Some things are completed only under duress. Rarely is that thing a city planning document.
The Spokane City Council will consider Monday a proposal by Councilman Jon Snyder to kick-start the long-delayed Pedestrian Master Plan, which would give guidance on how best to spend money to improve sidewalks and make roads safer for walkers. The plan was launched in 2011 but stalled a year later and never was finished after staff changes in City Hall.
To assure its completion, Snyder is threatening to dissolve the city’s Transportation Benefit District – along with its $2.5 million in annual revenue generated by the $20 vehicle tab tax – unless the plan is finished by the end of 2015. Ten percent of the tax is dedicated to pedestrian infrastructure.
This funding has become more important under Mayor David Condon, whose administration has come to rely on the tab tax money to maintain residential streets. The bulk of Spokane’s other infrastructure dollars are at work on arterials under the city’s effort simultaneously to rebuild streets and divert pollutants from the river.
Snyder said finishing the pedestrian plan was about more than appropriately spending money.
“There are too many people getting killed and hurt,” Snyder said, noting that unsafe intersections have led to fatalities. “We owe them something.”
Rick Romero, the city’s utilities director, said he appreciates Snyder’s concerns.
“But I’m not going to lose any sleep about it because we’re going to deliver a plan by the end of 2015,” Romero said.
Since its creation, the Transportation Benefit District has funded many maintenance projects, primarily completed using chip seal or grind and overlay, in which a street is repaved after the top portion is removed. Snyder points to a chip seal project on a section of Wall Street between 15th and 16th avenues on the South Hill as an especially fine example of the dollars at work because the result was smooth driving – in contrast to chip seal’s reputation.
The funds also went to sidewalk projects near Arlington and Browne elementary schools, and along 29th Avenue, among others.
Snyder said his proposal purposely comes ahead of the 20-year street levy that voters will consider in November. He wants to make sure safe and modern sidewalks are part of any new street.
Romero agreed, saying the pedestrian plan, as well as the related Master Bike Plan and Complete Streets program, is “absolutely” part of the city’s integrated plan. He pointed to an upcoming project that is expected to use a porous surface for the bike lane and pedestrian walkways to help manage stormwater runoff.
“Now you’re doing multiple things with (a bike lane or sidewalk) and you’re opening the door very broadly for other types of funding on the stormwater side that will help you build sidewalks and bike trails,” Romero said. “That’s why it’s so important to me that you don’t pull out pedestrian and deal with it independently of stormwater and bike planning and street planning. All of that stuff has to fit within the width of the right of way.”
Romero said he doesn’t feel threatened by Snyder’s proposal.
“I know Jon isn’t doing this because he wants to do away with the TBD,” Romero said. “He’s doing it to assure we deliver a pedestrian plan. … He just wants to make sure there’s some accountability to it.”
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