April 28, 2008 in City

Area commuters consuming less gas; more choosing bus

Thomas Clouse Staff writer
 

Input opportunities

“Spokane City officials will host the last of three open houses Tuesday to take public input on an update of the city’s Master Bike Plan. The open house will take place from 6-8 p.m. at the Northeast Community Center, 4001 N. Cook St.

“The state Department of Transportation is also seeking public input on its Washington State Bicycle Facilities and Pedestrian Walkways Plan. A draft is available for review at www.wsdot.wa.gov/bike/bike_plan.htm. Comments can be submitted at the Web site or at this toll-free number: 1-866-375-6729.

Recent evidence shows commuters in the Inland Northwest have begun to change how they get to work as they face record gas prices.

With the price of regular unleaded averaging $3.61 in Spokane, according to AAA, the Spokane Transit Authority continues to gain riders on top of a 22 percent increase in bus ridership in the past two years.

“That coincides with the highest gas prices. There is more at play than just gas prices, but I think those are a factor,” said Molly Myers, spokeswoman for STA.

A study by the Sightline Institute in Seattle shows that residents of Washington, Oregon and Idaho cut back on gasoline consumption by 11 percent from 1999 to 2007.

“This is good news for the climate, our health and our pocketbooks,” said research director Clark Williams-Derry.

Williams-Derry pointed out in the report that the decline is like having every driver in those three states take an annual five-week hiatus from using their cars.

“We’re buying more efficient vehicles, driving a bit less and using transit more often,” he said in a press release.

That information seems to be confirmed by STA, which is tripling the national average for the growth in use of transit systems, Myers said.

Between January and the end of March 2007, an average of 33,338 riders per week used the STA. During that same period this year, the average was 37,210 per week.

“And our ridership from 2004 to 2008 is up 25 percent,” Myers said. “I honestly feel there is a greater awareness to each of our contributions to the carbon dioxide issues.”

The STA’s newest addition, the North Express buses, have become such a success that transit officials have had to negotiate with Spokane County to find more parking space at the Hastings Park and Ride, near the intersection of U.S. 395 and Hastings Road.

“We can get folks downtown in 25 minutes,” she said. “That is literally comparable to what they can do in their own cars.”

Bike to Work Week

The city has had a huge response to previous Master Bike Plan meetings, giving hope to organizers of this year’s Bike to Work Week, which runs May 12-16.

Barb Chamberlain, chairwoman of the volunteer Bike to Work Spokane committee, is a bicycle commuter who rode every day until the end of December when big snowfalls chased her onto the bus.

“Every picture of a cyclist wheeling past a sign that says $3.47 a gallon makes the point,” Chamberlain said.

More than 200 people have registered online at www.biketoworkspokane.org and received free T-shirts. Those shirts will be given away to the first 300 participants who register, Chamberlain said.

The goal is simply to get commuters to try a bicycle. Chamberlain quoted information from AAA that shows it costs $7,800 a year to operate a car, on average. In comparison, the average commuter pays $120 to operate a bicycle.

More information about Bike to Work Week is at www.biketoworkspokane.org.

Safety week kicks off

The 10th annual Traffic Awareness and Pedestrian Safety Week started Saturday and will run through next Sunday.

Drivers will be encouraged to slow down and obey neighborhood speed limits, city spokeswoman Marlene Feist said in a press release.

“Special this year will be a tree planting ceremony in the Red Wagon area of Riverfront Park,” Feist said. “The tree will be planted in honor of all pedestrians who have been hit or killed in traffic accidents.”

Nancy MacKerrow, whose daughter died after being struck by a car, will introduce the event at 6:30 a.m. Tuesday. Visitors will be able to write messages that will be placed on the tree.

Spokane police will conduct a speed emphasis patrol in the Garland Business District during the week, Feist said in a press release.

To participate or get more information, contact Gail Prosser, of the city’s Pedestrian, Transportation and Traffic Committee, at (509) 456-7588.

New traffic obstruction

Starting today, crews will begin work on State Route 290, also known as Trent Road, where it intersects Starr Road near Newman Lake.

Crews will install a turn lane from westbound SR 290 onto northbound Starr Road.

Studs be gone

Hey, Idahoans, think of what $57 can buy. A tank of gas for a minivan. Fishing licenses for two. A night on the town.

So don’t blow it by getting caught driving with studded tires after Wednesday. Starting May 1 they’re illegal for five months.

And if you’ve been driving with studs in Washington, you’ve risked a $124 ticket, even if your car has Idaho plates. That’s enough to fill the tank, even on a pickup.


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