When Jim Frank describes why he’s giving free bus passes to everyone who lives or works in his fast-growing, 78-acre downtown development, Kendall Yards, it’s hard not to be jealous of the 1,600 people who will benefit from his generosity.
It’s his money, but it has little to do with generosity, he said. Providing parking costs too much, too many people drive too short a distance and Frank has a perfect petri dish to try this sort of thing out.
“We have a goal of trying to build an urban neighborhood, with the focus on walkability, pedestrian access and trying to minimize automobile use,” he said. “We realized that there were people who were living six blocks away from the grocery store and they were driving their car to the grocery store. A lot of it is just changing the mindset of people.”
The free pass program, which began Oct. 1, is available for anyone who lives or works in Kendall Yards, the burgeoning district in Spokane’s West Central neighborhood on the north end of the Monroe Street Bridge. No strings attached. Described as an “experiment” in a “controlled environment,” Frank’s program will last for an entire year, at which point he and Spokane Transit Authority will sift through all the data they’ve collected: where the various homeowners, renters and employees are riding, and how often.
That data, Frank hopes, will show the program’s worth.
Ever since Frank’s residential and commercial development began filling in the vacant former railyard in 2009, it’s gone gangbusters. The success has brought issues, most notably traffic congestion and parking problems.
Other developers would’ve dealt with such problems by clamoring for more parking. Not Frank. While there are plans to build an underground parking structure next to the Inlander building, Frank said he’s built all the surface parking that he’s going to build in Kendall Yards.
“It costs a lot of money to provide a parking space,” Frank said, estimating that building just one parking stall costs $20,000, when you consider land, construction and maintenance costs. “In urban situations, you’re spending a lot of dollars per square foot just for the land of the parking space.”
Frank’s estimate lines up with the number-crunching of Donald Shoup, a celebrated UCLA urban thinker and economist. Shoup found that the average cost to build a parking space in 2012 was $24,000.
“We don’t want to build any more parking spaces,” Frank said of the 500 stalls already in place in Kendall Yards. “When someone takes transit to work, we don’t have to build a parking space for them and we minimize some of the congestion.”
In context of his free pass program, the relationship between parking and transit has even more importance. If enough people use the program and show its worth to Frank, he’s going to have parking pay for it.
“Ultimately, long term, we think we can pay for it by increasing parking fees,” he said. “We’re not going to increase parking fees immediately. We want to see how it works. But if it does work, we’d fund it long term by increasing parking fees.”
Frank is sensitive to the perception that only the folks who live and work in one of Spokane’s premier developments will benefit from this largesse. He has both embraced that reality, and is making an effort to enlarge the program.
He’s working with nonprofit organizations outside of Kendall Yards – such as Our Place, which provides food, clothing and utility assistance to residents in the West Central neighborhood, as well as the West Central Community Center – to provide free bus passes to their employees, volunteers and people who use their services.
“I don’t want it to appear as, ‘If you’re rich and live in Kendall Yards, you get a free bus pass. And if you’re not and live in West Central, you don’t get one,’” he said. “Getting to a job interview or going to the doctor’s office is a problem. It’s a big barrier. Transportation is a big barrier. If we can help with that, that’s what we want to do as part of this program. If that gets paid for by increased parking fees in Kendall Yards, then great.”
Also, he said he hopes the better-off folks of Kendall Yards will take the bus and smash the stereotype of who rides the bus. Imagine seeing people like Ted McGregor, publisher of the Inlander, or David Blaine, owner of Central Food, pull that yellow cord and disembark at the Plaza.
“We can provide that demonstration, to get people in the community to see that people in Kendall Yards are riding the bus,” he said.
E. Susan Meyer, the head of STA, said she believes Frank will lead the way to other organizations providing similar passes, and spurring people to ride the bus instead of commuting to work alone in a car. She noted that Eastern Washington University was the first local college to give free bus passes to its students and employees about 15 years ago.
“Now all the universities and colleges have them. The city and the county have them,” she said. “Jim is blazing the trail for a neighborhood pass.”
First, though, Frank and the many people in Kendall Yards have to prove the program’s worth. When this year’s up, it’ll either be over, or it will continue and its success will spread to other organizations.
“We’ll see how it goes,” Frank said. “We think by increasing parking fees and providing transit that’s lower cost that you can start to shift the balance of people that are driving and parking. We don’t want to build any more surface parking than what we have right now. That’s it.”
In the city
Monroe Street will be reduced by two lanes downtown at Riverside Avenue, starting today for up to six weeks. The closure is related to work Avista needs to perform to electrify the sewage tank being built by the downtown library. Motorists should expect delays.
Construction of the plaza at the south end of the pedestrian and bicyclist bridge in the University District begins today. There will be lane restrictions at Sprague Avenue and Sherman Street. The $1 million project will improve the intersection of Sprague and Sherman, and provide a transit hub to link the bridge with Sprague. The project includes construction of a multiuse, bicycle, pedestrian and transit facility between Sprague and Sherman, new signals, pedestrian lighting and landscaping.
Work on the massive sewage tank on Adams Street in the west end of downtown will relent enough to allow First Avenue to reopen Tuesday. At the same time, eastbound Riverside Avenue in that area will again be closed to traffic, which will be diverted to Second Avenue via Jefferson Street.
Traffic is blocked on Geiger Boulevard from Thomas Mallen Road to Hayford Road through Oct. 15 for work related to the construction of the Amazon distribution warehouse.
Grind and overlay maintenance projects will close the following streets to through traffic:
Dalke Avenue from Monroe to Wall
Lincoln Street from Central to Francis
Post Street from Dalke to Francis
Addison Drive from Standard to Dakota
Dakota Street from Addison to Cozza
Wedgewood Avenue from Standard to Dakota
Mayfair Street from Queen to Rowan
Arthur Street from 29th to 38th
Crescent Avenue from Nora to Lacey
Browne Street from 19th to 25th
South Hill tangles
South Hill traffic continues to be impacted by various street projects. While work on High Drive between 21st and 29th avenues on Spokane’s South Hill is nearly complete, the major road remains closed for work to replace a sewer line. The $1.5 million project will install a 30-inch sewer pipe and lay new pavement. An 8-foot-wide pedestrian path is being installed, one similar to the path along High Drive farther south.
Not far from High Drive’s work, the city’s street department is working on the second phase of maintenance work on Cedar and Walnut from Ninth to 14th avenues. The grind and overlay project has closed the Maple-Walnut couplet between Fourth to 14th. The city anticipates road construction on these streets, on both Cedar and High Drive, to be complete and the roads opened the third week of October.
Ninth Avenue between Monroe and Madison streets on the South Hill is closed through Thursday for utility work related to new construction.
As always, motorists who drive through neighborhood streets need to maintain a low speed, and watch for children and pets. Also, they should know the rules of uncontrolled intersections. State law says: “When two vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.”
In the Valley
Mission Avenue remains closed from Long Road to Barker Road for the duration of the road reconstruction project. The work began in June and is expected to last through October.
32nd Avenue from State Route 27 to Evergreen Road is reduced to one lane eastbound and one lane westbound for a sidewalk construction and pavement maintenance work. Full closure is scheduled for Oct. 12 to Oct. 14 for final grinding and paving of asphalt. The road will be closed to all through traffic, and detour signs will be in place.
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