Idea #27: Return downtown’s street grid to two-way traffic

main-street-concept
Downtown Spokane’s Main Avenue on the East End is currently under discussion for major improvements, including center-lane parking, new street trees, and pedestrian enhancements, like a mid-block crossing. (PHOTO: City of Spokane)
In late 2008, in the middle of the Great Recession, the struggling downtown area in Vancouver, Wash. decided to make a change. A cheap change, but a big change. In essence, it painted a yellow line down the middle of Main Street, changed some signage and traffic lights, and opened the street to two-way traffic.

The results were almost instantaneous. Within a few short weeks, the businesses downtown reported a massive surge in customers. And why not? Two-way streets better encourage pedestrian activity, smooth and slow traffic, and, perhaps most critically for Spokane, ease the difficulty of finding a metered parking spot. They’re also easier to navigate for visitors and residents alike. One-way streets are literally a relic of our nation’s Cold War-era past, built primarily to allow for swift evacuations and troop deployments in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

So let’s return to a two-way street grid downtown.

Sure, it’ll be harder to convert the Lincoln/Monroe and Division/Browne couplets, but other streets could be converted with relatively little difficulty. Like Stevens. Like Washington. Like Sprague. Like First Avenue.

And of course, like Main Avenue. City officials and East End businesses have been working for years on a project that would add center-lane parking on Main Avenue, but for little apparent reason maintain that street’s one-way status. That’s absurd. Converting the street to serve both eastbound and westbound traffic would enhance both the pedestrian and the vehicular experience, improving navigation, parking, and the streetscape. It’s time to stop talking. Downtown Spokane should be a people-friendly place, welcoming to all types of commuters–pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers. It should make navigation simple and easy, and walking a breeze. Vitality on the sidewalk should be the first and foremost priority. And the potential here is huge. So let’s make it happen. Let’s convert more streets downtown to two-way traffic.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Should Main Avenue and potentially other streets downtown be converted back to two-way status?  Why do you think there hasn’t been more progress on this in recent years? And would you be more likely to go downtown if navigation and parking were enhanced along with the pedestrian experience? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

Idea #24: Convert Main Avenue to a Pedestrian Mall

The Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington, Vermont was originally conceived in 1958 and constructed in 1980. In the time since, it has been recognized time and again as a prime example of good urban design for public space. It’s managed by a public commission. (PHOTO: vermont.org)

I must admit that this is an idea that’s been gnawing at me for some time. It struck me last June during Terrain’s Bazaar, which was taking place on Wall Street between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard, then grew on me during my time in Germany this past fall. In many of Europe’s cities, the central avenue in the city center is closed to vehicles. The result is a much more pedestrian-centered experience with a vibrant, exciting city life. What if we took this same logic and applied it to downtown Spokane?

Let’s convert Main Avenue between Lincoln Street and Bernard Street into a pedestrian mall.

At first glance, this may seem like a radical idea. Why would we want to convert six city blocks into a limited access, pedestrian-only experience? Why would we want to restrict vehicular access? The answer, of course, is vibrancy. The on-street experience would be greatly enhanced by the addition of new street trees, new public gathering places and amenities, and pedestrian-specific features. Imagine farmers’ markets, food trucks, flash mobs, and handicraft vendors all gathering in one place downtown. Imagine winter carolers and summer gallery openings. And imagine it all being outside of the control of the Cowles family, which recently proposed to take 17 feet of public right of way at the Wall Street pseudo-“pedestrian mall” for a “mystery national retailer.”

The prospect is tantalizing. But it would require a concerted effort at programming. A public commission or non-profit board a la the Seattle Center’s management structure or that of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square would work well. And we’ll have to work on finding solutions to the traffic problem (especially cross-traffic on Stevens and Washington) as well. But we can do it. We can replace lost parking, improve traffic flow downtown, and build a vibrant community all at the same time. So let’s get behind a pedestrian on Main Avenue. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think? Do you support the idea for a pedestrian mall on Main Avenue? Do you think it could spur investment along that street, where parking lots have languished undeveloped for years and years? What would you like to see programmed at a pedestrian mall downtown? Share your thoughts below in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

UPDATE: Convention Center Hotel creates…a dead urban street?

Friday's rendering of the Convention Center Hotel, set to be complete in 2015, paints a bleak picture for development on East Main.
Friday’s rendering of the Convention Center Hotel, set to be complete in 2015, paints a bleak picture for development on East Main. (PHOTO: The Davenport Hotel Collection)

Okay, so there are windows, I suppose. But other than that, newly-released renderings reveal that Walt Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel won’t do much to improve the pedestrian experience on East Main. While in the past, pedestrians walking on the north side of Main were forced for walk past several surface parking lots, now they will have to endure four floors of above-ground parking with minimal facade improvements and interaction with the built environment.

Had the parking for Convention Center Hotel been built underground or in a better configuration, this could have been an incredible opportunity to revitalize two streets instead of one, especially with re-development at the former Huppin’s Building and at the Bennett Block, both of which are in the midst of major remodels. Imagine streetfront retail or restaurants on this side of the building. The result would have been a more continuous string of restaurants and smart downtown retail all the way to Main Market and beyond. That would have provided an economic boost and a cultural boost. This in contrast with the Spokane Falls Boulevard-side of the building, which looks comparatively excellent for pedestrian interaction and space (see a photo after the break).

Instead, we are left with a mostly uninviting urban environment reminiscent of the currently-empty downtown EWU Center.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments, on Twitter, on Facebook, and all over the web. We love to hear from you.

Continue reading “UPDATE: Convention Center Hotel creates…a dead urban street?”

Latest rendering of Worthy’s Convention Center Hotel eschews brick entirely, looks somewhat more modern

White and Black will be clothing the downtown Spokane skyline in the near future. (PHOTO: Visit Spokane)
White and Black will be clothing the downtown Spokane skyline in the near future. (PHOTO: Visit Spokane)

Here’s the latest rendering of the Convention Center Hotel currently under construction in downtown Spokane. While the basic structure of the building has not changed much since its introduction, the materials to be used certainly have. When the project was announced, it was to be built of brick with hardly a street-level enhancement. Now, the hotel will feature white and black paneling not unlike that currently covering the Spokane Convention Center/INB Performing Arts Center itself, and the street level will feature a more lively lobby and retail/restaurant spaces.

Also of note is the parking garage on the side of the block facing Main. Note the clean, bold lines of the black and white paneling and the addition of street-level enhancements. One of the fears that came with this project was that that side of the block would become dead space due to the parking garage. Now it appears that the ground level will be used for meeting or small convention space.

What do you think? Has Walt Worthy and the Davenport Hotel Collection done enough to ensure that this latest entry into Spokane’s skyline aesthetically and actively fits with the rest of downtown? Are the paneling changes enough to ensure that the building doesn’t look like the Davenport Tower? And what about those Soviet-esque windows? Share your thoughts in the comments.