Spokane Mayor David Condon recently instructed city staff members to do some additional vetting of a planned multimillion-dollar project on North Monroe Street that’s intended to improve safety, enhance the streetscape, and reconfigure traffic there.
We’re pleased that he did.
A project of this much import demands to be weighed carefully at every step in the scoping, planning, and approval process, partly because of construction-related impacts on businesses but perhaps more importantly because of long-term effects on North Side traffic management.
In the biggest change, and the most controversial, the project would put Monroe on what’s been called a “road diet” along most of the 1.1-mile affected stretch from Indiana Avenue at the south to Kiernan Avenue, near the top of the Monroe Street hill, to the north.
It would reconfigure the street from its current five lanes—two in each direction and one center lane—to three lanes, with one lane in each direction plus a turn lane. Additionally, it would include widening the street’s sidewalks on both sides, adding curb extensions, and other improvements.
City representatives say a key impetus for the project is that Monroe simply is too narrow, with a 75-foot right-of-way that’s well below the current 100-foot right-of-way standard for a street with five lanes. The overly tight traffic lanes limit smooth traffic flow and contribute to pedestrian safety issues, they assert.
City staff members contend traffic modeling shows the envisioned project wouldn’t greatly increase commute times, and that the traffic count along that stretch of Monroe is expected to remain mostly flat over the next 20 years, but we’re skeptical of those findings.
In the shorter term, assuming the project proceeds as planned, it’s important that city officials also take all possible steps to minimize construction impacts on the more than 80 businesses that line the thoroughfare. The city is still evaluating how best to stage the project to limit those impacts, with one sensible option being a possible rolling closure of several-block portions of Monroe, rather than shutting down—or mostly shutting down—the entire stretch where the improvements will be occurring.
The potential length of the construction project has stirred a lot of concerns among businesses, with some worried that they won’t be able to survive a lengthy downturn in customers. City officials say, though, that they’re committed to completing the project in a single construction season.
Known as the North Monroe Corridor project, the planned improvements began as a part of an Emerson-Garfield neighborhood plan that the City Council adopted in 2014. Monroe bisects the neighborhood. Several million dollars’ worth of grants have been awarded to the project and are designated for use on the lane reconfigurations.
To be sure, not all businesses along Monroe oppose the project. Owners of some believe that beautification and other enhancements are sorely needed there.
Quite possibly so. We just hope the city mulls carefully the project’s potential broader, long-term traffic implications.