Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Council Deadlocks on Hiring Consultant to Design Trent/Barker Project

The current railroad crossing at Trent and Barker Rd.
Spokane Valley will not be moving ahead at this time on designing an under or overpass at Barker Road and Trent that would separate vehicle traffic from trains. According to the Spokane Valley News Herald, City Council failed to reach consensus on the agreement and with Council Member Sam Wood absent, the motion stalled with a 3-3 tie.

The council had previously told city staff to seek requests of qualifications from engineering firms to study ways to separate Barker Road from the Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad tracks just south of Trent. There is a $720,000 federal earmark to do the work, plus the city already committed $300,000 in matching funds.Steve Worley, the city’s capital improvement program manager, was back before the council to approve an additional $300,000 in order to move forward with hiring DEA/HDR to begin the engineering study.

Deputy Mayor Arne Woodard said he would work to bring the issue back before the council at a meeting when there would be seven members present. A similar engineering study request for the Pines Road/Trent crossing is slated for a future council meeting.

Monday, January 16, 2017

WSDOT Looking Into Ways to Keep I90 Traffic Moving

Photo courtesy Dan Pelle/The Spokesman-Review
The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is looking for ways to reduce increasing congestion on Interstate 90 through the Spokane area. While we are no Seattle, we need to take steps now to make sure we don't develop traffic problems like Seattle has.

According to the Spokesman-Review, the WSDOT has hired a private engineering firm, DKS Associates, to look into low-cost ways to improve traffic flow.

A report by the WSDOT says backups and slowdowns are routine during the morning and evening. The length of freeway affected by slowdowns has expanded from a half-mile in 2013 to 3.8 miles in 2015.

In 2015, the eastbound I-90 evening commute saw nearly 4 miles of congestion lasting about an hour from the downtown viaduct to the widened segment just east of Havana Street, the congestion report said.

Average daily traffic at the Sprague Avenue interchange increased by 5 percent, from 112,000 vehicles in 2013 to 118,000 in 2015.

Time lost in traffic tie-ups on I-90 doubled from 2013 through 2015, according to the study. The state found 80,000 hours were lost to people caught in rush-hour congestion on I-90 compared with 40,000 hours in 2013. The I-90 corridor carried an estimated 235.3 million people in individual trips in 2015, up 1.9 percent over 2013.

The number of vehicles the freeway can move drops when congestion occurs.

In 2015, I-90 at Freya Street was routinely seeing traffic volumes at 79 percent of capacity at rush hour, a reduction of freeway function over 2013.

Even with the numbers above, it is important to keep things in perspective. Spokane really has very little congestion compared to other cities. Yes, the freeway has slow downs most days, but it's rare that traffic actually comes to a stop like in many places. And the delays don't last long.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Study Indicates Living Near Heavy Traffic Increases Risk of Dementia

People living near busy streets have an increased risk of dementia, according to new research that adds to concerns about the impact of air pollution on human health.

According to The Guardian, approximately one in 10 cases of Alzheimer’s in urban areas could be associated with living near heavy traffic, the study estimated. Scientists in the past linked air pollution and traffic noise to reduced density of white matter in the brain and lower cognition. A recent study suggested that tiny particles from air pollution can make their way into brain tissue.
This study found that those who live close to major traffic arteries were up to 12% more likely to be diagnosed with dementia.

The study, which tracked over 6 million people for more than a decade, could not determine whether pollution is directly harmful to the brain. The increased dementia risk could be an effect of respiratory and cardiac problems caused by traffic fumes or other unhealthy factors associated with living in urban environments. Those living within 50 meters of a busy road had a 7% higher risk in developing dementia, the risk was 4% higher risk at 50-100 metres, 2% higher risk at 101-200 metres and there was no increase in risk in those living more than 200 metres away. Those who lived in a major city, within 50 meters of a major road and did not move during the duration of the study had the highest risk at 12%.

North Monroe Corridor Project Open House

The City of Spokane is hosting a public open house on Thursday, Jan. 26 from 4-7 p.m. at Knox Presbyterian Church, 806 W. Knox on a project to improve North Monroe Street between Indiana and Kiernan.

The project includes reconfiguring the street from four lanes to two travel lanes with a center turn lane, from about Shannon to Cora. It will also will include curb bumpouts at intersections that reduce pedestrian crossing distances, enhanced crossings at three locations with flashing yellow beacons, pedestrian lighting, and a climbing lane on the hill. The current on-street parking will be widened for easier use and spaces will be added.  Sidewalks will be widened.

In addition to the open house, the City is developing an online feedback tool that describes the various elements of the project, and then provides a survey for citizens to fill out. The online tool is expected to be launched about a week prior to the public meeting.  More information on the project is found on the City’s web site

Thursday, January 12, 2017

SRTC Open for MLK Jr. Day, Other Government Offices Not Open

In observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, area government offices will be closed Monday,
January 16, except for SRTC. We will be in the office all day Monday.

Spokane Valley, Spokane City, the Washington State department of Transportation and other agencies will reopen for regular hours on Tuesday, January 10.

And good news, parking meters don’t have to be plugged on Monday.

Proposed Bill Would Lower Train Speed Through Cities

A bill proposed Wednesday would give Spokane officials the power to make trains slow down through the city.

According to the Spokesman-Review, SB 5098, sponsored by Sen. Andy Billig, D-Spokane, would give major cities and the state Utilities and Transportation Commission the authority to set lower speed limits than the federal government allows in certain cases.

Under federal law, trains can travel as fast as 50 mph through cities, but lower limits can be set for what is referred to as “unique local safety hazards,” according to Billig, who also said trains with flammable materials traveling through commercial and residential areas at 50 mph is a unique hazard and “a recipe for disaster.”

The next step would be for the bill to be scheduled for a hearing by the Transportation or the Energy committee.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Car Dealers Are Uneducated About Vehicle Safety Features- Almost Dangerously So

How do you use all these gadgets again?
What are you getting when you buy a new car as far as safety features? Who knows. Especially not Wired reports that just six of the 17 salespeople gave “thorough” explanations of the technologies in the vehicles they were selling in undercover research done by MIT.
the person who sells it to you, apparently.

According to the researchers, four salespeople gave “poor” descriptions of safety features and at least two provided information that was so incorrect that it could be dangerous. For instance, one told an undercover "buyer" that Ford’s pedestrian detection technology works at all speeds. It actually doesn't turn on until the vehicle hits 30 mph.

Another salesperson said drivers did not have to brake while using Chevrolet’s parking assist tech. Uh, yeah they do.

As the shift toward cars that drive themselves accelerates, the lack of knowledge could get worse,
with one likely outcome being that drivers will just turn off systems they don’t understand and not using potentially life-saving technology. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says, a 2016 study found that of 265 Hondas brought in for servicing at dealerships in and around Washington, DC, less than a third still had their lane departure warnings turned on.

The bottom line? I guess it would be to do your own research no matter what a salesperson tells you. When you are spending that much money, you want to be able to use your vehicle to it's full potential.

Downtown Snow Berms Are Back

Photo courtesy of the Spokesman-Review
If you haven't been downtown today but are headed that way, be warned that there are snow berms in the streets. Spokane’s street crews plowed out downtown overnight, after two days of cars sliding around and getting stuck in six inches of snow that blanketed the area.

Usually the City of Spokane uses de-icer to clear downtown streets as it is a challenge to plow due to street parking. When there is too much snow though and that doesn't work, the streets are plowed to the middle, creating large berms. This makes it hard to change lanes and can cause you to miss turns, especially on one-way streets.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Browne's Addition Plowing This Week

Browne’s Addition is scheduled to be plowed Thursday, January 12 and Friday, January 13 as the City continues to plow all residential streets. 

The city has more than 2,200 residential lane miles and over 760 arterial lane miles. A full City plow takes approximately 4 days to complete. The snow map for residential plowing is updated regularly and can be viewed here.

Browne’s Addition plow schedule:
·         Thursday, January 12, 9 a.m., north and south streets
·         Friday, January 13, 9 a.m., east and west streets

Signs will be placed at the entrances of Browne’s Addition announcing the plowing schedule.  No parking is in place for Browne’s Addition during the plow schedule to allow room for the plows. Cars not moved off the street will be towed.

DOT Releases A 30 Year Plan and Discusses Seattle Transportation Issues

The United States Department of Transportation is responsible for reporting on both the current and the anticipated future conditions of our nation’s transportation system. Beyond Traffic 2045 is this report and has recently been released. It includes separate reports on 'megaregions,' networks of urban clusters connected by economic and social relationships that will grow in importance as our nation’s population in metropolitan regions grows. A map of these items is below (click on it to view full size).

Residents and businesses in these megaregions often depend on the same infrastructure—airports, ports, rail lines, and freight corridors. Yet the planning and operation of our transportation system is rarely coordinated across these regions.

Beyond Traffic 2045 says that, to plan and operate the transportation system of the future, we need to build collaborative relationships and institutions that reflect the growing interdependence of megaregions. So, transportation stakeholders from each megaregion were brought together in the development of the plan, including from Seattle.

The top issues there were how to better plan and incorporate the expected increases in freight traffic while managing congestion and reducing sprawl. Participants talked about the need to examine the freight system holistically because the movement of freight involves all modes of transportation. Land use, workforce issues, safety, and existing congestion were all recognized as factors that need to be incorporated into any regional freight plan moving forward.

There was the sentiment that freight was underrepresented when compared to other transportation-related issues. Participants noted a variety of solutions, including designated freight corridors, promoting modal shifts, and congestion pricing, but much of this conversation was tied into reducing sprawl.

You can read the entire report here. The section discussing Seattle issues starts on page 218.

Monday, January 9, 2017

County Commissioners to Consider Condemning Property for Bigelow Gulch Project

The Forker and Bigelow intersection today (well earlier
this fall anyway)
A project that SRTC is helping to fund isn't popular with one family who may lose part of their land to make room for it. According to the Spokesman-Review, Spokane County wants to buy a piece of Kristina Brandvold's property near Forker and Bigelow Gulch roads to build an interchange, part of a multiphase project through 2020 to widen both Bigelow Gulch and Forker from Havana Street on the west to Progress Road on the east. According to the Brandvold's though, the price being offered, $26,000, is very low and they are holding out on selling.

Spokane County commissioners tomorrow night are expected to vote to pursue condemnation against the Brandvold property and four other parcels at or near the intersection.

The County has been working on the project since 2000 to ease heavy traffic and large number of accidents, including fatalities. There were 390 collisions between 2004 and 2014, including 128 injury accidents. From 1994 through 2006, there were seven fatalities.

Traffic volumes at Forker Road are approximately 10,000 vehicles a day, with a lot of semi and commercial trucks using the route. The county wants to build an overpass with two lanes in each direction from Forker to Bigelow Gulch. An underpass would serve vehicles wanting to turn.

Stormwater from the road would go into infiltration ponds at the interchange. The county would also reroute natural drainage through a culvert into a ditch that extends to the Brandvold property.
Brandvold is concerned that the excavation could contaminate her well due to the possibility of septic effluent mingling with drinking water.

To read the entire article, click here.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Public Meeting on Mission Avenue Project

Flora and Mission intersection
The city of Spokane Valley is hosting an open house next Thursday, Jan. 12 at Greenacres Christian Church, 18010 E. Mission Ave. from 5:30-7 p.m. about plans to improve Mission Avenue from Flora Road to Barker Road, according to the Spokesman-Review.  It is a two-lane road with few sidewalks and curbs. The project will widen lanes to arterial-size and add 5-foot-wide bike lanes and 6-foot-wide ADA compliant sidewalks in each direction.

Among other things to be discussed at the meeting is that a proposed roundabout at Mission Avenue and Long Road is no longer under consideration. That is the intersection where Central Valley School District is proposing a new elementary school to be finished in 2018.

This section of Mission runs through one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Spokane Valley, the northern part of Greenacres. Growth has led to an increase in traffic, which has made improvements to Mission necessary.

With new curbs, stormwater will be piped away from the roadway and into stormwater treatment grass swales on empty lots along Mission. The project has been designed to have minimal impact on property owners along Mission, but that those at major intersections may lose some right of way.

The project will cost approximately $4.3 million. A federal Surface Transportation Grant contributes $794,000, the city of Spokane Valley matches that with $823,002, and the rest is covered by grant money through SRTC in the amount of $2.7 million.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Garco Construction Leader to Build U-District Bridge

Plans for the new U-District bridge.
Garco Construction, Inc., a Spokane company with several multimillion-dollar contracts with the city of Spokane, is in line to build the long-awaited, $9.5 million pedestrian and bicycle bridge from the University District to the East Sprague Business District.

According to the Spokesman-Review, City Council is scheduled to vote on the contract proposal next Monday. Garco’s bid of $9,499,047 exceeds an engineer’s estimate of total construction costs by a little less than 1 percent, but it was the lowest of the seven firms that provided quotes for the project.

Proponents of the bridge say it will provide safe access for students and others to a new medical school in the district, which has seen more than $740 million in investment since 2004. Critics though say the bridge’s price tag is too high and many members of the public won’t use it.

City Council President Ben Stuckart pushed back on claims the project was too costly, saying the bridge would more than make up its price tag in spurring economic development nearby.

Funds for the project come mostly from an $8.8 million allotment by the Washington Legislature in 2015. About $3.1 million will come from receipts of existing sales and property taxes within the University District’s public development authority, created by the City Council in 2012 to channel grant money and tax revenue toward the project.

Construction on the bridge is expected to start in March, with completion scheduled for fall 2018.

Santa Clara University Gets First U.S. College Self-Driving Shuttle

The self-driving shuttle on Santa Clara University's campus,
along with it's engineers.
Santa Clara University in Santa Clara, CA is attempting to reduce car use on campus. It has come a little closer with a recent pilot program. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, an autonomous shuttle has recently started driving the one mile loop around campus with five designated stops, enabling people to leave their vehicles off-campus and jump on the shuttle. This is the first self-driving shuttle on a U.S. college campus.

The shuttle has a safety engineer on board but drives itself. The pilot program started in November and runs through February, after which the school will decide whether it wants to continue — and whether it will let the shuttle run without a human driver. There could be some other tweeks as well if the shuttle stays. Boxy and high-roofed, the shuttle is a $30,000 four-person electric vehicle called the Polaris GEM. Basically it's a glorified golf cart that travels campus at 7 mph. It currently can't accommodate wheelchairs. Future versions could be larger vehicles.

Today, a safety engineer sits in the navigator’s seat with his hand on a throttle in case he needs to take control. There’s also a bright orange emergency stop button that passengers can hit. In the three weeks the shuttle has been running, the engineer has had to take over only twice, both times because the car started to veer toward grass due to a software bug.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Spokane Valley Trying New Tactics in Obtaining Rail Crossing Grants

The rail crossing at Trent and Barker
The City of Spokane Valley has tried repeatedly to get federal grant funding to build over- and overpasses around busy rail road crossings with no luck. According to the Spokesman-Review, the city is now changing tactics on how it applies for those grants in the hope of having more success.

One project involves an overpass and interchange over the rail crossing at Barker Road next to Wellesley and Trent avenues.
The other grade separation project would be an underpass below the mainline at Pines Road just south of Trent.

At both Pines and Barker, vehicle traffic can be delayed by almost 56 trains a day. That means waiting cars are waiting next to a track used to transport flammable oil and other hazardous substances. It also causes problems for emergency vehicles delayed in responding to emergencies and commercial truck traffic.

Together, the grade separation projects, considered key pieces in the plan to separate traffic from rail lines in what is called the Bridging the Valley plan, are estimated at $56 million.

On Jan. 10, the City Council will consider adding $600,000 in city money to the project at Barker and Trent to revise designs, meet current federal standards and advance the project in hopes that the additional work will improve the competitiveness of the Barker Road grant application.

At the same time, City Hall is accepting requests for proposals for a team to complete final design for the Pines Road grade separation project.

Valley officials feel they might have a better response this time because freight movement has become a category for funding from both state and federal transportation departments in recent years and both projects include freight mobility components.

Friday, December 30, 2016

Area Trail Receives Donation From Pearl Jam

Add caption
We need some better connections around here. Celebrity connections who want to pay for transportation projects. According to the Spokesman-Review, Eddie Vedder, singer for the group Pearl Jam, says the band plans to contribute $25,000 to the Ferry County Rail Trail Partners' (FCRTP) surfacing project on the trail that runs from near Republic to the Canada border.

The Ferry County Rail Trail is a 25-mile multi-use, nonmotorized trail along a former rail line that connects four towns and follows miles of waterfront on Curlew Lake and the Kettle River.

Bob Whittaker, president of FCRTP, has been friends with Vedder since their childhood together in Seattle. Vedder has supported the rail trail in the past by donating autographed items to auctions to raise money for the trail.

Vedder asked that the donation be made in the name of Chris McCandless, a modern adventurer who was the subject of the award-winning book and movie "Into the Wild". He said the donation also is in recognition of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation and their ancestors who have walked this valley for thousands of years.

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Driver Hits 240 Consecutive Green Lights

A New York City Uber driver is boasting that he drove through 240 green traffic lights before hitting a red light- and he has the video to prove it. Pretty cool if you consider how many people complain that they get stuck at every single traffic light.
Noah Forman says he achieved the feat during a 27-minute drive through Manhattan at around 3:30 a.m. on Dec. 6.
It's the second time he has attempted to catch all consecutive green lights. Two years ago, he says he hit 186 in a row. I'm not sure why but Forman is now setting out to double his record. Check out the video below and feel free to count the lights to make sure he's not making it up then report back.

High Winds Topple Semis on SD Freeway

I'm not sure how I missed this last week but I did. While we were fighting to shovel out from snow in time for Christmas here, in Wyoming they were fighting winds. Last week, high winds caused the Wyoming Department of Transportation to close westbound Interstate 80 from west of Laramie to Walcott due to multiple tractor-trailers being blown over.

Exactly how high of wind gusts do you have to have to blow over a semi truck? The DOT reported wind speeds exceeding 60 miles per hour that day. Even so, a lot of truckers and other drivers took their chances and went around the road closed signs. Many blew over or got in accidents as a result, with 80 crashes reported in a 24 hour period.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

States With Medical Marijuana Laws Have Lower Traffic Fatality Rates

A new study says that states with medical marijuana laws have fewer traffic fatalities than those without, according to the Commerce Journal. The study didn't reference states where recreational marijuana is legal, like in Washington.

Going into the study, researchers thought crash rates might be higher, as more drivers were assumed to be high. But researchers at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health found an 11 percent reduction in traffic fatalities on average in the 23 states and District of Columbia that have enacted medical marijuana laws.

The presence of medical marijuana dispensaries also correlated with fewer traffic fatalities, the study found. The theory is that lower traffic fatality rates might be related to lower levels of alcohol-impaired driving as people, especially younger people, have started substituting smoking pot for booze.

There was little reductions in the traffic fatality rate for people 45 or older, who are disproportionately represented in larger numbers among people enrolled in state medical marijuana programs. The largest reduction in traffic fatality rates in states with medical marijuana laws occurred among drivers ages 15 to 44.

Not all states with medical marijuana laws experienced reductions in traffic fatality rates though. California and New Mexico experienced initial reductions of 16 percent and 17.5 percent, respectively, after the passage of medical marijuana laws but then saw gradual increases in traffic fatality rates.

Community Meeting on Mission Avenue Project

A community meeting to provide information for the upcoming Spokane Valley improvement project on Mission Avenue from Flora Road to Barker Road will be held Thursday, January 12, 2017 from 5:30-7:00 p.m. at Greenacres Christian Church,18010 E. Mission Ave.

An overview of the project will be presented at 6 p.m., followed by an opportunity for community members to share ideas, questions, comments, and concerns.

For more information, contact project engineer Craig Aldworth at 509-720-5001 or caldworth@spokanevalley.org

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.