Posts tagged ‘complete streets’

January 13, 2012

Martin Luther King, Jr. Way Is a Great Street–Hypothetically, That Is

On Pine Street looking south. You can tell these streets will get one more layer of asphalt--look at that sewage access plate sticking up.

The new Martin Luther King, Jr. Way–the name for the extension of Riverside Avenue east of Division–isn’t open yet. So of course no one has ridden a bike on it yet.

Hypothetically speaking, the light skiff of snow that fell in mid-December might have lured some wayward person on a bike to take a right off northbound Division onto the untouched snow. Said hypothetical cyclist might have gloried in the absolute freedom to ride anywhere in the street similar to Spokane Summer Parkways, unfettered by the need to look out for larger vehicles.

This hypothetical bike rider could head east to Sherman, where the new street curves northward to connect with Spokane Falls Boulevard near the WSU Spokane Student Bookstore. That’s currently a four-way stop–someday to have a traffic light, or so I hear. Drivers aren’t expecting any traffic out of a closed street, so obviously if someone were coming from that direction, it would behoove that person to exercise due diligence in navigating the intersection.

Should this same nonexistent person have wanted to try MLK Way the other direction, westbound, it would be wise to note that the street lacks its final lift of asphalt so the sewer access plate projects up a good three inches or more, making the usual right tire track position a bad choice. Of course, with a light skiff of snow this would be pretty obvious so no disaster need occur.

Looking west at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way (Riverside west of this point) and Division.

It would be tricky to come out of a closed street and re-enter regular traffic, of course. If this hypothetical rider headed west on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way needed to end up heading eastbound on Sprague two options exist.

The first is to walk the bike across Division as a pedestrian with the light, then get back in the lane, ride to Browne, turn left, go a block, and turn left on Sprague. (I hypothesize that one would want to do this as a pedestrian right now because one would otherwise be riding out of a closed street straight into traffic with drivers who think they have a free left turn and no oncoming traffic.)

If, however, this hypothetical rider wanted to take full advantage of the flexibility a bike allows, switching between vehicle and pedestrian modes, a great route might present itself that’s far easier than dealing with the one-way street issues and car commuter traffic.

This is the signage you'll see on the right (east) side of the street just after you come under the railroad tracks at Sprague heading northbound on Division. This will be a nice little public plaza when it's finished.

At the intersection of the new street and Division, where traffic barriers prevent cars from continuing east on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, someone on a bike could get off the bike and use the sidewalk as a pedestrian to walk a tiny half-block south. (The lack of the final layer of asphalt would mean a steep lip between the sidewalk and the street surface, so someone who can’t execute a bunny hop to jump the bike up onto the sidewalk really does need to walk as a pedestrian, which is safer on sidewalks anyway.)

Using the WALK signal to navigate as a southbound pedestrian through the dark and narrow intersection of Sprague and Division, with the light enabling the one-way northbound traffic on Division, the hypothetical cyclist could easily turn the bike onto Sprague, get back on, and pedal eastward, knowing that no traffic would be coming from behind until after the light changed so the rider would have a couple of blocks’ head start and could choose whether to stay on Sprague or drop one block south to use First, with its lower volume of traffic. (Traffic on Division that wants to head east on Sprague has its own lane for their right turn so they shouldn’t interfere with this little maneuver in the lane, which is not something I’d recommend at most regular four-way intersections.)

The bike advantage: Instead of having to loop around the one-way streets, just take to the sidewalk (the University District signage above is to the left of this photo), then get back into the street to head eastbound on Sprague. Drivers can't change modes the way we can.

Thus Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, with its complete streets design of sidewalks, planting strips, and lanes where bike lanes will be striped when the street is finished in spring 2012 might represent some stellar virgin riding along the south edge of the Riverpoint Campus with no cars to contend with. So pleasant, in fact, that this little experiment could have been repeated multiple times in both directions long after that tiny bit of snow melted.

Hypothetically, that is.

December 20, 2011

We Get to Complete our Streets!

Kudos to the Spokane City Council for the 5-2* vote last night to enact the Complete Streets ordinance. A round of applause and a bouquet of locally grown flowers for Kitty Klitzke of Futurewise, who rallied the troops, circulated the petitions, and kept reminding us when to write, sign petitions, and go testify. More flowers for everyone involved in the Safe and Complete Streets Education Coalition that worked to educate the citizens on why complete streets are the streets we need for everyone. And eternal gratitude to Councilman Jon Snyder, who led the effort that resulted in last night’s ordinance.

I had the honor of testifying at the Council meeting along with around 40 others who showed up in support.** I’ll share (an approximate version of) my remarks here to capture my little contribution to a piece of Spokane history.

I’m a resident of the City of Spokane. I drive. I walk. I ride the bus. I buy goods that are shipped here by rail, air, and truck. And I ride a bike.

I want to tell a story of my own transformation. In 2001, I moved back to Spokane and bought a house on a bus line, which was a deliberate choice.

In 2005, I bought another house. This one was on a bus line and within biking distance of my workplace.

What happened in between was that in 2003 the City of Spokane put a bike lane in front of my house and I started riding to work. Visible bike infrastructure is an important signal, particularly to women, that biking is safe and it is possible.

I only rode once in a while to begin with. And now, when 2011 wraps up, I will have driven my car alone to work a grand total of 16 days the entire year. Every other day of the year I biked or rode the bus.

Home-buying decisions like these are why in 2008, the National Association of Realtors revised their policy statement on transportation to say that transportation planning should include all modes.

And in 2009, CEOs for Cities released a report showing that homes with a higher Walk Score are worth more.

By adopting a Complete Streets policy you can simultaneously increase the value of the single largest asset I will ever own and yield more government revenue in tough times.

That’s the real estate rationale for Complete Streets. It also contributes to workforce mobility and safety, with safer interactions for all users, not just those of us on bikes or on foot.

Richard Florida, who is famous for his studies of the Creative Class, analyzed cities with higher rates of bike commuting and compared them to cities with lower rates. The cities with higher rates of bike commuting were more affluent, better educated, had more knowledge-economy jobs, were fitter, and were happier.

When you add this infrastructure you tell people it’s possible to choose a different way of getting around. Even if they only ride their bikes to a coffee shop on Saturday with a friend, that means less wear and tear on the streets. I’m pretty sure I pay for a lot more street value than I actually use.

Let me close with another story, this one about my dad. Someone testified earlier about not being able to bike or walk because his knees were too bad so he doesn’t think Complete Streets are for him.

When my dad was 92 we finally got the car keys away from him. I can tell you that he should have lost them at around 87. But without his car he had no vision of any other way to get around. The only form of transportation he could imagine was the single-occupancy vehicle, so when that was gone he lost his independence.

I hope that when I’m old and I shouldn’t be driving that I will be able to retain my independence much longer because I know how to ride transit, and I hope you have made bus stops more accessible by completing sidewalks and providing curb cuts.

Complete Streets don’t force anyone to change their mode of transportation who doesn’t want. But they invite us to consider different ways of getting around through design. Complete Streets are a good policy choice for all of us.

* Voting yes: Steve Corker, Richard Rush, Joe Shogan, Jon Snyder, Amber Waldref. Voting no: Bob Apple, Nancy McLaughlin

** Totally extraneous winter biking style note: I wore a knee-length wool skirt, boots, SmartWool tights and extra pair of thick wool socks, blazer, merino turtleneck, and ThermaSilk base layer under that. I got a compliment on the outfit and, “Are you riding home in that?!” per usual. I rode home from the meeting in 25-degree weather with a ski jacket, lobster-claw gloves, scarf, and face mask. By the time I got home (around 3 miles uphill) I was so warm I couldn’t stand it. Still riding!

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Your Turn

  • A “complete street” is one that accommodates the various modes safely and provides for their needs. This doesn’t mean a bike lane on every street–individual design accommodations vary. Do you get to ride on any complete streets on your way to work?
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