With increased foot traffic in city parks coming ahead of summer, the Spokane City Council moved Monday to reduce the speed of cars on nearby streets.
Speed limits around several city parks could be decreased to 20 mph year-round under a two-year pilot program adopted by the council.
The speed limit on streets surrounding several city parks are already reduced during the busy summer season, but the resolution’s supporters argued the COVID-19 pandemic has made the matter more urgent.
With schools closed and thousands of people out of work or working from home, city parks are seeing heavy use, according to Councilwoman Lori Kinnear, who spearheaded the proposal. State parks and lands are closed to the public until at least May 4, limiting the choices for socially distant outdoor recreation available to Spokane residents.
Kinnear and Council President Breean Beggs co-sponsored the resolution, which is not binding, but provides direction to the city’s streets department.
“The chances of people getting seriously hurt or killed will reduce,” Beggs said.
Kinnear said the intention was to provide the streets department clear and citywide guidelines, rather than have it receive individual requests from neighborhood councils and concerned citizens for lower speed limits around parks.
The resolution also establishes a process to have other parks added to the list. Any neighborhood council can vote to recommend a park to the City Council, which will vote on whether or not to add it to the list of parks covered by the pilot program.
Although she acknowledged there is a process outlined for adding a new park to the list, Councilwoman Kate Burke asked why the pilot wouldn’t apply to all city parks from the start.
Kinnear said it will only apply to parks that already have seasonal speed limits, eliminating the cost of adding new signage and limiting the burden on the streets department.
“In my perfect world, I would absolutely do that,” Kinnear said.
Kinnear addressed concerns about traffic backups and drivers cutting through neighborhoods to avoid the lower speeds, but argued that the new speed limit would only cost the average motorist an additional few seconds to travel the length of the park.
“In reality, that is just such a small amount of time,” Kinnear said.
As part of the program, the streets department will collect traffic data to assess its efficacy, according to Kinnear.
Gov. Jay Inslee has ordered that city councils and boards across the state prohibit in-person public attendance at their meetings. Also during this time, councils are allowed to vote only on matters that are routine, such as the renewal of a contract, or legislation that is a direct response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
With their meetings fully virtual, the Spokane City Council has canceled the public forum portion of its meetings and is not allowing public testimony, but Beggs said Monday that he had received positive feedback on the proposal from neighborhoods.
The parks listed in the pilot program are:
Cannon Hill Park
Chief Garry Park
West Cliff Drive from South Ben Garnett Way to the Tiger Trail
South High Drive from 21st to 29th
High Drive Parkway from 29th to 33rd
West High Drive from 33rd to Manito Boulevard
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