July 21, 2011 in Washington Voices

Bicycle-pedestrian plan draws scrutiny

Grassel says proposal is ‘way over the top’
By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Some Spokane Valley City Council members took aim Tuesday at the proposed Bike and Pedestrian Master Program that received a unanimous recommendation of approval from the city’s Planning Commission. People who spoke during the commission’s public hearing were also strongly in favor of the plan.

One of the key parts of the plan is a map of suggested improvements, including bike lanes, trails and sidewalks. “This is a great plan for Portland, Oregon,” said councilwoman Brenda Grassel. “I just find this plan way over the top.”

Only one percent of the population is bicycle riders, she said. “I’m very concerned about the wording in here,” she said. “To me it’s extreme.”

Grassel said she objected to the portion that requires bike racks as part of new development. “That’s already in our regulations,” said senior planner Mike Basinger.

The city held several community workshops and open houses on the plan and many of the improvements included came from the suggestions of residents, Basinger said. “It’s absolutely not a Portland, Oregon, plan,” he said.

Grassel said the city should just put bike lanes on Sprague and Sullivan rather than putting in something like a bike boulevard. “You’re talking about turning a whole street over to bicyclists,” she said.

A bike boulevard is something that can be put in on a street that has fewer than 3,000 cars per day and a speed limit lower than 25 miles per hour. It’s simply designating a road as a preferred bike route, said Basinger. Using the bike boulevards in the plan allowed him to remove 39 miles of bike lanes and 18 miles of shared use paths from a bike map already included in the city’s Comprehensive Plan, he said. “I think we put ourselves in a much more sensible position,” he said. “We really wanted this plan to be affordable and reasonable.”

Identifying a street as a bike boulevard just means labeling it as a good route to ride on, said City Manager Mike Jackson. “It sounds big and fancy,” he said.

“I think this is an example of setting goals and policies without the influence and input of the city council,” Grassel said. “Maybe some of this could have been nipped in the bud to start with.”

Councilman Arne Woodard said he believed the plan would require a business that has only one bicycle commuter to install a shower. “Absolutely not,” said Basinger. The plan recommends a program to “encourage” shower and locker facilities as “tenant benefits.”

Woodard said he was also concerned that the plan would create a mandate for the city to do the bike paths and other features. “That does strap us with some serious financial issues,” he said.

Every single bike lane, path and sidewalk suggested in the plan would have to be approved by the council as part of a construction project, Basinger said. There is no requirement for when anything has to be built. “I don’t think it’s a mandate of any kind,” he said. “Nothing forces us or binds us in this plan.”

Many times the city adds bike lanes or sidewalks as part of road projects funded by grant money. “There are grants available for doing this,” said councilman Bill Gothmann. “Are we going to reject those grants?” Nothing has to be built right away, Gothmann said. “What it means is, we’re prepared should that opportunity come along. If we don’t get the opportunity, we won’t implement the plan.”

Councilman Chuck Hafner said he liked the plan’s focus on putting sidewalks on the streets identified as Safe Routes to School. “I think that first and foremost should be a priority,” he said. “It’s the safety of our community and our people that should be the focus.”

The discussion needs to be about more than bike lanes, said councilman Dean Grafos. “When we’re talking about this plan, we’re also talking about safety,” he said. “It’s not just about bicycles. It’s about safety and schools.”

Jackson emphasized that having the bike lanes and other features in the plan doesn’t mean they’re required. “Sometimes that enhances our ability to get money for the roads,” he said. “It’s not a mandate. It’s a general direction. I’ve seen these plans work over the years.”

“Whenever we talk about grant money, that’s tax dollars,” said Grassel. “It’s still coming from our citizens. We need to be stewards of that money.”

The council asked for another study session to discuss the Bike and Pedestrian plan before deciding whether to advance it to a first reading.

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