It wasn’t unanimous, and it was against the advice of the city traffic engineers. But the Spokane Valley City Council in a 5-2 vote opted to lower the speed limit on Mission Avenue to 30 mph from 35 mph between Barker and Flora roads on Tuesday night.
The change – which will take place immediately but won’t be readily apparent until signs can be put in place – now completes the overhaul of speed limits on the arterial, which continues through as Indiana Avenue to Sullivan Road via a split couplet and roundabout. Last month, the council agreed to make Indiana Avenue 35 mph (up from 25 mph) east of Sullivan to the couplet and 30 mph to Flora.
This latest revision should be the last stop in a winding road of study sessions and staff reports on the issue, with traffic engineers continuing to maintain the arterial is best suited for its previously posted 35 mph.
According to city traffic studies, the speed limit should be within 5 mph of the 85th percentile speed of 38 mph that most drivers are travelling on Mission Avenue now.
“We’re still recommending 35 mph,” said Neil Kersten, director of Spokane Valley Public Works. “The prevailing speed (of drivers) doesn’t change when we change speed limits.”
Kersten said Mission Avenue is wide and visibility is good in that area, which makes drivers want to go faster. “Artificially lowering” the speed, he said, will result in complaints, frustrated drivers and potentially unsafe conditions if some motorists attempt to pass others they feel are going too slow.
“The best way to change the speed is to change the feel of the road,” Kersten said. That can be done by narrowing the lanes, increased curbing and sidewalks, plus adding landscaped medians. That costs money – which currently isn’t budgeted – but the design work could be OK’d now, he said.
Larry Blanchard told the council he had driven that area for 22 years and that 35 mph made sense for that roadway despite its residential surroundings.
“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” he said.
However, Pete Miller, a resident of the area, said that traffic engineers aren’t giving a complete picture of the situation.
“It’s not just about numbers, it’s about people, neighborhoods and safety,” she said, adding that one driver had been clocked at over 90 mph on Mission Avenue. “Please reduce the speed limit.”
Richard Harmon agreed, adding that it may take an increased police presence to get cars to go slower.
“We need a speed limit to keep them in line,” Harmon said. “If the only way to get them to slow down is by giving them tickets, then, damn it, give them tickets.”
Council Member Bill Gothmann, who voted against the speed-limit change, said he wonders if the city will open itself up to increased liability if the traffic engineers’ advice isn’t heeded.
“If you think a person doing 90 mph through that neighborhood is going to slow down by lowering the speed limit by 5 mph, I don’t know what you’ve been smoking,” Gothmann said. “It won’t happen.”
Council Member Chuck Hafner said it was important to remember the “emotional” element of the affected neighborhood, which could be overlooked by an engineer such as Gothmann or those employed by the city.
“From my point of view, I’m going to listen to what the people are saying,” Hafner said.
Cary Driskell, city attorney, said he believes the council could legally set a 30 mph speed limit that would hold up to a challenge, as there are many factors the council can look at to make its decision – many of which had been discussed.
“It does provide a legal framework to amend the speed limit if that is your choice,” Driskell said.
Deputy Mayor Gary Schimmels joined Gothmann in voting no.
In other news, several spoke to the council on behalf of Valleyfest, which was denied city-collected lodging-tax dollars last month while other groups – some outside the city – received allocations.
Organizers of the annual community event sought $50,000 from the city, which it collects from hotel stays, for marketing purposes to generate tourism. Some members of the council-appointed advisory committee, which recommends who receives funding, have questioned whether or not Valleyfest actually draws attendees from out of town.
Peggy Doering, Valleyfest director, said that the council’s denial sends a message that Spokane Valley does not endorse its own event and has a negative effect on volunteerism and sponsorships.
“We request that you reconsider,” she said.
Gail Bongiovanni noted that Valleyfest does put “heads in beds” and listed several cities where patrons travelled from to attend.
“Valleyfest is no longer a local party,” she said of the 2-decade-old festival, held the third weekend in September.
Pat Leu said the council denial of Valleyfest is a “slap in the face.”
“The community needs it as well as Spokane Valley,” she said.
The City Council is planning a second round lodging-tax dispersals early next year, and Valleyfest organizers can apply again at that time.