Bus drivers keep their eyes on the block ahead. Bus system drivers must look a decade or more down the road.
Officials at the Spokane Transit Authority have thought a lot about where they would like to take a system that carries more than 11 million riders from Cheney to Liberty Lake, and Moran Prairie to Five Mile Prairie. The potential changes could be the most radical since streetcars were phased out in the 1930s.
And, ironically, the biggest innovation could be the return of the streetcar, 21st century style. Electric trolleys would frequent — very frequent — a Central City Line from Browne’s Addition through downtown to the University District. An extension to Spokane Community College is under consideration. The trolleys would run every 10 minutes for much of the day, and for extended hours.
Other buses or, conceivably, trolleys would also run more often on a North Monroe/South Regal corridor, on North Division, to Cheney, and to Liberty Lake. Some stops might allow riders to switch buses without having to travel downtown.
Greater convenience, new or bigger park-and-rides and other improvement would help attract new and more diverse transit users.
Increased service frequency and better real-time information for bus riders would ease the perception that trips involving transfers last forever in much the same way shorter layovers ease air traveler anxiety. Moving riders through the terminal more rapidly would also minimize the temptation by some to hang out on adjacent streets, where they can be a nuisance to business owners and visitors.
Restoring an outside smoking area downtown will help, but STA officials are also considering a reconfiguration of the terminal that would squeeze all services down to the first floor, move the escalator and make the upstairs available to the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture or other users. Relocation is unlikely, but the argument that the terminal’s central location trumps its aggravations remains ongoing.
STA officials argue the riders who collect downtown are a net positive and that a fixed-route trolley system dependent on overhead cables would encourage property investment when owners are assured a change won’t move their customers or renters a block or two away. STA is interviewing owners to test that theory.
Eventually, price tags will be attached to these visions.
A three-mile Central City Line as far as Gonzaga University, for example, will cost a projected $36 million. Much of the necessary funding will have to come from the state or federal government. The rest will have to come from local sources such as higher fares or sales tax.
STA does not borrow money and, under the present leadership, has been a good steward of public money. Service is good, but too infrequent or non-existent during early and late hours. High-performance transit will take STA to a new level – if officials can convince the community new services justify the potential costs.
A vote is not expected until the spring of 2015. For what, and how much, has not yet been determined. The STA website, www.spokanetransit.com, provides an excellent overview of the future under “Planning initiatives.”
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