May 10, 2009 in City

Council to evaluate new bike plan

Proposal developed over year of meetings
By The Spokesman-Review
 

If you go

The City Council will consider the proposed bike plan at a meeting that starts at 6 p.m. May 18 in the City Council Chambers of City Hall, 808 W. Spokane Falls Blvd.

Many Spokane streets would have more room for bikes under a plan that soon will be considered by the Spokane City Council.

“We talk about being more bike- and pedestrian-friendly as a community,” said Councilman Mike Allen. “This is really the first step if we’re going to be committed to it.”

The Master Bike Plan, developed after a year of public meetings, would replace one that was first created in the 1970s. While there’s no funding attached to it, officials hope having it in place will make it easier to attract grants and more likely that bikes will be considered as planned street construction moves forward.

Councilman Richard Rush was in Washington, D.C., last month, lobbying in support of federal funding for bike projects.

“You get a lot of bang for your buck when it comes to nonmotorized transportation,” Rush said.

Much of the city’s bike plan from the 1970s remains undone.

“Presently, the city of Spokane bikeway network lacks connectivity and is not adequate in terms of providing available facilities that will encourage increased bicycling,” City Plan Commission President Michael Ekins said in a letter to the City Council.

The City Plan Commission recommended approval of the bike plan in a unanimous vote in February.

Spokane Mayor Mary Verner said she “absolutely supports” the plan and added that spending extra on bike amenities will save the city in the long run because more bikes mean fewer cars and less “wear and tear on our streets.”

But while the plan appears to have general support in the City Council, some members have voiced concerns.

Councilman Bob Apple said he believes the report is missing key elements, such as a connection to Beacon Hill, an increasingly popular area for bike trials.

Part of the report “may have to be re-evaluated,” Apple said.

Councilwoman Nancy McLaughlin said she wants to ensure that the plan wouldn’t prioritize funding for bike travel over “filling potholes and maintaining roads.

“I just want to make sure that there is a ton of flexibility in there about how we prioritize our limited resources,” McLaughlin said.

Eve Nelson, senior transportation planner for the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, said bike transportation spending doesn’t necessary conflict with funding aimed at cars.

“The roadway being in good condition is important for all users,” Nelson said. “That’s just as important to a cyclist as it is a driver.”

The SRTC and Spokane Regional Health District have crafted a plan called SmartRoutes that lists bike projects that could be paid for through grants. Among those are improvements to the Centennial Trail and creation of downtown bike lanes.

Nelson said having the city sign off on its bike plan could assist in attracting grants because officials often look for projects that already have support.

A 2007 University of Minnesota study showed that 1.2 percent of workers in Spokane commute to work by bicycle.

Officials say expanding bike lanes and making other improvements to aid biker safety likely would boost that number.

Public Works Director Dave Mandyke said street officials are examining the proposed map of future bike improvements. He said he wants to make sure that roads picked for bike lanes are wide enough to accommodate them.

“I’d rather not see a plan that has things that we cannot build,” Mandyke said.

Nelson said she believes the new biking concept has a better chance of succeeding than the city’s first bike plan.

She pointed to the city’s decision to hire a bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, a planning job that will pay between $52,000 and $63,000 a year. The hiring had been delayed earlier this year because of budget concerns, but the job will be filled soon, Mandyke said.

“There seems to be a lot of public support,” Nelson said. “What has changed is the commitment level of the city.”

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