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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Getting There: Time to reconsider our approach to uncontrolled intersections

Marcus Palmer, 18, talks to a Coeur d’Alene officer in 1993 after his truck was hit from the side at Eighth Street and Gilbert. No one was injured and the other vehicle sustained minor damage. Residents have asked the city to install a stop sign at the uncontrolled intersection. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)
Marcus Palmer, 18, talks to a Coeur d’Alene officer in 1993 after his truck was hit from the side at Eighth Street and Gilbert. No one was injured and the other vehicle sustained minor damage. Residents have asked the city to install a stop sign at the uncontrolled intersection. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

Woonerf is a word not used very much in America.

In Dutch, it translates to “living yard” or “residential grounds,” and is used to describe a street shared by pedestrians, cyclists, children and slow-moving vehicles. Cars that move at the speed of humans.

This designation is generally used in commercial districts. In Spokane, a good example of something like a woonerf is Wall Street, the cobblestone street downtown. It’s where buses, pedestrians, a few cars, the army of Jimmy John’s cyclists and delivery trucks peacefully co-exist.

There are very few signs telling people what to do in their respective transits, yet somehow the street is a pleasant place to walk, ride or drive.

That’s a woonerf. It’s an uncontrolled space: no traffic signals, stop signs, curbs or painted lines.

“The basic idea is that once these controls are stripped away, everyone is forced to become more alert and ultimately more cooperative,” wrote Eric Jaffe on CityLab, Atlantic Media’s site on urban issues. “Through less restraint comes greater focus.”

It’s time to expand this idea to something that’s very common in the United States, even in Spokane: The uncontrolled intersection.

We’ve all been there. Driving down those skinny roads on the South Hill, trying to peek around the parked cars, when you come to an intersection. There’s no light. There’s no stop sign. But there is another car. What to do?

Recently, the city closed a section of High Drive on the South Hill between 21st and 29th avenues, forcing motorists into the residential jungle. A handful of readers wrote in, asking for clarification on the rules of the uncontrolled, or blind, intersection.

First, though, a brief request to consider the uncontrolled intersection as a Dutch woonerf. They’re in neighborhoods, so motorists should be going very slow, moving close to the speed of a car-less person, child or pet. Drivers are alert at the crossings, or should be at the very least out of caution for their own vehicle.

In short, uncontrolled intersections are literally in the “residential grounds” of our city. These are our woonerfs.

Now, to the actual rules of the uncontrolled intersection. The most simple rule of thumb is slow down and yield. Yield to everyone. Don’t rush through because you’re pretty sure you were there first and you don’t want to hold up the whole situation. Just slow down and read the situation. Wave on that father and his stroller, or the bicyclist.

But now to the actual law: “When two vehicles approach or enter an intersection from different highways at approximately the same time, the driver of the vehicle on the left shall yield the right-of-way to the vehicle on the right.” So says RCW 46.61.180, and so should you.

Monroe goes on

The work to completely remake North Monroe continues, with Murphy Brothers working the south end and Red Diamond the north.

Monroe is closed to through traffic from Indiana to Carlisle, and from Euclid to Chelan. Carlisle to Chelan is open to business traffic.

The $8.75 million project will deliver a 1.1-mile section of Monroe vastly different than what was there before. It includes new pavement, lane reconfiguration from five to three lanes, wider sidewalks, new “High Performance Transit” elements similar to what’s on East Sprague Avenue and new street lighting.

Some temporary striping on parts of Monroe show just two lanes with no center turn lane, but this paint is temporary. The stretch will have one lane in either direction, and a center turn lane.

If you haven’t been to Monroe to see the work, go now. The smooth pavement of the North Hill is a joy and the businesses are open.

In the city

Altamont Street between Sprague and Hartson avenues is seeing some maintenance, grind and overlay work. Lanes and traffic are affected.

North Washington is getting crack-sealed between Boone and Buckeye.

A roundabout on Trent Avenue just east of the Trent Bridge is hurriedly coming along. Don’t bother with Trent for this reason, or for the work that is grinding off the top layer of asphalt and replacing it with hot-mix asphalt. The work is taking place from near Havana Street to Hamilton Street.

Sharp Avenue in front of Gonzaga University is getting a major facelift with permeable pavement. Do avoid.

In the Valley

Sprague Road from Sullivan to Corbin is getting preservation work. There are lane restrictions 24 hours a day.

Mission Avenue from Flora to Barker is completely closed for street work. Detours are posted, but local access is allowed.

University District bridge

Work continues on the University District Gateway Bridge. Cables are scheduled to be strung beginning July 5.

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