January 29, 2014 in Opinion

Editorial: Ben Burr Trail must be good neighbor

 

Residents of the East Central neighborhood are caught between a rock and federal transportation grant requirements. The rock will have to go, unless the Spokane City Council takes the unlikely step of sidetracking a project partially funded with $1.7 million from Washington, D.C.

It’s another case of ten-speed planning where three speeds would have better suited the neighborhood.

The Ben Burr Trail follows a narrow Great Northern Railroad right of way abandoned decades ago, and long since overgrown by ponderosa pines and other trees. The route climbs from Liberty Park along and through basalt cliffs that alternately confine the path or expose steep drop-offs before it ends above Underhill Park at Hill Court.

Residents have wanted the trail improved going back as far as 1986, but on nothing like the scale that will be necessary in order to comply with conditions that come with taking the federal funds.

Instead of an eight-foot-wide path covered with crushed stone, lined by log or timber barriers to deflect users headed over the edge – the 1986 version – the parameters incorporated into the terms of the transportation grant stipulate at least 10 feet of asphalt pavement with two-foot shoulders on each side, and fencing in the place of the timbers.

The rock and timber that must be removed to comply with these conditions will clearly transform a glorified footpath frequented mainly by East Central residents into an attraction to bicyclists and other users from much of the South Hill. That will be doubly so when a connection to the Centennial Trail creates a route all the way into downtown, as conceived in the city’s comprehensive plan.

The dog-walkers who patrol the trail today will have to contend with irresponsible cyclists headed downhill at unsafe speeds. Although most homeowners along other trails have found them to be an amenity rather than a nuisance, the upgraded Ben Burr will be less a fit in East Central than, say, the new stretch of the Centennial Trail through Kendall Yards.

Residents prefer a plan that connects the lower portion of the trail to Pittsburgh Street, and leaves the upper portion more or less intact. They are frustrated with a plan that goes way beyond their vision, and a process they say caught them blind-sided.

Whether that is a fair claim or not, a council decision to return the grant money or make substantial changes might jeopardize future applications for diminished transportation improvement dollars. And that portion of the Ben Burr, although beloved by East Central, is an asset for all the city.

Jon Snyder, the councilman probably most familiar with the trail, suggests a small group monitor construction to assure minimal disfiguration. The city did so when 44th Avenue was extended between Freya and Regal streets, and is doing so now with preparations for the reconstruction of High Drive.

East Central, which has suffered more than its share of abuse going back to the building of Interstate 90, deserves consideration. Done with sensitivity, Ben Burr can be the asset the neighborhood always wanted.


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