Local News

Street performers unwelcome in Spokane skywalks

SPOKANE, Wash. - Spokane's chilly weather has people ducking out of the wind and the cold and into downtown Spokane's skywalk system.

Spokane is only one of three US cities with a skywalk system. Starting in the late 60's, merchants saw the need to protect their customers from Spokane's sometimes unfriendly weather. 

Today, the skywalks connect a dozen downtown blocks in climate controlled comfort where pedestrians can avoid the the slush and single digit wind chills.

Alisha Smithson works downtown and chooses to utilize the protected passageways. “It's more efficient, the streets are quite icy—I've almost slipped and fallen a couple of times—so you avoid that,” Smithson said.

However some members of the public are finding the skywalks less welcoming to them. Street performer Rick Bocook wants in on the warmth and sure footing, but said he was asked to leave the skywalk on at least one occasion.

When Rick and a friend were playing a guitar and harmonica in a skywalk near the parkade, a security guard told them they could not play there.

Bocook said he responded by saying, 'you can't stop me from playing,' but the security guard contended that he could, in fact, ask them to leave claiming that the skywalks were private property.

But Bocook said "no, it's a public right of way.” He thinks he should be able to play music up in the skywalks, just like he can on the sidewalks below.

Bocook asserted that skywalks, some of them built with the public's tax dollars, are extensions of the public sidewalks.

“When the security came up to me, I didn't leave,” said Bocook.

And while Bocook stood his ground because he thinks the law is on his side, other people have been shooed away by security guards because they loitered in a skyway instead of just walking through it.

“I'm just shooting for that we can be up here and do it, ya know, especially in the winter months,” explained Bocook, “[it's] freedom of speech, we're not hurting anybody, we're not blocking any traffic.”

Right now the city's municipal code regulates the skywalks right down to what type of christmas decorations can be painted on the windows, but it is less clear on other things like performances or panhandling.

With more skywalks in the works and more people visiting a renovated downtown, Rick Bocook is hoping the city council will take the time clarify who can use these passageways and what they can do when they're up here.