Why Complete Streets are so important

The relative amount of space used by pedestrians, personal vehicles, and buses.
The relative amount of space used by pedestrians, bicyclists, personal vehicles, and buses.

Personal vehicles take up a lot of space. (Just look at the 700-space parking lot currently under construction on the South Hill at Regal and the Palouse Highway that will serve the new Target store.) In the case of parking, that becomes wasted space, unused space, a heat island in a sea of urban and suburban development. On streets, the increased space necessary for vehicles means additional traffic lanes.

So how do we calm traffic congestion if we don’t want to increase parking space or traffic lanes? We encourage pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit. We decrease the “opportunity cost” (in time, in money, in convenience, etc.) of walking, biking, or using transit. This gets more people in alternative uses and decreases the use of costly personal vehicles.

This is why Spokane must commit to Complete Streets. We’ve passed the ordinance, and now’s the time to commit to implementing it. The first test will come in the Southgate District, where the suburban-style Target development has only further congested Regal. Hit the link to see a really well-written description of the issues caused by Target.

What are your thoughts? What are the benefits of “complete streets”-style investments? Does the Southgate District have a case for traffic mitigation above and beyond the light at Regal and the Palouse Highway? Share your thoughts in the comments and on social media. We love to hear from you.

If It Had Happened, Part 5: South Hill Walmart

Walmart's south Spokane store would have been built up to the street and would have featured rooftop parking. Please excuse the potato-esque quality of this image. (PHOTO: Spokesman-Review)
Walmart’s south Spokane store would have been built up to the street and would have featured rooftop parking. Please excuse the potato-esque quality of this image. (PHOTO: Spokesman-Review)

Today we delve into the politics and concerns of a local neighborhood as we revisit perhaps the single most controversial development project in the history of the South Hill. In 2006, big-box retailer Walmart proposed building a massive 186,000 square foot multi-story store at 44th and Regal at Spokane’s outer edge. It was a large project considering the similar developments that had taken place nearby in recent years (Shopko and Albertson’s come to mind) but fascinatingly, the store would have been a first for even Walmart. It would have been smartly-designed to serve what the conglomerate called the neighborhood’s more “upscale” clientele, incorporating design features that few Walmart stores incorporate: windows, streetfront retail, structured and rooftop parking, and the simple addition of building it up to the street.

Understandably, the proposal attracted massive opposition driven by concerns about traffic, crime, property values, and the wholesale effect of adding a mega-store to one of Spokane’s least-developed neighborhoods. 600 people showed up to a traffic planning meeting at the Ferris High School auditorium, where a vocal majority were opposed to the proposal and many chose to direct their anger at representatives seated on-stage. Of course, there was no resolution until the next year, when officials announced that Walmart had abandoned the project, ostensibly due to “interference” from the nearby radio towers on its computer and radio equipment.

But why was the opposition so sharp? Why could Walmart not build, when Target now has a store under construction not far from the 44th and Regal site–especially when the Target being developed is a “prototype,” no-frills store that is not built to the street, features no design and architectural embellishments, and features a 700-vehicle surface lot devoted to the temporary storage of cars?

The answer lies in two dichotomous effects which I will call the Walmart Effect and the Target Effect.

The Walmart Effect refers to a neighborhood’s and an individual’s tendency to oppose Walmart at all costs. Part of this arises from Walmart’s labor practices. The company is well-known for refusing to provide healthcare coverage for its employees and for cutting employees to part-time in order to wiggle its way out of providing healthcare for them. Part of this arises from the well-documented effect that Walmart has on local communities. Walmart, as the poster-child for big-box development, increases crime, decreases neighborhood vitality, decreases property values, increases blight, and overall harms the communities in which it locates.

But here’s the thing: In general, all big-box retailers cause increase crime, decrease neighborhood vitality, decrease property values, increase blight, and harm the communities in which they locate. It’s not limited to Walmart. Walmart simply receives the brunt of the blame because it is the poster-child for big-box development.

Which brings us to the Target Effect. This counter-effect arises as a direct result of disdain for Walmart. People like Target because they think it provide a more upscale product than Walmart (it doesn’t), because it benefits communities (it doesn’t), because it is more willing to provide architectural and design changes (it isn’t), and because it provides better compensation and healthcare to its employees (it doesn’t). Target is no better than Walmart, but receives less opposition simply because it isn’t Walmart.

As such, the South Hill is poised to gain a true big-box store in Target when Walmart, by contrast, was more than willing to work with the neighborhood on a more civically-minded, urban-designed store. This would have set a crucial precedent for other stores interested in locating in the area. Work with the neighborhood or fail. Period.

Paradoxical (and theoretical) Conclusion: If the proposed-in-2006 Walmart had been built, then South Regal and the Southgate District might just look today more like Kendall Yards than Northpointe. Or at least, its development plan might look more like Kendall Yards than Northpointe, or perhaps an amalgamation of the two. Really. If it had been built, developers would be less able to compromise with the neighborhood. The Target site would have been developed in a more urban-designed fashion with buildings up to the street and structured or underground parking. Housing might have even been in the mix. And we just might have seen a neighborhood designed not just for profit, but with at least one foot in the figurative door of new urbanism. Shame it couldn’t have happened differently.

Do you agree? Do you think that the more carefully-designed Walmart store could have served as a model for other retailers locating in the Southgate District? What about the Target Effect and the Walmart Effect? Are they fair descriptions? Share your thoughts on this story by commenting, tweeting, posting, and hashtagging away!

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.

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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