Lorie Hutson- Staff writer Spokesman-Review, Feb. 15, 2001 (Web version)
Spokane--Businesses are still stinging from the switch to one-way traffic on Sprague Avenue, but the new Valley couplet does have its fans.
A recent Valley Voice survey found twice as many people who said they liked the new couplet as those who panned the change.
The questionnaire didn't ask any specific questions about Sprague and Appleway, but 65 people said they thought the new road system was among the most positive changes in the Valley. On the other side of the one-way debate, 38 people dubbed the couplet a negative change. In all, 479 people returned the survey.
The results of the survey are not scientific. Most of the people who returned the form had a strong opinion about efforts to incorporate the Valley. And because there were no questions about the new couplet, only the people who were happiest or most concerned about the change mentioned it on the questionnaire.
Dale Hearn drives on the new couplet twice a day commuting between his home in the Valley and his business in downtown Spokane.
"The traffic flows a lot smoother and once people get used to using the couplet, I think it will be easier for them to get to their destinations," he said in an interview this week.
Hearn is a small business owner so he is sympathetic to the stores and shops that have lost business due to the change. He said the overall economic climate in the Spokane area right now is stagnant and that even his downtown business had a slower December than usual.
The road change was a second hit for the businesses along East Sprague Avenue, but Hearn said he expects it won't take long before people start going back to that area.
"I'm hoping as people get used to it business will pick up," he said.
Debbie Poffenberger is one of those shoppers who now avoids East Sprague altogether.
"You see people all the time confused, going the wrong way," she said. "I just have avoided it ever since."
Poffenberger said East Sprague was very busy last year when construction often limited the freeway to one lane. Now that most of the Interstate 90 construction is done there is no congestion on Sprague. In fact, she says, it's often deserted.
If the road needed to be built at all, Poffenberger said county officials should have designed both roads for two-way traffic. That way those who wanted to avoid the business district could use Appleway Boulevard and Sprague would not have changed.
Albert Bair has driven Sprague Avenue for 50 years or more. On his survey he listed the new couplet as one of the most negative changes in the Valley, but since mailing his response he has had a change of heart.
"I think it's just a matter of getting used to it," Bair said this week.
He's happy that the new roadway seems to be moving traffic through the heart of the Valley faster, but he's still critical of some aspects of the change.
Both Appleway and Sprague need better signs, more striping and arrows to direct traffic, he said, and it needs to be extended beyond University Avenue.
"That's a big bottleneck there. I'm surprised there aren't more accidents," he said.
Debbie Rohde uses the couplet about once a week. Traffic moves faster and she has no trouble finding the businesses on East Sprague.
She lauded Spokane County's efforts to find a way to make the Valley more accessible and roads less congested.
"I feel it was an innovative step and it might take people some time to get used to it ... but we definitely need that kind of thinking here in the Valley -- solution-minded people. I think the couplet was just that -a solution."
Tom Sherry disagrees. Traveling on Sprague Avenue is dangerous, he said. "I've had more than a couple close calls," he said.
The reconstruction of Sprague, including new striping and signs, should have been finished before the road was ever opened, he said.
"It seems like there was a rush to get it done last fall," he said. And the road is as ugly as ever.
"There is zero landscaping along that road, and as a landscape architect, that really bothers me," Sherry said.
Others can't wait to see the road extended beyond University Avenue.
"The sooner they extend it the better," said Elroy Schultz, who has lived in the Valley for 30 years.
Time will give the new road system a chance to prove its worth and business will rebound along the Sprague corridor, Schultz predicted.
"It's just one of those things," he said. "A lot of people don't take to change very readily." Lorie Hutson can be reached at 927-2165 or by e-mail at [email protected].
[Dave note to COMM 306 class: Readers were invited to send comments, so you might e-mail Lorie to see what folks had to say.]
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