Sara Stime bikes to work every now and again.
A couple of days a week, she throws her bike in her car and drives down Sunset Hill to Browne’s Addition, where she parks. After unloading her bike, it’s a quick ride to Atticus, the downtown Spokane coffee shop where she works.
“I don’t have to pay for parking, and I love it,” Stime, 26, said of the ride.
Her opinion of how things are for cyclists rolling through downtown: “Pretty terrible.”
But by the end of summer, her ride should be a whole lot easier.
The Spokane City Council accepted a bid of almost $400,000 Monday to complete the Downtown Bicycle Network, which includes 6 miles of new routes for cyclists in the city’s core. The project will be done by Red Diamond Construction and is paid for with federal funding, primarily a Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement grant from the Federal Highway Administration.
The goal of the new loop is to keep people coming downtown – just not in their cars, especially if they’re traveling alone.
“There are so many vehicles coming downtown,” said Grant Wencel, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian coordinator. “I hope we can make a dent in that and have people feel safe biking on the busy streets.”
Construction is expected to begin soon and will include such “hard improvements” as shifting curbs along Fourth Avenue and building a separated bike lane near Fourth Avenue and Browne Street. Bike lanes will be striped along portions of Second, Fourth and Fifth avenues, as well as on Sherman Street and Riverside Avenue. Signs directing bike traffic will be installed in various spots downtown.
The completion of the downtown network is just the first step toward enacting the city’s Master Bike Plan, which was adopted as part of the City Comprehensive Plan in 2009.
“The idea was let’s start on the core and move forward as money and time allows,” said Steve Hansen, the city’s senior engineer working on the project.
But the plan to build the downtown loop hasn’t come without detractors.
In 2010, the city was looking at bike lanes along Second through all of downtown, a route recommended by the bike plan to help connect the Ben Burr and Fish Lake trails.
After an engineering analysis showed that the bike lane would cause rush-hour traffic jams, Bob Apple, who was on the City Council at the time, spoke out strongly against the route and the bike lanes were scuttled.
Still, in keeping with the master plan, a bike route will be established along Second, but there will not be a bike lane after Division, just directional signs pointing to the Fish Lake and Centennial trails.
The new routes will join two other projects that Wencel said will markedly change the condition of cycling downtown. The Centennial Trail is being extended through Kendall Yards on the north side of the river, connecting Riverfront Park to North Summit Boulevard. Also, the Ben Burr Trail near Liberty Park will be lengthened to connect with the Centennial Trail.
“It’s a building journey for us,” Wencel said, noting that Spokane was named a Bicycle Friendly City by the League of American Cyclists. “Other cities may be at the turning point of becoming (a bike mecca). Here, we’re just building, building, building.”
In the meantime, Wencel said he hopes the new route will get more people out of their cars and onto the saddle, if just for a jaunt downtown.
“We need more bicyclists on the street to encourage even more people to get out there,” Wencel said.