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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: STA unveils plans to fix crowded corridors

Spokane Transit Authority last week unveiled a series of concepts to improve public transportation in future years.

The cost ranges up to $400 million for construction of modern electric trolleys on heavily used routes. The trolleys would operate on pavement rather than rails. Light rail would likely double the cost.

The plans outline improvements across STA’s territory, with a little bit of something for everybody.

New park-and-ride lots on the urban fringe, more bus shelters on busy routes and a people-mover trolley through downtown are included.

The ideas transform the long-standing proposal to create a light-rail system from downtown to Spokane Valley and Liberty Lake into a regionwide concept. Light rail was rejected by voters in an advisory ballot in 2006.

STA officials say the need for a more modern and efficient transit system is apparent with the ballooning use on Spokane’s busiest routes: North Division Street, East Sprague Avenue and Cheney to Spokane. In 2012, STA buses logged 11 million rider trips.

The latest plans involve months of work by community groups and technical experts.

STA officials said they believe the region should adopt a concept of high-performance transit, which is distinguished from existing transit by increased bus frequency, faster loading, dedicated transit lanes and routes tailored to neighborhood needs.

The improvements likely hinge on a voter-approved increase in the local sales tax for transit and federal grants.

Susan Meyer, STA’s chief executive officer, said the planning work now will put Spokane in a position to take advantage of any national effort to make transit a priority.

Among the ideas outlined in last week’s plans is a crosstown route running from the Five Mile area on the North Side to Moran Prairie on the South Side.

The East Sprague route, which currently operates with jammed buses during daytime hours, could see a series of improvements that offer connections to Spokane Valley locations and faster commuter lines.

New park-and-ride lots are proposed for Argonne Road at Interstate 90, the Medical Lake interchange on I-90, Moran Prairie, Farwell Road, Indian Trail and Liberty Lake. A new transit center could be built at Spokane Community College.

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Pedestrian laws

The Spokane County Sheriff’s Office sent out a reminder last week that drivers need to give pedestrians plenty of room to cross the street.

The law requires drivers to provide a buffer of at least one lane on streets with multiple lanes.

According to Deputy Craig Chamberlin, “If the pedestrian is within one lane of your vehicle on either side, you are required to stay stopped until the pedestrian is at least two lanes away from your vehicle. On a one-way road, if any vehicle is stopped at an intersection, all vehicles are required to stop.”

The rule on one-way streets is intended to protect pedestrians who may not be visible because the stopped vehicle is blocking the line of sight.

But pedestrians have to hold up their end of the deal. They are not allowed to step into busy traffic and must wait for a break in the stream of vehicles, Chamberlin said. A pedestrian cannot step into a crossing and cause drivers to stop abruptly. Pedestrians should maintain eye contact with drivers to ensure they will slow down or stop.

The pedestrian warning comes in the wake of a recently published study by Oregon State University that shows that pedestrians are particularly vulnerable in crosswalks where drivers are allowed to turn left through breaks in oncoming traffic. Drivers frequently pay attention to whether they have room to turn against traffic but neglect to check crosswalks.

The study shows that drivers failed to look for pedestrians in those situations as much as 9 percent of the time.

“There are far more pedestrian crashes in marked crosswalks than anywhere else on roads, and pedestrians already have a false sense of security,” said David Hurwitz, an Oregon State assistant professor of transportation engineering.

I-90 widening

Construction to widen I-90 east of Snoqualmie Pass has resumed for the season, and transportation officials want motorists to be prepared for rock blasting closures and other potential delays.

Rock blasting will result in hourlong closures of the freeway Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday from 7 to 8 p.m. The first two days of closures will be used to get ready for the first rock blast of the season Thursday. Additional blasting closures will occur regularly throughout the construction season.

In addition, bridges on the freeway between Ellensburg and Easton will be repaired and resurfaced.

Deteriorated pavement is also being repaired on the Easton Hill west of the Easton exit.

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Valley lane restrictions

Park Road in Spokane Valley will be reduced to one lane of traffic Tuesday for utility work during daytime hours.

In addition, Pines Road between Alki and Olive avenues will be reduced to one lane in each direction during daytime hours today to allow for stormwater drainage work.

Bridge maintenance

Overpasses on U.S. Highway 2 at Geiger Boulevard are undergoing maintenance this week. Westbound traffic will be reduced to one lane today from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Eastbound traffic will be reduced to one lane Wednesday during the same hours.