On Thursday, the Spokane Transit Authority will vote on the city of Spokane’s decision to make East Sprague’s bus stops more commuter- and business-friendly. As current and former presidents of the East Spokane Business Association, we stand behind the city’s decision to have buses pull out of the lane of traffic when loading and unloading passengers.
ESBA has worked with both the city and STA since 2013 in the Sprague Revitalization Project. We believe it is in all of our best interests to make the East Central Neighborhood as accessible as possible. We all agree that East Sprague has benefited immensely from municipal revitalization efforts, and the in-lane bus stops undermine the progress we have all been working to support.
We have drone footage that confirms that up to 70 cars can back up behind a bus that stops in the sole lane of traffic. This backup not only causes undue stress to motorists, but also to bus passengers. These passengers, who may be handicapped or elderly, are often forced to embark and disembark to a soundtrack of honking horns and revving engines. No one on either side of this experience comes away from it in a calm frame of mind; between road rage and just plain impatience, there are real concerns that someone will be hit and killed by a frustrated driver.
We agree that cars are moving slower along East Sprague, but they’ve also started ducking around stopped buses. The delay is leading drivers to behave unpredictably. In an ideal world, the signage that warns against passing an STA vehicle would deter every driver on the road from darting around buses. In the real world, however, neither signage nor the threat of increased traffic enforcement means much to a commuter running late to work. Nor does it concern a neighborhood resident on the way home after a long day. And it doesn’t worry a visitor excited to meet friends at one of East Sprague’s shops or eateries. When drivers perceive an impediment to traffic, they will find a way around it. On East Sprague, that way is the center turn lane. It’s not safe, and it isn’t right. But it’s reality.
Another dose of reality: STA conceived of the high-performance transport network (HPTN) eight years ago or more. At the time, Sprague was still a four-lane arterial, meaning that a bus could stop in one lane while traffic continued to flow safely in the other. The three-lane configuration introduced with the East Sprague road diet cannot accommodate this, so STA must adapt HPTN to these new circumstances rather than expecting outdated HPTN plans to remain unchanged.
The numbers support a change. On the stretch of Sprague from Helena to Napa, official city traffic counts climbed from 11,396 before the road diet to 12,643 when the area was restriped as three lanes but retained its bus pullouts. Traffic counts plummeted 20%, however, following the construction of the in-lane stops in use today. Reduced traffic counts hurt business. On the other side of the coin, the most valuable retail properties are those with the highest traffic counts. Those businesses help support the community by paying the highest sales tax.
Public transportation on Sprague has always benefited residents and business owners alike. We at the East Spokane Business Association hope that it will continue to do so – by serving passengers without stopping in the only lane of traffic.
LaVerne Biel is the current East Spokane Business Association president; Bob Mauk and Jim Hanley are past ESBA presidents.
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