Downtown Spokane WA on approach to the airport
Downtown Spokane WA on approach to the airport by Ron Reiring – Spokane, WA

On this side of the Cascades, we don’t often hear much about transit in Spokane. That’s a shame, because Spokane is not just Washington’s second most populous city — and perhaps Washington’s most beautiful city —  but it’s a place built around transit, whose center has survived the ravages of mid-century suburban flight, urban renewal and freeway building to become the slowly-regrowing urban center of the Inland Northwest. Its downtown is sprinkled with stunning railroad-era architecture (some of which would turn heads in San Francisco), its street grid is mostly complete, and the city and its suburbs are served by Washington’s most efficient transit agency, the Spokane Transit Authority.

Unfortunately, much of the transit news from Spokane has been bad, lately. One of the STA’s signature accomplishments is an attractive, modern bus station and customer service center in the heart of downtown, known locally as the Plaza. Photos of the Plaza are shown around the world by Jarrett Walker as an example of the kind of civilized, humane waiting-place that transit customers should expect, and which can be built even by not-lavishly-funded agencies. Such facilities are especially important to small-city transit agencies like STA, where there is no rapid transit system around which to organize the rest of the transit network, nor enough money to run a full grid of frequent routes out to the limits of the service area, and thus many customers need to make connections through a single central hub.

Recently, a handful of well-connected downtown Spokane property owners have tried to force STA to move this flagship facility out of the downtown core. The events involved in the lead-up to this are a little complicated: there’s a recently-reactivated plan to refurbish the plaza, the removal (and then replacement) of a smoking area for plaza patrons, and a sudden flare up of concerns about crime, vagrancy and indigence in the retail core. The opposition’s stated reasons will be depressingly familiar to anyone who’s been involved in any major expansion of transit out to suburban areas: Putatively, transit facilities are full of ne’er-do-wells and criminals, loitering around waiting to rob or beg someone of their money, and the solution is to make these people disappear by making the facility disappear — and besides, all those buses are empty anyway. Of course, none of these things are actually true.

More after the jump.

Spokane Transit Authority Plaza by Jdubman
Spokane Transit Authority Plaza by Jdubman

What really ails Spokane’s retail plutocrats is not the people of the Plaza, but their own ignorance: First, of the geometry of transit, and why transit hubs, to be most effective, must be located in walkable activity centers, like the heart of downtown; second, of the difference (seemingly inapparent to many who view the outside world exclusively through a car window) between someone who is loitering to cause trouble, versus a frazzled minimum-wage shift worker, waiting a few minutes between buses on their ride home (or to their second job); and third, of the basic fact that downtown isn’t a mall and that not everyone you will encounter on the sidewalk is someone from your social strata, and some of the people you encounter will be saying or doing things you’d prefer they didn’t. People who want an aseptic shopping experience are already at the expensive out-of-town mall: The urbanity and shared space of downtown is its primary asset.

The people trying to banish transit from downtown do have one big thing going for them, however (and here the story becomes distinctly small-town). The chief opponents of the Plaza, the Cowles family, owns the local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review. On Sunday, the SR ran an article which began as follows:

Signs point to dim future for STA Plaza

Spokane’s business community likely will succeed in pushing the region’s central bus plaza out of downtown, a former transit board chairman predicts.

“We were doing everything we could to appease the concerns about ‘problem behavior’ … and it was never enough,” said Spokane Valley City Councilman Chuck Hafner, who serves on the Spokane Transit Authority’s board of directors and chaired the panel in 2013. “This issue has been discussed for years and I finally had to tell the board that appeasement isn’t going to work because the downtown interests don’t want us there.”

Skimming that headline and first paragraph, you might think it was curtains for the Plaza, but if you actually read the text of the article, no facts are presented that would lead an independent observer to think such a thing. In fact, Hafner directly rebutted that characterization in an article published yesterday by the Inlander:

That flew in the face of what Hafner, former chair of the Spokane Transit board of directors, and other board members have been saying for years. Reached by phone today, Hafner directly contradicts the Spokesman’s characterization of his views.

“To me, the STA Plaza has a future downtown,” Hafner says. He says he can’t understand why the Spokesman headline called the future of the Plaza “dim.”

And in an subsequent email from STA Board Chair Amber Waldref, published in the same Inlander article:

“I woke up on Sunday morning to a Spokesman Review headline that I believe inaccurately represented the views of this Board and the direction we have been taking in working with stakeholders regarding the STA Plaza. I hope the other Board members feel, like I did, that the headline was not reflective of the information shared to the reporter.”

Several things seem to be going on here. First, a few powerful downtown business owners are trying to sideline transit riders, on the basis of ignorance and lazy stereotyping. That’s unfortunate, but in a political and media environment where people are free to speak their minds, and a basic deference exists to the rules of intelligent debate, those things can be countered with facts. But, second, one of principals in this debate happens to be a local family whom few locals can afford to offend, which in turn prevents many from speaking their minds. Third, and most perniciously, it seems that the owners of the SR may be using the news-gathering side of its operations to falsely shape public opinion, by creating a “fact” in the minds of casual readers that the expulsion of the Plaza is a done deal.

It’s my hope, of course, that STA’s board keeps the Plaza right where it is, and moves directly ahead with renovating the Plaza, to make it an even more inviting and successful place. STA has done great work restructuring their system and consolidating stops in response to the Great Recession, and I want to see the agency and the city — and yes, even the properties owned by the Cowles family — thrive together. It’s not an accident that Nordstrom’s flagship store in Seattle is built on top of Westlake Station, probably the busiest bus and light rail hub in the city, with direct access into the store for transit riders. Someday, I hope that Spokane’s retailers and hoteliers will realize what Seattle’s have realized — that transit, like downtown, is good for people, and good for business.

100 Replies to “Spokane’s Downtown is for People – and their Buses”

  1. I am in absolute agreement here. Removing the transit hub from your city’s retail core is a terrible idea and needs to be stopped.

    1. Have you been to Kennewick where the transit hub (Three Rivers Transit Center) is conveniently placed adjacent to the Benton County jail? I hardly saw anyone on the buses. However, I was really shocked to see a big Benton Transit Vanpool fleet.

  2. It seems likely that the Inland cities of Washington — Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima — have greater potentials for growth than the over-saturated Puget Sound region. Given that, I have commented that the time for good transit and highway planning would be now rather than later to avoid all the mistakes of Seattle. Is that likely, or will they merely allow growth and try to sort it out once the traffic jams gum everything up? (Who are we kidding..this is Washington “Don’t Bother Me I’m Sleeping” State!)

    1. The city is pushing a smart growth plan but the county is determined to get in the way and push sprawl every chance it gets.

      1. I have never seen those as antithetical, but both sides end up performing in a way that detracts from the citizenry.

        The urbans push for local limited transit in high density.

        The suburbans push for unlimited sprawl without adding services.

        Both are wrong.

        Ideally we need both horizontal and vertical growth to accommodate the influx of people.

        What tends to happen is the newcomer gets squeezed out by the entrenched interests who want to make his price and taxes high.

      1. 1. Increasing population by 2 million without building a single new highway.

        2. Increasing population in the suburbs without creating a regional rapid transit system.

        3. Allowing home prices to escalate without building enough new units

        4. Not adding to the available build-able land fast enough to keep up with population.

      2. “1. Increasing population by 2 million without building a single new highway.”

        That’s one of our greatest achievements.

      3. “3. Allowing home prices to escalate without building enough new units”

        There are hundreds of properties being developed in Lacy, Olympia, Fox Island, Gig Harbor and others. Many were put on hold during the recession. You can’t force developers to build something for which there isn’t a market.

      4. Gig Harbor? Olympia? Lacey? None of those places are causing the sky high housing prices of the greater Seattle area.

      5. Exactly. Sprawl, especially sprawl that is very distant, really doesn’t help housing prices that much. There’s been great gobs of housing built in the Puget Sound region, and planned housing on the books not built due to the economic troubles, but all that does is make for really miserable traffic into very auto dependent areas.

      6. On your first point, John: I’ve lived by Interstate 5 my entire life and I can safely say that the pollution contributed to my respiratory issues. Living next to a freeway of any kind, even one that doesn’t have rush hour backups, is a hazard to health, not to mention its amazing ability to wall off communities.

        Would you like to live next to the R.H. Thomson in a dilapidated Central District? How about the Bay Freeway in SLU? Is that really what we want?

    2. It seems likely that the Inland cities of Washington — Spokane, Tri-Cities, Yakima — have greater potentials for growth than the over-saturated Puget Sound region.

      I appreciate the use of passive voice here, as it indicates that on some level you know it’s BS. It might be true if everyone valued the same things John Bailo does, and as much as you think everyone should, it turns out they don’t, which is a big part of why Seattle is the fastest growing city in the country.

      1. John doesn’t really value the things he claims to value. Otherwise he would already have moved to “The Next Seattle”: Kennewick.

    3. I was in Aberdeen and Ocean Shores this weekend. I thought, “This would be a good Bailoville.”

      Aberdeen is a depressed area after the logging slowed, now with a second life of tourism and Kurt Cobain pilgrims. From the look of the buildings it was thriving in the mid-century but now the buildings have run down. Many pre-WWII houses and buildings remain, and could shine with a restoration. Northeast of downtown seems to be the bad part, with several boarded-up houses. Like Seattle, Aberdeen is divided into three parts by rivers and bridges, and the downtown street grid is complete but pivots at Division Street. There’s a waterfront trail that’s being renovated.

      Grays Harbor Transit runs weekdays every hour or two, from Ocean Shores to Aberdeen and Olympia although I didn’t look closely. Ocean Shores has a nice bus stop at the beach. It’s an hour of woods and farms between Aberdeen and Olympia, with bus stops and shelters at the highway cross streets.

      The worst part is the US highway through the middle of town, a pair of one-way streets of three lanes each. Wide setbacks on both sides, as if for future highway expansion. It made me question my belief that boulevards are better than freeways. Pedestrians are nonexistent, and I wonder how much the wide highway and setbacks and parking lots have to do with it.

  3. Hi, Bruce.

    The second quote, “I woke up on Sunday morning to a Spokesman Review headline that I believe inaccurately represented the views of this Board…” comes from current STA Board Chair Amber Waldref, not Hafner.

  4. There’s something else that needs to be brought out- because it represents one of the most self-destructive blind spots of those who call ourselves liberal in the state of Washington.

    The main difference in the political outlook between places like Seattle and places like Spokane is the relatively widespread prosperity on the west side of the Cascades, and the high percentage of unemployment and poverty on the other. Probably the chief cause of so few people having so much power over there: nobody else has any money.

    The permanently-damaged local economies over there have another politically pernicious result: everybody young, educated, and open-minded leave as soon as they can escape. Leaving an electorate of the old and embittered, and the less old and prosperously retired. Who now make up enough of a voting majority to control every one of their state legislative seats.

    I think that the most effective western-Washington political move would do everything possible to encourage the reconstruction on the eastern side to encourage the kind of public and private industrial development over there so younger people will stay and work livelong.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The problems in the “Inland Empire” are a vicious circle. The most educated typically move away as you say here, and therefore the number of companies wanting to locate there are limited because the educated workforce isn’t competitive enough to allow for wage competition among the most educated.

      There are places like Colmac Coil in Colville, and they do pretty well, but their costs are higher than what you find in other manufacturers of refrigeration coils. What keeps them there is local ownership doesn’t want to move.

      Therefore, the best method of growing the “Inland Empire” seems to me to find some of these promising companies that are already there, and figure out what obstacles they face. What can be done to help them grow and help make the whole region grow?

      1. Spokane is surrounded by colleges. Maybe it should try being a college town, like Bellingham or Eugene?

      2. Except that there is only one small, private school located in Spokane. The rest are located elsewhere, with the major state university 75 miles to the south.

        Spokane loses young residents because money and jobs and cache exist in Seattle. They are scarce in Spokane. Working to attract new business to the region would help boost their economy. I am 31, and would have moved moved to Spokane right out of college had I been able to find a job there. Seattle is great, but I am eager to leave but don’t want to leave the state.

      3. EWU is not in the city, but it’s within STA’s service area, and is 30 minutes from the Plaza via STA #66.

      4. @Bruce & @ Possibly Ignorant:

        For what it’s worth, Spokane has recently put some serious effort into developing a new university district. A number of streets have been realigned and rebuilt as part of the project. From what I have seen, it is mainly focused on WSU health science education, but I think that EWU and the two Spokane CCs are also involved. The area is across the river from Gonzaga and was very lightly used when I was growing up in Spokane. It cetainly looks much better now.

        You can read about it here, though the website still looks like a work in progress:
        http://www.spokaneuniversitydistrict.com/

      5. The state is also debating whether to put a new medical school in Spokane ($). Wazzu wants it, eastern Washington economic interests and medical interests want it, but UW says it’s more cost-effective to expand UWMC. “Washington is hurting for doctors in part because the UW School of Medicine has funding to admit only 120 Washington students a year, although six times that many apply. Another 100 students are admitted from outside Washington every year, as part of a cooperative five-state program, bringing the total size of each class to 220.”

      6. Mike,

        UW is only fighting that because they know they will lose their stranglehold as the only major medical school in the PNW. Its ego driven BS from UW (nothing new there.)

        It would do wonders for the Inland Empire for them to have a medical school.

      7. EWU is also a small university, with only about 12,000 students. Despite it being in the STA service area, Cheney is still a good trek from downtown Spokane.

        Eugene is a good comparison to Spokane (albeit the region is slightly less populated) but it is home to the University of Oregon, which has 21,000 undergraduates and another 4,000 post graduates, which includes a law school. If WSU’s main campus was located in Spokane, there might be a good argument for it. But it’s not and it never will be.

      8. Eugene’s economy really isn’t that good either, comparable to Spokane.

        Corvallis has really taken off though. HP had a facility there for many years, and a couple of students formed a company that you now know as CH2MHill.

        At the other end of the spectrum, here in Portland a certain student dropped out of Reed College due to the expenses. He moved to California, and started this little electronics hobbyist company known as Apple Computer.
        http://x.genius.com/Steve-jobs-commencement-address-at-stanford-university-2005-annotated#note-1634167

        Maybe the real key here for the Inland Empire is to try to make sure promising students of its universities don’t have to drop out due to financial reasons, and those with promising concepts get to stick around and improve the economy.

      9. is also a small university, with only about 12,000 students. Despite it being in the STA service area, Cheney is still a good trek from downtown Spokane.

        Eugene is a good comparison to Spokane (albeit the region is slightly less populated) but it is home to the University of Oregon, which has 21,000 undergraduates and another 4,000 post graduates, which includes a law school. If WSU’s main campus was located in Spokane, there might be a good argument for it. But it’s not and it never will be.

        In terms of numbers, the comparison is better than you think. Gonzaga(7800)+ Whitworth(2900)+WSU-Spokane(1600)+EWU(12800) gets you more students than OU. I think EWU being out of town, and cache of a flagship U with all that entails makes it a lot more natural for Eugene to be a college town in the traditional sense, but it’s not a matter of volume of students.

      10. Eugene and the UO could be far more prosperous if Phil Knight had decided to put some sort of Nike facility there, rather than just dump money into the UO sports program. Nike and the UO could have a really nice synergy with Nike providing internships to UO students.

        Instead, you have to go to the competition at OSU up the road in Corvallis to find companies that located there to take advantage of the presence of a University.

        That is the university town model that needs to be followed. I have no idea what the OSU secret is for attracting companies to Corvallis, but it sure has worked better than what is going on in Eugene.

      1. You’re right, Joe, and having lived in Marblemount for twp years about forty years ago, and still grieve over changes in the place- though it does seem that some things look more prosperous now and then.

        But still wish some of the small industries were still there- though even then that economy was already dying. The young people I hung around with- objectively working people as many long-haired youngsters ran chainsaws, and how many kids of all hairstyles had college plans.

        Very sad that we never had the mountain republic of small individually owned and cooprerative industries that the beautiful place deserved. But “never” is a long time, Joe, and 2008 demonstrated that oversized and -priced houses don’t last forever either. Mountains last longer.

        Mark

  5. I’ve used the Spokane Transit Plaza a few times and it isn’t awful compared to the facilities offered in other cities, but it isn’t a nice place to wait out a connection. Spokane’s weather can range from 5 degrees in winter to 105 in the summer, so it’s great to have a climate controlled building when the weather is extreme, but the Plaza does attract a fair share of loiterers and riff-raff. There’s also a heavy police/security presence that makes time spent at the Plaza fairly unpleasant. I seem to remember some small businesses and a mall food court type of atmosphere that wasn’t very enticing Moving the Plaza out of downtown wouldn’t be smart, but there needs to be a fresher concept than what currently exists.

    1. AFAICT the remodel proposal (more and better retail indoors on the ground floor) is the “fresher concept” you describe.

    2. Have they tried throwing tacos and pizza at the problem? I feel like any placemaking problem can be solved with cool PDX-style food carts (and not Seattle’s oversized food trucks).

      1. Problem with the Geneva Convention here, Chris: once they’ve seen the effects up close nobody flying close-air support will ever risk using food court tacos and blazing pepperoni with flaming artificial cheese on civilians- even low grade ones.

        Also, great thing about a forty foot long food truck is how fast it can be thrown into a hole in the schedule in case of a breakdown or operator failure to report. Passengers can also be appeased by free schwarma, chicken shish kabob, and Thai curry.

        More reasons besides eastern state reactionary politics why young people run west, rather than Seattlites fleeing east.

        MD

  6. I doubt they’d ever move the Plaza, though who knows. The loud cranks have been griping about it since the 90s and seem to think the money to move it grows on trees (certainly not their money, though)

  7. it seems to me Spokane should try to do a mini-version of what Denver is doing and setup a more comprehensive transit hub. Given Amtrak and Greyhound are so close to the Plaza they should maybe move the Plaza in the direction of those services. Maybe it would be a great start for future expansion with better transit services to places like Pullmam, Moscow, Tri-Cities, Walla Walla and etc.

    1. Further touching on the subject of moving the bus terminal east closer to the Amtrak station, but a little off subject, I can’t emphasize how much it would help if a Spokane-Portland Amtrak line shifted east a little to accommodate the college corridor of WSU, UofI, Whitman, Walla Walla CC, Lewiston CC and Clarkston CC (WWCC branch). It would grow business tremendously since students are such a major contributor to public transportation.

      1. And from whence will that US$250M come? Not from the WA legislature, not from the rural counties south of Spokane, not from Pullman or Wazoo…

      2. I thought it would be nice to have a light rail line to Pullman. They could use the Palouse-Coulee City tracks. They used to have trolleys that went there not too long ago.

      3. There is no connection east from Walla Walla and to my knowledge never has been. Rails used to go to Pomeroy and still continue to Dayton, but there is a BIG GORGE! (the Snake River canyon) through the middle of the Palouse.

        Also, the crazy line between Moscow and Lewiston is gone.

        Net result: there is no way to make a rail loop including either Walla Walla or Pullman.

        Focus on getting decent publicly supported bus transportation to those places . When full buses run hourly from 8 to 8 to one of them, you might begin to contemplate rail service.

      4. Bus service is part of the problem not the solution. And Reps won’t control Congress forever. Besides, ACE in California just received a a 1/2 billion grant for their service. Apparently still some deals to be had.

      5. If you think useful, high-quality bus service is part of the problem, then I’m afraid your opinions are part of the problem.

      6. Not rude, just pointing out a fact.

        Eastern Washington has far more highways than rail lines, a bunch of small- to medium-size towns that will never require the per-driver capacity of rail, one small city that doesn’t really suffer from terrible car congestion, and (depending on which way you’re going) topography that may make new rail lines very expensive. Arguing for intercity passenger rail in that context is a distracting waste of effort. With the possible exception of Seattle-Spokane, buses are the non-car mobility solution for Eastern Washington for the foreseeable future.

        As for service quality, you seem to be making the usual mistake of generalizing from our existing shitty intercity bus service, primarily Greyhound. Bus service does not have to suck. Boltbus has cheap fares and nice coaches, and can’t buy enough coaches for the demand on PHX-SEA-YVR. Tens of thousands of Google engineers getting paid six figures ride GBuses from SFO to Mountain View every day. These people wouldn’t ride those buses if it were a Dickensian ordeal.

        Yes, all other things being equal, rail will have a slightly nicer ride quality, and slightly more riders per trip, but you can waste your life arguing for a billion-dollar dream that will never happen, or spend your time usefully, advocating for a practical, civilized system that could happen.

      7. I was wrong about no access to the east from Walla Walla. The UP line which now ends at Dayton had a junction just west of Waitsburg to a line which continued north and crossed the Snake River just north of a place called Starbuck (singular) where the Camas Prairie crosses today. There is the signature of a wye at the south end of the bridge.

        You can see some heavy earth moving from what’s obviously on Google Maps (satellite) at McKay-Alto Road and Stonecipher Road about six or eight miles directly north of Waitsburg.

        So, if that line were replaced and the line up out of the Clearwater Canyon from “Arrow” (which was just a railroad point) to Moscow were relaid, it actually would be possible to have the loop you wanted.

        But it would take hours longer than the current route via Ritzville.

        And Bruce is completely right. This is bus country and always will be.

      8. Your right, moving the entire current route east would be too difficult…too much slow track and cost to piece together. However, moving Amtrak line east would add an additional 130,000 potential riders. If Walla Walla was geographically aligned further east I think a new once a day commuter line would work real well with the 130,000 potential riders.
        Without Walla Walla you still have a decent rider base of 95,000. Track would have to be laid south of Pullman (33 mi). The distance of the line *Spokane to Clarkston/Lewiston) is 106 mi.

        The only comp I could think of is Everett Sounder. Everett/Edmonds/Mulkiteo is 165,000 potential riders with 4 Sounder trains and 2 Cascade trains. Everett is 28 mi from Seattle.

        A daily train? maybe. I doubt if Bolt would ever do such an endeavour. They might do the Spokane to Tri Cities route because of the 1/2 million potential riders but smaller cities are not their forte. And like I said if the rail can have decent speed then most people would choose it over buses.

      9. Dude,

        Rail can not “be laid south of Pullman”. There’s about 1000 vertical feet of difference between the plateau four miles north of Lewiston and Lewiston itself. Old US 95 used to be called the “Spiral Highway”!

        The route which once connected the two cities ran east through Moscow, continued east from there into the foothills of the Bitteroots and finally turned south down a tributary to the Potlatch River to the Potlatch then the Clearwater about a dozen or so miles east of Lewiston.

        Total mileage: about 80 with lots of curves and a gruesome grade.

        Give it up! If Bolt won’t do it, there is no money in it. People out there have cars, and they use them when they go someplace.

      10. In 1951, the “Bug,” a self-propelled, one-car train, was commissioned to do just what my friends and I had imagined – run as far as Spokane or as close as Pullman or Lewiston.” The bug took 1 hr 50 mins back in 1951 to get from Lewiston to UofI. The WSU to Spokane was 2 1/2 hours. i wonder what speed could be accomplished now with the same route? How much is route limitations and how much is technology limitations? If these got down to 1 to 1 1/2 hours I think it would work.

        And dude, I know 95 well. And you’re wrong, people in Eastern Washington WILL COMMUTE given viable options.

      11. Les,

        Nobody who wants to go from Lewiston to Pullman (or Moscow) is going to ride a doodlebug taking an hour and fifty minutes when the driving trip is about twenty-five to Moscow and thirty to Pullman via 195. Oh, maybe once or twice in a lifetime for the beauty of the journey, but not regularly.

        There may have been such a doodlebug in 1951 when there was still a considerable proportion of the general population which did not have cars. It would not work these days when very nearly every family has at least one and many have two or more.

        Just to complete the loop, how long did it run? I doubt it lasted into the ’60’s.

        NW Trailways has two buses per day between Lewiston and Spokane. That’s ten (83%) below the minimum threshold at which even to consider intercity rail.

      12. i didn’t say the bug was the answer, i’m saying that a train did make the route over 50 years ago, something you adamantly pointed out as impossible. I also suggested that newer trains would most likely exceed the transport time of 50 years ago. New technology along with the smoothing out of a few curves would get the travel times to acceptable levels. And your fixation with cars is amazing. Don’t people in Everett have cars too and yet ride Sounder? Why would a professor who lives in Spokane not take advantage of the time to grade papers on a rail trip to WSU if rail was available? The social/economic/political/environmental climate of when rails disappeared is different then now.

        I also want to reconsider a Walla Walla addition but with a different amtrak line: http://pioneertrain.org/. If they ever did bring this line back it would be awesome if instead of running it to Portland they instead ran it from Pasco to Spokane via my proposed college run.

      13. Shifting Amtrak service east won’t work; the rail lines aren’t there. But a bus connection at Pasco from Lewiston-Clarkston-Pullman-Moscow-Colfax to a Spokane-Pasco-Yakima-Ellensburg-Seattle train would and provide more direct service from Pullman to Seattle than now exists (bus via Spokane). That’s a lengthy routing for a Spokane-Seattle train, but not for Spokane-Yakima, Pasco-Seattle, Yakima-Seattle or Ellensburg-Seattle (another college population) markets. Wheatland Express in Pullman already provides charter service. Daytime service to Spokane would also give eastern Washington politicians reason to support Cascades service as well meet the needs of an aging population; many rural counties do have tax-supported public transit if only for the elderly. I also suspect that a daytime Spokane-Seattle train would be a good deal cheaper than the estimated $100 million it is going to cost to expand Pullman-Moscow airport, which sees all of three round-trip flights a day.

      14. i’m not saying the lines are there, but they have been in the past so it is doable, just requires some political will is all. No lines existed for Gov Richardson’s commuter rail to Santa Fe so he had the tracks put in. Just like it is going to cost to upgrade the tracks and stations along the Pioneer route, I think the funds can happen as long as ridership potential and political will are there. Just because the current congress is anti-rail rural folk still want long distance travel options and bus is not first on their list. Trains bring in an additional 25-50% ridership then buses and Greyhound bites! Bolt’s model is cheap tickets and high volume so won’t serve the area. Sure rural Amtrak is subsidized but so is rural phone, internet and postal service. Farmers, minors and other rural folk feed us, fuel us and pay a lot in taxes, they deserve good transportation service.

      15. I said it was impossible until I checked the Union Pacific map of 1930. It shows a connection from Walla Walla to the east, and I corrected myself. I never said that it was impossible to have a rail line from Pullman to Lewiston. I said that your impossible rail “laid south of Pullman” would encounter the 1000 foot elevation change in three miles from the Snake up to the plateau. There was trackage south from Pullman but it terminated at Genessee.

        Now it’s true that Genessee is only eighteen and a half miles from Lewiston via roadway. But it’s at 2,680 feet of elevation while Lewiston is at 745. Ooopsie. I was off by 1,000 feet; it’s two thousand feet of vertical separation between the two towns. Now that’s only 110 feet per mile, which is easily doable by railroad.

        Unfortunately, you’d have to dig a tunnel to achieve that gradient, though, because it’s essentially flat for the ten miles to the US 95/US 195 junction at the top of the hill. So instead of 2,000 feet in 18.5 miles, it’s 2,000 feet in 8.5 or about 300 feet to the mile (5%), and even that’s really not accurate because the last mile across the Clearwater from the runaway truck ramp on 95 is flat.

        So far as the “Pioneer Route” Uncle Pete has stated that it believes the cessation of the Pioneer train vacated its responsibility to provide Amtrak with overhead rights. They’re getting set to ramp up coal exports via Morrow and they won’t want a scoot messing up their unit train schedules. So no Portland-Salt Lake City train.

        And for sure no Spokane-Salt Lake City train via Podunk Junction.

    2. Thank you, I appreciate your insights to this matter. Coal and oil transport is having a huge impact on Amtrak, and your right, the Pioneer revival is a long shot given the current political climate. A Supreme Court ruling soon will have a profound impact on the future of all current Amtrak capabilities let alone future expansion. Without the “political will” Amtrak’s long distance routes will die off which is a shame for the farmers, ranchers, minors and other tax payers that do so much for us. Seniors, students, tourist and others prefer this option over others.

      http://usa.streetsblog.org/2014/08/13/supreme-court-could-make-amtrak-trains-run-on-time/.

      1. Like highways duplicity in handling trucks and passenger cars and airports handling of freight and passengers so to should railroad tracks be put in the public control. Public transportation is critical and a certain type of industry should not be in control of such. We as a citizenry should exert our political will for such.

    3. By the way, les, I do not disagree with your assertion that Amtrak provides real transportation for rural Americans, especially the Empire Builder on the old GN Highline. There is no parallel bus service and few intersecting routes to the cities along the old NP (I-90/94).

      But Walla-Walla has thrice daily bus service to the Tri-Cities on the Grape Line and Lewiston/Moscow/Pullman/Colfax have twice daily service to Spokane via NW Trailways. I’d be very happy if the States of Washington and Idaho wanted to buy some nice new buses for those routes and perhaps pay for additional runs. But there are just not enough people in the five small cities that (sort of) define a route to make it worthwhile to invest the hundreds of millions of dollars necessary to rehabilitate the 2/3 of the trackage required and rebuild the other 1/3, some of whose right of way has been intruded by recent development, especially in Moscow.

      It’s just not practical or wise.

      1. And, as an aside, the Southwest Chief through southeastern Colorado and southwestern Kansas provides the only public transportation in that area. No buses there either.

        And of course the Sunset Limited is the sole provider through the US 90 corridor of west Texas.

        I don’t want any of those routes killed off, but places that have infrequent bus service which link them to larger cities don’t need rural rail service added.

      2. That’s why I thought the Pioneer route would be good if it were ever re-materialized. The old route from Tri-Cities to Portland pretty much served only The Dalles and for the most part duplicated the Empire Builder. If it swung north to Spokane from the Tri-Cities it would add a potential 130,000 riders. I was surprised Spokane-Coeur d’Alene’s population is 600,000+ and Tri-Cities is quickly approaching 1/4 million. And these regions are some of the fasted growing areas of our state. If a 7:00am commuter from Spokane and one from the south were run (and reverse pm runs) then the bus lines would cease to exist or become feeders or night owl specials. I think it is something the Inland Empire should consider. Many places have done similar projects with similar population sizes through federal grants (Santa Fe, Ogden and Portland Westside Express to name a few). And these weren’t cheap and without controversy. Given the two areas continued high growth rates along with the demand for the education corridor between them I think in 10-15 years it will be ripe for commuter rail.

  8. Greyhound and Amtrak already serve the same station. Would it be too difficult to add additional bus capacity so that local buses serve it as well?

    1. There are a few parking lots, abandoned buildings and a few not so abandoned older structures in the immediate vicinity. Doesn’t look like a major ordeal to develop. As long as there is ample connection to downtown and the old site and think it would work.

      1. As far as how Spokane actually operates, though, moving the STA Plaza to the Amtrak/Greyhound station would be like moving Westlake Station and all it’s buses to SODO: technically it is close in, but as far as the minds of the citizenry goes it would be far less useful. Furthermore, the Amtrak/Greyhound station enjoys an even worse reputation for sketchiness (actually deserved in this case) than the STA Plaza.

  9. Moving it would be unfortunate. What I love about the Spokane bus plaza is, as a visitor, you don’t have to try to figure out where to get your but to the airport, or anything else for that matter. A lot of similarly sized cities such as Boise and Madison are lacking this type of central bus terminal, and they are much harder to navigate by transit as a result.

  10. “third, of the basic fact that downtown isn’t a mall and that not everyone you will encounter on the sidewalk is someone from your social strata, and some of the people you encounter will be saying or doing things you’d prefer they didn’t.”

    Why insist on tolerance of anti-social behavior? Where do you draw the line? Aggressive panhandling. Expletive laden speech, Constant stream of F-bomb laden language. Offers/requests for sexual favors. Explicit descriptions of one’s private sex life. Open and continuous sexual harassment of women. Assault. Sexual assault. Gang rape.

    There are reasons that some more vulnerable members of society eschew public transit. Maybe a little less tolerance of anti-social behavior and more insistence on polite social interaction will encourage broader use of public transit and public transit facilities. Maybe even lead more to vote in support of better transit funding.

      1. Where did I say that? (I didn’t and don’t advocate moving STA Plaza.)

        My position is that we shouldn’t be apologists for poor behavior. The provision of public transit in India was not the root cause of a well publicized incidence of gang rape on transit there in the last year. The fault and blame rests squarely on the perpetrators themselves. But, the culture that allows such anti-social attitudes to develop and may even cultivate those attitudes is something that needs to be rooted out. Excusing impolite behavior towards your fellow man is not low income and poor advocacy. It’s a first step towards tolerating the culture in which worse behavior develops.

      2. And I have never suggested that we tolerate violence or criminality. I am suggesting (based on my experience both of the Plaza specifically and of transit in general) that the vast majority of people using such transit facilities are ordinary people going about their business.

      3. So, how about raising the standard of behavior in public places? Why shouldn’t the expectation for the plaza be that of respectful polite civility equal to a mall?

      4. I think raising the standards of public decorum would be great, in general. But, a public space will never be as controlled as a mall. For as long as there are homeless people, they will be found in public places. If the owners of the Nordrom’s and mall properties can’t handle that — and apparently they can’t — they should leave downtown rather than damaging it in the attempt to make it like a mall.

        Moreover, as I said in the piece, I don’t think the people trying to push the Plaza out actually want to truly and holistically improve downtown. I think they’re glancing at the people waiting at the Plaza, deciding those people don’t look like their target shopping demographic, and thus don’t belong in a public place near their property. They are willing to do serious damage to the transit system in the attempt to move them somewhere — anywhere — else.

      5. @Seattleite

        The first amendment is not an absolute right to be offensive.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assault

        Criminal assault doesn’t actually require physical contact. Menacing, even just verbally, can be enough to place one reasonably in fear of imminent harm.

        Regardless, I’m not arguing for repeal of the Bill of Rights. I’m discussing social norms. This includes civility towards the low income man of a minority race loitering on the plaza who will be offended when you disrespect him with insulting speech, despite your first amendment right to do so.

      6. Steve, no one is apologizing for assault or suggest we tolerate it. Of course not. The invocation of the first amendment was a direct response to your question–in public spaces, we must tolerate some things that mall owners are under no obligation to tolerate, because to do otherwise would be an affront to some of our core freedoms. There is not, and has never been, no right to assault. The right to speak–even speech many find unpleasant–has nothing whatsoever to do with assault. Your insistence on conflating the two makes it difficult to imagine you’re serious and not merely trolling.

    1. Steve, have you actually been to the plaza? I will admit it’s not the most pleasant spot in downtown Spokane, but you are really overstating your case. Most of the people there are just trying to catch their bus. As a teenager I was at the STA plaza a fair amount (before I got my driver’s license) and everybody I talked to was kind and friendly. Bus people aren’t necessarily bad people.

      1. @ Brandt

        My comment was not a generalization about bus people. I’m a bus rider and I live downtown (Seattle, not Spokane). I agree bus riders are simply a cross section of society.

        Again, I’m saying being an advocate for transit and advocate for low income does not mean being an apologist for boorish behavior. In fact, it would help both causes to encourage people to speak out against anti-social behavior.

        The quote I cited from the original post (I invite you to read it again) was effectively telling people to get over their expectation of a polite society when in public. I disagree with that. The onus should not be on the elderly lady, the mother with child, the teenage girl to tolerate being disrespected. Rather, when we observe someone or a group of people acting out in anti-social ways in a public plaza, transit stop or on the bus, we should not tolerate it and instead speak out against disrespect.

      2. If that’s what you meant, then you should have written that in your initial comment. Because that is not what I (and, I suspect, most readers) took away from it.

      3. “If that’s what I meant”?

        I’m saying that you shouldn’t ask people to tolerate incivility. Pretty simple.

      4. I totally understood what you meant Steve. I suspect people who actually read your comment did too.

  11. I sent the following email to the Spokesman-Review editor under the title “The STA Sinkhole”.

    Let me get this straight. The Spokane Transit Authority is going to dump another five million dollars into a bad idea. The STA Plaza never worked and never will.

    It needs to be abandoned. It is a nuisance in it’s location. It takes over a whole lane of First Avenue with buses pulling out at random intervals forcing traffic to the middle lane. I often have to take a right turn a block ahead and hope that I can pull over. I have this problem when driving a car or riding a bicycle. Wall Street is virtually blocked off and much valuable parking space is taken up on Riverside.

    It is an attractive nuisance. It attracts people who nothing better to do than “hang out” and cause problems. Yet chasing them away just pushes the problem into other areas. Maybe the building could be converted into a social service center to get these people jobs and other help.

    Get rid of the staggered schedule. It wastes people’s time. People want to get to their destination. They don’t want to “hang out” downtown. We end up hanging out on the street so we don’t miss our bus. One woman said her two five minute waits turned into half hour waits to transfer to another bus. That’s two hours a day “hanging out” and waiting for a bus. She was a busy business woman. She didn’t have two hours to spare every day.

    When the schedules were synchronized we could move from bus to bus quickly and get on our way. We could also estimate when the bus was coming by from when they would leave and arrive downtown rather than having to make a phone call or go online.

    Bring back the “Wall of Buses”. Place them where they are not a nuisance. Along First avenue in front of the train station is the best place. Build shelters like they have adjacent to Lewis and Clark High School. Extend First Avenue along the front of the station through to Sprague Avenue. Have a taxi waiting area in the open space in front of the train station. The loopy driveway that was proposed would not have worked.

    Change the “Authority” to a “Service”. We have too many authorities telling us what to do. We need more services to “serve us” instead of the other way around.

  12. “perhaps Washington’s most beautiful city”

    I first saw Spokane in the early 80s during a high-school club conference, and I thought, “This is the most beautiful place on earth.” Riverfront Park and the streets were great for walking in, and lots of old brick buildings. I noticed that Spokane, Tacoma, and Portland had a lot more 19th century brick buildings than Seattle did — to Seattle’s detrement. I liked that Most of Spokane’s businesses and restaurants were local rather than chain stores. I visited a few more times in the late 80s and early 90s. Then I didn’t visit again until 2000, and my impression then was it had gotten a little “too big” and suburbanish. I haven’t been there since then, except passing through on the Empire Builder at midnight, but it’s on my list of places to visit again.

  13. Thus far, my only experience in Spokane was on an Amtrak bus to catch a train to Montana whose Seattle->Spokane segment had been canceled. After exiting the freeway, the bus drove through a fair portion of downtown Spokane on the way to the Amtrak station. The city looked quite run-down and I noticed a lot of panhandlers/homeless people, especially under the freeway bridges.

    Granted, this was 9:00 at night and perhaps things are better during the day, but the trip certainly did not leave me with any desire to go back there – especially when the only regularly scheduled service that gets you there in under 6-7 hours requires paying some $200 to Alaska Airlines.

    1. If it takes you 6-7 hours to drive to Spokane you’ll get a ticket from WSP for going too slow. 4 hours 15 mins. is my average.

  14. I’m from the old suburban Northeast, and it’s been a matter of lore that Providence is the kind of place that’s so attractive to live in now because nobody had the money to destroy it* at any point from the ’20s to the ’60s.

    Is Spokane like that? Enough of it left enough alone to miss out on lots of bad development?

    (* For example the Rt 34 Connector in New Haven, CT, which I’m familiar with. Others abound.)

    1. Providence’s Fox Point community did get destroyed with the construction of I-195, no?

      I have never been to Spokane. Looking only at maps and aerial views, it looks like block size is about the same as New Haven’s, but with a ton more parking lot and not so much university quad. Both of them have walkable downtowns, but more of Spokane looks like it was built at sprawl-scale.

      1. I don’t know that much about Providence, so I’ll take your word about Fox Point.

        If you are in New Haven, try walking from the green to beyond where the old Coliseum used to be, and you’ll run into Rt 34. On the other side, I believe, is the famous Schubert theater. I was told by my aunts and uncles it was a much more “strollable” place before that spur was constructed. And the kicker is that it doesn’t really go anywhere. It was supposed to connect to another multi-lane limited access thing that never got built.

        Thanks for the input re aerial maps.

  15. I just moved here from King County, whose transit system I’ve always loved, a couple years ago. When I drive by the Spokane transit plaza I find it hard to pick out legitimate bus riders from the vagrants and unsavory younger people just “hanging out” there. I am an older woman and would not feel safe getting out my car anywhere near the Plaza, much less changing buses there. The crime rate in Spokane is the highest of any sizable city in the state, with evidence of that being especially apparent in some areas of downtown, such as the Plaza area. A man was knifed to death there just a few months ago. The Plaza concept will never be universally accepted here until Spokane is able to clean up their downtown. I feel for the transit authority. The crime, vagrancy, and loitering are not their fault.

    1. Doesn’t KC Metro have these same problems in the downtown area? In the last year we’ve had incidents like shootings on buses and on train platforms in rush hour. And there are plenty of sketchy people loitering around bus stops. 3rd Ave & Pike has a prety unsavory reputation.

      All the same, the bus system isn’t really unsafe if you exercise some caution.

      1. The knot of sketchy people is more clearly identified with the street corner and the McDonald’s there. The bus stops and DSTT entrance are half a block away on the periphery of the sketchy crowd. Spokane’s situation is they’re centered in the transit plaza so it looks like the plaza itself is a sketch magnet. That’s more similar to Seattle’s downtown parks than to these bus stops.

  16. The phrase “Washington’s most efficient transit agency, the Spokane Transit Authority” was without anything to back the statement up. When I click on the link, it merely takes me to STA’s performance measures page.

    I had to look a-ways before I got to the numbers that the conclusion was being based on, which should have been in the post. It wasn’t passengers per revenue hour, as at 28.92, STA was far behind King County Metro’s 34.51, and an indicator worthy of caveats, such as some agencies serve long distances with commuter service, whereas others are more in-town. In other words, the comparison here don’t merit any conclusion.

    Further back in the report is financial stewardship. Here, STA clocks in with the lowest cost/revenue hour at $115.50. However, the same comment that I used earlier applies here. Some agencies serve a significant amount of commuters via long distances, whereas others do not. Further, I would suspect that labor costs are lower for STA than in the Puget Sound area. This, no doubt, led to the lowest cost per boarding of the group, $3.99 for fixed route, with King County Metro not far behind at $4.58 – and more impressive given the considerable size difference (!!!). However, one has to wonder about whether there’s an error in data retrieval for fixed route given the outlier that’s on that page (Snohomish). Lastly, another factor that is not mentioned: how well – and how much – did the agencies collect in fares to offset their costs? In other words, what was their net cost per (fill in the blank)?

  17. “The people trying to banish transit from downtown do have one big thing going for them, however (and here the story becomes distinctly small-town). The chief opponents of the Plaza, the Cowles family, owns the local newspaper, the Spokesman-Review.”

    “Distinctly small-town”? You weren’t here when the “locally-owned” Seattle Times was basically running regular hit pieces on Sound Transit and doing Kemper Freeman’s bidding, were you? It’s not as direct a conflict of interest, but…

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