After a unanimous recommendation by the Planning Commission, the Spokane Valley Bike and Pedestrian Master Program was presented to the City Council on July 19. The plan met stiff resistance. It is apparent from council’s questions and comments there is misunderstanding about what the plan is and what it means to the community.
The BPMP is essentially a vision statement with a prioritized list of bike and pedestrian improvements that should be provided if and when grants are available to fund them. These improvements will make our streets safer for pedestrians, bicyclists and motorists alike.
Council member Brenda Grassel is concerned that it is an over-the-top plan that turns the city into a bikes-only haven, or something. It is not.
The plan does not mandate any specific improvements, it simply recommends them as a guide to future planning. In fact, if adopted into the Comprehensive Plan, it would replace an existing plan that includes many more miles of bike lanes.
One way the BPMP accomplishes its goal with fewer miles of bike lanes is by designating some very low traffic streets, like Valley Way, Fourth Avenue and others as bike boulevards.
Grassel says such a designation hands over the streets to bicycles. It does not. A bike boulevard is simply a preferred bike route that gets signage, street markings, or both. It does not displace automobile traffic. The street markings serve to alert motorists to the presence of bikes and help guide bicyclists.
Grassel also opposes requiring businesses to install bike racks. She incorrectly attributed that requirement to the BPMP. In fact, the BPMP simply recommends continuation of an existing ordinance for new construction, requiring one bike rack for every 25 vehicle parking spaces.
When that was pointed out, she suggested the council look into that requirement. She does not believe businesses should be required to accommodate bicyclists.
If she supports an ordinance that requires businesses to provide automobile parking, then I see no reason it should not also require accommodations for other modes of travel. In fact, businesses should be allowed some flexibility by requiring fewer parking spaces when covered bike parking, bike lockers, or other non-motorized vehicle accommodations, above the minimum requirement, are provided. The community benefits in many ways when more citizens choose to bike or walk. The city should do what it can to encourage that.
The real benefit of the BPMP is making the city more competitive for federal and state grants. By simply having a bike and pedestrian plan, grant providers like the Washington Transportation Improvement Board will score requests for Spokane Valley higher. If the city can get grant money to cover road projects that include bike and pedestrian accommodations, that’s a real win for local taxpayers.
Grassel and council member Arne Woodard argue that grants are taxes, too, and bikes in particular should not receive priority.
The Tranportation Improvement Board is funded with $0.03 per gallon from the state gas tax. The board has no authority to use those funds for anything other than transportation improvement projects. If the city does not compete for those funds, they will be used in other communities. That’s a disservice to local taxpayers.
If Grassel and others want to see that money used differently, they need to first get the $0.03 per gallon redirected elsewhere. As long as those funds are going to be spent on road projects, we should ensure we are in a position to win them for our own community. Scrapping the BPMP makes us less competitive for those funds.
Keep in mind, the BPMP is not just about bikes. There is the entire issue of pedestrian improvements, including the Safe Routes to School initiative. Many bicyclists have made their voices heard in the Valley.
Those who walk or want sidewalks and safe routes for their children to walk should do the same.