Idea #8: A Dedicated HOV/Transit Lane on Division

(PHOTO: Greater Greater Washington)

Today we get specific in our run-down of our ideas for the greater Spokane area. We envision a dedicated HOV/Transit Lane on Division Street from downtown to the “Y” or even beyond. Such a lane could be implemented to improve traffic flow, lower emissions, and decrease commute times. With a virtual sea of lanes already in existence on Division, and with many vehicles carrying two or more passengers, the conversion of one lane could make a world of difference.

In other cities, such as Sunnyvale, CA and other areas of the Silicon Valley, similar HOV/Transit Lanes have been implemented in the right-most lane, with right-turns permitted from that lane. Other places implement the dedicated lanes in the left-most lane, targeting the facility toward commuters who must travel long distances on that street.

Either way, we suggest that an HOV/Transit lane be fully studied in order to determine the possibilities that it could offer in terms of reducing and calming traffic.

What do you think? Could an HOV/Transit lane make a difference in combatting traffic? Would it be beneficial to study this idea further? Would syncing the lights on Division be a better use of dollars? Let us know in the comments and in social media on Facebook and Twitter. We want to hear from you!

Idea #7: Public Squares

Seattle’s Westlake Park offers a signature gathering place for the city’s residents, tourists, and businesspeople. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Spokane should invest in a public downtown gathering place, a public square for its people. Seattle has Westlake Park, shown above. San Francisco has Union Square, below the fold. We believe that a public square should be a priority for downtown as it continues to work to cast off the seedy image of its past.
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If It Had Happened, Part 2: VOX Tower

PHOTO: SkyscraperPage

This week, we bring you one of the better-documented failures of a Spokane development project. The VOX Tower was to be built at 223 W Riverside in the East End/SoDo District. At 32 stories, including 20 stories of residential space spreading across 275 apartments and condos, it would have been the tallest building in Spokane. In addition, it was to include a 380-spot parking garage and 18,000 square feet of retail space. ConoverBond was set to develop the project said to cost $50 million. All was prepared to be complete by 2009 after its 2006 announcement.

But then the project collapsed under the weight of Rob Brewster’s other projects.

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For more on the VOX Tower and Rob Brewster, click here for a great summary blog post at SpokUrban. Or click here for a great article on Brewster’s downfall at the Inlander.

Legislature Considers an End to Development Vesting

PHOTO: The Inlander

The Washington State Legislature is currently considering a proposal to end the vesting of developments started during formal appeals of Urban Growth Area expansions. The proposed laws, H.B. 2234 and H.B. 2245, would prevent the types of situations which occurred in 2013 when the Spokane County Commissioners expanded the Urban Growth Area against the objections of numerous community leaders, state and local governments, and neighborhood groups.

Currently, under the state’s Growth Management Act, developers can “vest” projects under the existing rules, even when an appeal is being heard by the Hearings Board. That means that if the County Commission approves an Urban Growth Area expansion, and that decision is appealed to the state, the County must still accept the permits and applications submitted during the gap between the application and appeals hearing. In other words, developers would not be able to use this “back door” method to getting their projects completed, and would be on hold until the appeal is resolved.

The appeal of the 2013 Spokane UGA expansion brought together concerned citizens, community groups like Southgate and Five Mile, and organizations like the Center for Justice. In the end, the appeal won, but 640 lots still made it into the UGA due to vesting. These bills would change that.

We urge you to write to your representatives in support of these bills.

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If It Had Happened, Part 1: 153 South Wall

PHOTO: Prium Companies

This Thursday we bring you Week 1 of a multi-week series focused on projects that would have happened had the economy not crashed. Many of the projects that we will profile were ongoing at the same time as each other, and as such, something had to give. There couldn’t be ten new major downtown high-rises at once, could there?

Indeed, there couldn’t.

Today we feature 153 South Wall, a project which was originally proposed in July of 2006 during the height of the downtown residential boom. The lot, purchased by Prium Companies of Tacoma for $750,000, would have been developed into 126 condominiums, with about seven floors of parking atop two floors of street front retail. In June of 2007, the project was shelved due to high construction costs. The lot was apparently sold to Inland Northwest Health Systems in July of 2009, although the site is still being used primarily as a parking lot.

Of course, this is exactly the type of infill project that Spokane so desperately needs, and we wish that it could have come to fruition.

To read more on 153 S. Wall, visit the Spokesman here or Prium Companies here. You can also see the Inlander here for a good article on the circumstances surrounding its shelving.

Shame on you, KHQ

A recognizable voice takes on a hostile inflection. Provocative questions are raised as questions appear on-screen. “More state funding is needed…but at what cost? And why does Spokane need this when STA routes are already in place?”

Barring the fallacious nature of that question (Who or what gives KHQ the authority to say that STA has sufficient route coverage? Isn’t that for STA and urban planners to decide?), it is clear the KHQ has overstepped its bounds with the promotion of this story. The role of the news media is to inform the public; not inform the public opinion. By taking a clearly anti-trolleybus stance in the run-up to Thursday, the station has chosen to pass judgment and deliberately influence the opinions of citizens. But their role as a news agency is not to tell viewers what is right or wrong. It is to tell viewers, clearly and precisely, the news. And only the news. Their job is to report, not to reflect.

Now, even if their main story finds that the trolleybus proposal is a good one that should be funded, a majority of their viewers, who do not watch KHQ Local News but do turn in for NBC primetime, will be under the impression that the plan is a bad one that should be tossed out. Simply because the promotional said as much.

We decry this shoddy communications tactic, and urge KHQ to make a full apology, post-haste. If you respect responsible journalism and envision a greater transportation future for Spokane than simply road improvements, we urge you to visit KHQ’s Facebook Page and leave a note in support of transit alternatives and opposing their ridiculous ad. And don’t forget to watch the story on Thursday and tell them what you think. The local media should not take sides in these critical debates about our city’s future. They should report the news. Only the news.

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Downtown Spokane Partnership Proposes to Gut Library, Insert Retail

In today’s list of weird news, it looks like the Downtown Spokane Partnership is in very early discussions about the possibility of selling off and moving downtown’s Public Library in attempt to create more retail space. The news broke in the Inlander on Saturday, and the proposal is already drawing an extremely negative response on social media.

Downtown Spokane Partnership President Mark Richard says that the downtown area has had to turn down major national retailers due to the dearth of available large-scale commercial/retail real estate. “They’ve had to turn down H&M and other larger prospects downtown because we don’t have the space to provide them,” Richard said to the Inlander. River Park Square is indeed thriving, but so is the library; according to the spokesman of the Spokane Public Library, Eva Silverstone, 22,000 people per month use the downtown branch, with usage up year-over-year. Contrary to popular reports, the library is not fading, growing ever more popular with each passing month.

Still, downtown needs more retail space, and there are few good options. Mobius, the new(er) science center located across from Nordstrom, could move into a new space as it has been struggling in its current site. But that would only open up space for maybe one large-format retailer, like H&M. Riverside, Spokane’s historical “Main Street,” could be used to open up additional retail, with connections via Post, but unless a lot of retail opens both on Post and on Riverside at once, I can’t see people opting to walk two blocks out of the way just for one store.

My vote? Go all out. Demolish (or extensively remodel) the Macy’s Building and complete the Bennett Block redevelopment project as soon as possible. Then add an 8-12 story mixed use building next door on the current Diamond Parking lot. Finally, develop Riverside as a new retail node upon completion of those projects. (How would you add significant new retail opportunities to downtown? Comment below!)

It may seem like overkill, but indications from mall leadership are to the contrary. “If I had another two blocks of street front we would [still] be full,” Bryn West, the general manager of River Park Square told the Inlander last fall.

We’ll keep covering this story as it develops.

Idea #3: World-Class Outdoor Concert Ampitheater

Spokane needs a world-class downtown concert amphitheater. Shown here is Chicago’s Jay Pritzker Pavilion, a 11,000-capacity bandshell located on the shores of Lake Michigan. Luckily, just such a plan is in the works for completion as a part of the Riverfront Park Master Plan. While Spokane’s venue will probably hold more like 5,000-6,000 people, we do hope that planners take cues from Chicago’s stunning, award-winning design.

Midwestern-style Restaurant to open on lower South Hill

We will focus on fresh food and local foods. We are not trying to be a fast-food restaurant.

Jeff Nordvall, co-owner of Wisconsinburger, to be located at 916 S. Hatch on Spokane’s lower South Hill. The restaurant will feature an eclectic Midwestern menu, and it’s expected to open in March.

Wisconsinburger will feature fried cheese curds and butter burgers prepared with local ingredients.

For the full article, including a map of the location, click here to visit the Spokesman.

Idea #2: Complete the Centennial Trail. For real this time.

It’s time to complete the Centennial Trail. That means that we need to fill in the gaps. And not just some of them. We should fill in all of the gaps and completely separate pedestrian and bicyclist traffic from motorists, even in Spokane proper. The resulting Class I trail would span nearly 70 miles across two states, one of the longest and most widely-used urban trails in the United States.