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How rapid is Spokane's rapid transit project?

The Central City Line is coming to Spokane in 2021.

One of Spokane Transit Authority's biggest ongoing projects is the Central City Line.

It's a bus line that will run from Browne's Addition to Spokane Community College, passing through downtown and the university district.

The stops will be, basically, fancier. The buses will be larger and electric.

"It'll look and feel like a streetcar line in another city," said STA spokesman Brandon Rapez-Betty. "But it's more affordable and more flexible."

Construction is slated to begin next year and is expected to open the year after that. That will cause some temporary lane closures along the line throughout 2020.

The construction is funded by state and federal money for rapid transit projects.

Typically, Bus Rapid Transit means that the bus gets its own lane, letting it avoid traffic and making it faster and more reliable.

But the CCL won't be getting its own lane, which raises the question: How will this mode of transit be more rapid than an ordinary bus? What makes this project more than just a bigger bus?

According to the STA, there is a big difference: Faster loading and unloading times at stops.

"When you check out one of these, you'll see that it will have level, all-door boarding. So as the vehicle pulls up, the doors open, people get off on all doors, people get on at all doors, including wheelchairs and bikes, [which will] just roll right on," Rapez-Betty said. "So we're going to reduce the amount of time we're stopped at the stops, and maintain that speed and efficiency."

The all-door boarding is made possible because tickets are pre-paid at the stop, like with most streetcars, rather than on the bus itself.

In addition, live arrival times on monitors at bus stops will help make trip planning easier and more reliable.

Another big difference: Frequency. During peak hours, the CCL will run every 7.5 minutes. That's twice as fast a normal bus line in Spokane, which operates every 15 minutes, according to the STA.

The STA estimates that with its current bus lines, a trip from Browne's Addition to Spokane Community College takes about 35 minutes. On the CCL, they predict that trip will be shortened to 25 minutes. The CCL will also serve as a faster way of moving more people through downtown, the STA says.

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Currently, the project is in the latter portions of the design phase. In early February, they began an online open house. That's a website where Spokane residents can review the project, see exactly how construction and the bus line will affect them, and offer their feedback.

Rapez-Betty says STA is actively taking what they're hearing into account.

"We've shifted stations to one side or the other, we've added amenities, we've reduced amenities, we've changed shelter sizes, really trying to accommodate feedback," he said.

The online open house runs until March 5.

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