Jan 132012
On Pine Street looking south. You can tell these streets will get one more layer of asphalt--look at that sewage access plate sticking up.

The new Martin Luther King, Jr. Way–the name for the extension of Riverside Avenue east of Division–isn’t open yet. So of course no one has ridden a bike on it yet.

Hypothetically speaking, the light skiff of snow that fell in mid-December might have lured some wayward person on a bike to take a right off northbound Division onto the untouched snow. Said hypothetical cyclist might have gloried in the absolute freedom to ride anywhere in the street similar to Spokane Summer Parkways, unfettered by the need to look out for larger vehicles.

This hypothetical bike rider could head east to Sherman, where the new street curves northward to connect with Spokane Falls Boulevard near the WSU Spokane Student Bookstore. That’s currently a four-way stop–someday to have a traffic light, or so I hear. Drivers aren’t expecting any traffic out of a closed street, so obviously if someone were coming from that direction, it would behoove that person to exercise due diligence in navigating the intersection.

Should this same nonexistent person have wanted to try MLK Way the other direction, westbound, it would be wise to note that the street lacks its final lift of asphalt so the sewer access plate projects up a good three inches or more, making the usual right tire track position a bad choice. Of course, with a light skiff of snow this would be pretty obvious so no disaster need occur.

Looking west at the intersection of Martin Luther King, Jr. Way (Riverside west of this point) and Division.

It would be tricky to come out of a closed street and re-enter regular traffic, of course. If this hypothetical rider headed west on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way needed to end up heading eastbound on Sprague two options exist.

The first is to walk the bike across Division as a pedestrian with the light, then get back in the lane, ride to Browne, turn left, go a block, and turn left on Sprague. (I hypothesize that one would want to do this as a pedestrian right now because one would otherwise be riding out of a closed street straight into traffic with drivers who think they have a free left turn and no oncoming traffic.)

If, however, this hypothetical rider wanted to take full advantage of the flexibility a bike allows, switching between vehicle and pedestrian modes, a great route might present itself that’s far easier than dealing with the one-way street issues and car commuter traffic.

This is the signage you'll see on the right (east) side of the street just after you come under the railroad tracks at Sprague heading northbound on Division. This will be a nice little public plaza when it's finished.

At the intersection of the new street and Division, where traffic barriers prevent cars from continuing east on Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, someone on a bike could get off the bike and use the sidewalk as a pedestrian to walk a tiny half-block south. (The lack of the final layer of asphalt would mean a steep lip between the sidewalk and the street surface, so someone who can’t execute a bunny hop to jump the bike up onto the sidewalk really does need to walk as a pedestrian, which is safer on sidewalks anyway.)

Using the WALK signal to navigate as a southbound pedestrian through the dark and narrow intersection of Sprague and Division, with the light enabling the one-way northbound traffic on Division, the hypothetical cyclist could easily turn the bike onto Sprague, get back on, and pedal eastward, knowing that no traffic would be coming from behind until after the light changed so the rider would have a couple of blocks’ head start and could choose whether to stay on Sprague or drop one block south to use First, with its lower volume of traffic. (Traffic on Division that wants to head east on Sprague has its own lane for their right turn so they shouldn’t interfere with this little maneuver in the lane, which is not something I’d recommend at most regular four-way intersections.)

The bike advantage: Instead of having to loop around the one-way streets, just take to the sidewalk (the University District signage above is to the left of this photo), then get back into the street to head eastbound on Sprague. Drivers can't change modes the way we can.

Thus Martin Luther King, Jr. Way, with its complete streets design of sidewalks, planting strips, and lanes where bike lanes will be striped when the street is finished in spring 2012 might represent some stellar virgin riding along the south edge of the Riverpoint Campus with no cars to contend with. So pleasant, in fact, that this little experiment could have been repeated multiple times in both directions long after that tiny bit of snow melted.

Hypothetically, that is.

Sharing is karma--pass it along!

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