September 13, 2009 in City

Spokane becoming more of a ‘bike city’

By The Spokesman-Review
J. Bart Rayniak photo

Riders of all ages and abilities started on Spokane Falls Boulevard Sunday for the 2nd annual SpokeFest bicycle ride.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

SpokeFest picks up speed

As participants of the 2009 SpokeFest sped toward the finish line, organizer Bill Bender high-fived happy bicyclists who told him it was a great ride. It was the second year for the event, which drew more than 1,600 participants Sunday, up from 1,200 last year.

The idea for SpokeFest came about when Bender joined Spokane’s bicycle advisory board. “We talked about how to get people more involved in bike riding,” he said, and the idea for a major community bike ride grew out of those conversations.

“We need a bike version, a cycling version of Blooomsday and Hoopfest,” said Chris Siemens, one of the directors of the event.

Cyclists chose from a 21-mile route that started in downtown Spokane, went through Riverside State Park and ended back downtown on Post Street in front of City Hall; and a one-mile course beginners or less-experienced riders could take as many times as they liked through Riverfront Park.

Cyclist Tim Kenagy, a first-time participant, said he learned about the event Saturday night and showed up for the race with his 2-year-old son, Zach, riding in a child seat on the back. “I bet I’d be really fast if I went alone,” he joked.

Kenagy said that Zach always rides with him when he rides his bike once or twice a weekend. “Everyone loves getting passed by a 2-year-old,” he said.

Warren Walker, another first-time participant, said he saw an advertisement for the event at a local bike shop and went online to register. He said it was nice to have the roads closed to ride and was impressed with how clean the trail was at Riverside park. “I’m going to be back every year,” Walker said.

Lisa Leinberger

Lori Arpin sees them riding by constantly near her Hangman Valley home.

“We have so many bicyclists going by – like flocks,” said Arpin, who likes to ride a bike herself. “Every day.”

Kathy Chase has seen something similar flowing uphill past her home on Spokane’s South Adams Street over the past couple of years – even during winter, she said. And the number of people turning out for community bicycling events is growing.

It all adds up to a strong – if non-scientific – impression among bicycling enthusiasts: Spokane is inching its way toward becoming more of a “bike city.”

“The more people do it and the more people talk about it, the more Spokane will embrace it,” said Betsy Lawrence, an English instructor at Spokane Community College who has begun riding to work frequently.

At Spokane’s second SpokeFest on Sunday, turnout topped 1,600, compared with about 1,200 last year. During the first two years of the city’s Bike to Work Week, participation has risen from 952 to 1,472, and organizers hope to attract 1,700 riders in 2010.

Meanwhile, the city has adopted a master plan for biking, with ambitious goals – though no funding – for a citywide network of bike paths and trails. In June, the city brought a new bike and pedestrian coordinator on board.

That coordinator, Grant Wencel, says Spokane is at the point where good planning and good intentions could start turning into practical, on-the-ground changes for bicyclists.

“I like to think there’s … opportunity to get where we want to be,” Wencel said.

Among the projects he is spearheading is a count of bicyclists at key intersections, an effort to quantify the number of bikers in town.

Wencel is also busy writing grant proposals and seeking federal stimulus money for projects that might help create more bike lanes, paths and other facilities.

And some projects are under way, or soon will be. A $2.3 million project to build a paved bike and pedestrian portion of the Fish Lake Trail – funded with federal stimulus dollars and state money – is set to be completed this year. And a $699,000 project to add bike lanes in a 3-mile loop around downtown should begin next year, Wencel said.

Bike enthusiasts point to a wide range of reasons they support two-wheeled travel: it’s good exercise, eliminates pollution, saves money on gas, and eases traffic congestion. Bill Bender, a member of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board and organizer of SpokeFest, said the event is intended to draw cyclists at all levels of ability and fitness, and to encourage them to find ways to fit cycling into their lives.

A longtime cyclist who rides 20 miles most mornings before riding to work as a neurologist, Bender says he’s comfortable riding around Spokane.

“It’s great for me,” he said. “I feel perfectly comfortable riding on streets with traffic and amongst cars.”

But he says he knows that other cyclists are less easy with that.

Arpin, a 53-year-old teacher at Cataldo Catholic School, rides regularly for exercise with her husband, Greg. They’ve gotten more serious about it in the past three years, and spend a lot of time riding around neighborhoods in the city.

Arpin says she’s not always comfortable driving in the midst of downtown traffic and would like to see more bike lanes to make travel around the city easier. She gives Spokane a middling grade on bike-friendliness.

“It’s OK,” she said. “I think we could use some more” bike lanes.

Lawrence said that since she started riding her bike from her South Hill home to work at SCC – and all over town for other reasons – she’s made it a priority to figure out the best routes, avoiding busy streets where bikes aren’t common.

“I think most drivers are very nice and very careful,” she said. “Sometimes, they’re not.”

She said she’s come to enjoy her bike ride to work much more than driving. Her route takes her onto the Centennial Trail, where she can see the river and wildlife.

“It just feels good to not have to drive,” she said.

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