Unless we take action to improve transit now, 2040 in Spokane will be like 2015 in Seattle

In 2006, true light rail was on the agenda for the South Valley Corridor from Spokane Valley to Liberty Lake. It would have decreased travel times, lessoned traffic, and spurred development. It’s time to resurrect the idea, along with others. (PHOTO: David Evans and Associates)

It’s time for some cold, hard facts.

Spokane is growing. By 2040, the region will have added roughly 165,000 people. In other words, by 2040, the population of Spokane County will surpass 625,000. That’s not an insignificant number. In fact, that would put Spokane County at roughly the same size as the City of Portland. Consider the implications of such growth. More kids in schools. More homes and apartments in development (70,000 more units). More jobs and centers of employment (68,000 more jobs). And more cars on the road.

Already we’re seeing the start of this wave of increasing traffic. Consider South Regal on a weekday morning, where the prospect of three new big-box stores is already complicating rush-hour commutes. Consider Five Mile or Country Homes, where traffic has increased and neighborhoods have grown by orders of magnitude without any semblance of mitigation. Consider Hamilton on any weekday afternoon, where an increase in student population is driving record traffic. Area drivers are complaining of increased commute times and lost patience. This traffic costs us precious dollars. The increased load weighs heavily on our streets, which must be more frequently resurfaced. The increased pollution caused by idling in traffic harms our environment. Perhaps most importantly, the lost working hours cost us millions of dollars every year in lost productivity. And there’s no sign of relief.

Continue reading “Unless we take action to improve transit now, 2040 in Spokane will be like 2015 in Seattle”

Urban infill “Hamilton Project” takes next step toward construction with SEPA application

Preliminary drawings from Spokane's permitting website indicate that the mixed-use building at 1002 N Hamilton will include streetfront retail with apartments above. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.org)
Preliminary drawings from Spokane’s permitting website indicate that the mixed-use building at 1002 N Hamilton will include streetfront retail with apartments above. (PHOTO: spokanepermits.org)

We tend not to post on Spokane Rising about projects that have not yet been announced publicly, but this one just happened to catch our eye on the City of Spokane’s Citizen Access permitting website. We noticed the “Hamilton Project,” as it is named in the permitting database, a few months ago, when developer Ferdinand CJF, LLC applied for a Pre-Development Conference (typically a first, optional step in the building process). But now the Washington State-registered LLC has applied for a SEPA Review, which indicates a level of seriousness we have not yet seen at this parcel.

The project is located at 1002 N Hamilton, which is just across the street from the parking lot for Gonzaga University’s Madonna residence hall. Mercifully, the project seems to adhere to the Hamilton Corridor Form-Based Code (PDF link) despite its location outside of the applicability area. That means that it includes a mixed-use design, a limited street setback, and parking in the rear of the facility. Project plans include 51 residential units above over 17,000 square feet of leasable streetfront retail at a cost of over $11 million. Perhaps most importantly, the project scale and architectural design seems to fit in with the surrounding area. When we first saw the renderings, we thought we were looking at Gonzaga’s Coughlin residence hall, which shares a similar brick-and-stucco construction. Either way, we can’t wait to see this project come to fruition and will continue to keep our readers updated as it passes through the plan review and building permit application process.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: Are you excited to see such a substantial mixed-use project on the Hamilton Corridor? Do you see the Hamilton Corridor emerging in the future as a viable neighborhood center a la Garland or North Monroe? Do you see this as a triumph for advocates of infill? Share your thoughts on Facebook, Twitter, in the comments section below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

POST-MORTEM: Who killed Proposition 1?

Proposition 1 would have provided millions of dollars in additional transit funding, including over 200,000 additional yearly hours of bus service. It seemed like a no-brainer. So why did it fail?
Proposition 1 would have provided millions of dollars in additional transit funding, including over 200,000 additional yearly hours of bus service. It seemed like a no-brainer. So why did it fail? (PHOTO: Yes for Buses)

Proposition 1 was a reasonable, balanced transit package that funded system improvements across the STA network. It eschewed big projects in favor of smaller-scaled, bus-centric investments, and it sunset after ten years in order to give voters a sense of accountability over the small 0.1% sales tax hike. So why did it fail? Several theories have been floated in the past few weeks, and I think that I might have a few answers.

THEORY #1: The “Yes” campaign did not sell the package strongly enough to people who don’t regularly use transit.

A former mayor of Bogotá, Colombia, Enrique Penalosa, famously remarked that “a developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

It’s clear that the “yes” campaign did not do a strong enough job of selling the measure to those who do not regularly use transit in the Spokane area. Instead, a large emphasis was placed on the “elderly, low-income, and disabled” riders who currently avail themselves of STA services. That’s great, and transit is certainly important for those groups. But what about everyone else? Certainly there would be benefits for everyone else?

Consider that perhaps advertising for the “yes” campaign should have emphasized that Proposition 1 would make transit available for more people, including the middle-class and wealthy, giving even those groups the ability to use transit. Perhaps ads should have focused on the traffic reductions that strong transit service can bring. Many drivers in Indian Trail, Five Mile, and the Moran Prairie have noticed wildly increased commute times, especially during the mornings, as new residential and commercial developments have been approved. Numerous WSDOT and federal studies have found that traffic congestion in the Spokane-Coeur d’Alene metropolitan area is set to double by 2030 as the population grows and streets and freeways struggle to pick up the slack. Sell transit to traffic-minded drivers! Transit means reduced traffic congestion. Moreover, by connecting transit to the ongoing talks about urban expansion in the Spokane area, a better conversation would have been started about the issues that lead to traffic in the first place. All of these issues are connected, and it felt at times like the “Yes for Buses” campaign neglected to drive this narrative home with voters.

THEORY #2: The package was too timid, meaning that voters could not distinguish the difference between current STA service and promised future service under Proposition 1.

This certainly applies to some individuals who see the benefits of transit but did not see real improvements in the STA system. And this could be either a fault of the STA Moving Forward plan or a fault of the advertising in the Yes for Buses campaign. By the end of 2014, the original proposal for the Central City Line, a streetcar, had been scaled back to a battery electric bus, for example. Well, what’s the improvement in terms of comfort or service of a battery electric bus? Not much. Certainly the streetcar proposal would have had a greater “distinction” factor that would have clearly offered a contrast with existing service. Some have even called for a resurrection of the South Valley Corridor light rail plan. And overwhelming 2014 passage of the Riverfront Park Bond proves that area voters are willing to spend money on flagship projects.

On the other hand, perhaps voters simply didn’t see how the package would benefit them. What would the sales tax increase mean functionally for me as a young person, for example? Easy. New weekend bus service would allow a Gonzaga University student to catch a bus back to campus as late as 1am or 2am. That’s far cheaper than shelling out cash for a Lyft or Uber ride. And that’s just one example. We could also talk about a high-performance line on from South Regal to North Monroe or the West Plains Transit Center. Either one would have produced material benefits to riders, but they weren’t the focus of the “yes” campaign’s advertising.

THEORY #3: Uncertainty and misinformation from elected officials (especially David Condon and the Board of County Commissioners) and local media (especially the Spokesman-Review and local TV stations) contributed to lack of public understanding of the measure.

Finally, outside of the Spokane City Council, most area elected officials were lukewarm at best on the proposal. Al French of the Board of County Commissioners was famously in favor, but his compatriots were less sympathetic. Spokane Valley officials decried the proposal. And David Condon was absent from the debate altogether, which certainly should become a campaign issue this fall as he looks toward re-election.

In the media, the proposal faced sharply negative billing. The Cowles-owned Spokesman released a negative editorial, and KHQ started trashing/editorializing on the Central City Line almost a year before the package hit the ballot. Other news outlets were slightly less critical, but failed to properly print facts, often conflating the Central City Line with the larger Proposition 1 package, despite its relatively small $17 million appropriation as part of the measure. Sometimes the modern electric trolleybus or streetcar study renderings were used as part of reports, despite the fact that they had been eschewed in favor of the battery electric bus. One breathless KHQ report even called the Central City Line a “light rail” system. Of course, this attracted the ire of conservatives and confused even more independent-minded voters.

CONCLUSION

It is clear that Proposition 1 failed largely as a result of ineffective campaign tactics on the part of Yes for Buses, but also due to its confusing lack of distinction from existing service and an absence of support from more conservative elected officials and editorial boards. Hopefully the proposal can be resurrected in the future, perhaps as a Spokane-only package a la Seattle’s similar arrangement to essentially “purchase” bus service from King County Metro within its city limits. In the meantime, we await an appropriate solution.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think caused Proposition 1 to fail at the polls in the Special Election? Are voters tax-weary? Was the package improperly or incorrectly sold to the public? Did lack of public official support create a vacuum for conservatives to pounce? We love to hear your thoughts. Be sure to share your ideas, thoughts, and concerns below in our comments section, on Twitter, on Facebook, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Mobile Murals Project goes live with a public Call for Submissions

The empty lot at Third and Division will see a lot fewer weeds and a lot more art with the public call for artists’ mural submissions released by Spokane Arts today. (PHOTO: Google Street View)

In February, during our Launch Week, we suggested that in order to improve the public image of our city at a major gateway, enhance opportunities for artistic expression, and finally do something about a significant nagging problem, the local community should rally behind the creation of a public mural at Third and Division.

What we didn’t realize then was that numerous individuals were already working on a similar idea.

In mid-July, the post went viral. Spurred by posts, shares, and other activity on social media, it gained steam. Around the same time, representatives from Spokane Arts, the Downtown Spokane Partnership, and the City of Spokane had begun formal planning meetings to make the concept happen. The idea was popping up independently in different places because it struck a nerve: why couldn’t our most important entry point be something other than an ugly pit? In time, Councilman Mike Allen committed funds to the project, and it began to look like it was coming together.

And here we are today: launch day. Today, Spokane Arts released its official call for submissions to the aptly-named Mobile Murals Project. The program will clean up vacant lots and construction sites around the city, starting with Third and Division. The first round of submissions will close August 25, with selection by August 29 and installation in early October. We encourage all interested artists to submit proposals. Because it’s our city. Let’s build it up.

Link Spokane: An Integrated Approach to Planning

PHOTO: The Inlander

In 2014, the Spokane Comprehensive Plan, essentially the guiding document for all development that takes place in the city, will be extensively revised. As part of this major initiative, the City has unveiled Link Spokane, the integrated transportation and utility component of the Comprehensive Plan, in a surprisingly well-produced brochure.

The plan makes note of various “best practices” in comprehensive transportation and utilities planning, even citing such case studies as the Crestline project, which took place during the summer and fall of 2013. That project brought a new road surface, 36-inch water main, and various utilities and stormwater improvements and enhancements as part of the City of Spokane’s new integrative approach to investment.

In addition, the document addresses plans for transit enhancements, from bus rapid transit (which we oppose as a sole solution) to streetcars. Interestingly, it does not address the need for a major region-wide transit improvement like light rail, which was narrowly rejected by voters in 2006 in an advisory vote and has not since gotten much attention from groups outside of InlandRail. Still, light rail as a concept remains exceptionally tantalizing, especially given studies that show that bus rapid transit and other “non-fixed” transit modes result in less transit-oriented development than similar fixed modes, such as light rail, heavy rail, and rapid transit. Unfortunately, it seems that short-sightedness within the revised Comprehensive Plan will again rule the day.

To voice your concerns and express your support for regional light rail and city-wide transit and transportation investment as part of a holistic Comprehensive Plan, you can attend one of several drop-in community workshops.

  • Tuesday, February 4 from 4:00p-6:30p at the NorthTown Mall Division Street Entrance (Level 1)
  • Wednesday, February 5 from 12:00p-6:30p at Southside Christian Church (2934 E 27th Ave)
  • Friday, February 7 from 11:30a-6:30p at River Park Square on the Lakes

In addition, on Thursday, February 6 from 6:00p-7:00p, you can watch live on CityCable5 and call-in to voice your concerns.

We are a growing Spokane, and we deserve a transit system that understands these realities. It’s time for transportation investment that recognizes the potential that exists when bus rapid transit, light rail, streetcars, electric trolley buses, traditional buses, and all other modes work together. It’s time for us to build a better Spokane.