September 1, 2011 in Washington Voices

Bike paths in Spokane Valley now ‘encouraged’

By The Spokesman-Review
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Economic development funds

 The Spokane Valley City Council also heard presentations from social service agencies who are seeking funding for programs and projects for 2012.

 Every year the city sets aside money to be given to social service agencies and economic development agencies. Last year the city distributed $146,500 to nine agencies. This year the city has $150,000 to distribute.

 A total of 15 agencies have requested $274,000 in funding. The economic development agencies are scheduled to give their presentations to the council on Sept. 6 with a vote on how much to give each agency set for Sept. 27.

 The social service organizations seeking funding and the amounts being requested are: Big Brothers, Big Sisters, $10,136; Coalition of the Responsible Disabled, $2,000; Community Minded Television, $19,456; Greater Spokane Substance Abuse Council, $8,700; Project Access, $25,000; Spokane Valley Partners, $35,000; Spokane Valley Veterans Forum, $2,800; Valley Meals on Wheels, $10,000; and the YWCA, $5,617.

The Spokane Valley City Council had a few encouraging words Tuesday for the proposed Bike and Pedestrian Master Program that they were critical of when they first saw it in July.

The plan sets out goals and policies regarding bike facilities and sidewalks and also includes suggestions of where bike lanes, sidewalks and shared use paths could be added in the future.

Councilman Dean Grafos said he had edited his copy of the goals and policies and suggested replacing words like “increase” and “ensure” with “encourage.” So the first policy to “increase the number of bike lanes, shared use paths and sidewalks” would be changed to “encourage” bike lanes, sidewalks and paths. His suggestion was accepted by his fellow council members.

The changes called for by council members were mostly along the lines of a word here, a phrase there. The changes seemed designed to ensure that the city would not be required to take any action based on what was in the plan. Councilwoman Brenda Grassel said she was happy to see a change that indicated the plan “can” provide direction on where new bike and pedestrian facilities can be put in instead of “shall.” “It doesn’t come across as a mandate,” she said.

Several council members said they favored sidewalks over bike lanes or bike paths, especially sidewalks near schools. “If we’re talking about safety, sidewalks have to be number one,” said Councilman Chuck Hafner.

“Spokane Valley doesn’t have a lot of sidewalks,” said Councilman Arne Woodard. “We don’t even have good curbs.”

Both bike and pedestrian elements are needed, said Mayor Tom Towey. “We tend to focus on the bicycle paths,” he said. “I think the emphasis should be equal.”

Despite their painstaking editing, some council members agreed that the plan is needed. “If we want to get funding for sidewalks, we need some sort of plan to make that happen,” Grafos said. “Just saying no to this is not the proper approach.”

“We definitely need this plan,” Towey said. “We are lacking in some of our facilities for bicycles, especially north and south routes.” The city also inherited its lack of sidewalks from Spokane County, he said.

The council previously expressed concern about the part of the plan that called for bike boulevards, which would involve designating a road as a preferred bike route. “Maybe we could just call it a bike route,” said community development director John Hohman. The term is more “old-fashioned,” but people should still get the idea that it means that the road is good for bike traffic, he said.

No matter what it is called it is a guide to cyclists, Towey said. “I think it’s a good designation.”

Grassel said she preferred that name. “I don’t have a problem with designating it as a safer route,” she said.

Hohman said the intent of the plan was not to create big projects. “The real intent is to provide guidance,” he said. “As projects come up, what facilities should go there?”

The council will give similar line-by-line scrutiny to the rest of the proposed plan during a later council meeting before deciding whether to hold a public hearing on their changes or send it back to the planning commission for a public hearing.

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