central city line

[This is the first in a promised series covering Spokane Moving Forward, the Spokane Transit Authority’s proposed ten-year plan to improve transit in the Spokane region, which will go to an areawide ballot in April.]

Enter Spokane as a visitor, and the the first place you’re probably going is downtown, to the shops, businesses, or restaurants, or to the spectacular and rightfully well-known Riverfront Park. If you’re a tourist, and you’ve done your homework, you might head next to Browne’s addition, which is a place of delightful parks, restored Victorian mansions and boarding-houses, and small, but lively restaurants; a neighborhood which feels very like the historic streetcar suburbia of inner-east Portland.

Speaking of homework, if you’re neither a resident nor a tourist, where in Spokane are you probably going? Probably to school, perhaps at Gonzaga University, perhaps in the University District — a budding, multi-college effort to build an urban campus just to the east of downtown — or maybe at Spokane Community College. All these walkable city destinations lie like a string of pearls centered on downtown Spokane, and ask to be joined together by high-quality transit service. Fortunately, STA has an idea to provide just that.

The product of studies going back at least fifteen years, the Central City Line is a proposed five mile, east-west route, which would connect all of these destinations with electric transit, operating at high frequency (10-15 minutes) throughout its span of service. After an alternatives analysis which contemplated several kinds of vehicle, STA has narrowed the possibilities down to three: electric trolleybus on fixed overhead wires (just like Seattle); ultracapacitor buses which would recharge at fast-charging stations on the route; and dual mode trolleybus/battery operation.

Early concepts for this corridor placed its east end at the north edge of Gonzaga’s campus, but last July, as part of its preparation for applying for Federal Transit Administration money, the STA board chose a Locally Preferred Alternative which extends down Mission Ave to Spokane Community College. The rapid evolution of off-wire electric bus technology is probably crucial to the inclusion of Spokane Community College, as the extension down Mission to the Community College adds two miles to the original three-mile route, and entails crossing a freight railroad and a long road bridge, both of which would add complexity and cost to the project if it were done with overhead wire.

I don’t have much to say about this project beyond that it seems like a great idea, and I hope it gets built as soon as possible. My only minor gripes about it are (a) that its legibility in the city center will likely be compromised by downtown Spokane’s (totally counterproductive but seemingly unassailable) 1970s-era system of one-way streets, and (b) the neighborhood along Mission Ave, which surrounds the extension to SCC, is rather low density for a place that will be getting the best transit service for hundreds of miles around, and as far as I can tell, there’s no plan to rezone it.

You can read all about the Central City Line at its page on the Spokane Moving Forward website. The “Supportive Materials” section, in particular, contains almost all the information you could possibly want to know about the proposed alignment. Next post, we’ll talk about STA’s plans for the western inter-city corridor, along I-90 from Spokane to Cheney.

12 Replies to “Spokane Moving Forward: The Central City Line”

  1. Really excellent that there’s that much progress anywhere east of the Cascades. But also shows the hundred percent connection between local progress and an good local economy.

    Which is also the hundred percent necessity for electing anybody but a reactionary fossil to any level of government- for transit’s purposes, State government. And also reason for its present majority composition.

    It seems to me that a major part of achieving the State support which our own region’s transit desperately needs, is to see what our reps can do to see to it that Spokane’s economic progress can be spread wider east of the mountains.

    Good precedent: In the 1850’s, Congress decreed that the people of the Kansas territory would themselves decide whether their new state was going to have slavery or not.

    Naturally, surrounding slave-holding territory sent militia into Kansas to advance their cause. But so did anti-slavery places like New England. Whose forces won this pre-Civil War civil war. Which helped the Union win the next one.

    Nobody remembers how to shoot a percussion rifle from horseback anymore, so we’re talking ideas, investment money, and political organization from over here to make the rest of over there more like Spokane.

    The kind of place young voting age people run away to, not from. Fact that, like in Kansas, current anti transit State politicians will chew their own faces off with fury over this intervention- which for our purposes can’t make them any worse, can it?

    Considering how much money and effort it took to create the State of Washington, and how little chance a breakup has, isn’t it better to use the very wealth and power our enemies hate us for to take them at their word and take them over?

    Mark Dublin

  2. Not really surprised nobody else commented. My own State representative turned sort of sheet white when I told her it would be a good idea and also fully justified retaliation for those of us in the western part of Washington to start assisting the forces of freedom in the Captive Counties.

    Have also been told by young refugees that they’d rather shoot themselves than return and repoliticize the places they fled from. But the worst terror is doubtless in Idaho, where the beautiful town of Coeur’d’Alene would be overrun with secessionist militia from places in Washington that hate both transit and Seattle.

    Honest. I didn’t mean to frighten anybody. Nobody is going to be forced to go there. Including my former representative. Until the ideas and investment have created an atmosphere like the one in Spokane- a place which proves that such things are possible.

    Also just this minute checked out the Davenport Hotel online. Where I got a badly needed hot fudge Sunday as I drove through on a gloomy November day in 1974. Looks like it’s been renovated.

    But anyhow, really have learned my lesson. Bruce’s wonderful posting really deserves more than one commenter especially if it’s me. So if everybody will come back from hiding on the other side of the Olympic Mountains, I promise never to advocate that anyone go to eastern Washington. Except Spokane.


    1. I stayed at the Davenport my first time in Spokane in the early 80s. At the time the group leaders said, “Explore the hotel; it’s historic and it’s about to close.” but I being a clueless high schooler didn’t. Then it closed and I thought I’d lost my chance forever, but several years later it reopened. I haven’t been back since but I intend to visit this spring or summer and stay at the Davenport.

      1. Walked by it a couple of weeks ago–didn’t go in but it looked nice from the outside. It seems as though there is some economic activity in that area of downtown/West Downtown. There are a lot of car dealerships and parking lots, but also some decent bones in the form of brick buildings from Spokane’s heyday 100 years ago as the meeting point of several transcontinental rail lines. Browne’s Addition, to the west, is also a pleasant old neighborhood with big old trees and decent houses. If you take the bus from the airport into town, you’ll go through both Browns and West Downtown.

        As I mentioned in the earlier Spokane thread, I really like the place and think it has potential. Spokane should be positioning itself to ride the economic wave of Western WA, rather than aligning themselves with the reactionary forces on that side of the state. Perhaps they can be a driving force in de-politicizing transit, which really should not be a left/right issue. Unfortunately I made the mistake while there of reading the local business journal, which had a nice article about highway construction that was chock-full of tired anti-Western WA screeds– “we need at least as much money because our weather is worse!” The state DOT guy interviewed agreed with all of that, though he did state that Western WA’s need was more transit than roads. Maybe there is hope.

  3. Spokane does seem a manageable enough city, with historic density patterns arranged in a logical and linear enough fashion, that this single 10-minute connective line will be miraculous for car-free residents and curious visitors alike.

    Browne Addition looks adorable! That is just the kind of downtown-adjacent lesson in historical contrasts that can be so enlightening to wander in Portland or Vancouver, but so difficult either to locate or to reach in the majority of American cities with nothing but lifeline or commuter-oriented transit. The neighborhood seems tiny, though, so I am curious whether transit at headways better than any corridor in the entirety of Seattle will be well enough used to be justified.

    I am also curious how transit in neighborhoods north of the river, which appears to be arrayed more regularly and at higher density than southern or eastern Spokane, will relate to the new horizontal spine. Will this be the beginning of a move toward a gridded system, where land use is amenable? Or will all buses continue in perpetuity to converge on the downtown transit center, even where that entails some amount of redundancy?

    1. That’s not even unusual in the slightest. In fact, that’s mild compared to many American cities.

    2. If it makes you feel any better, that large block bordered by Washington, Spokane Falls, Bernard and Main is now a giant hotel with a giant parking garage, built by the owner of the Davenport. Still, there’s a ton of surface parking here.

  4. Ultracaps aren’t commercially ready. I hope they go with overhead or overhead/battery combo, both of which are quite mature technologies.

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