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

Getting There: Some folks don’t like roundabouts (including new ones on 43rd on South Hill)

The City of Spokane installed three roundabouts on 43rd Avenue between Hatch Road and Perry Street. This one is at Conklin Street. Neighbors had requested the traffic-calming measures, but some motorists are angry about their route being slowed down. (Dan Pelle / The Spokesman-Review)

Round and round, here we go again.

Three new traffic circles have been installed on 43rd Avenue between Hatch Road and Perry Street. Or, for the purposes of this column, we should refer to them not as traffic circles or roundabouts, but rage-inducing wastes of money.

“THREE round-a-bouts just a few blocks away on 43rd? That has to be one of dumbest decisions ever made! I could understand ONE round-a-bout on that street to slow traffic, but THREE is ridiculous!” wrote one placid reader in an email after The Spokesman-Review reported on a new stop sign just around the corner from the traffic circles at Grand Boulevard and High Drive.

Another reader asked a similar question – followed by seven question marks. “It is a neighborhood and doesn’t seem to get a lot of traffic that I can see. Having 3 traffic circles seem such a waste of $$ for that small road,” she wrote in an email.

Another wrote, “Our tax dollars would be better spent on many other street projects or other causes which would benefit the total Spokane citizenship.”

Still more called in. One reader said in a voicemail that her longtime “route” was now a pain to drive, and she was forced to use another one.

So, without further ado, the story of the traffic circles on 43rd.

Pat and Janice Keegan both grew up in Spokane, but ended up spending 30 years living elsewhere. When they moved back in 2012, they bought a house on 43rd between Arthur and Perry streets.

“We love the neighborhood,” Pat Keegan said. “But 43rd is just a cut-through for people coming up High Drive. It’s not supposed to be an arterial. It doesn’t have any sidewalks, so you’re really sharing the street, pedestrians and cars. This is a residential street. Not an arterial. People shouldn’t be driving on it like it is an arterial. If they want to go faster, go drive an arterial.”

Keegan said he realized quickly that speeding motorists were a danger on his street – especially in front of his house.

“That’s where people can reach their peak speed. There’s been some accidents, people hitting parked cars over the years,” he said. “There are families with little kids and they ride their bikes out there. It really is a dangerous situation.”

In recent years, motorists using the street have collided with parked cars and trees, and a dog on a leash was run over and killed, according to a report Keegan prepared for the city.

Looking for a solution, Keegan contacted the city and heard about its Traffic Calming Program, which began in 2010. The program uses money collected from motorists receiving citations from the city’s red light cameras to “reduce the negative effects of motor vehicle use, alter driver behavior, and improve conditions for non-motorized street users,” according to the city’s website.

To get the changes needed to make his street safer, Keegan had to get the support of his neighbors and the Comstock Neighborhood Council.

Along with 10 of their neighbors, the Keegans went door to door. Soon, they had collected about 100 signatures from people living on 43rd, Club Court and 42nd Avenue.

“Everybody was enthusiastic,” Keegan said. “I think there was only one or two people who didn’t want to sign the petition. It was really popular.”

John Schram, co-chair of the Comstock Neighborhood Council, said the work the Keegans put in made their proposal “rise to the top” above others.

“I know Pat and his neighbors did quite a bit of work. I’m just a herder of all the cats. I’m not a decision maker,” Schram said. “It’s a pass-through area. People go way too fast. Cats and dogs were dying. Children were running for their lives. It was a mess and mayhem.”

In 2017, the Spokane City Council approved the project in that year’s slate of 22 traffic calming projects, which included more than $2 million worth of work spread around the city. At $250,000, the 43rd Avenue project was that year’s third most expensive project. A $300,000 sidewalk construction project on Central Avenue between Ash and Alberta streets, as well as as school-related, $275,000 project building a HAWK light, crosswalk and pedestrian island on Wellesley Avenue near Shadle Park High School, cost more.

A HAWK light allows a pedestrian to push a button and trigger a red light for traffic, allowing them to cross the road safely.

Like the other projects approved in 2017, the traffic circles on 43rd were built this year, and construction wrapped up more than a month ago.

Keegan said he’s already seen a marked difference in the speeds motorists go, but acknowledged that not everyone is pleased.

“We’ve seen really good results on this,” he said. “We don’t have any official data on it, but it seems like people are driving slower. The only people that don’t like it are driving through. I’ve seen some hand gestures.”

Schram, however, said he’s heard of an unintended effect that may need to be addressed in the spring.

“The middle one, I’ve affectionately named that traffic circle Gilligan’s Island,” he said. “The problem with Gilligan’s Island, it doesn’t create a line of sight to see what they’re going around. As people are going east on 43rd, they’re directed off to the right on Club Court.”

In other words, some of the traffic that sped in front of Keegan’s house has been redirected to a parallel street that has no traffic circles. Before the circles were built, more than 100 vehicles per hour traveled on 43rd during the busiest times of day. Traffic on 42nd and Club Court registered below 20 vehicles per hour.

Still, Schram said “people haven’t got used to it yet” and wondered if, by spring, the streets would be settled down and motorists would be taking the official east-west arterials on the South Hill: 29th, 37th and 57th avenues.

But, he said, he figured the “two camps” of people with strong emotions on the traffic islands wouldn’t change their minds.

“This is the same for any traffic problem anywhere,” he said. The people who live on the street “are super happy because it’s had the desired effect. The people who drive through there and want to go 70 mph and not watch out for animals or small children are not happy.”

Projects approved

Speaking of traffic calming, the Spokane City Council approved the latest group of projects being paid for by red-light runners. This ninth year of funding dedicated about $1.6 million to projects around the city:

In the city’s northeastern District 1, no projects were named, but $600,000 was set aside for projects to be determined.

In the city’s south, in District 2, four projects were approved. In the Grandview-Thorpe neighborhood, sidewalks will be installed on Milton Street between 15th and 16th avenues. In Lincoln Heights, a crosswalk, signage, lights and a pedestrian refuge will be built on Southeast Boulevard at the entrance to Lincoln Park. In the Manito-Cannon Hill neighborhood, a bumpout will be built on the west side of Bernard Street at 21st Avenue. Finally, in the West Hills neighborhood, shared path signs and speed feedback signs will be put up on Sunset Boulevard.

In District 3, the city’s northwest, seven projects were given the green light. In the Balboa-South Indian Trail neighborhood, signage encouraging motorists to watch out for bicyclists will be put up on Woodside Avenue from Five Mile Road to Indian Trail Road. In the North Hill neighborhood, a HAWK sign will be installed at Longfellow Avenue and Division Street. Also in North Hill, a new crosswalk and bumpouts will be put in at Garland Avenue and Madison Street. In the North Indian Trail neighborhood, crosswalks will be built at Lowell Avenue and Indian Trail Road, as well as at Barnes Road and Farmdale Street. Finally, in West Central, a crosswalk will be built at Broadway Avenue and Chestnut Street, and engineers will complete a conceptual design study for a “Neighborhood Greenway” on Chestnut from Bride to Maxwell avenues.