Lincoln Street and Main Avenue. In the 16 months that the one-way block of Lincoln between the downtown Spokane Public Library and Nordstrom was reversed, that intersection has been a frustrating point of interaction.
And not just for motorists headed north, south, east and west, but also for the gaggle of pedestrians who traverse what must be one of the best-used collections of crosswalks downtown.
Remember when the one-way block of Lincoln just south of Spokane Falls Boulevard went the other way? Or when there was a crosswalk on the west side of the intersection? Or how about when traffic wasn’t a total nightmare and backed up for blocks on Lincoln during rush hour?
Those were the days.
Not all hope is lost, though. After mulling over a handful of options, the city has settled on a plan for how the roads will look once work on the $20 million, 2.2-million gallon sewage and stormwater tank – not to mention the plaza on its top – is complete on the bluff overlooking the lower Spokane falls and Huntington Park.
First, it should be said, Spokane Falls Boulevard will once again carry traffic. There was some discussion at City Hall about making sure the new pedestrian plaza actually has people in it, and a roster of early options included a plan to forever close that section of the road to traffic, but that plan was scuttled.
“You’re creating this great pedestrian plaza, how are we going to accommodate the pedestrians,” said Marlene Feist, director of strategic development for the city’s Public Works and Utilities Department. The solution was to cut the number of lanes from three to two, and add a wide, raised crosswalk called a “pedestrian table” at the intersection of Spokane Falls and Lincoln.
“It’s raised a little bit. It’s not a speed bump but it will give people pause,” Feist said.
Feist said a traffic analysis showed that Spokane Falls needed three lanes to handle the amount of vehicles that use it. Instead of putting all three lanes together on the boulevard, the southbound, block-long one-way of Lincoln will remain in place as a one-lane spur of Spokane Falls Boulevard.
“We like the southbound direction on Lincoln that we’ve been using,” Feist said.
That switch has some reverberating effects. A northbound bus stop that used to snug up against Nordstrom will be replaced by angled parking. The bus stop will be moved to the triangle of land that holds the 12-foot bronze statue of Abraham Lincoln.
After picking up and dropping riders at the stop, the bus will head to the Monroe Street Bridge, turning where no other vehicles turn by taking a section of southbound Monroe that currently allows traffic onto Main.
Bike lanes on Spokane Falls will be extended past the plaza, and with some of the added green space on the west side of the library, this part of town might have more non-auto-oriented life to it.
Overall, the roads will look very similar to how they were before construction, and things will finally get back to normal.
But let’s be honest. The intersections of those roads – Monroe, Lincoln, Spokane Falls and Main – is bewildering. The veteran motorists of Spokane navigate the maze just fine, but woe to any newcomer that dares the Monroe tangle. Isn’t there a better way?
For instance, maybe the city could follow the lead of the Washington State Department of Transportation and build a roundabout. Like the one by the Spokane tribal casino or by the Costco being built north of town or the ones coming to Deer Park. The city could even replicate the big, bike-friendly roundabout it’s building on Trent Avenue just east of the river.
Just imagine. Cars are traveling slowly through the core, so drivers would be fine handling the gentle curve of a roundabout. The many roads could flow around the traffic circle without having to ever stop at a red light.
And the central plaza of the circle could be graced with the Lincoln statue. We could call it the Lincoln Circle.
Just a guess here, but this probably isn’t the preferred choice for many drivers, judging by the angry mail that comes after the dreaded word “roundabout” is mentioned in the paper.
Feist agrees. A roundabout would drive costs skyward, require right of way property acquisition and probably make walking in the area difficult, she said.
“I don’t know how seriously we looked at roundabouts,” she said. “I think it might impede traffic more than anything else.”
But for those who deride roundabouts as something American motorists aren’t used to and can’t learn how to use, just consider what was on the library’s site before 1930. It was called the Terminal Building, and it was where riders could meet both streetcars and local trains a few blocks from the major rail depots that sat in what is now Riverfront Park. People could grab a train here to Coeur d’Alene or Moscow. Or hop on a streetcar to Manito Park or Hillyard.
Rails ran down Main Avenue and wrapped around the oval-shaped building. Six lanes of rails rounded the building.
Point is, things change. But as Feist suggests, change comes slow, especially when there are many people who have interests tied to a transportation project. The full design doesn’t need approval from the City Council, but the plans have been discussed with business and property owners affected by the change, as well as council members.
“We think this is acceptable for the community,” she said. “This is really a great compromise and solution. It’s exciting to see this come to fruition.”
Work on the plaza and the sewage and stormwater tank is expected to be complete in mid-2019, with Spokane Falls opening at some point before. When something new and completely different will come to this wild and woolly intersection remains undetermined.
Bike town hall
Nearly 50 people attended the Bicyclists’ Town Hall last week, an event put on by Spokane City Councilwoman Kate Burke.
Burke, who was elected to the council last year, said bicyclists have an “ally” in her, but pointed out she was one vote of seven, and encouraged bike-minded people to take concerns to all elected officials.
Some of those concerns were evident during a question-and-answer session. The growing stockpile of bikeways was cheered, but attendees said they wanted more and safer routes. The gravel-choked bike lanes in the city were also criticized.
Burke also encouraged residents to volunteer to sit on the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, which is short of members.
For more information, visit https://my.spokanecity.org/bcc/boards/bicycle-advisory-board.
Costco roundabout to open
The new two-lane roundabout on U.S. Highway 2 by the forthcoming north side Costco opens this Thursday, July 19. The store is expected to open the next day.
Expect confused drivers during the first days and weeks after the circular intersection opens. Here are the rules and ways of the roundabout.
Slow down and select the correct lane before entering the roundabout.
Yield to traffic already in the roundabout. Wait for a gap, then enter the correct lane.
Use turn signals when exiting the roundabout. Drivers exiting from the left lane should be aware of other vehicles in the right lane and use caution.
Yield to any pedestrians who might be crossing the road when exiting the roundabout.
And take a deep breath.
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