Who has precedence on Spokane’s sidewalks: pedestrians or people waiting for the bus at the Spokane Transit Authority Plaza?
Downtown business interests posed that question Monday in an email to STA as part of their controversial examination of plaza operations.
Mark Richard, president of the Downtown Spokane Partnership, said the experiences of many people downtown were reflected in the question, which read, “How does security enforce the pedestrian interference law, or do they, given its conflict with loading buses?”
“One of a handful of key issues or concerns that have been raised was the way that the queuing up and passenger loading is a challenge for pedestrians who are trying to get from here to there,” Richard said. “Sometimes it’s a challenge just to get down the sidewalk.”
Susan Meyer, chief executive officer of STA, said bus riders standing in line do not create a pedestrian interference. She said she sought the opinion of STA’s attorney.
“The answer,” she said referring to Richard’s question “is there is no pedestrian interference.”
Laura McAloon, STA’s primary outside legal counsel, said she checked with STA security on the question.
“Yes, we enforce” the pedestrian interference law, McAloon said. “It doesn’t need to be enforced very often. When we need to ask them to make way for pedestrians, they do.”
The question posed by the Downtown Spokane Partnership has been cited by supporters of an STA plan to remodel the plaza as evidence of elite business interests picking on bus riders.
“You’re basically saying bus stops all over the city are illegal,” Spokane City Council President Ben Stuckart said. “People are being very shortsighted about it and not looking at the big picture.”
This summer, downtown business interests persuaded the STA board to postpone until November a vote on moving ahead with a $5.8 million remodel of the plaza.
STA board members have said they remain supportive of the plan and that moving the plaza would create hassles for riders and would be a waste of taxpayer dollars.
Richard said the question has been misinterpreted. He said suggestions that his group is intent on moving the plaza from downtown were “categorically false.” Instead, he said his organization was concerned with “criminal behavior in the middle of the financial district that serves the entire Northwest.”
“It’s absolutely nobody’s intention to get rid of homeless people or people that dress different than you or I,” he said. “If there are large bodies of people, no matter what sidewalk they’re on, and they’re engaged in intimidating behavior and a pedestrian feels they can’t get through, that shouldn’t be allowed, no matter where they are.”
Richard defined intimidating behavior as “harassment, foul language, obscenities, just not being courteous and letting people pass.” He added that people with “a breed of dog that has a reputation of being aggressive” fit in the category as well.
Mick McDowell, DSP board chairman, agreed, saying that DSP didn’t have a problem with bus riders. Also on the board is Betsy Cowles, president of the Cowles Co., which owns The Spokesman-Review.
“They try to paint us with a broad brush as being discriminatory and against the poor. There’s nothing farther from the truth,” McDowell said. “But there are elements around the plaza … that are loud and boisterous and threatening to people.” He noted that they were young, with “skateboards, pitbulls.”
“It takes one incident a day to make it inappropriate,” McDowell said.
Considering the number of issues connected to the Plaza, McDowell said if a viable alternative to keeping the Plaza downtown arose, he’d prefer it.
Richard and McDowell said the questions in the email, seven in all, were meant to collect information so the DSP could “make an informed opinion” on the plaza. The list of questions came from a closed-door meeting of business leaders Richard organized last week to consider perceived problems with bus operations at the Plaza.
The controversy arises from long-standing perceptions that the plaza attracts criminal behavior and people creating nuisances in the downtown core, particularly on sidewalks adjacent to the plaza.
The other questions asked about STA’s “no idle policy,” arrest statistics at the plaza and other issues.
McAloon, the STA attorney, said that loading buses, lining up to take the bus or getting off the bus does not violate any law.
The pedestrian interference law, as well as the controversial sit-lie law, which was changed late last year to make it illegal to sit or lie on sidewalks and planters in the downtown area from 6 a.m. to midnight, requires “an intent to impede pedestrians from using the sidewalk,” McAloon said. But she noted that STA has its own rules of conduct that prohibits impeding somebody from lining up to get on the bus.
McAloon suggested that crowds in cities sometime get in the way, but there’s not much to be done about it because “sidewalks are the epitome of right to public assembly.”
She noted that she recently had a run-in with a crowd preventing her movement.
“A large convention crowd kept me from turning for two lights,” she said. “It was a huge group. Eventually they made it across and I made the light.”
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