Second Avenue downtown will be repaved this summer as planned, but the final design may remove one of three vehicle lanes in favor of one for bicycles, city officials say.
Councilmen Richard Rush and Jon Snyder had pushed for a complete revamping of the street’s design, a process that could have delayed the project a year or more.
Instead, City Engineer Mike Taylor said, paving will move ahead, but the final striping of lanes is in flux while engineers decide how to best add a bike lane without increasing car congestion or limiting street parking.
Snyder said he’s halted only temporarily his push for a Second Avenue design that would improve the aesthetics of the streetscape as well as improve pedestrian and bicycle use.
“I was encouraged that we had a really good discussion of it and there was some movement,” Snyder said. “We’d be foolish not to continue to look at that street to see how infrastructure improvements could help us maximize our economic development.”
But Councilman Bob Apple criticized the effort to change the design and called the addition of the bike lane “absolutely ridiculous.”
“There is too much congestion,” Apple said. “It will only mean accidents.”
Taylor said he believes the addition of the bike lane will enhance safety, and construction costs wouldn’t increase much, if at all, because the change only affects striping.
The debate over Second Avenue is part of a growing debate in Spokane over “complete streets.” Earlier this year, the City Council approved a nonbinding resolution expressing support for road projects that better serve pedestrians and bicyclists and that include amenities such as street trees and sidewalks separated from curbs.
The Second Avenue project is expected to cost $2.1 million and will be paid for with a property tax for streets approved by voters in 2004.
Second Avenue is labeled a bike route in the city’s bicycle plan, but the city’s engineering department originally said there wasn’t capacity on the one-way thoroughfare to add a bike lane without increasing traffic backups.
Taylor said a new examination of Second indicated that removing one lane of traffic through much of the downtown in favor of a bike lane won’t lead to extra congestion as long as lanes aren’t removed at the busiest intersections: Division, Browne, Stevens, Washington, Lincoln, Monroe, Maple and Ash streets.
The street design isn’t finalized, he said. Under one concept, the bike lane would become a shared lane with motorists near those intersections, Taylor said.
“There is adequate lane capacity” to add a bike lane, Taylor said. “It’s the intersections that are the congested areas.”
The decision to add a bike lane will add a second major upgrade this summer for bicyclists downtown.
Later this summer, the city will create a downtown bike lane loop, using money from a $619,000 state grant. Besides lanes, several bike racks will be installed along the route, which includes a bike lane on Howard Street from Buckeye Avenue south through Riverfront Park.
“The visibility of a downtown bicycle loop advances our efforts in making Spokane a more bicycle friendly community,” said Dr. Bob Lutz, chairman of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board.
Administrators said it was too late to push for a nontraditional redesign of the avenue like one in New York City that Rush suggested.
“The concept was raised too late in the bid process,” said Mayor Mary Verner. “We certainly want to move our city towards a ‘complete streets’ model. It needs to be done thoughtfully and through a deliberate process of identifying where the best place is to make those investments.”
Lutz praised the city for reconsidering a bike lane. If the final design includes shared lanes at major intersections, the advisory board and city must work to educate drivers and cyclists about the route before it opens, he said.
He noted that only a small green sign currently indicates that the street is a bike route.
“Right now, it’s kind of ‘Good luck’ as a cyclist on Second,” Lutz said.
A bike lane on Second will create a link between the Ben Burr Trail through Spokane’s East Central neighborhood and the Fish Lake Trail west of town, he said.
“If you provide the opportunities, cyclists will take advantage of the facilities,” he said.