.spokesman.com and click on Opinion under the Topics menu.


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