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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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As Fifth Avenue racks up accidents, neighbors ready to take things into their own hands

Neil Hansen said he believes there will be a fatality on his street before the city can install new stop signs or speed bumps.

Hansen’s worries are specific. Between Freya Street and Havana Street along Fifth Avenue, several blocks of intersecting roads don’t have stop signs, he said. His wife’s car was recently totaled as it sat parked in their yard, he said. A few blocks down, another neighbor’s car was totaled after being parked outside his house.

Another neighbor’s pickup was “hit so hard it went through chain link fence, got wrapped up and leaned up against my house,” Hansen said. If not for the fence, Hansen said he believes it would have gone through the exterior wall.

Because changes can come slowly, and the city is hearing urgent requests about dangerous roads, officials are considering new options, including a uniform “slow down” sign homeowners across the city could put in their yards.

This year, between Freya and Havana there have been nine recorded accidents, said Spokane Police Department spokesperson Sgt. John O’Brien. Police categorized two as injury collisions, three as noninjury collisions and four as hit-and-runs, O’Brien said.

“From Altamont and go all the way down, there are no stop signs, there are no yield signs – people just fly through,” said City Councilwoman Betsy Wilkerson, who represents the East Central Neighborhood.

“They fly through because it’s a main arterial. People are not yielding the right of way because nobody in Spokane has driving etiquette.”

Though Wilkerson has heard lots of complaints about speed and safety in her neighborhood, it hasn’t risen to the council yet, she said.

Shauna Harshman, manager of neighborhood connectivity initiatives, works as a liaison between the City Council and the Office of Neighborhood Services, a city department specializing in traffic issues.

In the last few weeks, she’s seen some neighborhoods try to take high speeds into their own hands. In Lincoln Heights, some neighbors stood outside holding “slow” signs recently.

Neighbors who live near Joe Albi Stadium put up some “slow, children at play” signs about two weeks ago, Harshman said.

The street department had taken down the signs because they were in the right of way and weren’t designed in a safe way, she said, having “protruding nuts and bolts and screws.”

“They had gotten into a little bit of hot water for that,” Harshman said.

But in response to that neighborhood’s initiative, the city is starting to look at getting uniform “slow down” signs that homeowners anywhere in the city could put up in their yards.

The problem, Harshman said, is it can take several years to see those changes. With COVID-19 jamming up administrators, the process to get signs, speed bumps or other changes will likely stretch from about two years to three, she said.

It starts with a process of collecting data from the streets department, then figuring out whether proposed changes fit with engineering and street standards and, finally, the design process.

“Then there’s a finite pot of money,” Harshman said.

Harshman started a system to record all traffic concerns in a spreadsheet so they aren’t forgotten and she can create an annual report at the end of the year, she said. That report could point to the most severe problem spots based on numbers of complaints. For now, she’s taking complaints over the phone and in her email inbox.

The neighborhood traffic calming program, which focuses on creating safer streets, is in the midst of an overhaul right now to make it more responsive to citizen concerns, Harshman said. By submitting an application through the program, neighborhoods can start the process to eventually see changes like stop and yield signs.

But to Hansen, change needs to be immediate.

“The neighborhood could get together and put speed bumps out there. Because that’s the point we’re at. We’re willing to break the law to get people’s attention to fix the problem,” Hansen said.

Hansen’s worst fear, he said, is “somebody getting killed. We’ve got kids walking back and forth between Freya and Havana to and from school.”

To meet immediate needs, Harshman said neighbors should start by asking for spot support from law enforcement. People will usually work through their neighborhood resource officer, a Spokane Police Department officer who is based at one of the Community Oriented Policing Services locations around the city.

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