Bicycle commuter Vern Nosal wasn’t letting last week’s ice and cold keep him down.
He was enjoying his day off with a trip to the downtown Spokane library, his bike locked to the rack out front.
“If there’s a little bit of snow and ice on the road, it’s not a problem,” he said. “If there is 4 to 6 inches, it’s not very safe.”
As the snow and ice retreated from city streets last week, bicycle riders like Nosal began reappearing.
Weather notwithstanding, bicyclists are becoming a growing presence on city streets, which is why riders and city officials are working together on a new plan to improve routes and safety.
On Jan. 28, the Spokane Plan Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing on a master bike plan update. The commission is expected to forward the plan to the City Council in late February or March.
Last week, council members were briefed on the importance of developing a network of trails and bike lanes to make bicycle riding safer and more convenient.
Phil Miller, a bicycle route consultant for the city of Seattle, told council members that Spokane has “great bones” for a bicycle network with its existing Centennial Trail and other nonmotorized paths.
While only about 4 percent of residents in Seattle commute by bicycle, they account for nearly 1.5 million trips a year, and those trips reduce the number of vehicles on city streets, Miller said.
In Spokane, bicycles represent about 0.8 percent of all commuters.
Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin asked whether spending money on bicycle routes is cost-effective considering the relatively small number of riders.
Miller said the potential for encouraging bicycle commuting can’t be reached without improving routes and safety. “You’ve got to take away barriers first,” he said. “It’s fitness and transportation. People do like to ride a bike.”
Bicycle Advisory Board Chairman Bob Lutz said the city of Spokane may be able to compete for federal transportation money that could be targeted for enhancing bicycle routes starting in 2010.
Government officials and bicycle enthusiasts are working on a campaign to have Spokane chosen as one of 40 communities where federal funds would be used to build and expand bicycle routes.
Building a bicycle connection between the Ben Burr Trail at Liberty Park and the Centennial Trail in the downtown area is one proposal under the new plan. Completing a bike trail between west Spokane and Fish Lake near Cheney on an old rail bed is another.
New bicycle boulevards on residential streets could create safer commuting routes for bicyclists. Designated bike and shared auto/bike lanes would be marked around the city.
Other proposals include bike routes on the uphill segment of Five Mile Road; Belt Street north of Northwest Boulevard; Astor Street in the Logan Neighborhood; and Regal Street in Hillyard. A switchback bike path through Pioneer Park along Ben Garnett Way could help riders get up the South Hill.
Creating more separation between bicycles and vehicles is part of the plan.
“Safety is really a big issue out there on the road,” Nosal said.
Motorists, however, seemed amused to see him on his bike last week. “They get a kick out of it,” he said.
Breaking down berms
Spokane city plows this week are expected to continue carving away at snow berms that are blocking travel lanes on major arterials, including North Division Street. They have been spreading the snow back into the street and applying liquid deicer. Vehicle tires then agitate the mixture, turning it to slush and water.