The Spokane Valley City Council heeded the wishes of Greenacres residents Tuesday with a split vote that lowered the speed limit on Mission Avenue between Flora and Barker roads from 35 miles per hour to 30.
The city’s traffic engineer had recommended a speed limit of 35 based on a traffic study that showed that 85 percent of drivers were traveling at or below 38 mph. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices states that speed limits should be within five miles per hour of that 85th percentile speed, said Public Works Director Neil Kersten. “Based on state code and city code, we’re still looking at 35 miles per hour,” he said. “Prevailing speeds don’t change just because we change the speed limits.”
Having a lower speed is likely to generate a lot of complaints and will require “heavy enforcement,” he said. The council could decide to change the “feel” of the road, which was designed for 35 mph, by narrowing lanes, adding curbs or adding landscaped medians, Kersten said. “That’s really the best way to do it,” he said.
Mayor Tom Towey questioned why the city should use the 85th percentile measurement. That standard comes from the Federal Highway Administration and was adopted by Washington state and the city, Kersten said. “We’re under that guideline.”
Cities are allowed to have exceptions to the guideline if a road is very narrow or on-street parking presents a hazard, he said. That is not the case on Mission. “It’s pretty wide open and visibility is pretty good,” he said. “That’s why people are driving at that speed.”
Towey noted that the same stretch of Mission is scheduled for reconstruction and asked when the project would be complete. Kersten said the city has money to design the project and has a good chance at getting a grant next year. “It isn’t funded right now for construction,” he said.
Barker Road resident Larry Blanchard said he preferred leaving the speed limit at 35. The accidents in the area have been at intersections, not on Mission, he said. “Changing the speed limit on Mission won’t change that,” he said. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Greenacres resident Pete Miller complained about the traffic studies done on Mission that show the various speeds cars were traveling. “Average speeds don’t mean anything,” she said.
Resident Richard Harmon said more drivers are using Mission as a cut-through route. “They don’t care about our neighborhood,” he said. “We’ve got to have a speed limit to keep them in line.”
He advocated writing speeding tickets to enforce the lower limit. “Give them tickets until they slow down,” he said. “Safety is a big concern.”
Councilman Arne Woodard said the daughter of his best friend died after being struck by a car in front of Valley Mission Park years ago. The speed limit at the time was 35. “We do not want another child injured, killed,” he said. Mission in that area doesn’t have sidewalks and has only gravel shoulders, he said. “It’s just too fast.”
Councilman Bill Gothmann said cities are required to set speed limits using engineering and traffic investigations. He said he was concerned about creating liability if the city’s traffic engineer is recommending a speed limit of 35 and the council ignored that recommendation. “Are you council members going to drop that kind of liability on us?” he said.
Many other arterials in Spokane Valley have multiple parks and schools, including Park Road and Broadway Avenue, but the speed limits are set at 35, he said. “All of these go through residential neighborhoods,” he said. “Lower speed limits will not slow traffic.”
Gothmann also dismissed complaints that Mission was carrying through traffic. “What do you think an arterial is?” he said. “It’s doing its purpose.”
Councilman Chuck Hafner said the council should focus on the emotional issues involved, not just the numbers. “I think it’s important that we listen to what the people are saying,” he said.
City Attorney Cary Driskell said that the 85th percentile speed shown in the traffic study is only one consideration in setting a speed limit. “It is not the only factor in Washington law,” he said. “It’s an important factor. It is not the only factor.”
Council members Dean Grafos and Brenda Grassel joined Woodard, Hafner and Towey in voting to set the speed limit at 30. Gothmann and Councilman Gary Schimmels voted against it.