Two transportation items were stripped from the planning document guiding Spokane’s growth over coming decades, showing the Spokane City Council’s preference for city planning that is not wholly centered on automobiles.
The two items, one of which would affect all future road projects and the other centered on the Southgate Neighborhood, aren’t completely dead. The city is currently seeking new ways to address them outside of the city’s Comprehensive Plan, said city Planning Director Lisa Key.
One item, the Ray-Freya Crossover, was first envisioned by city planners in 1966, when a different view of urban planning ruled city building. The plan called for an arterial street to wind through Ferris High School and by its running track.
The Southgate Neighborhood Council opposed the “auto-oriented” project, noting that the crossover had been abandoned in the neighborhood planning process ten years before.
With stiff pushback from the neighborhood, the City Council voted unanimously to strip the crossover from the city’s plan.
The council also voted in agreement to rid the plan of a section that would’ve allowed economically significant road projects to jump to the top of the city’s street work list and not be subject to Complete Streets ordinance, which require all street rebuilds to proceed in accordance with Spokane’s bike and pedestrian plans. Opponents of the section said it would allow powerful developers to essentially cut in line while leaving streets half-built without sidewalks or other elements outlined in the plans.
The massive planning document provides guidance for all aspects of the city’s long-range development, and on a range of issues including land use, housing, utilities, urban design, economic development, parks and more.
The plan was first adopted in 2001 and updated in 2006. The recent overhaul to the plan began in 2013 and ended when the council voted 5-1 to adopt it.
Both changes to the plan, which fall in its 88-page transportation chapter, were suggested by Council President Ben Stuckart. Councilman Mike Fagan voted against the overall plan’s adoption, and Councilwoman Amber Waldref was absent.
No other changes were made by the council.
Key, the city’s planning director, said the changes to the transportation chapter didn’t come as a surprise, and the two issues “are being addressed differently.”
Crossover killed, no cuts in line
This fall, the city will conduct a “preferred alternative analysis” in the Southgate neighborhood to determine how best to deal with what the city perceives as traffic congestion on Regal Street. Key said the analysis could find that no action is necessary on the road, or it could bring the $4 million Ray-Freya Crossover back to life.
But neighborhood leaders are already pointing to the Southgate neighborhood plan, which suggests traffic signal improvements at the intersections of Ray and Freya at 37th.
“This alternative reduces impacts on Ferris, on Hazel’s Creek and is undoubtedly less costly,” said a blogpost on the neighborhood’s website. Adding signals to the two intersections would cost and estimated “$500,000 where the crossover would cost $4,056,000 and still require a signal and intersection improvements at adjacent intersections.”
Key said the analysis will take about six months.
The change to the “project of significance” section came about because the section was misinterpreted as a way to avoid Complete Streets requirements, Key said. The section was intended as a way to raise projects that rated poorly in the city’s ranking system but were still seen as economically significant by city staff. The city council would’ve had to approve adding any projects to the top of the list.
Key said the city council will soon consider a economic development ordinance that will address this proposal to “provide an allowance for projects that are important to economic development.”
Anthony Gill wrote forcefully against the proposal on his urbanism blog, Spokane Rising, warning against allowing loopholes into requirements governing street use beyond that for the car.
“Even if current City staff may care about sidewalks and bike lanes, and fully intend to construct them at later dates for these projects, we don’t know what future City staff would do,” Gill wrote. “It is so poorly written that the only solution that would completely eliminate the risk of abuse on the part of City staff would be to strike it entirely.”
Regardless, Key said she was pleased with the Comprehensive Plan approved by the council, calling it the “vision that the community has established for ourselves.”
She encouraged people to read the plan online.
“It’s really slick and easy to use and there are links embedded in the document,” she said.