Thursday, October 16, 2014

Transportation Technical Committee Meeting Next Week

The Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) meeting for October is next Wednesday, Oct. 22.
The agenda and meeting packet are here. There are some really interesting discussions that take place at the TTC meetings, so if you are interested in the technical aspects of transportation planning, or have a question or concern, feel free to attend. The meetings are at 1 p.m. in the SRTC office at 221 W. 1st, Suite 310 in downtown Spokane.

Breast Cancer License Plates Coming Soon

Whether you're a breast cancer survivor or just want to show support, and help raise money to fight the disease. Breast Cancer license plates will go on sale starting in January. Money raised from them will pay for breast cancer screenings and follow-up tests for women with limited or no insurance through the state Department of Health’s Breast, Cervical, and Colon Health Program.

If you're really wanting to show your support, you have a chance to bid on the first batch of breast cancer license plates before everyone else can get them through an auction today.

More information on the plates, and the auction, is here.

Lagos Declares "Horn Free" Day For Drivers

You wouldn't think this would be necessary but the state of Lagos, in Nigeria, has declared every
October 15 to be horn-free day.

On this day drivers are expected to comply with traffic rules without honking the horns of their vehicles.

At the same time, other road users, including commuters and pedestrians, are to adhere to road signs without waiting for the prompting of vehicles horns.

Apparently there is a major issue with noise pollution caused by transportation there and a huge amount of congestion, as you can see from the picture. Plus many traffic laws go unheeded in the rush to get ahead in the daily commute.

A lot of people think going horn free isn't the way to address these issues, and apparently a lot of OTHER traffic issues they have there. Here's why.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

White Cane Day Teaches Us What Visually Impaired People Deal With Everyday

I walk or ride the bus all over downtown Spokane and like to think I've seen every nook and cranny of the area. But today I saw it from a different perspective. I took part in National White Cane Day, celebrated each year on October 15, to highlight the significance of the white cane and its role in helping people who are blind achieve independence. 

Each year, The Lighthouse for the Blind, a company based in Seattle with a manufacturing plant in Spokane, holds an event to mark the date. The Lighthouse for the Blind is a private, not-for-profit enterprise providing employment, support, and training opportunities for people who are blind, Deaf-Blind, and blind with other disabilities. 

This year they did a guided walk through downtown for officials and planners from the City of Spokane and SRTC. It wasn't just an everyday walk though. We wore vision loss simulators for part of it to experience what it's like trying to navigate without the benefit of sight and we stopped at several locations in the downtown area to talk about challenges the infrastructure presents to people with vision loss or even those with other disabilities and the elderly. 

We also talked about some of the pedestrian safety improvements the City of Spokane has implemented in recent years. So here's some of my thoughts after completing this exercise and more info on White Cane Day.

This crosswalk is attractive and innovative but notice how there's no curb and no delineation between where the sidewalk stops and the road starts? That causes a problem for visually impaired people. There is no change in "texture" between the sidewalk and the road to alert them that they may be walking into a roadway.

Spokane City Councilmember Jon Snyder caught up to our group as he was heading to City Hall and stayed long enough to find out what we were doing. He had another appointment so couldn't take part but put on a "White Cane Day" button before leaving.

Planters and pronounced edges like the one to the left are good for visually impaired and blind people. This gentleman could feel with his cane that he would go off the edge if he took a step to the right as the surface was no longer rigid.

These audible crossing signals are replacing the old style ones at select intersections around the City of Spokane as money is available. They not only verbally tell you when to cross the road and emit a sound to let people know where the crossing is, but there is a raised arrow on the button you push to alert it that you want to walk that points which direction the street crossing is.

Trees are great. Everyone on the tour today agreed with that. But see that metal brace around this one? That's a tripping hazard for a blind person. Many trees have grates over the dirt surrounding them, which visually impaired people appreciate because they can discern the difference in texture with their canes and know an obstruction is ahead.

Uh oh. Trouble ahead! This is post street. It's awesome that we have a pedestrian plaza but vehicles, especially buses, still come through here. Once again, there is no delineation between the area to walk and where vehicles drive. Also, there are posts and planters in the walkway that were hard for me personally to navigate around when wearing a vision loss simulator.

This is our Transportation Planner Ryan wearing a vision loss simulator. That's an actual vision impaired person named Steve guiding him. Literally the blind leading the blind, right?

This is me to the right, also wearing a vision loss simulator. That's Shawn guiding me. He's on our Transportation Advisory Committee and set this whole thing up. I serve as a sighted guide for Shawn often when he comes to our office. He did a lot better job guiding me today, even while being blind, than I ever do for him, even though I can see.

This is Kathleen, a planner for the City of Spokane and to the right is Spokane City Councilmember Mike Fagan.

One thing that was demonstrated to us sighted folks over and over is that texture makes a huge difference in helping a visually impaired person find their way. These raised bumps at a crosswalk ramp let people know they are approaching an intersection.

 This is Shawn again. He demonstrated how, to figure out what zone he's at to catch his bus at the Plaza, he has to walk very close to the road as the curb is the only really good ledge available to guide him. Because buses come close to the curb and the end goes over the sidewalk when pulling out sometimes, this is an extremely unsafe practice. Some kind of wayfinding measures are needed at the STA Plaza.

And my final takeaway from White Cane Day? That these visually impaired and blind folks we worked with today are a lot stronger and braver than me. I would be picked off the first time I tried to cross the street.

Gas Prices Drop Below $3 A Gallon

I wasn't sure I'd ever see it again, but gas prices across the country are dropping below $3 a gallon!

AAA says the average gas prices has dropped 20 cents a gallon in the last month, below $3 in ten states already. And they're expecting that trend to spread to other states.

Here's the story from KXLY News. 

District 3 Candidates Share Their Thoughts For The Future

You're going to be voting soon on who should represent you as County Commissioner in District 3, southwest and west Spokane County and portions of the city of Spokane, including parts of the South Hill and North Side. The Spokane Valley Herald interviewed both candidates, incumbent Al French and challenger Mary Lou Johnson recently on their goals if they get elected, the issues they're hearing from voters and why each should be elected over the other.

Here is both interviews.

Celebrating White Cane Day By Walking A Mile (or less probably) In Their Shoes

Today is National White Cane Day, celebrated each year on October 15th, to highlight the significance of the white cane and its role in helping people who are blind achieve independence. 

Each year, The Lighthouse for the Blind, a company based in Seattle with a manufacturing plant in Spokane, holds an event to mark the date. The Lighthouse for the Blind is a private, not-for-profit enterprise providing employment, support, and training opportunities for people who are blind, Deaf-Blind, and blind with other disabilities. 
This year for White Can Day they are doing a guided walk through downtown for officials and planners from the City of Spokane and one of SRTC's transportation planners. Not just any walk though- participants will wear vision loss simulators and have to negotiate the many challenges they'll encounter trying to get from point A to point B without the aid of vision.

Throughout the walk there will be stops to experience several accomplishments that the City of Spokane has made in promoting pedestrian safety.  At the conclusion of the walk, participants will discuss their experience. 

At SRTC we were honored to be invited to take part in this because we feel it will make us better able to plan for the future and the needs of people with disabilities when developing projects. There will be a follow up blog post after the walk with pictures so check back. Should be interesting. 

In the meantime, here's more info on White Cane Day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

If We Put A Crazy Cover On A Report Would You Read It?

Click the picture to see it full size.
As the person charged with engaging the public for SRTC, I constantly struggle with ways to bring attention to our activities, using very little money. Our Metropolitan Transportation Plans (MTP) and Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), among others, are very important documents because they determine how YOUR tax dollars are spent.

But how many people actually read them? My guess is very few. Why? Admittedly, the content can be a little dry. I always suggest that people skim the "meat" of the report as I call it, the tables that show what projects will be funded or what areas funding will go to, but it's still a tough sell sometimes.

Apparently many government agencies have the same issue. Caltrans and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is fighting it though with their recent 1,316-page report on the High Desert Corridor, a proposed 63-mile freeway and rail link between the Antelope Valley and a fast-growing area of northwest San Bernardino County in California.

What's different about this report? The cover. It's kinda trippy. Have you seen the episode of the Simpsons where Homer eats the really hot pepper and wanders out in the desert where he hallucinates all night? This cover kind of reminds me of that. It's got raptors on bicycles, a tortoise with the name "Brad" on its shell and squirrels.

So if we were going to do something like that with one of our document covers, what would suit spokane? A flying garbage goat? A bus full of marmots? A pink clocktower?

While you think about it, here's more on the report, some pretty funny reaction to the cover, and where the name Brad came from for the turtle.

Group Asks Supreme Court To Approve Confederate License Plates

Confederate flag license plates- free speech or should the south just get over it already? A southern veterans group thinks you should be able to buy the specialty plates to put on your car but a Texas court disagreed. In response, the veterans group is trying to take their fight all the way to the top- the U.S. Supreme Court.

Texas' Attorney General says the Department of Motor Vehicles has the power to regulate controversial messages on government-issued property but the veterans group's lawyer says you can't ban something just because some people might find it offense.

Here's more on this story from the Dallas News.

Monday, October 13, 2014

North Spokane Corridor Also Has Tunnel For Wildlife

You knew that the North Spokane Corridor (NSC) is smooth to drive on and saves time if you're headed north, but did you know it's also saving wildlife from being hit by cars on the freeway?

The NSC has a wildlife tunnel passing beneath it on Peone Creek. A wildlife camera has taken pictures of moose, deer, coyotes and other animals using it.

The new passage is part of growing momentum for large-scale preservation of wildlife habitat and the corridors that connect them. Here's more on this from the Spokesman-Review.

Making Transportation More Accessible to Those With Special Needs

Most of us don't usually put much thought into how we're going to get where we're going each day. It's not so easy though for those who are elderly, disabled, too young to drive or just choose not to drive. There are many challenges they face, including:

  • Lack of public transit services in rural areas
  • Lack of transportation services to medical services
  • Broken or missing sections of sidewalk
  • Snowy and Icy sidewalks
  • Lack of transportation options outside of Spokane Transit's service area
  • Limited service hours for Spokane Transit buses
  • Many others

Every couple years SRTC updates the Spokane County Coordinated Public Transit – Human Services Transportation Plan (HSTP), a plan to improve transportation services for people with disabilities, youth, older adults, and individuals with lower incomes. The plan provides guidance to aid communities, agencies and service providers in coordinating transportation resources provided through federal and state programs.

The HSTP includes an inventory of services that provide transportation, common origins and destinations for persons with special transportation needs, an assessment of transportation issues and “gaps” in the system, and implementation strategies for addressing those gaps.

Now what's needed is input on the HSTP. Did we accurately assess all the issues and challenges "vulnerable" folks are coming up against in regards to transportation? Are the strategies to address these issues realistic and appropriate to the situation? Are there possible solutions we overlooked?

We would appreciate it if you could attend a public open house and let us know on Tuesday, Oct. 14 from 4-6 p.m. You can stop by anytime between those hours and stay as long or as short as you'd like. The open house will be in the SRTC office at 221 W. 1st Ave. Suite 310.

If you'd like to check out the Spokane County Coordinated Public Transit- Human Services Transportation Plan 2014 Update in advance, use this link.

Transportation Advisory Committee Members Needed

Do you have opinions on how our transportation system should grow in the future? Or maybe you're just interested in how transportation planning happens. You may be able to help us. SRTC is looking for new members for our Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC). We have four openings for terms from 2015 to 2018.

The TAC is a citizen advisory committee focused on providing transparency and a community perspective. The TAC is responsible for advising the SRTC Board regarding plans, programs and activities to determine consistency with current policies of SRTC; making recommendations on regional transportation policies; and other activities as directed by the SRTC Board.

The TAC also serves as a conduit for information between the Board and the public. Members serve as liaisons between the public and the Board, relaying informayion between the two groups.

A diverse makeup of TAC members is desired. TAC Members represent the general public and groups including, but not limited to, people with disabilities, senior citizens, youth, the business and freight moving communities, traditional automobile users and advocates for non-motorized transportation or public transit. Freight and youth representatives are particularly needed at this time.

The TAC meets once a month, the fourth Monday of every month at 3 p.m. in SRTC's downtown Spokane office. For more information, or for an application to be a TAC member, here's where to go:

Havana Street Improvements Scheduled for 2015

The City of Spokane is giving a preview of one of next year's major street projects. The
improvements are part of a larger project to install a water main within Havana Street.

The project, starting in spring of 2015, will improve Havana Street from 37th Avenue to Glenrose Road. Here's more information on the project.

Friday, October 10, 2014

New Interactive Maps Posted

I spent a large part of the summer talking to groups and people at community events about our new ArcGIS Online interactive maps. So you may have already heard that we're making all of our maps into versions that are posted on the internet and allow you to manipulate them to find information you need. If you haven't tried them out already, you should, they're pretty cool. 

When I say they're interactive, I mean you can zoom in to areas of the map, click on items for more information, embed the maps in your own blog or website and even make your own maps. So check it out. And just today we have three new maps to play with. Here's what's been posted recently:

ThumbnailTransportation Improvement Program (TIP) projects- The TIP is a document of projects planned to be completed or constructed in Spokane County in the next four years. The TIP is updated every year with new projects. This map shows all the projects included in the 2015-2018 TIP and you can click on each for a detailed project description.

ThumbnailFederal Functional Classification (FFC)- Functional classification is the grouping of highways, roads and streets by the character of service they provide and was developed for transportation planning purposes. This map shows which roads in Spokane County are highways, freeways, arterials, etc.

Freight and Goods Transportation System (FGTS)- classifies state highways, county roads and city streets according to the average annual gross truck tonnage they carry. 

It's Not Just Prescription Drugs That Could Affect Your Driving

You know that warning on prescription medicine bottles that says you shouldn't drive or operate
heavy equipment after taking the medicine? Well, it may be needed on some over-the-counter medications as well. For instance, did you know that medicines like Imodium that fight diarrhea can affect your driving? Who knew. Also, those motion sickness drugs such as Dramamine may keep you from getting seasick but they could cause you to fall asleep behind the wheel.
Here's more from the FDA on over-the-counter medications that could put you at risk behind the wheel.

Local Road Construction Update

I-90/Geiger Blvd. to Argonne Road- On Wednesday and Thursday, Oct. 15-16, eastbound and westbound drivers should be alert for Maintenance equipment operating in the left lane for median sweeping.  This is a moving operation.  Possible slow traffic.

I-90/Evergreen Road Interchange- Today, Thursday, Oct 9, be alert for lane restrictions at the end of the westbound Evergreen off ramp and north bound Evergreen Road at the off ramp intersection for intersection island work.

3rd Street Sidewalk Closure-
The sidewalk in 3rd between Madison and Monroe will be closed from Oct. 13 to Nov. 10 to add to the Lexus store.

Queen Street Closure- Queen is closed between Division and Lidgerwood until Oct. 21 for utility work for the new portion of NorthTown Mall.

Madison Street Closure- Madison is closed from 3rd to Freeway Ave. until Oct. 17.

Residential Grind and Overlay project- The Excell Ave. portion is substantially complete. Final paving of the two-inch lift of asphalt on the Arthur St. portion is scheduled for this week.The project calls for completion of grind and overlay repair on the following streets:

o   Pittsburg Street from Heroy Avenue to Wellesley Avenue and Heroy Avenue from Helena Street to Pittsburg Street. Work is substantially complete.
o   Arthur Street from 13th Avenue to Newark Avenue (excluding 9th Avenue west to 9th Avenue east)
o   Excell Avenue from G Street to the beginning of the cul-de-sac east of Audubon Drive. Removal work has begun.

CSO Basin Construction- One lane is open in each direction on Sprague from Hatch to Scott Streets. This project will construct a combined sewer overflow facility on City property across from the City’s Sewer Maintenance Facility.

Addison Street from Columbia to Dalke- The Calispel portion of the project is substantially complete. Final paving of the two-inch lift of asphalt on Addison is underway.  This project will grind and overlay Addison Street from Columbia Avenue to 525 feet north of Dalke Avenue. Crews will also replace a  water main in Calispel Street from Wellesley Avenue to Queen Avenue.

Greene Street Bridge Water Main- Greene Street from Marshall Avenue to Carlisle Avenue is reduced to one lane each direction. Carlisle at Greene is also closed and a detour is in place. This project will pull a 24” pipe through the existing 30” steel main. The new pipe will not add weight to the bridge due to the smaller amount of water that will be flowing through the new pipe.

Lincoln/Monroe Construction- Weather permitting, crews will close Lincoln from 13th to 17th and 14th at Lincoln to place the top lift of asphalt on Wednesday, Oct. 15. Businesses remain open. This project includes reconstruction of the street by replacing the asphalt surfacing, including ADA ramps as needed. Lincoln/Monroe Street is closed from 7th-17th Avenues. 

High Drive Construction, Phase OnePathway aggregate placement and grading will continue into next week. The pathway will be paved as grade is finished. Top lift paving on the main roadway is scheduled to be completed next week. The 29th Avenue intersection is scheduled to be closed October 15-16th, during which time all improvements in that intersection will be completed. This project includes pavement reconstruction, storm, sewer, swales, and water main replacement from 29th Avenue to Bernard Street. Phase One construction is expected to last until late October. Phase Two, Bernard Street to Hatch Road, will begin in the spring of 2015.

33rd Avenue/High Drive/Bernard Street Drywell Installation- Work begins this week to install drywells in nine intersections: 33rd Ave. and High Dr., Jefferson St. and Regent Ct., Jefferson St. and Saxon Ct., Lincoln Dr. and Saxon Ct., Lincoln Dr. and Croydon Ct., 36th Ave. and Bernard St., 37th Ave. and East Gate Ct., 37th Ave. and High Dr. and Bernard St and High Dr.

Lyons from Standard to Nevada and Cincinnati from Beacon to Holyoke- Closed Oct. 16 for traffic calming projects.

Sprague Avenue between University and Vista- Reduced to two lanes through October for resurfacing, stormwater drainage improvements and sidewalk work.

Appleway Boulevard from Thierman to Park- Reduced to two lanes through early October for landscaping improvements. Pedestrians may use the new sidewalk on the south side of the road. 

Sullivan Road from I-90 to East Flora Pit Road- Northbound curb lane closed through early December for bridge modifications.  One northbound lane will remain open at all times on the bridge.  Signs resdirect traffic through the work area.  


Country Homes Restoration Project- Country Homes Blvd. from Cedar Rd. to Wall St. is open to  traffic, however use caution as crews continue to work adjacent to the roadway.

Bruce Road Bridge Replacement/Road Work - Bridge closed until further notice.

Shady Slope Road- Bridge scour mitigation between Leona & Little Spokane Drive. The bridge is closed with a detour in place.

Wandermere Pathway- Flaggers are directing traffic from Dartford south to the “Children of the Sun” trail for work on the pathway, shoulder and guard rail.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

U.S. Transportation Chief Gets Schooled On WA State Ferries

Washington State got a little love from U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx yesterday, as he took a ride on ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island.

Foxx was in our state at the invitation of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who says a special federal fund for ferries is under siege in Congress, affecting Washington, New York, and North Carolina, among other coastal states.

While we're not overly concerned on this side of the state, apparently the financial outlook for the nation’s largest ferry fleet of ferry boats is pretty bleak. Stands to reason though considering that's the case for all of the state's transportation system, though.

Here's more on Foxx's visit to the Evergreen State and his reaction to the ferry ride.

Free Car Care Fair This Saturday

Spokane Community College is hosting a FREE Car Care Fair this Saturday, October 11 from 9 a.-m. to 3 p.m. at Spokane Community College. Get your vehicle ready for winter with free vehcile inspections by specialists from the school's automotive program. Click the flyer to view it full size.

Monday Is A (Parking Meter) Holiday

Why so serious? You're cause for free parking!
Schools and banks are closed Monday for Columbus Day, but as far as I can tell, all area government
offices will still be open. However, if you're one of the lucky ones with the day off, parking meters don't need to be plugged on Monday. The weather is still great so take advantage of it and come downtown, park for free and shop or play! 

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Voice-Activated Systems May Have Opposite of Intended Effect

Voice-activated smartphones and dashboard options were supposed to make driving less distracting, but two new studies say they may be even more distracting than just using your regular old handheld phone.

Voice activated systems let drivers do things like tune the radio, send a text message or make a phone call while keeping their eyes on the road and their hands on the wheel. But many of these systems are so error-prone or complex that they require more concentration from drivers rather than less, according to studies released Tuesday by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety and the University of Utah.

Here's more on these voice-activated systems and why Apple's Siri could be driving you to distraction.

About SRTC

SRTC is the federally designated Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. Urbanized areas with populations exceeding 50,000 people are required to have an MPO. SRTC was formed to address the county's transportation planning needs. It provides coordination in planning between the public, cities, small towns, the county, the state, transit providers, and tribes.

SRTC offers services including transportation monitoring, transportation modeling, census information analysis, travel demand forecasting, historical traffic count analysis, geographic information systems, and trip generation rates.