Idea #28: Bikeshare system

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Washington, D.C.’s Capital Bikeshare has been successful in enabling last-mile connections and easy tourist connections. It has also exceeded expectations in placemaking, remaking many of its station areas into plazas and new public space. (PHOTO: Wikimedia Commons)

Across the country, bikeshare systems are adding to the array of multimodal and diverse public transportation choices while allowing an opportunity for private companies and vendors to capture a new market. In addition, these bicycle rental and subscription services can help to build new urban spaces, diverse and innovative squares, and centers for public life. Even a simple intersection can become a “place,” if enhanced with a bike station, benches, and perhaps curb bulb-outs or other streetscape enhancements.

It’s time for Spokane to join these cities.

Imagine the potential of a bikeshare system with stations in Browne’s Addition, the University District, near Gonzaga University, on Hamilton, in the Garland District, in the South Perry, and in multiple locations downtown. Imagine the potential of being able to grab a bike downtown and ride to grab a pizza at the Elk in Browne’s Addition, then take a Spokane Transit bus home. Imagine the potential of riding from the Garland District to Kendall Yards, and never having to worry about finding a bike rack or carrying a lock. Instead, you can just drop the bike at a station.

And bikeshare would take advantage of our growing bicycle infrastructure in Spokane, including added bike lanes on Main Avenue and other area roads and streets. It could help to grow Spokane’s bicycle culture from niche to mainstream. And that’s something that could benefit us all, through a more active streetscape and a greater availability of alternative commuting options.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Would a bikeshare system work in Spokane? Where would you like to see a station? Do you see bikeshare as a viable option for commuting, or more of an alternative for tourists and convention guests? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you!

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Idea #27: Return downtown’s street grid to two-way traffic

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Downtown Spokane’s Main Avenue on the East End is currently under discussion for major improvements, including center-lane parking, new street trees, and pedestrian enhancements, like a mid-block crossing. (PHOTO: City of Spokane)

In late 2008, in the middle of the Great Recession, the struggling downtown area in Vancouver, Wash. decided to make a change. A cheap change, but a big change. In essence, it painted a yellow line down the middle of Main Street, changed some signage and traffic lights, and opened the street to two-way traffic.

The results were almost instantaneous. Within a few short weeks, the businesses downtown reported a massive surge in customers. And why not? Two-way streets better encourage pedestrian activity, smooth and slow traffic, and, perhaps most critically for Spokane, ease the difficulty of finding a metered parking spot. They’re also easier to navigate for visitors and residents alike. One-way streets are literally a relic of our nation’s Cold War-era past, built primarily to allow for swift evacuations and troop deployments in the aftermath of a nuclear attack.

So let’s return to a two-way street grid downtown.

Sure, it’ll be harder to convert the Lincoln/Monroe and Division/Browne couplets, but other streets could be converted with relatively little difficulty. Like Stevens. Like Washington. Like Sprague. Like First Avenue.

And of course, like Main Avenue. City officials and East End businesses have been working for years on a project that would add center-lane parking on Main Avenue, but for little apparent reason maintain that street’s one-way status. That’s absurd. Converting the street to serve both eastbound and westbound traffic would enhance both the pedestrian and the vehicular experience, improving navigation, parking, and the streetscape. It’s time to stop talking. Downtown Spokane should be a people-friendly place, welcoming to all types of commuters–pedestrians, bicyclists, transit users, and drivers. It should make navigation simple and easy, and walking a breeze. Vitality on the sidewalk should be the first and foremost priority. And the potential here is huge. So let’s make it happen. Let’s convert more streets downtown to two-way traffic.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Should Main Avenue and potentially other streets downtown be converted back to two-way status?  Why do you think there hasn’t been more progress on this in recent years? And would you be more likely to go downtown if navigation and parking were enhanced along with the pedestrian experience? Share your thoughts on Facebook, on Twitter, and in the comments below. We love to hear from you.

Idea #25: Convert visitors, students, and conference attendees into evangelists for Spokane

The Nest at Kendall Yards is an active, vibrant urban space that receives activation every day. Because this would not have even been imaginable just ten short years ago, it’s the type of space that exemplifies Spokane’s recent revitalization. (PHOTO: The Inlander)

If you follow Spokane Rising on Twitter, you know that a couple of weeks ago, I attended a conference in Buffalo, New York. The conference wasn’t related to the work done here, but it seemed that everywhere I turned, I was struck by a piece of inspiration that I would be able to bring back to this blog and to the Spokane community. Perhaps most pressingly, I was reminded of the necessity of taking pride in your community. Buffalo does this particularly well; having the term “Buffalove” certainly makes it easier. But there was at least one concrete piece from the conference opening keynote that we can bring back to Spokane: converting conference attendees and visitors into evangelists for the city. John J. Hurley, the President of Canisius College, delivered a speech that sung the praises of his city and his community.

There’s no reason we can’t do that here.

Let’s bring community leaders, university presidents, conference planners, and business leaders together. Let’s develop a framework for talking about the revitalization of Spokane. With the Davenport Grand, the recent Convention Center completion project, and nearly $1 billion in public investment to come within the next ten years, it’s time to sing the praises of our recent success. One thing that struck me about Hurley’s keynote at Canisius College was the way he inextricably linked the success of his school with the revitalization of his city. Why doesn’t the same happen at Gonzaga and Whitworth? Where’s the pride in WSU Spokane and EWU? Let’s build institutions which tie their identity directly to Spokane.

With conferences, we can work with organizers to develop a language for discussing Spokane. And let’s encourage them to include free days or arrival days for conference attendees to explore Spokane. When we send representatives of our city, whether from City of Spokane, Visit Spokane, Downtown Spokane Partnership, Greater Spokane Incorporated, or any other important local organization, let’s make sure they sing the praises of our city. Because the people with whom they speak will become evangelists for the city itself. Send them to Kendall Yards, to Browne’s Addition, to Coeur Coffee! Extol the virtues of Riverfront and Manito Parks! Exhort them to visit Flying Goat, South Perry, or the Community Block/East End. And then tell them to tell their friends, and for them to tell their friends. We have a lot to be proud of in Spokane, but there’s a lot to be said for making others excited about it as well.

SHARE YOUR THOUGHTS: What do you think? Do you think that it would be a good idea to encourage visitors to explore Spokane to make them evangelists for the city? What types of programs could encourage local leaders and conference planners to sing the virtues of Spokane? Or should we just shamelessly tell people to tell their friends (I prefer this option)? Post your comments below, join us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, or talk to us in person. We love to hear from you.

Idea #24: Convert Main Avenue to a Pedestrian Mall

The Church Street Marketplace in downtown Burlington, Vermont was originally conceived in 1958 and constructed in 1980. In the time since, it has been recognized time and again as a prime example of good urban design for public space. It’s managed by a public commission. (PHOTO: vermont.org)

I must admit that this is an idea that’s been gnawing at me for some time. It struck me last June during Terrain’s Bazaar, which was taking place on Wall Street between Main Avenue and Spokane Falls Boulevard, then grew on me during my time in Germany this past fall. In many of Europe’s cities, the central avenue in the city center is closed to vehicles. The result is a much more pedestrian-centered experience with a vibrant, exciting city life. What if we took this same logic and applied it to downtown Spokane?

Let’s convert Main Avenue between Lincoln Street and Bernard Street into a pedestrian mall.

At first glance, this may seem like a radical idea. Why would we want to convert six city blocks into a limited access, pedestrian-only experience? Why would we want to restrict vehicular access? The answer, of course, is vibrancy. The on-street experience would be greatly enhanced by the addition of new street trees, new public gathering places and amenities, and pedestrian-specific features. Imagine farmers’ markets, food trucks, flash mobs, and handicraft vendors all gathering in one place downtown. Imagine winter carolers and summer gallery openings. And imagine it all being outside of the control of the Cowles family, which recently proposed to take 17 feet of public right of way at the Wall Street pseudo-“pedestrian mall” for a “mystery national retailer.”

The prospect is tantalizing. But it would require a concerted effort at programming. A public commission or non-profit board a la the Seattle Center’s management structure or that of Portland’s Pioneer Courthouse Square would work well. And we’ll have to work on finding solutions to the traffic problem (especially cross-traffic on Stevens and Washington) as well. But we can do it. We can replace lost parking, improve traffic flow downtown, and build a vibrant community all at the same time. So let’s get behind a pedestrian on Main Avenue. Let’s make it happen.

What do you think? Do you support the idea for a pedestrian mall on Main Avenue? Do you think it could spur investment along that street, where parking lots have languished undeveloped for years and years? What would you like to see programmed at a pedestrian mall downtown? Share your thoughts below in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Idea #23: Terrain meets TED

There’s something about Terrain that draws people in…is it the curation? The underground vibe? What is it? And how can we transfer that success to a major innovation conference for Spokane? (PHOTO: Terrain Spokane)

Terrain is cool. If nothing else, this year’s event proved that. Terrain 7 received more submissions than ever before, and the resulting curated one-night-only event drew in a record number of visitors. Better yet, the burgeoning movement has launched a campaign for a permanent venue at its new home in the Washington Cracker Company Building on Pacific.

TED is cool. The innovation and leadership conference has grown from humble beginnings into a worldwide phenomenon drawing thousands of changemakers every meeting and hundreds of millions of YouTube views.

Which brings forth an interesting question: what would happen if Spokane brought together the hyper-cool creative atmosphere of Terrain and the innovative, entrepreneurial spirit of TED? Imagine a one-day-only conference focusing on innovation, creativity, and change. Imagine Spokane drawing together leaders in technology, the physical sciences, the social sciences, the arts, and others in a common, one-night festival of what’s next, what’s new, and what’s inspiring. We already have a TEDx event, but it’s small, limited in scope, and ineffective at building Spokane’s innovation culture.

This conference needs to be big.

Like, Convention Center or INB Performing Arts Center big. We need to inspire Spokane’s youngest kids to get interested in STEAM-based careers. We need to grow our startup infrastructure into something that can support a vibrant technology sector. We need to continue to develop strong events that build participation in local arts and culture. A TED-style event with the spirit, drive, and curation of Terrain could make that happen.

What do you think? Would you like to see a TED-style event in Spokane? What do you think of adding Terrain’s signature style and curation? Do you think that such a move could help to inspire the next generation of local youth to explore STEAM careers? What about growing our startup or innovation culture? Share your thoughts and ideas in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in person. We love to hear from you.

Idea #22: Get rid of every last skywalk

The skywalk system at the Bennett Block will be undergoing major modifications this year, as the exterior staircase is removed, but there’s still an ugly, scarcely-used skywalk there, ruining the aesthetics of an otherwise-beautiful building. (PHOTO: travelandrew.wordpress.com)

Can we talk about the elephant in the room?

Why do we have dead skywalks all over the place in downtown Spokane? Many of them no longer receive much use–especially the yellow-roofed system radiating from the Parkade. And don’t even get us started on the “skywalk level” of the Crescent Building. What was once a bustling food court and mall-like shopping area has become a glorified pathway to the STA Plaza.

Hmm…I wonder if there’s a connection there. What if some of downtown’s supposed issues (if you listen to those who complain about the STA Plaza) could be blamed (at least indirectly) not on humans, but on human design? What if the solution were as simple as ripping out a few skywalks?

Perhaps it is. Our skywalks already receive much less use than they once did. Perhaps it’s time for a detailed usage study to determine which crossings receive the most use, and which ones should be removed. Fewer skywalks means more people on sidewalks, which means more “eyes on the street.” Gradually, opportunities arise for more streetfront retail (along Riverside, please) and remodeled office space on what was once the “skywalk level.” The end result? A more efficient use of space, more vitality and foot traffic on the street, and perhaps a lower risk of crime in the downtown core.

What do you think? Should the skywalk system removed or extensively remodeled? Are there improvements that could be made that would clarify the use of the skywalks? Are they for shoppers or for general pedestrians or for businesspeople? Is the three-month benefit worth the twelve-month downsides of the system? Share your thoughts below in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We love to hear from you.

Idea #21: Bicycle transit center

The “bike center” concept offers a unique, low-cost opportunity to increase the number of individuals using alternative transportation to get to work. (PHOTO: Natural Resources Defense Council)

Spokane has a vested interest in decreasing the number of vehicle trips made per day in the city. Not only does driving alone to work markedly increase carbon dioxide emissions, but it also increases traffic, making Spokane feel more and more like a larger city. By taking drivers off the road and redirecting them to safe, convenient bicycle lanes, our city becomes more active, more engaged, more green, and more efficient. Unfortuntately, in order to do that, we must provide safe, convenient places to store bikes–and places to get ready for work. Enter the bicycle center.

It’s a simple idea, really. Let’s build a location downtown with rows and rows of indoor, protected bicycle storage. Hire an attendant to staff the facility during operation hours, or develop a card-key or smartphone-activated access system. Offer shower and locker facilities, and you’ve got a bona fide bicycle transit center that can be open for users at least nine months of the year. You could charge a small “subscription” fee and offer a drop-in rate for more sporadic users. We’ve already got the STA Plaza. Shouldn’t someone cater to bicyclists as well?

What do you think? Should a bicycle transit center be developed in downtown Spokane to encourage more workers to ride downtown? With increased bicycle infrastructure around the city, where would you like to see investments made to the system? Share your thoughts in the comments below, on Facebook, on Twitter, and in person. We love to hear from you.