There’s no surer way to win the heart of a Spokane voter. Tell them you’ll fix the potholes.
It’s election season in the city, but this year’s different. Potholes are the scourge of any paved city, but Spokane has some unique transportation issues that deserve more than election year sloganeering. With that in mind, we sent everyone running for Spokane mayor the same 12 questions to see what they think about the city’s roads, buses and bikeways, and how they’d fix whatever’s broken.
That’s not to say the five mayoral candidates don’t care about potholes. We just didn’t want them to ignore everything else. Let’s be honest: Our transportation system is big, complex, we all use it, we all pay for it and we all have a stake in how it’s managed.
Two candidates – Ben Stuckart and Kelly Cruz – were comfortable enough with the issues to answer the questions by phone, though they were given the option to answer by email. The others, given the same option, chose email. Some responses have been edited for length. Others came in short and sweet – like a perfect commute. That’s something we can all be thankful for.
How do you commute? How do you want to commute, on a perfect day?
Jonathan Bingle: Like the vast majority of Spokane, I drive to work. On a longer drive or in the winter, I drive my truck because it’s safer. On shorter drives in the summertime, I ride my moped around to be better on gas.
Kelly Cruz: I use a personal vehicle to commute. On a perfect day I’d probably get a bike out and ride – if the traffic isn’t too bad.
Shawn Poole: By car and by car.
Ben Stuckart: On a typical day, I drive my car because I have meetings all over town. On a perfect day, I’d love to bike ride and take public transportation.
Nadine Woodward: Working until midnight most of my career, I commuted by car.
Has the city done enough under outgoing Mayor David Condon to maintain roads (rebuilding arterials, fixing potholes, snowplowing, etc.)?
Bingle: Mayor Condon’s done a great job of starting an improvement process for road construction in Spokane, but we’ve been neglecting our roads for a long time. There are still many more improvements to be made. On snow removal, we have to stop acting like a temperate town and more like winter is a real problem and be prepared to actually remove snow instead of just pushing it out of the way. Taxpayers expect it to be done quickly and efficiently.
Cruz: I don’t think we’ve been as up to par as we could be. We have several roads that are in need of repairs. … Central Avenue by Holy Family Hospital – that’s in front of a hospital and it’s all beat up. That’s ridiculous.
Poole: In my opinion, no.
Stuckart: I think we’ve got a really good arterial plan in place. We’ve doubled the amount of work on residential streets over the last seven and a half years under my leadership, but I still don’t think that’s enough for residential. My caveat on arterial work is, we all think we could do more, but I think we’ve reached our peak on work without affecting commerce in the city.
Woodward: Voters have shown a willingness to pass street levies. Responsible infrastructure projects, street maintenance and snow removal are fundamental responsibilities of city government. We can always do better.
What would you do differently than Condon when it comes to transportation?
Bingle: The mayor and the city council had a vision for North Monroe and how this business district could look but it didn’t seem as if they cared about the business owners’ opinion. The new sidewalks are nice, but is this the best use of the space? The road is now borderline undrivable during both rush hour and non-rush hours. We need to make sure we always have bus turnouts so we’re not backing up traffic.
Cruz: I’d have to look at the budget and see if we’re putting enough money into maintaining our streets. I’m a little bit miffed about Maple and Ash, from Wellesley to Francis. That was rebuilt by the previous street bond (the $117 million street bond passed by voters in 2004). Now we’re having to go back because the streets are coming apart and we’re having to grind and overlay.
Poole: Prioritize transportation projects with special emphasis on fixing and maintaining our streets. The taxpayers pay a lot in taxes and deserve to have safe, drivable roads. They also have an expectation of having safe plowed streets for commuting during winter months. We need to be more proactive with plowing instead of being reactionary or betting on snowfall trends or weather reports.
Stuckart: I would prioritize more infrastructure for alternative methods of transportation.
Woodward: Transportation is a broad arena. Sitting on the STA board gives the mayor an opportunity to influence various public transportation projects. The Indian Trail/Five Mile congestion is a major concern, along with the Regal Street corridor from 29th to 57th. As our city’s growth continues, these problems will continue to grow as well.
Do you support the $72 million Central City Line? Why or why not?
Bingle: Yes, if we can adequately address the added vehicle congestion. It’s a good idea to give people a way to quickly move downtown.
Cruz: I’m not really a big fan of that because the technology has not been proven. The electronic battery is not where it needs to be for a commercial application.
Poole: Yes, in some respects. I support it based on being entirely funded by state and federal dollars and the prospect of $175 million in economic impact over the next 30 years in the areas of the CCL. What I don’t support is the potential negative impact on residents along the CCL route, such as potential “right of way” issues, foot traffic and bus stop locations.
Stuckart: I support it 100% because everybody that rides a bus takes another car off the road, decreases congestion and that’s good for the environment. I believe it will be a game changer for the city of Spokane.
Woodward: Without grants this project would not have been economically feasible. It’s an incredibly expensive idea. But, in the end, I think it will be a positive one for our city.
Do you support construction of the $1.5 billion North Spokane Corridor? Why or why not?
Bingle: Yes, but we need to commit to getting it done now. To spend this amount of money to build a new artery may be necessary, but it can’t take this much time as traffic needs change as the city grows. When we get the vision, we must commit and follow through, otherwise we’ve wasted taxpayer dollars because it’s not what we need now, and we’ve hurt the trust between the taxpayer and the city.
Cruz: Yeah, I do. I thought we should’ve pressed that issue with the state a lot quicker. The sooner it gets done, the better for us. That’s our door to Canada.
Poole: Yes! We have grown a lot in the past 20 years and basically have something like five north-south arterials. We went through a period of urban sprawl and still have the same arterials that feed Spokane. We need a corridor that can accommodate our north-south commuters, which will cut down commute times, congestion on our existing arterials and potentially reduce carbon emissions throughout Spokane because of idling vehicles during rush hour traffic.
Stuckart: I do, because I think it will help bring manufacturing back to north Spokane, so it’s an opportunity. It’s unfortunate it took this long, but it’s too far down the road to stop now.
Woodward: Yes, we need an alternative to Division Street. Unfortunately, it’s developing much slower than anyone expected.
What is your appraisal of the redesigns of East Sprague and North Monroe?
Bingle: While it’s improved the aesthetic of the neighborhoods, aesthetics can’t be our primary goal. We must talk about function because function must be our primary concern on city roads.
Cruz: It’s mixed on North Monroe. A lot of business I’ve talked to like the parking amenities but they’re not sure about the traffic flow. There’s been some accidents up there, but I think that’s because of people’s driving habits. On East Sprague, it’s too bad they couldn’t find a better way to accommodate the buses.
Poole: I am not in favor of road diets as a priority. Again, we have limited north-south arterials and it’s counter-intuitive to reduce one of those to three lanes. East Sprague, although not an arterial, is another road diet that wasn’t needed in my opinion.
Stuckart: 100% support. East Sprague was my idea. I believe the facts prove them out. We’re having more businesses open on this corridor than any other center or corridor in town. It’s been a complete success. Smart city investments lead to private investments. We should replicate those in other targeted areas.
Woodward: I’m not a fan of road diets, nor are many businesses I’ve talked to along these arterials. Congestion continues to be problem because of fewer lanes of traffic and the center turn lane has become a passing lane to get around STA buses when they’re pulled over creating dangerous conditions for motorists.
Should the city encourage people to not drive to work? If not, how do you recommend we combat increasing traffic congestion in the city?
Bingle: Commuting relies on a transportation system of a combination of roads and public transportation. We can’t just address one area of what’s causing traffic congestion. We can take cars off roads but that won’t fix our problems. We need roads and public transportation that addresses the needs of each neighborhood. Every neighborhood is unique.
Cruz: I think it’s a good idea for the city to encourage alternative transportation during the workweek. We also need to do a better job on public transportation. We should use incentives to encourage people not to use their car during the week, or carpool. If we do that, we need to show how it’s helped save money on road maintenance.
Poole: The city should always encourage alternate means of transportation. Things like promoting ride-sharing and mass transit/public transportation should be a priority and should be more incentivized. Those incentives would include discounted tickets and expanded shuttle services to public transportation transfer hubs.
Stuckart: I think we should definitely be encouraging people. That could be through reduced fares on STA. By building the infrastructure for alternate forms, you’ll increase bike riding. We’ll see less cars. With the Central City Line, we need to be increasing density around those transit stops. The biggest thing over the next four years is taking advantage of the Central City Line in how we build our city in the future.
Woodward: I’d consider a different approach, encouraging a commuter-friendly transportation system where possible. Park-and-rides are terrific options and could be expanded by working with our neighboring cities, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Post Falls and Coeur d’Alene. Spokane is a commuter-oriented city, so our planning departments need to be realistic in developing future infrastructure projects.
Do you support the construction of protected bike lanes on Riverside and throughout the city?
Bingle: The construction of bike lanes should be reserved to bikeable neighborhoods. Put the bike lanes where the bikers are. If more people start biking, you can expand it later.
Cruz: I encouraged bike lanes early on when we had discussions. Not every street needs a bike lane. Some are for exclusive automobile use. On Riverside, I think it would be a better safety measure (to include protected bike lanes). But once again, not all over. Just particular areas.
Poole: I support some protected bike lanes as it’s a cleaner form of travel and reduces our carbon footprint, but under-utilization is a concern. Protected bike lanes on Riverside is something that I don’t support. Reducing the width of a major road through downtown will add to congestion, especially during heavy snowfall times when snow berms inhibit traffic flow and further reduce the road width.
Stuckart: Yes. That will increase ridership and make people feel safer. Everybody that does ride a bike takes another car off the road and makes it less congested.
Woodward: Bike lanes are great for those who use them. I would like to see usage counts to gauge actual activity. On some busy arterial, are they worth the space and cost? Our taxpayers deserve the most efficient roads for their money.
Do you support the presence of Lime and other shared mobility in town?
Bingle: Yes, and we should be looking at other shared mobility options. Most transportation issues should be addressed as a neighborhood by neighborhood issue.
Cruz: I like the concept of using the Lime scooters but I think they need to follow the same rules as people on bikes. There’s a reason why we don’t allow bicycles on the sidewalk with pedestrians.
Poole: I was initially against Lime’s presence in Spokane and the use of taxpayer dollars for a feasibility study to see if Lime would be utilized. I still don’t agree with using taxpayer dollars for that program but people seem to be utilizing the scooters and having fun while doing so.
Stuckart: Yes. I think they’re great for short commutes. I use Lime downtown instead of hopping in my car.
Woodward: They have proven to be quite popular. Many cities have shared bike services. I’m for anything that makes sense and doesn’t waste taxpayer money.
Was the city right in loosening its helmet laws for Lime users?
Bingle: Yes, and it should be consistently applied to all bike users. At their heart, laws must be practical and enforceable. This was an unenforceable law that was frankly impractical.
Cruz: No. There should be consistent rules. I ride my personal bike downtown. I wear my helmet.
Poole: Absolutely not! The same standard should apply to everyone across the board. Lime riders should be required to follow the same helmet laws as everyone else.
Stuckart: Yes. I think we should have a conversation about loosening helmet laws for bicyclists as well. Helmet laws dissuade people from riding bicycles.
Woodward: I believe laws should be administered equally. Citing a bike rider for not wearing a helmet but allowing Lime users to share our city’s arterials exempt from the law could very well be questioned if a Lime rider is seriously injured. It also puts the Spokane Police Department in a challenging enforcement position.
What’s wrong with Spokane’s transportation system? What is the city missing?
Bingle: Lack of affordable parking in the areas of the city that need it most, and there’s no long-term vision. Our current parking needs aren’t being served by our current parking providers. Single-level lots must be made into affordable, multi-level parking options. Our most important job is going to be working with our state and federal partners to create a long-term vision for I-90. It’s constantly packed with drivers and on-ramps and off-ramps aren’t long enough. If we can’t widen I-90 or lengthen our on-ramps, we can’t grow. And we can’t just build for our current needs otherwise we’ll find ourselves in the same place we are now. We need to plan for the future which involves working with Idaho, the Valley, the airport authority, and others.
Cruz: They need to do a better job on timing routes and making sure buses show up when they’re supposed to show up. People trying to go to work or show up at an appointment, they need to be able to depend on the time frame.
Poole: Infrastructure! We have grown in population as a city but still have much of the existing infrastructure in place. We need to do an extensive traffic study to determine where our needs lie in an effort to reduce congestion, decrease commute times and reduce our carbon footprint. Road diets, although aesthetically pleasing, do very little to address our transportation issues.
Stuckart: We built too much density on the outskirts of our city, which causes congestion on streets like Indian Trail and Regal. Districts like North Monroe are increasing density and growing. We should be developing our city into 10-minute neighborhoods, which means you should be able to walk out your front door and get to services within 10 minutes. Our city’s Comprehensive Plan, designed by thousands of citizens, gives us the road map to get there.
Woodward: That’s a very big question. As already discussed, our transportation initiatives will require a sensible, cooperative, and at times regional approach, to achieve results that work for our taxpayers, residents and commuters.
What city have you traveled to that has a transportation system that we should emulate?
Bingle: Salt Lake City, Utah, has successfully managed their growing population and balanced it with the needs of their current residents. Utah has a bonding program that bonds long term infrastructure projects.
Cruz: Years ago, I went to England. Their rail and bus system, their timed routes are such that when they say they’re leaving at 5:05, they leave at 5:05. They use the schedule. It reduces your carbon output because it’s contained to the few buses, versus 30,000 automobiles. Studies show that you can add all the lanes you want to a road and it won’t do anything. Maybe we could build light rail to the Valley, Post Falls or Coeur d’Alene. If we do it right, that’s an economic engine. We have to look forward, and from a regional standpoint.
Poole: Seoul, South Korea. But then again every city that I’ve visited both in the states and abroad have their unique challenges and transportation systems. We have to find what’s right for Spokane and the people that utilize our transportation system.
Stuckart: Madison, Wisconsin. They have developed a series of roads through their town that are thoroughfares, arterials. They have other roads that slow drivers down and encourage business and walkability. They have a very well-connected trail system, a very well-designed road system to get you where you need to go, and they have roads that give throughput. If you build it right, you can have throughput and safety.
Woodward: I grew up in Vancouver, Washington, and watched the launch of the Portland MAX (light rail service) in the early ’90s. It was a tough project to get off the ground and hugely expensive. But now, it connects 60 miles of the region and is widely used. Portland is much bigger than Spokane, though, and the idea of a light rail here has been discussed for years. Our STA board must be encouraged to be open, realistic and imaginative as we face our regional transportation issues.
And with that, you know everything you need to know about this year’s candidate for mayor. Take what you learned here, one-issue voters, and go vote Aug. 6.