Unless we take action to improve transit now, 2040 in Spokane will be like 2015 in Seattle

In 2006, true light rail was on the agenda for the South Valley Corridor from Spokane Valley to Liberty Lake. It would have decreased travel times, lessoned traffic, and spurred development. It’s time to resurrect the idea, along with others. (PHOTO: David Evans and Associates)

It’s time for some cold, hard facts.

Spokane is growing. By 2040, the region will have added roughly 165,000 people. In other words, by 2040, the population of Spokane County will surpass 625,000. That’s not an insignificant number. In fact, that would put Spokane County at roughly the same size as the City of Portland. Consider the implications of such growth. More kids in schools. More homes and apartments in development (70,000 more units). More jobs and centers of employment (68,000 more jobs). And more cars on the road.

Already we’re seeing the start of this wave of increasing traffic. Consider South Regal on a weekday morning, where the prospect of three new big-box stores is already complicating rush-hour commutes. Consider Five Mile or Country Homes, where traffic has increased and neighborhoods have grown by orders of magnitude without any semblance of mitigation. Consider Hamilton on any weekday afternoon, where an increase in student population is driving record traffic. Area drivers are complaining of increased commute times and lost patience. This traffic costs us precious dollars. The increased load weighs heavily on our streets, which must be more frequently resurfaced. The increased pollution caused by idling in traffic harms our environment. Perhaps most importantly, the lost working hours cost us millions of dollars every year in lost productivity. And there’s no sign of relief.

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This map shows congestion on major Spokane arterials and highways with the population and job increases expected by 2040, assuming no corrective action is taken. Note that this is a general overview. (PHOTO: SRTC)

Adding more vehicular infrastructure doesn’t solve the problem, because it only enables further development and sprawl, which continues to add to traffic in a positive feedback loop. In other words, adding a traffic lane would actually increase traffic, rather than mitigate it. By 2040, the traffic in the Spokane area will be so bad that many roads will see over 100% of their built capacity in traffic. That means gridlock–and lots of it. Gridlock on par with South Lake Union on a Thursday afternoon. Gridlock on par with I-5 or SR-520 on a Tuesday morning. Spokane’s traffic will be as bad as Seattle’s traffic is now.

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Increases in traffic, vehicle miles traveled, vehicle hours traveled, transit trips, and walk/bike trips by 2040. (PHOTO: SRTC)

Here’s the thing. Without a paradigm shift in the way we think about getting around Spokane, there will be no relief.

That’s why it’s time for a bold, comprehensive plan to mitigate traffic and enhance public transportation infrastructure. This is the only way forward if we want to preserve Spokane’s quality of life, the only way forward if we want to build neighborhoods for people instead of cars. It’s the only way forward if we want to save time, money, energy, and pollution. It’s the only way forward if want to ensure that Spokane retains its small-town atmosphere and walkable districts.

So let’s make it happen. Let’s build the best public transit system in North America, anchored by a return of our former world-class streetcar system. Let’s ensure that no home in the City of Spokane is more than a seven-minute walk from a streetcar stop. Let’s invest in roads and bridges to ensure their safety for years to come. And let’s create a community built not for vehicles–but for people. This is our city, and it’s our time to make it happen.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What is your vision of Spokane in 2040? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, in the comments below, or in person. We love to hear from you.

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3 thoughts on “Unless we take action to improve transit now, 2040 in Spokane will be like 2015 in Seattle

  1. I really hope that Spokane can seize the chance it has to be a real city of the future when it comes to mass transit and bike routes. We own a tiny condo in Cliff-Cannon that we will be moving to in a few years to escape Seattle and the horrible mess it has become. We have toyed with the idea of going car free once we get there! I would hate to see Spokane wait on the infrastructure improvements until it is too late to actually help, which is exactly what Seattle has done. Seattle is now spending many multiples MORE tax dollars on projects that I can tell you personally…. do not seem to be helping. Building up to fight the PREVIOUS war is expensive and pointless.

  2. I sit in SLU traffic every day. I also take the 520 bridge to I-405. With open roads, the journey is very much like Liberty Lake to Spokane- 20min/~17mi. On a normal workday, my drive to work takes 1 hr and I could spend up to 3hr in the evening trying to get home. After growing up in Spokane (with relatively little traffic), I would never wish the Mercer Mess, 520, or I-405 on anyone.

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