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Opinion >  Column

Getting There: High Drive speed limit dropped to 20 mph

The speed limit has been lowered on High Drive, a scenic but busy arterial along the bluff on Spokane’s South Hill, to 20 miles per hour. The stretch of road is also a popular walking, running and biking trail. Shown Friday, Sept. 4, 2020.  (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
The speed limit has been lowered on High Drive, a scenic but busy arterial along the bluff on Spokane’s South Hill, to 20 miles per hour. The stretch of road is also a popular walking, running and biking trail. Shown Friday, Sept. 4, 2020. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)

There’s nothing hard about driving fast on the recently repaved High Drive Parkway. As you head up or down the South Hill to or from downtown, the neighborhoods and city open up to offer a view from the bluff that drops down to Latah Creek.

Spokane councilwoman Lori Kinnear, whose district includes the South Hill, admits as much.

“It’s a brand-new street, it’s smooth,” Kinnear said last week. “It’s fun to drive fast. It just is.”

But she, like everyone else, is going to have to put that pleasure aside for at least the next two years. Kinnear and her fellow council members voted to adopt earlier this year a resolution to institute year-round 20-mile-per-hour speed limits adjacent to certain parks and park properties in the city for a two-year pilot study.

The parks affected include Aububon, Chief Garry, Comstock, Lincoln, A.M. Cannon, Mission, Shadle and Manito. Also affected is the stretch of High Drive Parkway from 21st Avenue to Manito Boulevard.

While the changes around the parks don’t seem to have ruffled many feathers, the change on High Drive Parkway has drawn some criticism.

One letter to the editor of this newspaper called it not only “ridiculous” but also “insane.”

Debbie Oscarson’s response is quite a bit milder.

She lives near 27th Avenue and Browne Street and said she rides her bike “as often as I can” on High Drive, the residential street that runs parallel to the confusingly similarly named High Drive Parkway.

She said she’s “not upset about” the change. “Mostly,” she said, “I’m just curious why.”

Mark Silver, who lives one block off High Drive, said in an email that he’s confused, too:

“This is an arterial. It is a snow emergency route. There are no buses, no schools, no churches, no crosswalks, etc. … I’d say the average speed on High Drive is 35-45 … even now. In addition there is the easily accessible inside corridor as well as a large paved pathway along the view side. It is a very easy street to walk or bike. So why the change? How did it happen? We never heard a word about a hearing.”

Kinnear said the change came about as the city’s Community Assembly, a coalition of neighborhood councils, took up the idea of making permanent what had been seasonal 20-mph speed limits around parks during the summer, when they’re usually used more.

With COVID-19, Kinnear said, parks around the city have seen more use, and “as the neighborhood council chairs were deliberating, as we’re going through this COVID piece, more and more people were accessing parks … and clearly what was happening was not safe.

“It became evident that people were being put in danger by people being inattentive or drivers not being responsible.”

As that discussion took shape, members of three neighborhood councils – Comstock, Manito and Cliff/Cannon – “asked if we should include High Drive,” Kinnear said.

Ed Bruya grew up, and now lives, along High Drive, and he says he was among those who pushed his neighborhood council, Comstock, to include the parkway in the plan.

He said he’s seen motorcycles racing at 50 mph up the road and has been concerned for kids and others recreating on the popular shared-use path that parallels the parkway.

The change, he said, “is the right thing to do.”

Kinnear said the reaction from those who live in the affected area has been largely positive, while most of those complaining live past the city’s southern limits and use the street to get downtown or to Interstate 90.

“They want to be able to go fast,” she said.

But Kinnear said even those looking to use the street to get somewhere quick won’t lose much time from the change.

“We did our research,” she said. “In one block, the time difference between 20 mph and 30 mph is three seconds. So if you’re going by Comstock Park … you’ve lost six seconds. It’s not a huge time suck. On High Drive, it’ll be about 45 seconds or a minute that you would lose.”

Silver and Oscarson, however, say they’re less worried about drivers losing time on High Drive and more about drivers seeking to avoid the slow speeds on High Drive by taking different streets.

Silver offered a scenario in which a driver could “actually cut in one street onto Jefferson and cruise 25 mph through a residential neighborhood.”

Oscarson said Bernard Street is already so busy she has trouble crossing it when she rides the bus, and she’s concerned even more traffic will now shift to the street, which doesn’t have the relatively wide space and amenities of High Drive Parkway.

While Kinnear says she hasn’t heard directly from residents about the potential for such unintended consequences, she acknowledged issues may crop up that will lead the city to rethink its plan.

“That’s part of why you do the pilot project,” she said, so people can “weigh in” and the street department can, for example, put down meters and determine whether the change to High Drive increases traffic and the speed of traffic elsewhere.

“We certainly would want to look at unintended consequences of those kinds of actions,” Kinnear said.

Meantime, drivers missing the thrill of opening up on High Drive can console themselves with this: an extra 45 seconds looking out over the bluff.

Work to watch for

Crews are working on a $2 million grind-and-overlay project on Indian Trail Road between Francis and Kathleen avenues. This project will repave these arterials: Indian Trail Road from Francis to Kathleen avenues; Nevada Street from Francis to Sharpsburg Avenue; and Nevada Street from Holland Avenue to Magnesium Road.

Crews are pruning trees this week as part of a $1.7 million grind-and-overlay project on Eagle Ridge Boulevard between Shelby Street and Meadow Lane repaving these arterials: Eagle Ridge Boulevard from Shelby Street to Meadow Lane; Regal Street between 46th and 55th avenues; and 29th Avenue from High Drive to Grand Boulevard.

Crews are also pruning trees along Bernard Street between High Drive and 29th Avenue. The street will be open with flaggers directing traffic.

Work on a $1.1 million repaving project continues on Longfellow Avenue from Post to Division streets; on Queen Avenue from Perry to Standard Street; on Garfield Street from 43rd to Thurston avenues; and on Scott Street from 43rd to Thurston Avenue. Travel is restricted to local traffic only.

Due to a $1 million water and sewer installation project, Soda Road is closed between Geiger Boulevard and Electric Avenue, and Geiger Boulevard is closed between Electric Avenue and Spring Road.

Hamilton Street remains reduced to one lane in each direction as part of a $3.3 million project. On Tuesday, crews will start working at the Sharp and Illinois Avenue intersections. Illinois will be closed to traffic and a detour will be in place. Access to businesses will be maintained.

These residential streets remain closed as part of a $5.6 million project to relocate city utilities during North Spokane Corridor construction: Cleveland Avenue from Regal to Market streets and Ralph Street from Fairview to Jackson avenues.

The intersection of Rowan Avenue and Freya Street will be closed starting Monday for a $3.5 million project to relocate city utilities, also as part of work on NSC.

Progress Road will remain closed at Forker Road through Sept. 30.

Work on the City Line continues in Browne’s Addition, on the western and northern sides of Coeur d’Alene Park and on Cannon Street between Third and Fourth avenues.

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