Spokane Way-Finding Signage - 2016

A Few Cheap and Easy Ways to Improve Spokane

Urban Tactics —

The suggestions that follow don’t require years of planning and consensus building; they don’t require marshaling millions of tax dollars, fundraising, or special assessments; and they don’t require tax increases, public hearings, and recommendations for approval from civic stakeholders. These are everyday improvements that simply require a few rank and file municipal professionals, a small pot of money, and the will to get it done. Details matter. Unto themselves, none of these suggestions are catalytic. Taken together, however, Spokane changes for the better.


Beautify the Ugly Traffic Islands

You’ve seen them before. They’re all over town. Dozens upon dozens of opportunities to make Spokane more beautiful. Beautification doesn’t need to be complicated, grass and trees will do just fine. One might argue that maintenance poses a significant constraint. After all, once all these traffic islands are beautified, who’s going to pay to take care of them? My response to such an argument is beautiful cities aren’t free. If marginal increases in the city’s landscape maintenance budget are too much of a burden to bear, the city has far bigger problems than figuring out who’s going to mow the grass on its traffic islands.

Maxwell Avenue Traffic Island
These two traffic islands just off Maxwell Avenue would do well with some grass and trees. Ugly and desolate concrete patches like this can be found all over town.
Beautified Traffic Island
On the other hand, about 1/3 of the city’s traffic islands help build place, like this one near Audubon Park.

Hang Cheap and Easy Pedestrian Wayfinding Signage

Sometime around 2010, civic boosters started to collaborate around a way-finding signage strategy for the metro to help tourists navigate to local attractions and event venues. Nearly seven years later, no such signage exists. In 2015, however, we did get a way-finding signage plan out of the deal, which is probably sitting on a couple of shelves around town as we speak (it can also be downloaded here: Spokane Way-Finding Signage Plan). Plans unimplemented are the worst sort.

The Downtown Spokane Partnership made a hap-hazard effort to improve way-finding in 2010. Today, those filthy, worn out, and illegible sidewalk decals can still be found on downtown sidewalks and represent the sum total of Spokane’s way-finding signage campaign.

Spokane Way-Finding Signage - 2016
These filthy, illegible sidewalk decals litter downtown Spokane. I think it’s time to up our game.

What city boosters don’t know is for about 20 bucks a pop downtown and the neighborhoods that surround it can have comprehensive and classy way-finding signage. Thanks to the creative energy of Matt Tomasulo, who launched Walk [Your City] in 2012, you can design you’re own way-finding signs online at the low, low cost of $20 per sign. They’re weather-proofed and ship with special zip-ties to hang them. The good news is we don’t need a five-year planning process or a big bucket of money to achieve results. The signs are so cheap that we can hang them, see what happens, and if we need to revise here and there, we’re only out 20 bucks per sign. Sweet!

All we need is a couple smart tourism professionals sitting in a room deciding what the signs are going to point to and where they should be hung. It takes all of five minutes to design an individual sign. Signs can be in a variety of colors, and you can even track and measure the effectiveness of each sign individually. There’s even signs for bike and transit riders. Here’s an example of a sign that could be hung around Post Street and Sprague Avenue (right outside the Davenports):

Cheap and Easy Wayfinding, Spokane
I think this sign might help tourists find our waterfalls. Imagine what else they could find with a few more signs?

Walk City Image
This image was taken from Walk [Your City]’s home page. At 20 bucks per sign, we could point visitors to attractions in and around downtown.

Purchase and Install Public Use Bicycles

Seattle Public Use Bikes
Public use bicycles are a popular trend these days. We should try it in Spokane. This rack is in downtown Seattle.

Now don’t do that classic Spokane thing whereby you try to argue we’re not big enough for a program like this, or there will be too much loss, vandalism, and damage to the equipment. These bike racks are cheap, easy, and have been tested throughout the nation — so much so that there’s now science around it — and the results are in: public bikes work.

Start-up costs vary upon the number of locations for bicycle rental stations, but roughly $200,000 would be enough to launch a pilot program in Spokane. City Hall or STA can find that money in their couch cushions.

Take Care of the City’s Orphan Boulevards

The city of Spokane has a couple orphaned boulevards that need some tender lovin’ care — the kind that reliable watering and lawn mowing can provide. I’m unsure why these boulevards are not maintained but, whatever the reason, I’m sure it can be overcome with minimal grit and creativity.

35th Ave Blvd Spokane
This boulevard on 35th Avenue between Regal and Havana streets begs for attention.
Driscoll Boulevard, Spokane
This is Driscoll Boulevard. The boulevard itself spans between Wellesley and Rowan. It sure is ugly.

Install Robust Gateway Signage Into Neighborhoods

Audubon-Downriver Gateway Sign
This gateway sign into the Audubon-Downriver Neighborhood at the intersection of Northwest Blvd. and T.J. Meenach Dr. doesn’t exactly command attention, doesn’t create a sense of place, and doesn’t create a sense of entry. Which is to say, this sign doesn’t do a whole lot of anything. (And don’t even get me started on how ugly the traffic island is.)

Gateways into neighborhoods are great at creating a sense of place and reminding the traveler where they are. As I write in Ingredients That Create The Best Neighborhoods, a quality front door counts for a lot. Gateways are great opportunities for signage and beautification.

Rockwood Blvd Gateway Spokane
This old sentinel marks the entrance into the Rockwood neighborhood on the South Hill. Spokane could use a few more creative neighborhood gateways like this.

Plant More Street Trees!

Tree lined streets add so much character to commercial and residential neighborhoods, not to mention all the positive environmental qualities trees bring to an urban environment, that it’s just no-brainer that we should plant more of them. The post Arborescence expands on this subject.

Manito Boulevard Spokane - 2016
Not only is this a well maintained boulevard, but all those street trees sure do add a lot of character to the Manito neighborhood.




Motivation for this post is courtesy of Mike Lydon and Anthony Garcia who recently published the book Tactical Urbanism. It’s first chapter is titled: “Disturbing The Order Of Things,” which immediately captured my attention.