By Brad Smith
The Sandpoint City Council made two important decisions about the Highway 2 corridor at its Feb. 1 meeting. The council unanimously approved the purchase of Dub’s. The council also tabled a proposed amendment to the city’s Multimodal Transportation Plan and instead directed staff to hold public workshops so that residents can contribute their own ideas about the future of the corridor and our community.
Both of these decisions could prove pivotal to the future of our quality of life and the ability of city residents to safely bike and walk around town.
Marty and Jeralyn Mire, who have owned Dub’s Drive-In for more than 30 years, recently offered to sell their property at the intersection of Boyer Avenue and Highway 2 to the city. The Mires described the fear they endured in 2011, when the Idaho Department of Transportation released a plan to expand Highway 2 from two to five lanes between Dover and Boyer Avenue. The plan would erase Dub’s and four other Sandpoint businesses from the map.
ITD’s proposal wasn’t just alarming for the Mires but for cyclists and pedestrians as well. ITD’s plan would drastically change the way highway traffic is routed between the intersections of Boyer and Highway 2 and Cedar and Fifth. The section of Fifth Avenue between Pine and Cedar would be converted to a one-way street for northbound highway traffic. Southbound traffic on Fifth Avenue would be routed from Fifth and Cedar to the current intersection of Boyer and Highway 2 through a new two-lane, one-way road constructed where the bike path next to the Granary is currently located.
Residents who were around back then will remember that the proposed southbound road was infamously named “the Curve” because of its shape.
The Curve and the expansion of Highway 2 would also greatly impact the ability of cyclists and pedestrians to safely cross Highway 2 at Oak Street, Boyer Avenue and Michigan Street. Residents of the neighborhoods west and north of the highway cross at Oak Street to get downtown. Cyclists and pedestrians cross at Boyer to get from south Sandpoint to neighborhoods to the north. School kids use the Boyer crossing and the crossing at Michigan Street next to Dairy Depot to get to Washington Elementary, the Middle School and the High School.
While these crossings can definitely be improved, they are much safer than they would be if the Curve is built and the highway is expanded. Over half of the fatalities in the United States in which pedestrians are hit and killed by motorists occur on roads with five or more lanes. Since 2000, two people on foot were hit and killed by motorists in Sandpoint, both on the five-lane section of Fifth Avenue that coincides with Highway 2.
When roads and highways are expanded to four or more lanes, cyclists and pedestrians simply just give up trying to cross them. I grew up in Coeur d’Alene and remember when ITD released plans to expand Highway 95 through Coeur d’Alene from two to four lanes. The department made projections about future traffic volumes on Highway 95 to justify their expansion plans, and when the highway expansion was finished, those traffic volume projections became a self-fulfilling prophecy because the new lanes created more capacity for more cars.
In Sandpoint, there’s no need to accelerate plans for the Curve and expansion of Highway 2. ITD’s projections suggest that traffic volumes on Highway 2 are not expected to reach a threshold that would necessitate expansion until 2050. This gives our community plenty of time to contemplate our future and put forth our own vision. The vision we don’t want would be like Highway 95, which now divides Coeur d’Alene in half, and one almost never sees cyclists or pedestrians attempting to cross it.
That’s why the Sandpoint City Council’s decisions to purchase Dub’s and table the amendment to the Multimodal Transportation Plan should be applauded. The purchase of Dub’s will give the city more bargaining power if ITD decides to resurrect the Curve and its highway expansion plans. Councilor Jason Welker correctly observed that the city’s own Multimodal Transportation Plan, which closely mirrors the plans of ITD, does not put the city in a great position to negotiate. The council’s decision to schedule public workshops also represents an opportunity for Sandpoint to put forth a new vision for the Highway 2 corridor and better position itself for future conversations with ITD. Sandpoint City Council was right to put the brakes on these plans.
Brad Smith is the North Idaho Director of the Idaho Conservation League.
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