What is Spokane’s Second Avenue going to look like in the coming decades? Will it be something approximating East Sprague at its worst, a drab roadway where most drivers stop only if they have to? Or will it be something like the thriving Garland and South Perry districts, or the recently revamped Market Street, a destination where people go to spend time and money, a neighborhood where friends meet up, share a meal, do some shopping?
Unfortunately, it looks like it’s going to be the former, at least for the next decade. If present plans are followed, Spokane residents will have spent over $2 million on Second Avenue, and while they will have a smooth, new surface, that’s all that will change. What will not improve is the safety of drivers, cyclists and pedestrians using Second Avenue – where accidents are triple what they should be for such a stretch of road. Additionally, the area’s business climate remains stagnant, as do air-quality concerns. It’s a $2 million status quo.
Equally unfortunate is that the city is so far unwilling to act on evidence that shows how reconfiguring Second Avenue can enhance safety for all users, provide an avenue to cleaner air and a healthier city, and move present and anticipated traffic volumes for years to come, all while making it more business-friendly. What is this proposed reconfiguration that City Engineer Mike Taylor instructed his staff not to examine so as “to complete Second Avenue as designed”?
What is not being explored is 10-foot traffic lanes, something being used from Seattle to Colorado Springs to Rochester, N.Y., to Toronto, Canada, to Tucson, Ariz., and beyond. Cities large and small, many of which receive much more snow than Spokane, have implemented 10-foot-wide traffic lanes because they “calm traffic.” A bike lane will further “calm” traffic. Additionally, narrowed lanes allow for retention of most of Second’s on-street parking. A bike lane decreases demand for that parking, contributing to decreased congestion for drivers and cleaner air for all.
American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ guidelines indicate that 10-foot lanes can meet the needs of a revamped Second Avenue. The National Cooperative Highway Research Program reports that the narrowed lanes either lower or do not affect accident rates. City Hall has been presented with this information. What’s not to like?
Along with a general reluctance to do something new, another sticking point is funding. The $50,000 needed to stripe bike lanes is a pittance, about one-fourth of 1 percent of the total cost on the Second Avenue overhaul. “Bike boxes” through the busiest intersections would bring costs to less than one-half of 1 percent of total cost. The city saved over $3 million this year due to reduced material costs for ongoing projects. The money is there. All it would take is for Mayor Mary Verner to give the go-ahead
Some within the city argue that the bond projects are limited to simple replacement of existing facilities, but a June 2010 memo from city attorneys says, “Bond proceeds expenditures are limited to street and road improvements.” The above-described street improvements are not just permissible, but capital projects are required by state law to meet Comprehensive Plan standards. The city has been sidestepping the Comprehensive Plan throughout the whole of the 10-year bond project. They will continue to do so if citizens don’t demand better. The city needs to honor the work done by citizens who contributed to the Comprehensive and Master Bike plans.
City Engineer Taylor is on record that “Second Avenue (is) the legal route of choice for those who feel expert enough to ride their bicycles exactly as it was in the ‘before’ condition; and, it does not encourage greater usage by potentially inexperienced riders in a hazardous environment.” The cost for lanes and bike boxes will be recouped by the city avoiding a single instance of liability in a cycling accident on Second, a designated route where the city is about to perpetuate a hazardous situation.
A hazardous Second Avenue is neither good for its users nor good for Spokane. There is a better way for drivers, cyclists, pedestrians and business owners. At the very least, since the final design won’t be implemented until spring, narrowed lanes and bike lanes could be put down this fall and evaluated for safety and traffic flow. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to do this roadway right. All that’s needed is the leadership to do it.
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