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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Study calls for removal of left-turn barrier on 29th at Pittsburg, more street connections on South Hill

East- and westbound traffic on 29th Avenue is prohibited from turning north and south onto Pittsburg Street because of a barrier in the street Tuesday in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)
East- and westbound traffic on 29th Avenue is prohibited from turning north and south onto Pittsburg Street because of a barrier in the street Tuesday in Spokane. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

A traffic study of 29th Avenue on Spokane’s South Hill recommends removing a center lane barrier at Pittsburg Street and extending Crestline Street to connect with Southeast Boulevard.

The study, done by California-based DKS Associates, urges more connections of roads on the sometimes mazelike South Hill and suggests construction of better pedestrian crossings.

The traffic study was done for the city as it evaluates a proposal to build hundreds of residences and thousands of commercial square feet on undeveloped property near the intersection of 29th and Southeast Boulevard, but it looked at the entire 29th Avenue corridor.

The intersection at Pittsburg, the only one where left-hand turns off of 29th are prevented, ended up a focus of the study, which recommends the construction of a traffic signal to increase safety for pedestrians and cyclists.

Removing the barrier would “allow the intersection to operate with full access,” the study says, noting that neighborhood plans call for Pittsburg to be a “greenway,” a type of street that places priorities on pedestrians and cyclists over cars.

“The installation of a traffic signal should also be considered in the future to provide a controlled intersection for all users,” the study says. “Although the vehicle volumes may not be high enough to warrant a traffic signal, benefits to citywide pedestrian and bicycle connectivity and safety for all users may justify the need.”

The suggestion to remove the Pittsburg barrier touches on an argument that fueled South Hill traffic concerns decades ago.

In August 1984, the city had plans to make Pittsburg a four-lane, 44-foot-wide arterial between 29th and 34th avenues, but neighbors organized against the project. A flyer circulated saying the project had to be stopped “unless we are willing to accept gas fumes and traffic” in the neighborhood.

The Spokane City Council eventually sided with the residents and designated the street as a residential road. In August 1985, however, the cityPlan Commission voted to make Pittsburg a “collector arterial” to carry heavier traffic loads across the South Hill.

The City Council blocked that decision. Still, traffic counts grew on the street, which stretches 2 miles and connects Rockwood Boulevard to 49th Avenue.

In 1993, with traffic still growing and neighbors still complaining that the street had become dangerously crowded, the city installed the 300-foot-long concrete barrier to prevent drivers from making left turns at the intersection. The barrier’s construction had the support of then-Mayor Sheri Barnard, who lived on Pinecrest Road near the intersection, but not that of firefighters, who said it would slow their response to emergencies on Pittsburg, according to newspaper coverage at the time.

Barnard, who no longer lives in the neighborhood, said she had no role in approving the barrier but worried about Pittsburg’s safety.

“I used to get very worried because cars would speed across 29th,” she said. “In my heart, I knew somebody was going to die. It really bothered me. It was a very dangerous road.”

Barnard said the city should have allowed left turns off of 29th, but agreed a traffic signal is necessary without the barriers.

“I was relieved it wasn’t a through speedway. It was a mess. It was always a mess,” she said. “But if they take that barrier out, they have to have a stoplight.”

Much like the 30-year-old argument against making Pittsburg an arterial, the Crestline extension has created controversy among neighbors. City engineers support the extension, but nearby residents and Jim Frank, who plans to build the massive development, say it’s unnecessary.

Though the recent traffic study says Crestline “should be connected between 32nd Avenue and Southeast Boulevard to improve neighborhood connectivity,” Frank said the report, in fact, supports his position against building Crestline as a major road.

“What they found is that there is no capacity or level of service problems,” in the area, Frank said. “There’s no problem that needs fixing. There’s no identifiable problem that will be fixed by designating Crestline an arterial.”

As Frank notes, the study says the 29th Avenue corridor can handle traffic counts projected over the next 20 years. He said that shows the Crestline extension is unnecessary. If today’s roads can handle 20 years of traffic, why build another one, he asked.

The study predicts that, if built, Crestline would attract 650 vehicles a day through the year 2040. That number falls short of the definition of an arterial road, which sees more than 1,000 vehicles a day. But that growth in traffic would increase congestion at the already busy intersection of 29th and Southeast Boulevard.

“That’s where they all go. So they make that intersection worse. They worsen the worst intersection,” Frank said. “There is no justification for the arterial.”

As the study describes, the street’s predicted traffic counts would define the road as a “local access street.” Frank said he was willing to connect 31st Avenue to Southeast Boulevard as a small, residential road.

“I don’t think it’s necessary, but we’ve offered it as an alternative,” he said.

Currently, the city’s comprehensive plan, which guides long-term development, suggests Crestline should be built as an arterial. The City Council unanimously supported a resolution removing the Crestline extension from the comprehensive plan in June.

The development’s fate now rests with the council. In January, the county’s hearing examiner said the comprehensive plan required the construction of Crestline as an arterial, and Frank and a coalition of neighbors appealed the decision.

Also, the city Plan Commission is considering removing Crestline from the comprehensive plan later this month.

Both decisions – that of the hearing examiner and the Plan Commission – require final approval by the City Council, which is anticipated in April.

The study also recommends enhanced pedestrian crossings at six locations – Garfield, Arthur, Pittsburg, Martin and Mt. Vernon streets, and at the Rosauers store – citing “low pedestrian crossing activity combined with high vehicle volumes and wide crossing widths.”

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