Here is a good example of what we are trying to avoid in terms of street design in the Southgate District Center. The Atlantic shared this a month or so ago and it is applicable to our neighborhood planning situation all over Spokane.
We want to avoid a stroad at all costs. Spokane is rife with stroads, and Regal Street could join the list if we don’t get the city to enact the District Center code requirements and neighborhood plans. A stroad is a poorly designed street that neither accommodates auto traffic well, but also does not encourage multi-modal transportation or maximize the land use around it.
Welcome back! Now, for the second part of our Epic Planning Battles: Traffic Calming. Traffic calming is a set of road features used to create the environment that encourages pedestrian and bike uses in the District Center. Traffic calming, as envisioned by the City of Spokane, is a set of tools that can help implement our Centers and Corridors zoning and Complete Streets ordinance.
According to the City, traffic calming is, “a self-enforcing management approach that forces motorists to alter their speed or direction of travel. The purpose of traffic calming is to improve safety, especially for pedestrians and bicyclists, and to improve the environment or livability of streets for residents and visitors.” I want to emphasize that most traffic calming tactics are not meant to slow down traffic below posted limits and increase congestion, but rather encourage adherence to posted speeds and create conditions where other road users have safer access to our streets.
Given that our District Center is zoned CC1 (Pedestrian Emphasis/Auto Accommodating), traffic calming along Regal Street and Palouse Highway are a crucial part in changing the character of the area to meet the requirements of the zoning. Right now the roads through the Southgate District Center feature no bike accommodation and have pedestrian access that does not meet current city design standards; specifically a lack of any sidewalks along Palouse Highway and no pedestrian buffer strips on the sections of sidewalk we do have.
Speed limits through our District Center are currently posted at 30 -35 mph. According to the Spokane Comprehensive Plan, minor arterials in Focus Growth Areas should have a speed limit range of 20-30 mph.
In keeping with the precedent set in other CC1 zones, the speed limit through our District Center should be lowered to 20 mph to allow for safer bike and pedestrian use of our roads. I know people will deride this goal as only creating congestion on what they consider to be an already congested road, but looking at the amount of road effected and the reduction in speed we are talking about only 11 seconds of extra travel time along Regal through the District Center and 21 seconds along Palouse Hwy. Not a large amount of time by any standard, but a huge increase in livability and traffic calming for our pedestrian-oriented District Center.
Two big traffic calming features that create “frictional slowing” by creating the perception of a narrower road are on-street parking and planted medians. On-street parking has two benefits, it increases the amount of available parking in the District Center and the parked cars visually narrow the road (even though the lanes are the same standard width) encouraging motorists to slow down and be cautious. That’s a good thing in a pedestrian-oriented shopping district. Planted medians achieve the same effect by narrowing from the middle, increasing the perception of a narrow road and causing drivers to be more cautious and aware of their surroundings.
According to Spokane Municipal Code, on-street parking is a required feature in all Centers and Corridors. Both on-street parking and medians are key features in the street character designs in the District Center Integrated Site Plan and the Southgate Connectivity and Transportation Plan. We will not have the option of on-street parking in Southgate; the city has decided to not make our street designs align with Spokane Municipal Code and omitted on-street parking from the offsite improvements in our District Center. We are still not sure why or how this key feature was eliminated and it is part of an ongoing discussion with city planning staff. We are pursuing the inclusion of planted medias as mitigation for the lack of the required on-street parking, but have yet to reach an agreement with the city about its inclusion. They have agreed in theory to the inclusion of medias, but there is not yet agreement about how to pay for them or when they need to be built.
Ultimately, the goal is to change the character of the road to absorb the impact of increased traffic from the development of the District Center properties. As mentioned in our last post, adding a streetlight at Palouse and Regal will manage the flow of the new traffic, but it is these traffic calming and complete street elements that will provide options for people in our area to travel to the Southgate District Center in something other than a car that stand to have the most impact on increased demand.
Providing multi-modal facilities and a calm traffic environment will create a district that encourages people to get out of their cars. There will be plenty of parking (Target alone has 11 acres), but we want to make this a place you can park at and then travel around by foot, or get to without a car entirely.
There is a persistent myth that adding more lanes eases congestion, when in reality all it does is bring more traffic. Multiple studies going back to the late-60’s have concluded that expanding traffic lanes will initiall ease congestion, but the expansion also lowers the “cost” (in terms of time/convenience usually, but also in economic terms) of a trip and induce more cars to use the road. This is called induced demand. According to later studies, within about 5 years 80% of the extra capacity is used up and congestion returns worse than before. This raises the pressure for more capacity and further expansion into less congested areas, a condition we all know and love as suburban sprawl.
In the case of our District Center, the city has determined (on two occasions now) the level of new traffic created by development in our District Center does not warrant more lanes along Regal or Palouse (as measured by their traffic models and a result they call Level of Service). That is not to say it will be completely without effect and the city does collect traffic mitigation fees and apply them to traffic projects around the development. In Southgate they are adding the stoplight at Palouse and Regal to help make it easier for vehicles to turn left onto Regal and for pedestrians to make it across Regal. I think we can all agree getting onto southbound Regal from Palouse Hwy can be a hassle occasionally.
The measures being supported by the Southgate Neighborhood Council are aimed at making the area more usable for all types of users: auto, transit, bike, and pedestrian (an approach known as Complete Streets). This aligns with both the Spokane Comprehensive Plan that says the priority consideration for transportation use in Spokane should be pedestrian, bike, and auto, in that order (TR 1.1, pg. 12); and the the Complete Streets Ordinance of the Spokane Municipal Code, which states that all streets shall include complete streets elements. Both of these documents, as well as current best practice in urban planning, point out the need to consider more than just auto user needs on our roads.
And that is how you get back to avoiding the cycle of induced demand: options. When the “cost” of getting in your car to go to the new District Center is equal (or even higher than) to the “cost” of walking or biking on dedicated sidewalks or trails, then we will actually start seeing reduced demand. And that is the only lasting way to relieve congestion.
The idea of creating options includes options for autos. If people feel Regal is too crowded and will only get worse, then there needs to be other route options available to them to get through or around the District Center. That’s why the Southgate Neighborhood Connectivity and Transportation Plan (with maps) makes one of it’s priorities “completing the grid”. Our neighborhood has very poor east/west connectivity. Between 37th and 57th there isn’t a single complete east/west route. Giving people better options for moving east and west across our neighborhood would relieve the pressure on Regal Street and maybe even get people home faster.
Now, creating a complete street environment will take some traffic calming, which we will discuss in the next post. I think this is a long enough post for one night, stay tuned for Part 2: Traffic Calming.
A key part of the Developer’s Agreements was the stipulation that the design of the District Center include spaces for public meetings and gatherings, a community plaza. Site plans for the Black property include a plaza on the Northwest corner next to the intersection of Palouse and Regal. Initial concepts from 2011 show a wide open space from the street into the parking lot with some sort of tower in the center. Designs from April 2013 replace the tower with a fountain and shaded trellis to screen the plaza from the intersection. The latest version included in the approved building permits remove the water feature and instead show a raised planter with columnar basalt elements.
At our last SNC meeting, Dave Black came seeking input on the “sculpture” in the plaza and showed the plan from April 2013 to spur the discussion with meeting attendees. He also introduced us to the artist he is working with on this feature: Robert Sevilla Naudon. If you have ever eaten at Manito Taphouse or Steelhead Grill you’ve seen the result of his work and vision.
Robert gave a very enthusiastic impromptu presentation on his ideas and vision for the project. Quick straw polls of attendees highlighted the neighborhood’s desire for a water feature (almost a unanimous consensus), some ideas of moving the feature from dead-center in the plaza to one side (to make more room for gatherings and events), and incorporation of some Palouse inspired themes (wind, grasses/wheat, and Big Rock/Basalt). Some elements of the plaza (lighting, benches, bike racks, concrete treatment) will come from the approved District Center Integrated Site Plan.
There was also some broader discussion about what kind of programming could be done with the space. Patio/sidewalk dining has been featured in the approved site plans, but neighbors also indicated their desire for music and speaker events and neighborhood fairs (craft/art, farmer markets, etc.). Dave and Robert will take that into consideration to make sure to include things like accessible power for PA systems and vendor booths.
Dave and Robert said they would take the input and work on some concepts. SNC looks forward to seeing those results and we will share them as soon as we hear back. What do you think of the plaza so far?