October 4, 2010 in City

City analysis notes bike route’s potential for snarled traffic

By The Spokesman-Review
 
Jesse Tinsley photo

Pedestrians cross Second Avenue in downtown Spokane on Friday. Crews may have to wait until next year to put down the arterial’s final layer of pavement.
(Full-size photo)

Removing a lane for cars in favor of one for bicycles along Second Avenue downtown would cause longer traffic backups during rush hour in at least two locations, Spokane officials said last week.

The engineering analysis is part of the growing debate about the future of city street design.

City leaders generally have agreed to install bike lanes along roads when they don’t cause much impact on motorists. If the city’s traffic analysis is correct, moving ahead with a bike lane on Second Avenue would mark a turn by improving travel for bicyclists while potentially lengthening commutes for motorists.

Creation of a bike lane along Second Avenue is on the city’s bicycle plan. Even so, original plans for the reconstruction of the street didn’t include the lane. After lobbying among bicycling advocates, however, City Engineer Mike Taylor said in the spring that he was open to redesigning the street to accommodate a bike lane.

Dr. Bob Lutz, who resigned last month as chairman of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, said the study assumes that traffic volumes will continue to increase. That’s a faulty assumption, he said, because gas prices likely will rise, encouraging more people to drive smaller cars, ride the bus, or bike. The study also doesn’t consider that adding a bike lane may lead more people to ride, he said.

“They don’t factor anything other than vehicle traffic,” Lutz said.

Taylor said the bike lane concept remains under review, but that the analysis indicates it likely would need approval from the Washington Department of Transportation to ensure it wouldn’t cause cars to back up onto Interstate 90, and from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council to check how backups would affect air quality.

Dallas Hawkins, chairman of the Citizens Streets Advisory Commission, said he would discourage installation of a bike lane if it caused an intersection to fail. Besides air pollution and traffic jams, a failed intersection could spark a political backlash against further bike improvements, he said.

“Wouldn’t you find that some motorists would be frustrated if modifications resulted in the failure of an intersection?” Hawkins said.

The city traffic study shows that removing a lane of traffic in favor of a bike lane would worsen traffic enough that during rush hour, the intersection of Second and Monroe would earn a failing grade on a scale widely used by cities and devised by the Institute of Traffic Engineers. Second and Browne would receive a D.

Lutz noted that the traffic analysis shows most intersections would continue receiving B’s or C’s and that Monroe and Second would only earn the failing grade during rush hour. He also said he’s frustrated that removal of some street parking hasn’t been considered more seriously, because it likely would allow the bike lane to be installed without causing car backups.

He said the goal of the final project should be to “move people using multiple modes of transportation.”

“The argument is and continues to be, ‘We are and will continue to focus on moving cars’ ” Lutz said.

Taylor said the city will analyze the possibility of removing parking, but the idea may be opposed by some adjacent businesses.

City Councilman Bob Apple said the city should forget the bike lane on Second and focus instead on plans to install bike lanes on Fourth and Fifth avenues, where traffic is lighter.

“Would you want your teenager riding a bike down a major arterial with semitrucks?” Apple said. “It’s just not safe.”

Apple has been vocal in his opposition to the proposed bike lane. Earlier this year, Apple also opposed a nonbinding resolution advocating construction of “complete streets,” a concept that advocates greater consideration for bicycle and pedestrian use.

In a widely circulated, heated e-mail exchange between Apple and a constituent who supports the bike lanes on Second, Apple said: “I also remember that I work for a whole community and not a select group of rude people I will choose to ignore through the end of my public service term and beyond.”

City Councilman Jon Snyder said adding the bicycle lane on Second would provide an important link between the Ben Burr Trail near Liberty Park and the Fish Lake Trail, which starts near the Sunset Highway and Government Way.

“It’s on the master bike plan, and we should honor the master bike plan,” Snyder said.


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