It’s hard to think of a clearer collision between old and new Spokane than what’s happening on North Monroe Street.
Old Spokane is the oversimplified but not wholly incorrect story of a city that a lot of people are trying to move past – a vision of a crumbling wasteland, of hot asphalt and cracked storefronts, a grimy place to drive past. New Spokane is the oversimplified but not wholly incorrect story of a city that is rising – a vision of a culturally vibrant, economically improving, forward-thinking place you might actually visit.
Old Spokane looks a bit like North Monroe.
New Spokane looks like what it’s going to become.
Is that too grandiose a claim for a street project? I don’t think so. And while I can appreciate that some business owners have concerns about the construction season and the potential for diverting traffic, it’s hard to imagine that the changes that are almost certainly coming to the North Monroe corridor, from Indiana to Cora, won’t be a vast improvement.
The project will reduce Monroe from four tightly packed lanes to three – one each direction and a turn lane. It will widen sidewalks and add curb features to improve pedestrian safety. (The city notes that there have been five injury or fatality pedestrian collisions on that stretch of road in the past five years, including the death of a 5-year-old in 2013.) And it will bring in benches, attractive lighting and other features.
City and neighborhood officials have been discussing the North Monroe corridor project since 2011; the first public hearing on the plan was held in the summer of 2014. The Plan Commission and City Council both adopted it that year, and a series of other meetings and public hearings have been occurring since. Construction is scheduled to begin next year.
Some business owners along the street are opposing the project, concerned that it will reduce traffic and worried in particular about the effects of a long construction delay – understandable given last year’s gnarled roadways downtown. But other business owners see the potential in the project, and in any case, it seems to be heading toward fruition.
We’re seeing plenty of evidence all around town that revitalized streetscapes can pay big dividends. The South Perry neighborhood stands as one example, where walkable streets, curb bumpouts, new lighting and other improvements helped lay a foundation to help the neighborhood thrive. In different ways, the improvements along south Lincoln and Monroe turned what was a four-lane speedway into a slowed-down and more pleasant place to live – at least for me.
On West Main there’s another kind of infrastructure change – swapping out the four-lane throughway for a middle-of-the-street angled parking and pedestrian walkways. The difference is night and day.
North Monroe isn’t the same as those areas, nor are the proposed street improvements. But I think these changes will make it possible for North Monroe to flourish in similar ways.
These projects do more than fix cracked roads and sidewalks; they provide a foundation – a structure – that influences how people live around them. The current North Monroe encourages door-to-door driving and discourages stopping and walking. The sidewalks are unpleasantly narrow. The cracked and pocked four lanes are squeezed tight. You better watch carefully after parking when you open your car door on the traffic side.
All told, it’s a place that’s made to drive through, not go to.
In the new Spokane, that means it’s time for a change.