‘As more people begin using bikes to commute to work, there will be a growing need for regular bike routes.”
So said the chairman of the city of Spokane’s Bikeways Planning Committee.
Thirty-eight years ago.
This week – as part of the second annual Bike to Work Week in Spokane – some 1,500 Spokane residents are expected to commute to work on their bicycles, a number that would have staggered local leaders who were having conversations in the 1970s about getting motorists to leave their cars at home.
Indeed, the trails and bike lanes that are part of today’s infrastructure dwarf the 17 miles of North Spokane streets that were designated as bike routes under a 1976 bike route plan – and ridiculed by enthusiasts only three years later as, in one city councilman’s words, “worse than useless.”
With the Centennial Trail as the backbone, a significant network of bike routes is now in place, although connectivity challenges must be met if its usefulness is to be maximized. That, and the city is addressing bike-lane needs where appropriate as it works its way through a list of street improvement projects around the community.
A well-designed cycling blueprint would contribute to Spokane’s livability in terms of the lifestyle options it provides and the fitness and environmental advantages it encourages. So it’s timely the City Council is considering a new bike plan.
The ever-present question of cost can’t be overlooked, especially during an economic downturn. But Spokane has reason to hope it is in the running to be one of 40 communities that may receive $50 million grants to fund so-called SmartRoutes initiatives that promote nonmotorized transportation strategies. If Congress funds the program, the existence of a bike plan and the popularity of biking activities such as Bike to Work Week will be helpful when competing applications are evaluated. It’s also relevant that Spokane was used as the comparison community in a 2005 pilot project for the concept.
Back in 1979, the Spokane City Council was told by city staff that only 69 people used bicycles to go to the Central Business District, to which Councilman Roger Anderson replied that given the state of the city’s bike lanes, a cyclist “would have to have a screw loose” to risk it.
The response to Bike to Work Week is evidence that things have improved – and that the effort is worth it.