Tag Archives: transportation

Action Needed! Submit Comments for City Comprehensive Plan Update

Tomorrow night, June 19th, the City Council will hold a hearing about the update to the City’s Comprehensive Plan. This update includes the development of a project called the Ray Street Crossover. This is an auto-oriented traffic capacity project that will run traffic across the east side of Ferris High School’s campus to connect Ray and Freya and send traffic our towards the County. 

The SNC Land Use Committee have drafted these comments for submission to the City Council members ahead of tomorrow’s hearing. I encourage everyone to read them and take  few minutes to send your comments in to our City Council as well. You can reach them at the following addresses: bstuckart@spokanecity.org, lkinnear@spokanecity.org, bbeggs@spokanecity.org, awaldref@spokanecity.org, cmumm@spokanecity.org, kstratton@spokanecity.org, mfagan@spokanecity.org.

For those of you who can make it down in person, personal testimony at the hearing has a big impact Council members. The meeting is tomorrow night at 6pm at Council Chambers in City Hall.

The deletion of this project from the Comp Plan update will go a long way to maintaining the vision set forth in our neighborhood connectivity plan where we make a our neighborhood a place that encourages people to use multiple modes of transportation to move around and does not promote the development of sprawl and other features (like high-speed auto routes) that will make our neighborhood less walkable, less safe, and less livable.

P.S. – If you need something else to comment about, Spokane Rising has some thoughts about new policies in the Comp Plan update that undermine our City’s existing Complete Streets ordinance.

Resurrection of the Ray Street Crossover

The City is currently updating the Comprehensive Plan through process they are calling Shaping Spokane. Chapter 4 of that update is the transportation chapter. When it was released in late February, we noticed that a particular project had re-appeared in a couple of places: The Ray Street Crossover

The latest proposed design for the Ray Street Crossover.

The crossover is a primarily auto-oriented route next to the campus of Ferris High School to speed access of vehicles from Ray Street to Freya Street and out to the Moran Prairie area.  The crossover is shown on the arterial network on the draft Arterial Plan Map (Map TR12). This project has also been added to the 2017 DRAFT Capacity Improvement Project List referenced in Chapter 4 and found in Appendix D of Volume V (pg.41) of the new Comp Plan.

The city is resurrecting this project as a way to reduce perceived vehicular congestion on Regal Street and funnel more traffic over to our neighborhood’s designated Major Arterial, Freya Street. The crossover concept isn’t new. It was last floated back in the early 2000s (and even earlier than that), but was abandoned during the Neighborhood Planning process that took place from 2007 to 2010 because data from the City could not show how this proposed crossover would improve level of service better than signalization improvements to the intersections of 37th and Ray and 37th and Freya.  For this reason, and with the concurrence of the then-current Senior Traffic Planning engineer, the city-adopted Southgate Neighborhood Connectivity Plan does not include the Ray Street Crossover (see image below).

The neighborhood arterial map from the Southgate Connectivity Plan showing no crossover, but instead suggests intersection improvements only.

Rather, the Neighborhood Plan suggests signalization improvements at the intersections of 37th and Ray and 37th and Freya to better manage the flow of vehicular traffic.  This alternative reduces impacts on Ferris, on Hazel’s Creek and is undoubtedly less costly. The table below is taken from the 2017 Draft CIP List and shows the two signalized intersections are estimated to cost $500,000 where the crossover would cost $4,056,000 and still require a signal and intersection improvements at adjacent intersections.

In addition to putting back in the Comp Plan, the City recently submitted a Roadway Capacity Justification (RCJ) report to the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) in an attempt to justify the development of the Ray Street Crossover. The RCJ report ignores the Neighborhood Plan’s recommendations, that is the signal improvements at 37th/Ray and 37th/Freya, and instead just models traffic impacts with and without the crossover.

City staff have told neighborhood representatives that they have the ability to run the transportation model in-house. We requested that this model be run and the RCJ report adjusted to reflect the neighborhood’s preferred solution. The aforementioned 2017 Draft CIP List does include signalization of 37th and Ray and 37th and Freya as projects in the South region (see below).

Until this occurs, the Southgate Neighborhood requested to the Plan Commission and City Council that the proposed crossover be removed from the Arterial Map and 2017 Draft Capacity Improvement Project list until such time as sufficient studies have been done to address the improvements desired in the neighborhood plan.  This removal would support proposed TR Goal E of the updated Comprehensive Plan, “evaluate transportation projects using objective criteria to reflect community standards and desires.” (Comp Plan, 2017, pg. 4-15)

South Hill Traffic Management: Assessing the Bigger Picture

In the larger picture, the RCJ report and portions of the draft Comprehensive Plan highlight the need for a more comprehensive assessment of traffic issues on the South Hill.  The Southgate Neighborhood and South Hill Coalition have requested a that holistic Traffic Management Study and Plan be developed for the entire South Hill.  This plan could assess and provide a context for any and all arterial designations and additions on the South Hill suggested in the new Comp Plan and CIP list:

  • The Ray Street Crossover,
  • the completion of 44th between Regal Street and Crestline Street,
  • and addition of a proposed minor collector between Southeast Boulevard and Crestline Street.

It would help determine how these individual projects and designations align or do not align with the goals of the Southgate and South Hill Coalition Neighborhood Plans. It would help these or any other projects support the existing and proposed Comprehensive Plan’s call for a “Balanced Transportation Approach” that seeks to first accommodate the pedestrian and maintain or enhance the character of neighborhoods and livability for neighborhood residents.

There will be additional hearings on the Comp Plan update at City Council in the next couple of months, so the public will have a chance to comment on this proposal again. We will also keep you updated if the City provides models for the intersections improvements called for in our neighborhood plan. Our Comp Plan and Municipal Code call for balanced, multi-modal translation development in our City, this proposal is geared primarily towards auto-users and a less dramatic, fiscally reduced solution should be considered before putting this into the Comp Plan for the next 20 years.

SEPA Comment Period for Moran Estates South

Southgate received a notice yesterday about a SEPA comment period for a proposed 13-home subdivision along Freya Street called Moran South Estates. You’ll remember this project held a Community Meeting back in August.

You can take a look at the preliminary-site-plan and SEPA Checklist for the project and send comments to the City’s SEPA coordinator, Dave Compton, through November 22nd.

Moran

The project is very similar to the developments on 45th Court and 47th Avenue directly to the north and south of this area. A couple comments related to pedestrian accommodation that I would supply would be to ask if the right-of-way improvements along Freya Street will be completed per Spokane Municipal Code. As you can see, the sidewalk ends as the cul de sac goes out to Freya. Anyone living on the east side of Southgate knows how unaccommodating Freya is to pedestrians and bikes. If we don’t ask developers to fill in the sidewalk between 44th and Palouse Hwy it will never be built.

mse_pedestrian_connections-002
Possible pedestrian connections for safer/easier resident access to Southgate’s District Center

Another pedestrian accommodation (supported by the SMC, the City Comp Plan, and our Southgate Neighborhood Connectivity Plan) would be to add some non-motorized connection to the west. A mixed-use Centennial/Ben Burr style trail punching out at the end of the cul de sac or out of the southwest corner of the development across a County-owned stormwater swale would allow residents easier and safer access to the shopping area of our neighborhood’s District Center via Palouse Hwy. It would take some discussion between the developers and the owners of Clare House or the County, but it would be a great amenity and help prevent the continuation of the pervasive lack of east/west connectivity in our neighborhood. Without this type of connection residents would have to walk a 1/3 mile south or 1/4 north to find a route towards the District Center.

The SNC Land Use Committee will draft and submit comments as well, we will upload those here when we have them drafted. In the meantime, please send in your comments so the City knows what you think.

No Discussion of Impacts at Traffic Scoping Meeting

Residents of the upper South Hill attended a Traffic Scoping Meeting  last night held by the traffic engineer for the developer of the Regal Commons development along Regal Street. Attendees looking for answers as to the potential impact of the development and solutions to the current traffic issues on Regal were disappointed to learn the there was no real discussion of potential impacts discussed at the meeting. The developer’s engineer, Mr. Whipple, said that this meeting was to gather input from neighbors about areas that needed to be addressed by their traffic study and that results of their study would be presented to the neighborhood in a couple of months.

The only real traffic impact data shared was old data from the developer’s SEPA application back in early June stating that the total buildout of the 8 acre site would result in about 3000 trips a day along Regal Street. As we have discussed in an earlier post, this number vastly under estimates the specific land use impacts of the proposed drive thru restaurants according to rates from the International Transportation Engineers (ITE) Trip Generation Manual. The ITE Manual is the standard reference and method used in Spokane to determine potential traffic impact of various types of projects. The developer’s SEPA application has been on hold since early August while Mr. Whipple develops new trip generation estimates using more appropriate land use codes for the proposed development. He argues that looking at individual land uses grossly exaggerates the actual number of trips per day which is why he elected to use the broader land use code he originally did. However, these trip generation rates are how the City and County determine the amount of mitigation to be paid for the impact of the development. I would hope that our municipalities would err on planning for the upper end of potential impact, our City planners seem to agree and have asked for revised estimates. We will share the new numbers once they are given to the City.

The main point of the traffic scoping meeting is to determine what intersections and parts of the road system to study for current and potential impacts from the development. In this case the City and County asked the developer to study these intersections:

  • Regal and 53rd
  • Regal and 55th
  • Regal and 57th
  • Freya and 55th
  • Freya and 57th

The attendees asked that he scope be expanded to include other intersections such as:

  • Freya and Palouse Hwy
  • 53rd and Crestline
  • 55th and Crestline
  • 37th and Freya

There were a number of neighbors (myself included) that called for a broader comprehensive traffic study on the South Hill that looked not just at issues around Regal Street and 53rd, but looked at traffic patterns on and off the hill as well clear over to the Glenrose area. This is likely beyond the scope of this traffic study, but it is something area residents should pursue with the City and County to do in a coordinated and comprehensive way taking into account the full potential buildout of developable land in the City and out in the County’s Urban Growth Area.

In addition to studying current traffic levels, the study needs to account for “background” projects. These are projects that have already been approved but may not have been fully built out. Mr. Whipple said that in this case that includes the Ben Burr Apartments currently under construction at Ben Burr Road and 57th Avenue, the 55th Avenue apartment complexes, and the “Swarthout” Strip Mall at 55th and Regal. We asked that his background data also include the nearly completed Palouse Trail Apartments behind Target, the KXLY and Maverick District Center properties (there were traffic estimates associated with their SEPA applications from 2008), and the Maverick gas station/Douglass property at 44th and Regal (this property had a 7000+ ADT traffic impact assigned to it during its 1997 SEPA process). All of these projects came with hundreds, if not thousands, of vehicle trips per day associated with them. Adding them all together places Regal Street well over capacity as a designated Minor Arterial. Other items to be considered in the traffic study is a sight distance analysis along Regal at 53rd and 55th and a “Mini-roundabout” at Freya and 57th (we’re looking for more info on that).

Neighbors took the opportunity to discuss their perception of current traffic conditions along the Regal Street corridor and their experiences trying to commute along the street in recent years. KXLY News was on hand to record the event and posted a short story about it on their evening news. Suffice to say people are already experiencing extended commute times during peak traffic hours and many wanted to see Regal widened to accommodate more traffic. As has been said in the past, widening Regal is not an option since the City and County do not have the right-of-way available to put more lanes on the street. City traffic engineer Inga Note, who was in attendance, verified that fact and said there are no plans and no real way to widen Regal. It has been shown both nationally and around the world that widening roads only provides temporary relief to auto congestion. While no solutions were forthcoming at the traffic scoping meeting, the issue is now very apparent to the developer, the City, and the County.

One possible mitigation proposed by the developer is to add a traffic light at 53rd and Regal. This will not reduce traffic, but could help manage its flow, especially into and out of the new development. However, the City Capital Improvement Plan does not have this project listed and the COS Transportation Impact Program report cited by Mr. Whipple that lists a traffic signal at 53rd and Regal has not be adopted by the City, so their mitigation funds cannot be used for that project. Additionally, City policy states that traffic signals need to be placed at the intersection of designated arterials. Regal is designated a Minor Arterial, but 53rd is not. Another detail for the City to work out with the developer.

Finally, there were concerns from a few attendees about the non-auto users of the neighborhood roads. Bicyclists and pedestrians (including school kids) use Regal and adjoining roads as paths to school and businesses around Southgate. No one felt that Regal was a safe environment for these users. Mr. Whipple took the time to explain that existing conditions cannot be blamed on the proposed Regal Commons development. However, it should be incumbent upon him and the developer to make sure their project does not exacerbate these issues, especially since the zoning for their project is supposed to be pedestrian-oriented as described by both the City and County code.

Overall, there were no solution offered at the meeting last night, and there was not a clear picture of the potential impacts given either. Southgate Neighborhood Council will continue to monitor the progress of the SEPA application and notify folks of any opportunities to give comment or learn more about the state of the development.

If you have concerns and comments about this issue I encourage you to email the SEPA Application coordinator for this project, John Halsey at the City Planning Department. You can also send a note or CC our City Council representatives, Breean Beggs and Lori Kinnear.

As always if you have questions for us you can email us as well.

Behold! The Stroad

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.

Epic Planning Battles of History, Part 2: Traffic Calming

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.

Table showing desired arterial street features in Focused Growth Areas
Table showing desired arterial street features in Focused Growth Areas

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.

Epic Planning Battles of History, Part 1: Traffic Congestion

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.