Dangerous intersections are a curse to drivers, and anyone who lives near the South Hill arterial of Cedar Street knows this all too well. The one-way streets of Maple and Walnut merge into Cedar, connecting drivers to the upper South Hill. In addition, a long curve handicaps drivers joining the arterial, as they are often unable to see oncoming traffic. Residents here are filled with stories of near-misses and far worse. Bob Turner, traffic operations engineer for the City of Spokane, says the intersection of 10th Street and Maple has been a problem area for years.
"It's averaging anywhere between 10 to 12 accidents a year," says Turner. "It's usually the more dangerous T-bone accidents."
Turner says the city can fix hazardous roads through federal safety funds, but needs to apply for the money. After several unsuccessful applications, approval was finally given to fix the intersection.
Last October, city engineers began working with members of the South Hill's Cliff Cannon Neighborhood Council, whom engineers found ready with requests for further developments. The project spread; bike lanes were drawn in, and a three-block turning lane was added to the plans for Cedar between 12th and 15th. But as plans were finalized, another group of neighbors stepped forward, furious about changes that they say will reduce the property values of their homes and take away essential parking.
Safety First -- "The goal was to reduce accidents," says Steve Hanson, project leader for the City's Department of Engineering. "This is a principal arterial that's set up to move quite a bit of traffic. As we get into the design of projects, we have to deal with the public. We had one initial meeting with the [neighborhood council], and they brought up several real issues as far as the Comprehensive Plan."
Spokane's Comprehensive Plan, adopted in 2001 for the purpose of growth management and neighborhood maintenance, is specific about updating city streets during construction projects.
"We had long known that corridor on Maple and Cedar along High Drive is a designated bike lane," says Richard Rush, co-chair of the Cliff Cannon Neighborhood Council.
"In this case there is a designated bike lane proposed for that route," agrees Hanson. "The neighborhood [council] brought that to our attention. The scope [of the project] simply expanded."
But some residents are less than pleased about the additions to the safety project.
Mark Mustoe, a homeowner in the area, is fighting to keep bike lanes from taking away his and his neighbors' parking places.
"They are addressing a traffic hazard at 10th Street and Maple," Mustoe points out. "But then the project took on a life of its own. The problem is they are taking parking off the street and replacing it with bike paths. The Comprehensive Plan makes them put bike lanes in. Really, as they do improvements, they are supposed to follow the Comprehensive Plan - and that can be good - but we have a neighborhood that is losing parking. There are some people who absolutely have no parking."
Mustoe isn't the only resident affected.
"We're really upset," says Heidi Greenwalt, a resident living on Cedar. "If we have relatives come, they're going to have to park around the corner and hike in. We feel like they did this without letting residents know.
"We bought this [house] in November. We never received a letter, nor did the owners that had our house before, as far as we know," Greenwalt says.
Though the City claims it sent out letters to all homes in the affected neighborhood, Hanson has heard otherwise.
"We've been getting complaints that we're not getting the word out," Hanson admits. "We know we're not going to catch everyone, but we're trying to get input from people at the meetings."
The problem, most residents agree, is that the neighbors opposed to the street changes aren't a part of the neighborhood council. Mustoe held a meeting in his home last week for neighbors who hadn't been a part of the original discussion with city engineers. Hanson attended.
"We've reopened the project to take a look at parking issues, says Hanson. "What we thought was the final plan is not the final plan. We believe we can put parking in the plan in the neighborhood of the Women's' Club and southbound on Maple Street," he says, although he's not ready to get more specific.
The city is now balancing two neighborhood groups' needs, trying to determine if the road can fit parked cars and a bike lane, all without widening it, which would cut into private property.
But Rush, with the neighborhood council, says if people had qualms about the street changes, they needed to voice them at the time the initial plans were drawn up.
"Traffic calming and bike lanes are huge issues in our neighborhood council. I wish they would participate. But they've essentially come into this after the plans were made," Rush explains, adding that neighborhood councils are important for exactly this reason.
"We are beginning to plan our neighborhood, and how the Comprehensive Plan will be applied here," Rush continues. "If people choose not to participate, they're going to be out of the loop. People have to participate on the front end to get the results they are looking for."
Bikers and Parkers -- While some residents worry about where they'll park their cars once bike lanes push them out, others are thrilled to learn the street will accommodate bike riders.
"When I do ride my bike to work, I have to deal with the corner of Maple and 10th," says South Hill resident and avid biker Neil Beaver. "I have to say that's probably the most unsafe area for bicyclists in all of Spokane. I'm more in favor of bike safety than parking places."
But where residents will park isn't the only thing worrying them. Greenwalt says the turn lane on Cedar Street is the biggest problem.
"If we had known there was going to be a turn lane, we'd have never purchased [this house]," says Greenwalt. "We'd looked at other homes on the South Hill and not purchased them because they were on streets with turn lanes. The house is devalued when there is a turn lane, everybody knows that. We had all these remodels planned. If they are going to put a turn lane in, we won't do any of them."
"You're devaluing homes of people who are buying these old houses," Mustoe agrees. "It's a critical neighborhood in Spokane; it's probably one of the most important neighborhoods."
Both Mustoe and Greenwalt say they haven't had professional estimates on how much their property would be devalued.
Hanson expects the upgrades to Cedar Street to start within the next month.
"The project will last 20 to 30 working days," he says. "We're certainly having an impact on the neighborhood. But this is an arterial. There will be a conflict if we don't keep this in place, because there will be more traffic on those side streets."
"We've got a neighborhood that's really been improving," says Mustoe. "Everyone's worked hard to make it a better neighborhood, and we're getting our parking taken away. The Comprehensive Plan is making it hard. It's not equitable."
Rush clearly doesn't agree. "I think we planned well when the traffic committee came in," he says. "Our active membership has a keen appreciation for the Comprehensive Plan. We want to see it defended; we want to see it respected; we want to see it implemented."
To discuss these street changes, the Cliff Cannon Neighborhood Council will meet today, May 8, at 7 pm, at Roosevelt Elementary School, 333 W. 14th St.
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