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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Spokane’s Doomsday Hill would get new paved paths under plan

A cyclist and a motorist climb Pettet Drive, aka Doomsday Hill, on Tuesday. Proposals to revamp the road include moving the traffic lanes away from the scenic riverside views and building a protected biking and walking lane along the bluff. (Jesse Tinsley)
A cyclist and a motorist climb Pettet Drive, aka Doomsday Hill, on Tuesday. Proposals to revamp the road include moving the traffic lanes away from the scenic riverside views and building a protected biking and walking lane along the bluff. (Jesse Tinsley)

Pettet Drive is Doomsday Hill to many people, and they most intimately experience it while dragging their weary bones up its wide, exposed travel lanes on the first Sunday in May, otherwise known as Bloomsday.

A new plan at Spokane City Hall hopes to change this pedestrian − and cycling − experience with new paved paths separated from the road. One will run on the river side of Pettet all the way down the hill. Another will wind its way up to the neighborhood overlooking Doomsday. The designs, which connect to the city’s street levy and stormwater infrastructure work, will add a new section to the Centennial Trail and create a new nonmotorized route out of an urban part of town to near the river’s edge.

Lorreen McFaul, executive director of Friends of the Centennial Trail, said Pettet always has been an official part of the trail, even though it consisted only of sidewalks and a bike lane. She applauded the city for finding a way to fill in the gap for the trail, calling it “a perfect opportunity to upgrade the trail.”

“It’s always been the Centennial Trail. It just doesn’t look like a separated ribbon of pavement,” she said, noting that finishing sections of the trail is limited by funding.

“It’s always money,” she said. “Our limitation is money.”

Currently, Pettet Drive is 42 to 44 feet wide between curbs, which includes a bike lane in each direction. The new stretch of the Centennial Trail will be 14 feet wide and separate from traffic. Travel lanes on Pettet will be reduced to 12 feet each.

Don Kardong, who founded Bloomsday in 1977, said he didn’t believe a thinner Doomsday Hill would adversely affect the race, saying, “By that point in the race, people are pretty spread out.”

“From what we know now, it should be fine,” he said about the new road and trail design. “We’re going to discuss it in more detail at our next meeting, which is this Sunday.”

A spur off the Centennial Trail heading up the hill was initially proposed in the list of projects to be completed in the first year of the 20-year street levy, overwhelmingly passed by voters last year, said Brandon Blankenagel, an engineer with the city. The list included T.J. Meenach Drive, which was due for bike lanes under the city’s Master Bike Plan.

But Blankenagel saw the limitations of such a plan on the steep, heavily trafficked road. This summer, he took the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board to the area to pitch another idea: putting a 12-foot-wide separate path that would comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act along an old rail grade on the hill overlooking Pettet to the northeast of T.J. Meenach.

“We went on a field trip there and hiked around. We asked, ‘Should we be looking at a trail or looking at bike lanes,’ ” Blankenagel said. “The general consensus was that a trail was better from the standpoint that you can do ADA a little easier. And there’s an awesome view at the top.”

Blankenagel said the plan carried even more weight because the city wants to put a small stormwater interceptor tank at the top of the hill, along with pipes connecting the tank to the larger stormwater system.

“We’ve got a pipe, we need to bury it, we might as well put a trail on top of it,” Blankenagel said.

Nick Pullman, who was walking with his dog, Opie, along the dirt path rail grade above Pettet on Tuesday, had not heard of the plan but approved of it.

“It sounds great,” he said. “The reason I like the trail is because it’s quiet. That may change, but that’s OK.”

Pullman said he walks the trail each day with Opie but only runs into people “every once in a while.”

“This is a beautiful view and people should take advantage of it,” he said.

The work on the new trail system, streets and stormwater system will take place over the next three years. When all’s said and done, about 2 miles of new trails will connect the Centennial Trail to a new overlook and the intersection of Northwest Boulevard and T.J. Meenach Drive.

McFaul, with the Centennial Trail advocacy group, said the spur would only augment the trail’s use.

“It’s fantastic. For folks that are commuting downtown, what a great opportunity,” she said. “The more spurs we can get into the Centennial Trail, the better.”

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