Councilman Jon Snyder on how Complete Streets are helping to improve Spokane, WA

Bike lanes in downtown Spokane. Photo by Orin Blomberg, via FlickrBike lanes in downtown Spokane. Photo by Orin Blomberg, via Flickr.

During his first term on the Spokane, WA City Council, Councilman Jon Snyder, a member of Smart Growth America’s Local Leaders Council, experienced a lesson that he has carried with him since. “As a leader, you need to understand the difference between a policy that may take several years to develop, and those that represent a flaw in the system that should be called out and remedied quickly.”

Councilman Snyder worked for two years to pass a Complete Streets ordinance (PDF) in Spokane, a process that took time, perseverance and creativity. Snyder credits a broad coalition of support to the ordinance’s eventual passage in 2011: During the meeting where the City Council approved the ordinance, a diverse group of community members, including representatives from schools, older adults, persons with disabilities, the local farmers’ market, and businesses all spoke in favor of policy adoption.

Snyder realized that Complete Streets, which are prioritized in Spokane’s comprehensive plan, “weren’t a priority in how we fund projects in our transportation system. So, I thought, ‘If it’s all about funding, I’ll find some funding.'” Snyder found a dedicated funding source in the city’s Photo Red program, which monitors and fines drivers who run red lights.

“Street trees, curb bump outs, painted crosswalks, which all calm traffic, also make safer streets, so we began using this source of funding to improve neighborhood streets and advance Complete Streets,” says Snyder. Since Photo Red’s inception in 2008, collisions at monitored intersections have declined and as of 2013, the program has generated nearly $2 million in net revenue.

This revenue is directly reinvested into neighborhood traffic-calming projects through a competitive application process, where neighborhood associations identify traffic-calming projects and then apply for the Photo Red monies.

“The process gives neighborhoods a voice and a reason to participate in local government decisions when there isn’t a crisis. Plus, other City Council members like the results in their neighborhoods, too.”

In 2013, Spokane built new sidewalks and ADA compliant curb ramps on Crestline Street in Spokane’s Southgate neighborhood. “The project made the area 100 percent better,” Snyder explains. And he knows first hand: “I knocked on nearly every door in that neighborhood during the last local election, and asked residents, ‘How’d this work for you?’ People were overwhelmingly happy with it.”

To Snyder, Complete Streets fits into a larger vision to preserve the best parts of Spokane without draining the city’s resources. “Spokane is a really awesome mid-sized city,” he explains. “It has the benefits of a small city—such as lack of congestion—and a big city, such as terrific arts and culture and high-quality education opportunities. Spokane also boasts incredible access to the outdoors, often in downtown-accessible locations. Here anyone can get an idea off the ground and we can recognize the heartfelt efforts of one person.”

“If Spokane wasn’t thoughtful about its growth, though, over the long-term the city could become strapped with delivering services.”

Regardless of the policy or project, Snyder encourages other local leaders “to push the conversation into the public sphere. People don’t always pay attention until an issue comes to a vote; as a local elected leader, it’s important to bring things to a vote, put it out in the open and allow people to question it.”

Complete Streets Local Leaders Council