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

A Main route through downtown: Spokane ponders dedicated bike lane, more pedestrian friendly link to University District

Less than a year after starting to experiment with traffic on Main Avenue, city leaders are already looking at a future corridor they hope will link downtown and the burgeoning University District.

City Council President Ben Stuckart will ask his colleagues to sign off on a plan he said will provide “a perfect connection” between downtown and the education, entrepreneurial and health care hub that reduces the number of eastbound car lanes, adds a two-way lane for cyclists and adds more features for pedestrians. Stuckart said changes to the street would roll out the red carpet not only for visitors, but also potential businesses that want to serve them.

“Really, the street design is just a start to creating a safe, pedestrian-friendly environment,” Stuckart said.

Formal adoption of the study, paid for jointly by the City Council and Kendall Yards developer Jim Frank, will allow Spokane to begin the lengthy process of adopting the standards as part of key downtown planning documents that would then be used to go after grants. Stuckart anticipates any construction on the street is still at least five or six years away.

“I’m really excited about the vision for the street,” Stuckart told his colleagues this week. “But this is a long process.”

No traffic or engineering studies have been completed, and it’s not yet known how much such a transformation would cost. Rehabbing sidewalks built a century ago with vaults beneath them would eat up a bulk of the cost, Stuckart said. But with a $9.5 million pedestrian bridge under construction linking the University District with the East Sprague business district, improvements at the Spokane Convention Center and the new $135 million Davenport Grand Hotel, the council president said it’s the perfect time to build up the street and encourage further downtown investment that replaces surface parking that creates “dead space” along the corridor.

“I think we really need to be looking, as a community, at how do we incentivize development of surface lots,” Stuckart said. He told the council he’d attended meetings with the head of Diamond Parking, along with Mayor David Condon, discussing the plan and how it might alter investor demand for downtown real estate.

The proposed two-way bike lane, dedicated specifically to cyclists, would be the first of its kind in Spokane and mimic systems already available in Seattle, Portland and Washington, D.C.

Ryan Patterson, chair of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, said it was important for the first dedicated bike lane project in Spokane to be somewhere that pedestrians, motorists and cyclists alike can see its success.

“We want a combination of people using it, to be able to show people on bikes, people who don’t ride bikes, or just ride in their car, that this doesn’t negatively impact the traffic flow of the cars on the street,” she said.

On either side of the new, 10-foot wide two-way bike lane would be six feet of “buffer” space that could host farmer’s market stalls or other types of public art and bike racks for parking. The study envisions a road where the focus flips from cars to pedestrians, through the maintainence of existing sidewalks, additional pedestrian features and two parallel parking lanes on each side of the street.

“Essentially, the right-of-way goes from 60/40 in favor of cars, to 62/38 in favor of people,” the study says.

Cyclists aren’t the only nontraditional forms of transportation considered in the initial study. Main Avenue will serve a portion of Spokane Transit Authority’s Central City Line, a rapid transit service using electric buses slated to begin service in 2021.

STA and the city will have to work together to determine where on the block the stops for the new service will be located. STA prefers end-of-the-block stops because they eat up less on-street parking and are safer, but the study’s concept drawings incorporate mid-block boarding areas.

Spokane is still evaluating the traffic effects of restriping on the same four blocks of Main covered under the long-term plan. Last year, the city reduced travel lanes from four to three on three blocks of the road and provided various methods of parking. The most drastic changes occurred on the one-block section between Browne and Division streets, introducing visitors to back-in angle parking in the center lane and required visitors to pay for their parking at kiosks.

Luis Meuler, a city planner overseeing the project, said he’s waiting until this summer’s construction on Division finishes until conducting a speed study on the block. The goal of the pilot project was to see if a minimal investment could lead to a safer street, he said, and if another plan for the street came along, it would trump the current design.

Meuler said the city had mostly received positive feedback on the layout, but businesses along the block said drivers still hadn’t figured out how to navigate the new system and parking had become an issue for employees.

“There’s supposed to be back-in parking, but nobody ever does that,” said Tony Talotti, owner of the Red Lion bar and barbecue restaurant on the southeast corner of Main and Division. Talotti said the neighborhood had been hit hard by construction over the past few summers, and stressed that a single lane of traffic should remain open for access when the work does take place.

Chelsa Gardner, a manager at Chosen Vintage across Division from the Red Lion, said workers who elected to park on the street often have to choose between getting a ticket or serving customers. There’s a two-hour limit for on-street parking on the block, and because of the city’s tougher enforcement this summer, when those two hours are up parkers have to move around the corner.

“It’s highly frustrating,” said Gardner, taking a break from ringing up purchases of vintage furniture and clothing on Wednesday afternoon. “You can park for two hours, but we’re at work for eight hours.”

Stuckart said the long-term plan for the neighborhood needed to include parking that wasn’t just surface lots, including above-street mini-garages that could be developed through private and public partnerships.

“Surface lots don’t meet the need for residential, or for office use,” Stuckart said. He pointed to developments in Pasadena, California, and Boise as models for how parking could work along Main.

Most business owners said they hadn’t yet seen the plans for future construction. The city held an open house soliciting comments on the design options last fall. Stuckart said keeping businesses in the loop, including during open houses held last fall on the plan, were key in avoiding the angst that has been seen in other “road diet” projects around town, including the controversial Monroe Street reconfiguration.

“We engaged (business owners) at the beginning of the process, instead of the end,” Stuckart said.

For now, the plan does not include reverting Main back to a two-way street. It’s been one-way for several decades, Meuler said. Stuckart said maintaining strictly eastbound traffic was at the request of Centennial Properties, developers of the old Macy’s Building and owners of River Park Square Mall downtown.

Centennial Properties is a subsidiary of Cowles Co., which also owns The Spokesman-Review.

“One of the things we looked at was two way,” Stuckart said. “I think this plan takes into account all the input of the neighhborhood.”

Stuckart said he hoped the City Council would consider the study by the end of this month. A full update of the downtown Spokane plans is scheduled to take place next year.