Monday, December 31, 2012

Who Will Lead The WSDOT?

Is Paula Hammond out as Washington State Department of Transportation Secretary? Not necessarily, but why then is Governor-elect Jay Inslee initiating a nationwide search to find a new WSDOT head?

Transportation Issues Daily reports the new Gov is looking for new leadership.

'Streetsie' Awards Revealed

I blogged last week about how you could vote for the best and worst in transportation in 2012 in Streetsblog's annual 'Streetsie' Awards. Well the votes have been tabulated and the winners include LeBron James for bike commuting and Massachusett's 'Mode Shift' campaign, plus a lot more. Losers include whatever federal transportation bill follows MAP-21 and a handful of political gaffs from the year past.
You can find all the results here.

Group Recommends Distracted Walking Legislation

Is distracted walking the new distracted driving? That's what a new report claims- that distracted walking is just as dangerous as distracted or drunk driving and that laws against it should be enacted. "Distracting" behavior such as talking on the phone, texting and listening to music on headphones is on the rise apparently and is a common way pedestrian get hurt. Examiner.com has the story.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

More Holiday Closures

Here we go again: Next Tuesday, January 1 is New Years Day so all local government offices will be closed. Also, SRTC and the City generally close around noon or 1 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 31, as do some of the other agencies, so you should probably just get your government business done that morning to be safe. We'll be back open at 8 a.m. on Jan. 2 though.

Spokane Democrat On WA State House Transportation Committee

Do you know who represents you on the Washington State House Transportation Committee?  I have to admit, I didn't know all of them either. Thanks to Transportation Issues Daily though, we've got a handy cheat sheet of members. We'll focus on the Democratic side of the Committee today, just because that's what the article focuses on. Transportation Issues Daily promises to post the Republic members in an upcoming story though, so I'll link it too.

In the meantime, the Democrats have seven new members and ten current members returning to the Committee when the Legislature convenes on January 14. Here's a look at the players, including newcomer Marcus Ricelli from Spokane.

Best Cars For Seniors

Last week I blogged about the best cars for teenagers, so this week I've got the best cars for seniors. I've never thought about it, but apparently a car that adapts to a lack of flexibility or muscle strength and is comfortable at the same time could be a challenge to find.


AAA says seniors should look for the following features depending on their medical conditions:

• Drivers suffering from hip or leg pain, decreased leg strength or limited knee range of motion should look for vehicles with six-way adjustable power seats and seat heights that come between the driver’s mid-thigh and lower buttocks. These features make it easier for drivers to enter and exit a vehicle.

• Drivers with arthritic hands, stiff fingers or diminished motor skills benefit from four-door models, thick steering wheels, keyless entry and ignition, power mirrors and seats and large dashboard controls with buttons. These features reduce the amount of grip strength needed and reduce pain associated with turning or twisting motions.

• Drivers with diminished vision or problems with high-low contrast will find vehicles with auto-dimming mirrors, large audio and climate controls and displays with contrasting text helpful. These features can reduce blinding glare and make controls and displays easier to see.

So which cars fit the bill best? AAA looked at a LOT of vehicles and ranked them.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Electric Car Owners Face $100 Fee In 2013

The price of owning an electric vehicle in Washington State is about to go up. After Feb. 1, 2013, owners of the battery-powered cars will be required to pay a $100 annual fee for road and highway improvements intended to compensate for the lack of gas taxes they pay.

Supporters of the fee say electric cars put the same wear and tear on roads that gas vehicles do and should pay their share for the road’s upkeep. Those who oppose it feel they are being punished for trying to do something good for the environment and point out that they're paying for the extra electricity they use to charge their cars.

Here's more from the Spokesman-Review. What do you think- is it fair to charge electric vehicle owners or is it a case of no good deed going unpunished?

UI's Transportation Institute Turns Research Into Real-World Applications

So what goes on at a 'transportation institute?' Research that turns into real-world applications, at least at the University of Idaho’s National Institute for Advanced Transportation Technology.

The Spokesman-Review takes a look at what the institute does and it's quest to build cleaner, more fuel-efficient engines.

Stevens Pass Open Again

If you hadn't heard yet, US 2 Stevens Pass reopened late yesterday afternoon after being closed for several days. Trees had built up a large amount of snow and ice, causing well over a hundred of them to fall onto the roadway. Warmer temperatures and less snowfall than expected yesterday caused the built up snow to fall to fall off the trees, removing the threat.

The Washington State Department of Transportation had planned today to see if helicopter 'backwash' could dislodge the snow but nature took care of it so that experiment has been cancelled.



Monday, December 24, 2012

Best and Worst in Transportation for 2012

Streetsblog is asking your opinion on the best and worst of transportation in 2012 for their annual 'Streetsie' awards. All you have to do is answer a couple questions about transportation on their website and they'll tabulate the results on Dec. 27 and give out the awards. Some of the questions include:
  • What's your favorite celebrity endorsement of sustainable transportation?
  • The most cringe-worthy egg-on-face moment for the GOP in 2012?
  • The most sensible path forward for high-speed rail is?
  • What’s causing the dip in vehicle miles traveled?
  • MAP-21 expires in 21 months. When do you think a new bill will be enacted?
And a few other. Here's a link to Streetsblog so you can voice your thoughts.

That Bad Driver License Photo Will Be With You Even Longer Now

The state of Washington will no longer do drivers license tests and you can now go longer between renewing your license. Plus, some downtown Spokane streets will be closed for First Night Spokane. The Spokesman's Getting There column has what's happening in transportation this week.

Sullivan Road Bridge Replacement Public Meeting

Mark your calendar, the City of Spokane Valley is hosting a community meeting to discuss replacement of the Sullivan Road Bridge. The meeting is Wednesday, Jan.9 from 4-7 p.m. at CenterPlace, 2426 N. Discovery Place.


This meeting will be held to review updates on the bridge design, information on projects to retrofit storm drains on the existing bridges and resurface Sullivan Road from Flora Pit Road to Trent Avenue; and to ask for support in requesting assistance from the state legislature for Bridge Replacement Project funding.


Friday, December 21, 2012

Christmas Holiday Closures

With Christmas being next Tuesday, you should know that all area government agencies will be closed. Some are also closed Monday. So here's how things will shake out:
  • SRTC will be open Monday until 1 p.m. and closed Tuesday, Christmas Day. We open at 8 a.m. again on Wednesday.
  • Spokane County will close at 2 p.m. Monday AND be closed all day Tuesday.
  • Spokane Valley will be closed on Monday AND Tuesday.
  • The City of Spokane closes City Hall at noon on Monday and is closed all day Tuesday.
Parking meters don’t have to be plugged on Tuesdays, Dec. 25 and Jan. 1 and parking is free after 5 p.m. at metered spaces through Jan. 5.




Crash Dieters Delay Subway Trains- Often

So what would you think would be the  top causes of delayed subway trains in big cities across the country? Poorly trained employees? Waiting for people to load and unload? Nope, none of the above. It's crash dieters who faint from dizziness, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Yes, you read that right.


After track work and signal problems, ill passengers, most of them crash dieters, rated among the main reasons for subway disruptions. Medics have to respond when someone passes out, slowing down the trains. NBC News has more.

Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

Centennial Trail Public Meeting

Put this one on your calendar- the City of Spokane is hosting a public meeting to talk with folks like yourself about the Centennial Trail Gap – Mission Avenue Crossing Study.This project will provide a feasibility study for an improved crossing for pedestrians and bicyclists at Mission Avenue in Spokane.

The meeting will highlight the issues at this location (fast moving traffic, etc.), provide details on the study, present preliminary alternatives and give citizens the opportunity to provide input. It isTuesday, January 8, 2013, 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at Stevens Elementary School, 1717 East Sinto Avenue.

Trail users, this is your chance to voice your ideas, so don't miss it.

New Technology Tells You To Pull Over & Take A Nap

Okay, we may have gone a little too far now. Technology has just been released that can be inserted into vehicle driver seats to monitor heart rate and heartbeat stability of drivers. Why? To sense when a driver is falling asleep behind the wheel.Here are the details, from Digital Trends.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Famous Authors and Their Bikes; A Photo Series

You've heard about Ernest Hemingway and his  boat, but did you know he also had a love of bicycling? That's him in the picture; in peacetime and as part of his war duties.

These pictures are part of a photo series of famous authors and their bicycles that I found a link to on  the DownToEarthNWBlog.

Apparently many authoris, from Tolstoy to Henry Miller and Sylvia Plath used bicycling for transportation. Check it out, there some pretty cool pictures, especially of the early tandems. And what some of these writers wore to ride their bikes is kind of crazy too.

20+ Years In Existence And The Centennial Trail Still Isn't Complete

With over 37 miles of the Centennial Trail being used more than 2 million times per year in Spokane County, chances are good you've been on it yourself. But while the trail stretches all the way from Riverside State Park to the state line (then continues to Coeur d'Alene), did you know that the Washington portion of the trail actually isn't complete? This article in today's Spokesman-Review talks about six trail projects organizers would like to see completed.

US 395 Freight Study Planned

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is partnering with Washington State University in 2013 to do a freight study on US 395 between Deer Park and the Canadian border.

WSU Freight Policy Institute staff members and volunteers from area Lions Clubs will ask truck drivers to stop for a few minutes to be interviewed about their route and cargo. The one-day surveys will be conducted starting in early 2013 at three locations along the route and spaced through the year to capture seasonal freight movements.


Freight studies help transportation agencies understand how the highway system is used so they can consider that when planning future highway projects.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

100 Years Ago Spokane Called Greatest Railway Center On Continent

The item below was in Sunday's This Day In History column from the Spokesman-Review from 1912 and was passed along to me by a member of the public who is very interested in transportation happenings.

From the rail beat: The railroad statistics compiled by The Spokesman-Review were truly astonishing: Every week, 630 passenger trains entered the city.


This meant that every day 38 steam passenger trains arrived in Spokane, along with 52 electric-line passenger trains, which were mostly local lines coming from nearby towns.
Spokane was the “converging point of six transcontinental lines, 10 branch roads and two electric systems.” The paper concluded that the city was “one of the greatest railway centers on the American continent.”

This is pretty amazing to me considering they had this huge regional train station 100 years ago and now the only time you can catch a passenger train in Spokane is at 2:00 in the morning.

Gamble While You Wait at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport

Move over Vegas. Hello Minneapolis-St. Paul. There's a new airport where you can gamble while waiting for your flight. Electronic games were approved for the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport recently. It won't be exactly like Vegas though, as MSP Airport will be the first to offer electronic gambling on IPads in restaurants.

Minnesota Vikings fans who lose money will have one consolation- revenue raised from the gambling will go to pay for Vikings Stadium. The StarTribune has the story.

A Look At The New Keller Ferry Under Construction

Some pretty cool pictures on the Washington State Department of Transportation's blog about construction of the state's newest ferry boat, which will serve right here in Eastern Washington.

 The “Sanpoil,” the new ferry vessel for the Keller Route across the Columbia River, is being built at a Longview shipyard right now.

It reached a major construction milestone on December 11 that involved two cranes and a 20,000-pound section of the boat.

Here's what's happening and when the boat will be in service.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Gov. Gregoire Pitches Surprising Transportation Package

I blogged last week about how outgoing Governor Chris Gregoire was pitching a new transportation package this week and she did it today. She did propose a new gas tax, but where the revenue will go wasn't expected.

Another surprise- she didn't propose increases to other transportation-related fees. For a reason though. Transportation Issues Daily breaks her proposal down.

Sierra Club Picks 50 Best & Worst Projects Nationwide

From Transportation Issues Daily, The Sierra Club has selected 50 transportation projects they feel would do the most, or the least, to improve the environment and reduce oil dependence. And they've put a fairly self-explanatory map together to illustrate the report where you just click on the project to see what it is.
It doesn’t appear that any highway projects made the “Go” list, including here in Washington. Most of the “Go” projects are transit, rail and trail oriented. Conversely, it appears that every “Stop” project is a road project. But read it yourself, or view the map, and let us know what you think.

The map and report can be viewed here.

1895 Laws For 'Wheelmen'

Thanks to Charles Hansen for sending me this 1895 article from the Spokane Chronicle on laws for 'wheelmen,' also known as bicyclists.  It was kind of ironic to me that, over 100 years later, there are still issues between bicyclists and vehicle drivers, although of a different kind. It's good to know though that the item about giving the right of way to the vehicle is no longer the case.

Census Bureau Going Digital With Survey

Remember the old days of the U.S. Census when you'd get either a 'long' or 'short' form from the Census Bureau to fill out about your household and demographics? Well, times are changing. The long form was replaced with the American Community Survey a while back and now it's going digital.
The American Community Survey is sent to more than 3.5 million addresses on a rotating basis throughout the year. The survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are widely used, for example, by town and city planners, retailers and homebuilders and extensively here at SRTC. The survey is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as education, occupation, language, ancestry and housing costs for even the smallest communities.

There had been talk about discontinuing the American Community Survey to save money, but the outcry by agencies that use the information apparently saved it. By putting it online, the Census Bureau says it will save money on printing, paper, postage and processing costs, while making it more convenient for the selected households to fill it out.
Households selected to participate in the American Community Survey will receive a letter in the mail with instructions about how to log in to the secure website and complete the survey online.

Monday, December 17, 2012

SRTC Board & Committee Meetings For 2013

For those of you marking your calendars for 2013 (and for the rest of you-why aren't you??) here's a list of all SRTC Policy Board, Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) and Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) meetings for 2013.

All of these meetings are open to the public and you're encouraged to attend whenever you're interested or can. There are public comment items on every meeting agenda so come share your transportation thoughts with us.

Third Ave. Rehab Project Open House

You're invited to an open house hosted by the City of Spokane to discuss plans to rehabilitate Third Avenue from Division to Arthur Streets under the 10-year Street Bond. The meeting is tomorrow, Tuesday, Dec. 18, from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m., at Goodwill Industries, 130 E. Third Ave.

Transit Use Numbers Up Again

Public transit use continues to increase. The American Public Transportation Association last week released data showing 2.6 percent bump in transit use over last year.


APTA broke its findings down by location and type of transportation, some of which were bigger winners than others. Heavy rail enjoyed a 3.6 percent increase in ridership. "Grist" has the numbers.

Property Owners Refuse To Leave So Engineers Build Freeway Around Building

When my friend the real estate agent was first starting out in the business, she was pretty rusty at writing so I would help her jazz up her ads. A major dump became a "great starter home you can customize to your preferences!" and a house right next to the freeway had "great access and lots of transportation options!" So just think how we could market this half-demolished building in China that has a motorway built around it.
The family that lives in the building aparently refuses to move and embroiled in a legal battle over the amount of compensation they're seeking to relocate.

Apparently homeowners that refuse to leave aren't all that rare in China. The Independent has the whole story.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Gregoire To Propose Transportation Funding Package

Washington Governor Chris Gregoire said Tuesday she is preparing a new transportation package that would rival the multi-billion-dollar deal she helped approve in 2005. She plans to explain the plan during a budget proposal next week.
In an interview, Gregoire cited the need to fund basic maintenance of transportation infrastructure and pay for major new projects. How to pay for these needs though? The Tacoma News Tribune has the story.

AAA Recommends Top Cars For Teens

Most teenagers have one criteria for what kind of car they buy: what they can afford. Parents who help their kids out with purchasing a vehicle though may probably consider some other factors- how safe and reliable a car is, plus how affordable. 

Using that criteria, AAA compiled a list of top vehicles for teens. I have to admit, I was surprised at their top pick, which I drove when I was in high school many, many years ago!
Here are their recommendations.

Transportation Technical Committee Agenda Available

Normally we hold the Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) meetings on the fourth Wednesday of each month. But due to that being the day after Christmas this year, the TTC meeting has been moved up a week to December 19. Here's the agenda. If you see anything on there that interests you, feel free to attend the meeting. They're very informative and have an item on every month's agenda for public comment in case you have something transportation-related you'd like to share.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Bicycle/Pedestrian Fatalities Increase In 2011

The common perception seems to be that a lot of people get hit by cars while walking or biking around here lately. New data is out from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 2011 thought and it shows a nationwide increase in bicycle, pedestrian and traffic deaths.

Last year, 677 cyclists were killed in the United States -- an 8.7 percent increase over 2010 and 3 percent more pedestrians were killed. So what's behind the increases?
StreetsBlog looks at some of the contributing factors.

Seniors Great Behind The Wheel But Don't Fare So Well In Crashes

Senior citizens may be the safest drivers on the road- but they're also the most likely to die in a crash, according to new data from AAA. Why is that? WTVN Radio has the story. Plus, vehicles with senior-friendly features. Find out what kind of car grandma should be driving to help lessen her arthritis pain.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

How Long Did Travel Take In the 1800s?

I recently flew to Las Vegas in a couple hours. And last year a trip all the way across the country to Florida took about four or five hours if I remember right. Not bad huh? Especially when you consider it could take weeks or even months to do that same trip in the 1800s, depending on how you were travelling.

Treehugger has this series of maps showing travel rates from the old days you have to check out. Pretty cool.

Transportation Advisory Committee Meeting Agenda

The next meeting of the Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) is next Monday, December 17. The TAC is our citizens advisory group. Here's a look at the meeting agenda. If anything on there jumps out at you, feel free to attend the meeting. They're all open to the public and there's an item on every TAC meeting agenda for public comment.

Your Comments Needed On Projects To Be Added To The Transportation Improvement Program

We're looking for your input on a proposed amendment to the 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP). The TIP is a programming document that identifies specific projects proposed to be undertaken during the upcoming four years. Or for those who don't speak planner, it's a document describing all the projects local jurisdictions are hoping to construct or complete by 2016. I find the most interesting part of the TIP to be the list from each jurisdiction detailing their projects and descriptions, the jurisdiction sponsoring them, funding attached to each project and where the funding came from (local, state or federal funds).

This proposed amendment includes adding 36 projects to the TIP that have recently received funding and removing projects that were fully obligated federal funds in 2012 and had changes to the programmed amount or year.

A public comment period for the proposed amendment starts December 11, 2012.  Here is how you can view the proposed changes and comment on them.

Monday, December 10, 2012

More Than A Dozen Pedestrians Struck By Cars In One Week In B.C.

People talk sometimes about how dangerous it is in our community for pedestrians, because of the multiple vehicle-pedestrian accidents we have each year. Well if you like to walk, be glad you're here and not in British Columbia, where more than a dozen pedestrians were hit in one week. Yes you read that right. ONE WEEK. CTV News has the story on the rash of collisions.

Hybrid Cars May Not Be As Great For The Environment As We Thought

So you bought yourself a hybrid and you're helping to save the environment right? Maybe not. Consumer Reports says Ford has been inflating the mileage on its hybrid models. Instead of getting “47 city/47 highway/47 combined mpg” as advertised, the Fusion sedan gets 35/41/39 and the new C-Max wagon gets 35/38/37. Heck, my friend's 1997 Honda Civic gets that.

That’s a pretty big difference — especially when the common philosophy is that hybrid drivers are generally those who drive a lot becuase the only way to break even when buying a hybrid rather than a regular gas-powered car is to driver about 12,000 miles a year.
Here's the story from DC Streetsblog.

New Cellphone Parking Lot At SIA

Spokane International Airport gets a new, more convenient cellphone parking lot, there's a new way to cross the railroad tracks at Francis just east of Market if you haven't been up there yet and the Washington State Transportation Commission is looking for your input on the need for new transportation revenue.
The Spokesman-Review's "Getting There" column has local transportation happenings for this week.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Why Drive To The Arena To See Your Favorite Band When You Can Just Drive?


Jay Z- Coming to a highway near you?
Here's a quote from Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood I never thought I'd see; “Whether you want to hear Snoop Dogg and Dr. Dre rock the mic on a Long Beach frontage road or a rousing program from the Boston Symphony Orchestra across six lanes of I-90, we have something for everyone.”

Don't get excited, it's just a spoof by satirist the Onion saying the U.S. Department of Transportation is staging "Traffic Jam 2013," a new highway concert series that will feature popular musical acts performing for passing motorists on America’s shoulder lanes, median dividers, and overpasses.

With base ticket prices starting at $55 though, maybe we should give it a try? That could fund a lot of highway maintenance and construction. Here's the story if you want to see what other artists you could check out on the road if we lived in the Onion's world.

NY Officials Ask For Billions To Repair Storm-Damaged Transit System

Officials are asking for billions of dollars in storm aid to repair the damage left from Hurricane Sandy- and that's only in New York! The Metropolitan Transportation Authority says it will cost more than $7 billion to repair the damage to the antiquated transit systems and billions more to upgrade the systems to withstand major storms in the future.

It's looking like securing that kind of money in the current economy is a stretch though and the Obama administration may not want to put out that kind of funding. Transit officials say now is the time to invest in the infrastructure though, as it will cost more to fix the damage now, then come back and upgrade it later.
The New York Times has the story.

Why Would You Need To Plow Snow In Texas?

So say it's your job to drive a snowplow but there's no snow in your area. How would you learn? By using a simulator, of course. In know, you're asking WHY would it be your job if there's no snow in your area?? Well apparently Dallas, TX officials are worried they're going to get hit by another big storm like the one a couple years ago that pretty much paralyzed the city. To be safe rather than sorry, they're teaching employees to drive plows- by playing video games.

The Daily Herald has the story.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Taking A (Short) Hiatus From Planning

Eve cheated and roped our intern Levi into
helping with her filing.
So just a heads up that there will be little to no blogging today because staff took the day off from regular duties to clean out 30 years of files. I started doing it about six months ago, but working alone I was getting nowhere, so we decided to take one day and just crank it out. 





Mallory has so many file boxes to go
through I don't think she can get out of
her office to make tamales.


Kevin is REALLY excited about
making tamales.
The good news though (for us anyway) is that there's a reward in it for us. The bossman learned to make tamales while living in Arizona and we each brought in an ingredient and formed a production line to make them. I, of course, am the official photographer of Tamale/Filing Fling 2012. 
This is great guys but
what are the rest of you
going to eat?





Wednesday, December 5, 2012

SRTC Board Meeting Agenda

Here's the agenda for the Dec. 13 Policy Board meeting. As always, all SRTC Board and committee meetings are open to the public so feel free to attend. They're more interesting than you'd think and I always learn something.

Coal Train Meeting A Packed House


Eight hundred people attended yesterday's public meeting on a proposed coal port facility in northwest Washington. Many people are up in arms about the proposal because of increasing coal train shipments through Spokane and North Idaho. Others say the facility would promote new jobs in our state. The Spokesman-Review has more on the meeting.


SRTC had representatives there to learn more about the proposal as it could potentially impact transportation in our area, such as by causing additional waits at railroad crossings or through air pollution.
In the meantime, a lot of people are trying to pin down Washington Governor-Elect Jay Inslee on his position on the proposed coal facility, but so far he's not talking. Analysts are looking to things he said in interviews and debates during the election season to try to predict which way he is leaning. Transportation Issues Daily looks at some of those quotes.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

WSDOT Says No To Marijuana Use- Even Where It's Legal

The U.S. Department of Transportation says not to get too excited about legalized marijuana in Washington and Colorado; it will have no effect on drug testing practices. At least for employees in safety-sensitive positions already subject to strict drug and alcohol screening anyway, such as pilots, school bus drivers, truck drivers, train engineers, subway operators, aircraft maintenance personnel, and others.

The DOT's official stand is that it does not recognize either recreational or medical use of the Schedule I drug. Politico has the story.

Obama Requests $50B For Infrastructure Investment

President Obama is pressing for infrastructure investment again as part of the fiscal cliff negotiations. Among other things, he asked for $50 billion in infrastructure spending. That's the same proposal he pushed last year as part of the American Jobs Act that didn't go anywhere.

 It’s not clear how that money would be spent specifically, but the Jobs Bill included $9 billion for transit and $4 billion for high-speed rail, as well as funding for the TIGER program.
DC Streetsblog has more.

Coal Train Meeting Tonight

Hundreds of people are expected to attend a public meeting tonight on a proposed coal terminal near Bellingham. Such a terminal could bring a dramatic increase in the size and frequency of coal trains through our area, which has many people worried about coal dust coming off the uncovered loads, derailments, traffic tie-ups and the risk of pollution to waterways. As a result, the Army Corps of Engineers has been requested to do a study on the impacts the terminal could have.

Tonight's meeting, at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center at 4 p.m., is to discuss what all the study should cover. Many protestors and others are expected to show up though and a rally is planned prior to the meeting. The Spokesman-Review has more on that.

Representatives from SRTC will attend that meeting to learn more about the study and the possible impacts of additional coal trains through the area on transportation, such as on the delay to vehicles waiting at rail road crossings and the effect on air pollution.

Monday, December 3, 2012

New 'Mobility Center' Open At STA Plaza

Spokane Transit has recently opened a new 'mobility center' at the Plaza downtown to help people with disabilities continue using regular buses. Free training sessions are available to prepare passengers for loading and unloading without the pressure of a tightly scheduled bus with passengers aboard. The Spokesman-Review's "Getting There" column has the details.

Spokesman-Review Talks Shop With Spokane's Street Department Head

The Spokesman-Review sat down with Mark Serbousek, head of the City of Spokane's Street Department (and a member of SRTC's Transportation Technical Committee), recently for an interview on all things road-related. The conversation covered everything from how much damage studded tires do to pavement to why your driveway gets plowed in whenever the plows go past your house.
Read the interview here.

Shoes Optional on the Trampoline Sidewalk

Okay, seriously, why am I sitting at this desk when somewhere in the world there is a trampoline sidewalk?? The bouncy sidewalk was built in a Russian city recently for an annual art and design festival as a way to get between festival venues.
Here's more on the 'Fast Track' sidewalk from C Net.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

New Chair Chosen For Transportation and Infrastructure Committee

There's a new head of the Republican Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Bill Shuster (R-PA) was chosen to replace former chair John Mica.DC Streetsblog has more on this choice.

Six Transportation Policy Questions For 2013

Let's pull out the crystal ball, or Magic 8 Ball if you have one, and look into the faraway future of transportation- let's say the year 2013. Okay, that's only about a month away but when you sometimes can't remember the day before, it seems like an eternity.

And with a new Federal transportation bill, MAP-21, and new leaders following the election, the new year could be a whole new world for transportation. Or not. That's the problem, there are still a lot of questions about where we're headed.

So as 2012 comes to a close, Governing's FedWatch explores six questions worth asking including:
  • Is the gas tax still untouchable?
  • What does new committee leadership mean?
  • Is Ray LaHood in or out? (this is my favorite. Been waiting a while to hear about this)
  • Can states continue to pick up the slack?
  • Could tax reform be troublesome for infrastructure financing?
  • Does the White House take a lead on infrastructure?
What? You thought I was going to actually answer those questions here? Sorry but Iyou're going to have to read the article yourself to get the answers.

Spokane's Transit System, In Lights

By popular demand (two of you requested this after seeing the post below), I present the video of a day in the life of Spokane's own transit system, Spokane Transit Authority.

This one is cool cause you can sure see where the center of the STA universe is in this video. Stuff starts happening on the edges, but every time the movement is toward the "hub" or downtown Spokane. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

A Day In The Life, Depicted In Lights

The video below is really cool, although it resembles a bunch of glow-in-the-dark ants crawling around until you realize what it really is. The video is actually a timelapse depicting a day in the life of Washington, D.C.'s Metro system.


The video shows Metrorail, Metrobus and D.C. Circulator activity on a weekday, spanning a 24-hour period beginning and ending at 4 a.m. It's cool because you can see the systems and the region slowly come to life, achieve a recognizable form and slowly fade away.

Drugged Driving Surpasses Drunk Driving In CA

Drugged driving has reportedly surpassed drunk driving in California, according to a new study. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that, of drivers killed in motor-vehicle accidents in 2010, 30 percent tested positive for drugs.

So what are the major drugs in people's systems following drugged driving accidents? You may be surprised.




Tuesday, November 27, 2012

You May Not Have To Worry About Grandma Living In Montana After All

Um, you may be able to disregard that story below, because your mom or dad may be living right in your backyard in the future, thanks to a new housing option knicknamed "granny pods."

The shed-size dwellings offer an attractive balance between independence and special care for some of the 72 million Americans who will be 65 or older in less than twenty years. And they can be placed right next to your home, making it easier for you to provide care and transportation for your loved ones. Here's more about granny pods.

Where Will Senior Citizens Live In The Future? Not Near Good Public Transit Apparently

There has been lots of talk recently in transportation circles about the need for additional public transit options, with the baby boomer generation reaching the age where many are no longer driving.

Studies show nearly 80 percent of our seniors live in car-dependent suburban and rural communities and that seniors who stop driving show more symptoms of depression and are less active outside the home.
Projections say our 65-and-older population will more than double from 2000 levels to 72 million by the year 2030. The Natural Resources Defense Council used data from Duke University to project where these seniors will be living by then, and the results show some surprises. And some challenges for getting them where they need to go for basic services. Here's where seniors are expected to be living by 2030.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lots Of Questions Expected At Coal Train Hearing

A local hearing by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is approaching to discuss a proposal to build a $665 million port terminal near Bellingham to ship coal to China and other Asian customers. While the movement of coal would create jobs, many are worried about the environmental effect.

The Dec. 4 meeting is expected to address a variety of impacts the construction of such a terminal could have, including locally. But not everyone is against building a terminal and shipping coal through our area via train. The Spokesman-Review has more on the many questions surrounding shipping coal through our area.

Enforcing DUI Laws With Marijuana Legal Expected To Be Tricky

Since citziens voted to legalize the use of marijuana in Washington, there has been a lot of talk about how to enforce DUI laws for people under the influence of pot.

Some are predicting that drug labs will be bogged down with blood test for THC, the active ingredient in pot. The only option to check if a driver is over the limit currently is a blood test, which is a prolonged process and could cause court and other legal issues. Portland's KGW has the story.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Sullivan Bridge Project Awarded Grant

Replacement of the Sullivan Road Bridge southbound across the Spokane River in Spokane Valley moved another step toward construction this week with notification that the project has been awarded $3.5 million from the Washington State Transportation Improvement Board (TIB).


Plans to replace the bridge, built in 1951, have been in the works since 2010 after an inspection rated it as "Structurally Deficient." The deterioration prompted weight restrictions that were posted in 2011. Temporary repairs were completed in 2012, allowing the restrictions to be lifted.

A total of $15.8 million toward the estimated $19.7 million needed for bridge replacement has been secured. In addition to the $3.5 million from the TIB and $2.3 million in matching funds from the City, the project was awarded an $8 million grant from the Federal Bridge Program and a $2 million grant from the Washington State Freight Mobility Strategic Investment Board.

Transportation Technical Committee Agenda

The agenda for the Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) meeting next Wednesday, November 28 is available here. As always, everyone is welcome so if you have transportation concerns or comments, feel free to attend.

The Netherlands Consider Heated Bike Lanes For Winter Riding

Apparently the Netherlands has money coming out its ears, because they're considering installing heated bike lanes for winter bicycle riding. At a cost of about  $25 - 50,000 per kilometer. Cool? Definitely. That sarcasm you detect from me is just jealousy.

Dutch authorities think the move may be a way to get more people to ride bikes in the winter and less to drive, which cuts down on costs from accidents and de-icing."Treehugger" has the story.

All Govt. Offices Closed Thursday and Friday

This guy that was in my yard over the weekend is apparently not aware of the date. If he were smart, he'd be lying low about now instead of taunting me and harassing my cat.

Which brings us to... holiday closures. All area government offices (including SRTC) will be closed Thursday and Friday this week for the Thanksgiving holiday. That gives you until 5:00 tonight to get any government business done that has to be accomplished before next week. Otherwise you have to wait until 8 a.m. Monday when all the office open again
If you plan to be downtown on Thanksgiving, you don't have to pay the parking meters. And they're free after 5 p.m. through January 1.


Browne's Addition Leaf Pickup Next Week

Here's your early warning- the City of Spokane will pick up leaves in the streets of Browne’s Addition on Tuesday and Wednesday, Nov. 27 and 28, starting at 9 a.m. unless there is snow. The trucks will be on the north-south streets in Browne’s Addition on Tuesday and the east-west streets on Wednesday.


Cars must be moved because the streets are so narrow the trucks cannot get through with parked vehicles lining the streets. Crews will post informational signs this week notifying residents. Vehicles parked on the street when the trucks come in will be subject to towing.



Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Crazy Weather Causes Problems On Western Washington Roads

If you think it's rained a lot here, be glad you're not in Western Washington. Record rains there are causing havoc, swamping roadways and triggering landslides– and more rain is expected through the week.


In Port Orchard, Kitsap County, downtown streets were closed under about a foot of water Monday morning. A patrol car in Pacific County was hit by a falling tree caused by a mudslide and the North Cascades Highway is expected to close soon for the season due to a huge amount of snow.
Here's the whole roundup of Western Washington weather woes from the Seattle Times.

Take Our Survey Please If You Haven't Yet

We're still looking for your transportation priorities and opinions with an internet survey, so if you haven't taken our Horizon 2040 survey yet, please do. And pass it on to your friends.

The input you give will help to develop Horizon 2040, our Metropolitan, or long range, Transportation Plan. Horizon 2040 will identify and prioritize transportation projects and programs to be implemented through the year 2040. Key focus areas for the plan include economic vitality, stewardship, cooperation and leadership, quality of life, choice and mobility, system operations, maintenance and preservation, and safety and security.

What's different about Horizon 2040 from earlier long range plans though is that there is significantly less funding to be spent on transportation in the future than we've had in the past. The plan includes a list of projects to be constructed or completed between now and 2040. And it must be financially constrained, meaning if we say there are X billions of dollars in projects to be done, we have to prove that amount of money will be available to do it. That means choices will have to be made as to what is considered a priority and what isn't. Which is where your opinion helps and the survey comes in.


Transportation Advisory Committee November Meeting Agenda

The agenda and packet for the November 26 Transportation Advisory Committee (TAC) meeting is now available here. The meeting starts at 3 p.m. in SRTC's conference room. The TAC is a citizens' committee and open to the public so feel free to attend if you are interested. There is an item on every TAC agenda for public comment so come share your thoughts.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Spokane City/Spokane Valley Construction Updates

CITY OF SPOKANE

Eighth and Ninth Avenues Water Transmission Main- The project to replace existing water transmission mains and install service lines in Eighth and Ninth avenues from Division to Cowley streets; Eighth Ave. from Chandler to Hatch streets; and Chandler St. from Eighth to Ninth avenues has been suspended through winter. Construction will resume in spring 2013.

Walnut St. from Eighth and Ninth avenues will be reduced by one lane while crews complete work on the curb bump outs.
 
SPOKANE VALLEY
Sprague Avenue Swale Project - Construction continues through mid-November, weather permitting. At least two lanes of traffic remain open around the clock. Brief delays and congestion should be expected.

8000 Block of E Riverway Avenue - Expect delays and minor congestion due to heavy equipment in the area.

Who, If Anyone, Will Replace Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood?

As President Barack Obama begins his transition into a second term, the big question is who he'll tap to join his cabinet as the next transportation secretary. Current secretary Ray LaHood has indicated he would step down after the president's first term, although he hasn't said anything about it recently.

The blog Governing takes a look at some of the possible candidates if he does indeed call it quits, with some real heavy weights on the list. Take a look here.


Economy Still Down, But Thanksgiving Travelers Up

The AAA car club says 43.6 million travelers will hit the roads for the Thanksgiving holiday, marking the fourth consecutive year that the number of people traveling this weekend has increased.
It's not much of an increase though- only 0.7%, which AAA blames on the economy.

AAA’s projections are based on economic forecasting and research by IHS Global Insight, a Boston-based economics consulting organization that analyzes travel trends. The travel projections are derived from current economic conditions, along with a survey.

Total increase in economic activity, measured in its broadest measure as the gross domestic product, will end the year somewhere near the 2.1 percent mark, IHS Global Insight estimates. This is below the 2.5 percent measure associated as a threshold for a growing economy.

Despite the continued sluggish economic recovery, AAA said there are a few bright spots. Housing starts are up, median prices are climbing and consumer confidence is improved from a year ago.

Travel by the numbers

According to AAA Idaho, these numbers give a glimpse of travel in the week to come:
•Busiest travel day—Wed., Nov 21.
•Average travel distance—588 miles, down 16.7 percent from last year’s 706 miles.
•Median spending—Down 10 percent to $498, compared to $554 a year ago.
•Thanksgiving spending by category—food/beverage, 20 percent; shopping, 20 percent; fuel, 14 percent; lodging, 13 percent; entertainment/recreation, 11 percent; other transportation, 18 percent; other, 4 percent.
•90 percent—portion of travelers to ride or drive in motor vehicles.

Don't Get Stuck In Holiday Traffic

Don't do it while driving, but the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) says plug in that electronic device to find the latest on travel and traffic before heading out on the roads for the Thanksgiving holiday.

WSDOT offers statewide travel information at www.wsdot.wa.gov/traffic, including traffic camera images and a map of highway incidents and closures. Travelers also can download the WSDOT mobile app for smartphones and sign up for news and social media tools, such as Twitter. Visit www.wsdot.wa.gov/inform to learn how. The statewide travel information phone line, 511, will broadcast the latest updates through the weekend.

For those traveling on Interstate 90 over Snoqualmie Pass, WSDOT offers travel graphs to find the best times to travel. Thanksgiving weekend is typically one of the busiest travel days of the year for I-90.
 

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Urban Transportation Corridors Presentation Available To View


If you've been reading this blog lately, you've probably seen the posts on the visit of Economist Dena Belzer to Spokane recently. SRTC partnered with the Spokane Regional Health District to bring Ms. Belzer here because she founded a consulting and research firm, Strategic Economics out of Berkely, CA, that specializes in helping local governments, community groups, developers, and non-profit organizations to understand the economic and development context in which they operate in order to take strategic steps towards creating high-quality places for people to live and work.


Ms. Belzer was here talk about transportation investments that could potentially improve the local economy. She addressed Urban Transportation Corridors (UTCs) specifically, and if they're feasible for our region.
For a summary of her message(s) and thoughts regarding our region, continue reading through this blog.
You can also view the power point presentation here.

How Is A City Like A Pizza and What's Transit Got To Do With It?

Someone is reading my mind again. Last week and this week I've been blogging about a visit to Spokane SRTC and the Spokane Regional Health District set up for Economist Dena Belzer from Berkley, CA. Ms. Belzer founded Strategic Economics, a consulting and research firm specializing in urban and regional economics and planning. The firm helps local governments, community groups, developers, and non-profit organizations to understand the economic and development context in which they operate in order to take strategic steps towards creating high-quality places for people to live and work.

Ms. Belzer was here to talk about Urban Transportation Corridors (UTCs) and if they're feasible for our region. UTCs are neighborhoods and districts that can accommodate new mixed use development and roads that can accommodate multimodal travel such as cars, bikes and pedestrians and are served by quality public transit service.

Today, I happened onto this article from "Switchboard" that pretty much echoes Ms. Belzer's thoughts on how housing near transit creates thriving communities.

I like the imagery this article uses, comparing a city to a pizza: "... The suburban experiment that was so influential in the 20th century involved dividing up the functions of the city into different zones: housing, shopping, office, recreation. This works about as well as eating the elements of your pizza in different courses: you're still getting the same nutritional value, but you've lost the joy of your pizza." -- Eric Jacobsen, Why Suburbia is Affecting Your Spiritual Life


Wednesday, November 14, 2012

STA Snow Detours- What Happens To Your Route If It Snows A Lot?

Just an FYI- the weather may be fine now but snow is most likely on it's way. Spokane Transit wants you to know that several of their routes have snow detours for when the weather gets really bad. You may want to know if your route has a detour, and what it is, just in case. Info on STA's Winter Contingency Plan and detour routes is here.

Free Parking Blamed For California Traffic Congestion

In a post yesterday where I blogged about interviewing Berkley, CA Economist Dena Belzer on Spokane transportation issues, the topic of the "high price of free parking" came up. So is it coincidence that today I ran onto this article about a report that says free parking is leading to street-clogging solo car commuting in California? I think not.


Parking guru and UCLA professor Donald Shoup blames crowded highways on company parking perks, saying, ”If you can park free at work, it’s an invitation to drive to work alone. And almost everybody who does drive to work has this invitation."

So why isn't a law working that requires companies that provide free parking to also offer a cash payment to those who forgo the incentive? Read the article to find out. 

Letter Writer Says Leave Her Alone About Studded Tires

Spokesman-Review Letters to the Editor
Hands off studded tires


Not all of us can afford your gas-guzzling SUVs and four-wheel drive vehicles. Or expensive all-weather tires. Studded tires give me more confidence when driving in snow. They aren’t only good for icy conditions. They are a great help in deep snow. Don’t try to tell me they’re not. I’ve driven a lot more years than you have with and without studded tires.

My tax dollars pay for the roads too, and I say leave the studded tires alone. And don’t try assessing me a fee. I have a right to use them. Get all the 18-wheelers and huge trucks carrying heavy equipment off the roads first. You can’t convince me they aren’t causing damage to the roads.

And if the DOT would use better material fixing potholes, they might actually stay fixed. The two to three months studded tires are on isn’t what is causing the damage to our streets. So leave us alone. Studded tires provide a peace of mind for those of us who don’t exactly love driving in snow.
Carolyn Jacobsen
Greenacres

Is Ms. Jacobsen a little protective of her studded tires or is it just me? She has a point about 18 wheelers causing damage, as do buses, but we can't just take them off the roads. How would we get groceries to the stores, or gas to the gas stations and oil to the homes of people who heat with it? We can't get by without trucks delivering the goods we need but we can make it without studs.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Berkley Economist Answers Questions On Spokane Transportation Issues

I've posted a couple entries here in the past couple days about a visit to Spokane by Dena Belzer, an Economist with consulting firm Strategic Economics out of Berkely, CA that specializes in connecting regional economic and demographic growth trends to real estate development activity and local policy initiatives. SRTC partnered with the Spokane Regional Health Department to bring Ms. Belzer here to talk about Urban Transportation Corridors (UTCs) and if they're feasible for our region. UTCs are neighborhoods and districts that can accommodate new mixed use development and roads that can accommodate multimodal travel such as cars, bikes and pedestrians and are served by quality public transit service.
Ms. Belzer's visit was in conjunction with the work on our long range transportation plan, Horizon 2040. The economic downturn has shifted the emphasis for transportation planning from reducing congestion to identifying projects that will also work to revitalize the local economy. UTCs are one such possible investment, which is why we are taking a look at them.

Besides participating in several events (we really got our money's worth out of her) while here, Ms. Belzer also took the time to sit down for an "interview" with me on some questions I had after listening to her speak. So here were my questions and her thoughts and answers.

Q. What's your impression of our region after spending a couple days here and driving around? What jumped out at you, good or bad?
A. There is a lot of under-utilized land in the core of the region. Before rushing to fill it, officials who make decisions need to determine what is a good scale of urbanism for Spokane (how dense they want to zone).

Q. What are some of the things we have going for the area?

A. There are already a couple neighborhoods and areas working well that could serve as models for other areas. For instance, she cited how the Garland and Perry districts and downtown Hillyard already have businesses, restaurants and bars in a close proximity to housing and fairly frequent transit service. The lower south hill area of medical centers and services are also areas to watch, according to Belzer, as they are large employment areas served by frequent transit service.

Q. How would you "sell" a concept such as Urban Transportation Corridors in an area like Spokane?

A. I would stress how they can help the local economy by providing convenient access to jobs, shopping and entertainment while conserving on gas. Spokane may be a fairly inexpensive place to live as far as housing but someone is absorbing the cost, such as the cost of gas to drive to work in areas that don't have good transit service. The cost of transportation exceeds what you save by living in less expensive housing far from services. There are also health costs as you spend more time driving than walking or bicycling.

Q. Where would you want to live if you moved to Spokane?

A. Downtown of course. While downtown has employment, shopping and eating establishments now, it has a very large footprint for a downtown area; bigger than what is being utilized. Infill should take place downtown before expanding out and letting businesses go to the suburbs.

Q. You said there are some easy ways to increase density. What are some examples?

A. Townhouses and "stack flats" are inexpensive ways that don't feel like a traditional apartment, as well as making smarter parking choices. The goal isn't to fit as much into a small area as possible, but to develop in a quality way.

Q. There has been talk in recent years about moving the STA Plaza. What are your thoughts?

A. Ideally, you infill your downtown area, making it a destination for even more commuters than currently work downtown. Moving the Plaza (such as to the eastern edge of downtown) would punish commuters and force them to find other ways to get to work, such as driving alone. This uses more gas and more parking, when the original point was to do with less parking.

Q. You mentioned the "high price of free parking." What are some of those costs?

A. There's a 900 page book by that name, but I'll give just a few examples. Free or cheap parking encourages people to drive their cars to work because they have a place to park when they get there. Reducing available parking or raising the price cuts down on driving alone, which in turn cuts down on greenhouse gases, vehicle miles traveled and money spent on gas. Parking lots and garages are a fiscal loser for cities as they don't generate much revenue, where a business on the same site could bring in more.

Q. The topic of snow storage and management comes up over and over when I talk to people in the public about issues with our transportation system. Do you have any ideas on that topic?

A. When adding new sidewalks to a project, they should be constructed with planting strips for trees. Not only do those trees add an aesthetic value to the street, but the parking strip provides snow storage space. On wide streets with lower traffic, reduce the number of lanes and add items like greenspace where snow can be stored and for better atmosphere.

New "Do-It-Yourself" Traffic Counters Could Change Transportation Planning



It may look like a pipebomb, but those little devices to the left could change how transportation planning is done. Transportation planning is all about data; we look at how many people are using the transportation system, where they're going, how they're getting to their destinations (bus, bike, personal vehicle, etc.), what time they travel, etc. Collecting and analyzing this data helps us determine patterns and make predictions for the future. For instance, if we know there are X many people using the current regional transportation system, and the population is expected to increase by X by 2040, we know we need to plan for X additional vehicles on the roads in the next few decades. This helps us analyze what it will take to bring our road to the point they can support this traffic, or plan for other transportation options such as additonal bus service or bike lanes and pedestrian trails.

That's all fine and good, but the reality of the situation is that gathering that data is time consuming and expensive. You either have to pay someone to do traffic (and sometimes bike and pedestrian) counts for you, or you have to buy spendy devices that do it, and usually the software to go with it, or a professional who downloads and crunches your numbers.

Or maybe you don't anymore. A couple of New Yorkers, one a planner and one an engineer, came up with the 'do it yourself' traffic counter kits above called TrafficCOM that allows users to measure the volume, rate, and speed of traffic on any street, then upload the data for immediate sharing. The Atlantic Cities tells us how it works.

Pedestrian Struck By Police Car Sent Bill To Fix Car

It stands to reason that if you damage someone's property you should pay for it right? But what about if the damage occured when that person was hitting you with their car? A New York man, struck by a police car while crossing the street, got a bill from the city for over $1,000 to repair the cruiser. Here's the story from the Gothamist.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Local Developers Talk About Urban Transportation Corridors In Conjunction With Development

Local developer Chris Olson talks about his experiences
building in our community.
I started blogging last week about a visit to Spokane by Dena Belzer, an Economist with consulting firm Strategic Economics out of Berkely, CA that specializes in connecting regional economic and demographic growth trends to real estate development activity and local policy initiatives. SRTC partnered with the Spokane Regional Health Department to bring Ms. Belzer here to talk about Urban Transportation Corridors (UTCs) and if they're feasible for our region. UTCs are neighborhoods and districts that can accommodate new mixed use development and roads that can accommodate multimodal travel such as cars, bikes and pedestrians and are served by quality public transit service.


Ms. Belzer's visit was in conjunction with the work on our long range transportation plan, Horizon 2040. The economic downturn has shifted the emphasis for transportation planning from reducing congestion to identifying projects that will also work to revitalize the local economy. UTCs are one such possible investment, which is why we are taking a look at them. So here's more on Ms. Belzer's visit, as I couldn't fit everything she said into one post last week:

At a forum on UTCs for local business leaders, Ms. Belzer said that local decision-makers need to look for ways to lower construction and development costs. She said one way to do that is to reduce parking. Local developer Mick McDowell was on a panel of other speakers for that forum and agreed. He said he owns enough land to build two buildings the size of the American West Bank building at Riverside and Browne. He said that, if he didn't have to build parking lots for them, he could build up to five such buildings. And the prices he would charge to lease offices in those buildings would be lower because he wouldn't have to spend money on parking lots. To do that though, he has to be sure there is a quality transit option to get workers to the buildings.

Another local developer, Chris Olson, also spoke about his experiences building in Spokane and how transit corridors could open the door to new development. Mr. Olson said that we have the basic 'bones' of UTCs, such as in the Garland and Perry districts. Even so, he said not everyone is going to see the benefit of living, working and recreating all in pretty much the same area right away.

Scott Chesney, Director of the City of Spokane's Planning Department, was also on the panel at that forum. He said the City is in the process of updating the Comprehensive Plan and is focusing on devices that invite infill development. He said planning and zoning need to be complementary to each other, and we have to think about redevelopment before it happens in order to make the right choices for the community. For instance, he cited big box stores and how they generally only last ten years in one location. We need to consider this when approving the construction of new big box stores as the City will have to deal with the empty shell of the store later. Larry Krauter, Director of Spokane Airports, facilitated the forum and pointed out that retail has grown five to six times faster in recent years than sales have.

One of the slides in Ms. Belzer's presentation showed a map from 1923 of Spokane's street car system. She said this move toward urban transportation corridors is a 'back to the future' proposition as it's already been done here. She also spoke about how important goods movement and manufacturing is to our area and how a system of transit corridors would get workers to those jobs more efficiently, or the products moved to market faster. I'll expand on that in a post tomorrow.

Chains Too Hard To Install? Try Putting A Sock On It

You may look out the window today and see a winter wonderland, especially with the kids home from school to play in it, but I see a mess of traffic accidents waiting to happen. The drive really wasn't very bad today though, and there are few days where it is terrible, but there are occasions when a handful of local people will put chains on their cars every winter. I live on a hill that turns into what I call a 'death slide' when it gets icy and can be challenging to get up even with four wheel drive. So I'm familiar with the process of putting chains on your vehicle. And it is NOT fun. Why do they fit so well one time then the next you can barely get them hooked? And sometimes getting them off is even harder.

There's a new, much easier-to-install alternative though; the AutoSock. Just slip it over your tire like a giant shower cap pull forward a little and slip the rest of it on. It works like chains, but is much easier to install, and less hard on the road and your vehicle. It's also legal for places, like on mountain passes, where chains are required. Here's more on the AutoSock from the Yakima Herald.

Editorial Says Studded Tires Not Best Choice

An editorial in the Spokesman-Review yesterday asks you to reconsider putting studded tires on your car this winter. The article says the tires are actually less safe in some conditions than regular snow tires, on top of the fact that they damage our roads. Here's the story.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Free Parking Downtown After 5 p.m.

 The City of Spokane is making some changes to its parking system, including free evening parking for a limited time.
Starting the day after Thanksgiving—Friday, Nov. 23—parking will be free at downtown meters after 5 p.m. The promotion will continue through Saturday, Jan. 5, to accommodate holiday shoppers. Parking meters usually have to be paid until 7 p.m.

The free parking is part of an overall new approach to parking that focuses on the customer. The City’s parking enforcement staff are now parking ambassadors. The ambassadors will provide directions and answer questions related to parking.

And in a step toward creating a more vibrant downtown, the City is implementing a pilot project that allows citizens living in part of downtown to purchase a monthly parking pass good at 10-hour meters. This will make it easier for people to live, work and recreate in the city's core, which makes for a more attractive downtown.




Economist Talks Urban Transportation Corridors In Spokane

For the past two days, I've spent my time at a serious of events centered around the visit of economist Dena Belzer to Spokane. Ms. Belzer, founder and president of consulting and research firm Strategic Economics out of Berkely, CA, specializes in connecting regional economic and demographic growth trends to real estate development activity and local policy initiatives. Her firm helps local governments, community groups, developers, and non-profits understand the local economic and development climate in order to take strategic steps towards creating high-quality places for people to live and work.

SRTC partnered with the Spokane Regional Health District (SRHD) to bring her to our area to talk about
Urban Transportation Corridors (UTCs), what they are, if they're feasible for our region. UTCs are neighborhoods and/or districts that can accommodate new mixed use development and roads that can accommodate multimodal travel such as cars, transit, bikes and pedestrians.

Ms. Belzer's visit was in conjunction with the work SRTC is doing on our long range transportation plan, Horizon 2040. While traditional transportation measures such as congestion levels and safety are still important, the economic downturn has shifted the emphasis from reducing congestion to identifying projects that will also work to revitalize the local economy. UTCs are one such possible investment, which is why we decided to take a look at them.

I have pages and pages of notes from Ms. Belzer's visit, so over the next week or so, I'm going to post 'installment' pieces of what I gathered from her visit, including her opinions and perceptions of our area and the reactions of our elected, civic and business leaders who saw her presentations.

The first event featuring Ms. Belzer was a forum on Wednesday that targetted local business and civic leaders. Ms. Belzer made a presentation, then a panel featuring local developers Mick McDowell and Chris Olson and City of Spokane Planning Director Scott Chesney, responded with their thoughts. The facilitator for the forum was Spokane International Airport (SIA) Director Larry Krauter.
Ms. Belzer started with requirements for UTCs:
  • Modest increases in development (she cited an average of 7 or 8 housing units per acre).
  • Located near major employment centers.
  • In neighborhoods with public amenities.
  • Must have opportunities for bicycling and walking.
  • High performance transit must be present in the area.
She said employment density is critical for UTCs. If you still have to drive to your job, there's no benefit to creating them. Another thing she said that may surprise you is there are a lot more families without children in Spokane County than those with. Here's the breakdown: 28% of households in Spokane County are families with children, 35% are families without children, 29% are single-person households and 8% are other non-family households. That's going to change how transportation is planned for. Those without children don't necessarily want to live in the 'burbs in a large home with a double car garage that you can't get to any other way than driving. And with many single women buying homes, many are leaning toward condos or townhouses so they don't have to worry about maintenance.


She said that cost of living prices in our region may not be as low as we think. Most people are spending 30% of their household income on housing, which is fairly inexpensive. But add another 15% for transportation costs because we live in an area where it's not always easy to get around without a personal vehicle, and that's almost half of a household's income spent on housing and transportation.

Ms. Belzer's opinion on how to get started developing UTCs (or determining if they're right for our area) is to conduct a real estate market study to see what the state of the market is in general, and what areas are "hot," because those are the areas people want to live in, so it's safe to plan public transit around them.

I've got a couple other projects I have to tackle for today so come back next week for more on Urban Transportation Corridors and if they have a place in our community.

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.