A City Line bus in Spokane
A City Line bus rapid transit coach operated by Spokane Transit Authority at the Spruce and 2nd station adjacent to Coeur d'Alene Park for its inaugural trip. (Photo: SounderBruce, reproduced under a Creative Commons license)

Yes­ter­day, in a blaz­ing July morn­ing, hun­dreds of peo­ple gath­ered in Coeur d’Alene Park with dogs, rid­er pass­ports, back­packs embla­zoned with the STA logo, and neon-col­ored shaved ice to wit­ness the inau­gu­ra­tion of ser­vices for Spokane’s biggest pub­lic tran­sit project in years: the City Line Bus Rapid Tran­sit ser­vice, the first of its kind in Spokane, and even the larg­er Inland Northwest.

The ser­vice is a six-mile long bus rapid tran­sit line that begins in Browne’s Addi­tion, a his­toric neigh­bor­hood near Spokane’s Down­town area, and winds through down­town and the Gon­za­ga Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict, all the way to Spokane Falls Com­mu­ni­ty Col­lege. The route is pro­mot­ed as a form of tran­sit one “doesn’t need a sched­ule for,” because dur­ing peak hours a bus arrives every fif­teen min­utes. (The inter­vals length­en to thir­ty min­utes on Sundays.)

It is the first BRT line in the Inland North­west.

Each City Line stop, illu­mi­nat­ed with local art, fea­tures a screen dis­play­ing the next avail­able bus times, down to the minute. Each bus holds approx­i­mate­ly nine­ty pas­sen­gers, with ded­i­cat­ed sec­tions for those with bicy­cles or mobil­i­ty aids.

And, crit­i­cal­ly, the line fea­tures an all-elec­tric, zero-emis­sion fleet of bus­es that also emit very lit­tle noise pol­lu­tion. (I can con­firm they’re impres­sive­ly quiet!)

Spokane tran­sit offi­cials believe the new BRT line will pos­i­tive­ly influ­ence the city’s econ­o­my and future devel­op­ment. They point to a 2014 eco­nom­ic study, which esti­mates that “over a twen­ty-year peri­od the pro­ject­ed increase to sur­round­ing land and improve­ments val­ues will increase by $175 million.”

The gen­e­sis of the project began in 2005, when the Spokane Tran­sit Author­i­ty (STA) began explor­ing an old pro­pos­al for a revi­tal­ized pub­lic tran­sit sys­tem that resem­bled the street­car mod­els of old Spokane. Orig­i­nal­ly, the idea was to fea­ture an elec­tric trol­ley line in lieu of build­ing a fixed guide­way.

How­ev­er, after con­tem­plat­ing the costs of build­ing street­car tracks, the STA decid­ed in the 2010s to pur­sue build­ing a bus rapid tran­sit line instead, and even­tu­al­ly made it to the con­struc­tion phase.

Despite some eco­nom­ic set­backs and delays, includ­ing the fail­ure of a bal­lot mea­sure in 2015 that would have grant­ed STA more fund­ing and sup­ply chain short­ages dur­ing the pan­dem­ic, the project has moved along. Ear­li­er this year, STA invit­ed the pub­lic to par­tic­i­pate in a sim­u­lat­ed tri­al run to gath­er feed­back. And final­ly, on July 15th, the City Line made its inau­gur­al run!

Spokane cel­e­brat­ed the launch with a mul­ti-stop cel­e­bra­tion fea­tur­ing food, per­for­mances from local bands, games, and, of course, plen­ty of pur­ple City Line-themed sou­venirs and treats. (The author’s favorite were some sug­ar cook­ies from Three Birdies Bak­ery, beau­ti­ful­ly dec­o­rat­ed with images of one of the City Line bus­es.) Rid­ers could par­tic­i­pate in a punch-card game in which they could col­lect a com­memo­ar­a­tive stamp from each tran­sit stop host­ing a cel­e­bra­tion; the first one hun­dred rid­ers to present all five punch­es received a prize.

For those with­out a car, City Line is a real­ly big deal.

The lack of a vehi­cle can be an extra­or­di­nary bar­ri­er to par­tic­i­pat­ing in social and eco­nom­ic life. For those who are dis­abled, sin­gle with chil­dren, elder­ly, low-income, or have legal restric­tions that pre­vent them from obtain­ing a driver’s license, those bar­ri­ers can com­pound. Inad­e­quate pub­lic tran­sit can turn the sim­plest of errands into whole-day affairs… to say noth­ing of the envi­ron­men­tal dam­age America’s over­re­liance on auto­mo­biles has caused.

Port­land, Van­cou­ver B.C., and Seat­tle have all made sig­nif­i­cant invest­ments in rail tran­sit to improve mobil­i­ty in recent years. Port­land’s MAX sys­tem now con­sists of near­ly six­ty miles of track, and Seat­tle’s 1 Line will soon be extend­ed north and south, with a 2 Line also open­ing up to con­nect the Emer­ald City to its east­ern sub­urbs. Spokane has been slow to fol­low suit. But this new City Line sig­ni­fies the Lilac City is ready to join the twen­ty-first cen­tu­ry. City Line will make work­ing, liv­ing, and going to school eas­i­er for tens of thou­sands of Spokane res­i­dents and vis­i­tors – and leav­ing a small­er envi­ron­men­tal foot­print while they’re at it!

For a lim­it­ed time, rid­ers can enjoy rid­ing on the City Line at no cost through the begin­ning of Sep­tem­ber. That’s right, no fares required, just hop on board!

Hope­ful­ly, this will only be the begin­ning of Spokane’s invest­ment in high capac­i­ty tran­sit for sall Con­grat­u­la­tions to STA, their employ­ees, grant fun­ders, and all the con­struc­tion crews who helped make this possible!

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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