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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Goals include safe access for walkers, bicyclists

Signs mark the bike lane along 29th Avenue in Spokane. (Christopher Anderson)
Signs mark the bike lane along 29th Avenue in Spokane. (Christopher Anderson)

It really had nothing to do with the snow. Dave Robertson, 44, of west Spokane, was walking home from his job at Rings and Things downtown at dusk, on one of the first snowy days in December. Headed west on Second Avenue, he waited at the crosswalk to cross Monroe Street.

“The light changes, I start out, the traffic starts out and then, one, two, three, four, bam – I was hit from the right by a car,” Robertson said. The car hit him at knee-level, he buckled and fell, grabbing for the windshield of the car, and the driver stopped.

“She rolled down her window and yelled out, ‘Are you OK?’ ” said Robertson. By then, bystanders had already called police.

Talk to anyone who walks around downtown Spokane and the tales of near-misses and close calls are many.

Over the past couple of months, there have been several fatal accidents involving pedestrians downtown, and now a coalition of public interest organizations is forming to do something not just about the safety of the streets but the rights of everyone to use the streets.

Spearheaded by Futurewise, Complete Streets Spokane is having its first meeting on Wednesday.

Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise said the ultimate goal of Complete Streets is to get a resolution before the City Council to adopt Complete Streets standards for Spokane.

“It’s about changing the definition of a street to not just be for cars, but to include sidewalks and bike lanes,” said Klitzke, who walks frequently downtown. “It’s also about creating awareness. To some people you are simply a total weirdo if you walk, especially after dark.”

The Spokane Regional Health District, the YMCA and the Community Assembly (of Spokane neighborhood councils) are joining the effort.

Robertson, who said he treasures the little break walking between work and home gives him as well as the exercise he gets on his daily walks, is frustrated by his experience.

“Pedestrians get this all the time. Drivers only see other vehicles – they don’t look for people, they look for cars,” Robertson said. “I have had countless near-misses in the last calendar year alone, walking and biking downtown.”

It is obviously illegal to run people over in crosswalks, but as Spokane Police Department spokeswoman Jennifer DeRuwe puts it: “Unfortunately, you as a pedestrian may have the right of way, but if it’s between you and a car, then the car is going to win. Pedestrians must be very aware of their surroundings no matter what the light says.”

DeRuwe said that when she teaches traffic safety to children, she tells them to wave, to make eye contact or to smile at drivers, to make sure they’ve been seen.

“We’ve had some pedestrian fatalities as of late, including the gentleman who was crossing mid-block on Francis and was hit by a car,” DeRuwe said, getting to the other side of this issue: it’s not always the driver who’s at fault. “Drivers complain to us that pedestrians step right out in front of them all the time. And pedestrians complain that they were just about to get hit.”

DeRuwe said awareness and patience are the only way to help pedestrians and motor vehicles get along better.

“Drivers need to know that downtown is a high pedestrian traffic area and be more aware,” she said. “Pedestrians should avoid high-traffic areas, especially after dark – and if you must be out there walking, make sure you are visible; carry a flashlight, wear a bright vest, and if you have to cross a dark, high-traffic street, be more patient.”

Pedestrian-car collisions often happen when cars make a “free” turn and drivers don’t realize pedestrians are already in the crosswalk.

“I’ve learned the hard way to make eye contact with any driver I meet out there,” said Robertson. “In Spokane, I just don’t think people have a lot of understanding around pedestrians.”

Robertson went home after he was hit by a car, but he wasn’t sure if he had lasting damage from the accident.

He has no plans to give up walking.

“Perhaps the drivers of Spokane need a bit of education in the form of some fines,” said Robertson. “Or at least they should be more aware of pedestrians – after all, the community is trying to promote a pedestrian-friendly environment downtown.”

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