Bridges Lit Up

by Joel Smith & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & D & lt;/span & eveloper Marshall Chesrown's plans for Kendall Yards call for the 78-acre parcel along the north bank of the Spokane River to be built up with 2,600 homes housing more than 5,000 residents.

Since this is Spokane, many of those 5,000 people will probably own and operate plenty of cars (instead of taking the time to bike or walk downtown). And considering the project will be built over 20 years, during which time city planners fully expect Spokane to become some kind of urban wonderland, all those cars could be making frequent trips downtown.

But the development, which stretches from Monroe Street west to High Bridge Park, is served by only two auto bridges (Monroe and Maple), neither of which provides quick and easy access in and out of the new neighborhood. Getting to the site now requires a number of turns and backtracks along narrow, minor roads. So how are all those Kendall Yards residents going to get downtown and back?

That's the focus of a traffic study that developers submitted to the city of Spokane earlier this month. The report examined 92 intersections that could be affected by the development and surmised that all but six of them would meet standards of service set by the city. The other six, the report indicated, would by 2025 be unacceptably clogged. (They are Northwest Boulevard and Maple, Indiana and Post, Maxwell and Monroe, Second and Maple, Fifth and Maple and the intersection of Northwest Boulevard, Indiana and Monroe.)

But Kendall Yards project manager Tom Reese says half of those would be traffic-clogged anyway. "Only three are directly attributable to the Kendall Yards project," he says. "Those are intersections that will have a level of service that fails regardless of whether we build Kendall Yards or not ... That's the city's responsibility."

The city is, for the moment, mum on that point.

The report also proposes installing two traffic lights, one on the north end of each bridge.

The light at the north end of Monroe, Reese says, would allow pedestrians from Kendall Yards to cross Monroe and enter the heart of downtown via the Post Street bridge. (As it is now, pedestrians can enter via the Monroe Street Bridge, or dodge traffic, Frogger-style, to cross Monroe and get to the Post bridge.)

The light at the north end of the Maple Street Bridge would only stop southbound traffic entering the bridge (allowing northbound travelers to turn left into the development). It would also allow northbound drivers a free right onto Kendall Yards Boulevard, the main thoroughfare within the development.

The lights may seem like a hassle for drivers on two bridges that can already be difficult to navigate, but Reese can't stress their importance enough. "They're absolutely critical to the project," he says. "[They define] how the project relates back to the downtown, as well as how it connects to the neighborhoods. It focuses the traffic from Kendall Yards onto those two key intersections and doesn't put it in through the neighborhood, where we don't want it."

John Pilcher, the city of Spokane's economic development director, says it's too soon to judge how traffic will flow in and out of, and around, Kendall Yards. The city's two weeks to make a judgment on the developer's traffic study ended on Tuesday, but he says the engineering department is going to ask for more data to plug into their traffic flow model to determine what those new signalized intersections would do, and if they're even necessary.

Still, Pilcher suggests -- while emphasizing that he's "not an engineer" -- that installing traffic lights might not cause the bottleneck around Kendall Yards that drivers may be predicting. He points out that there are stop lights all along Maple and Ash, and that timing them just so might keep things moving. "I'm not sure that I would completely buy into the fact that an additional traffic light is going to have a significant effect on people's commute time," he says.

A public hearing will be set for this issue 45 to 60 days after the city has all the data it needs for its traffic models. Pilcher predicts that will proably mean sometime in August.