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SpokeFest a sign of regional change

New trails, lanes make area more bike-friendly

The 2,200 bicyclists who rode through Spokane during Sunday’s seventh annual SpokeFest are among a growing cadre of riders taking advantage of millions of dollars in investments in busy-street bike lanes, bike trails, trail bridges and other structures across the Inland Northwest.

The spending dates back two decades or more and has brought the hugely popular routes of the Centennial Trail, Fish Lake Trail, John Wayne Trail and Trail of the Coeur d’Alenes, among others.

Work also has been undertaken to mark bicycle routes and create streets that are more conducive to safe bicycle travel and encourage people to pedal to work.

“Gradually, things have gotten a lot better,” said Sally Phillips, a longtime bicycle enthusiast and treasurer of the Spokane Bicycle Club.

She said a key to improvements is developing long-range plans for trails and bike lanes.

“Instead of bikes being kind of an afterthought, they are being included in the discussion,” Phillips said.

But she cautioned that it often takes years for major plans to get funding, frequently through state and federal grants that have local matching amounts such as the pending city proposal to link the Ben Burr trail along the bluff near the East Central neighborhood to the University District and downtown.

The Centennial Trail, conceived in the 1980s to recognize the Washington centennial of statehood in 1989, still has gaps and inadequate portions, though bicyclists now enjoy stunning views along new sections of the trail from Riverfront Park through Kendall Yards.

A trail overpass at Mission Avenue next to Witter Pool, for example, would cost $2.1 million, according to a consultant study.

The Fish Lake Trail has been completed from downtown Spokane to Scribner Road, but construction of two large rail overpasses is still needed at a cost of $5 million. Funding for the Fish Lake Trail would be part of a countywide park levy that might go on the ballot in early 2015.

The vision for the Fish Lake Trail dates back to city purchase of surplus Union Pacific Railroad right of way in 1991. When completed, the trail will connect with the state’s Columbia Plateau Trail on another rail right of way starting near Cheney.

In 2008, the Spokane Regional Transportation Council completed a bicycle master plan that listed completing the Fish Lake Trail as the top priority. The plan calls for bike lanes, bike routes and bicycle crossings among other needed improvements.

One of those on 37th Avenue in south Spokane was completed as part of a reconstruction project from Grand Boulevard to Regal Street.

According to the master plan, “Many cyclists in the community regard Spokane as having some of the most diverse recreation cycling in the country. However, navigating throughout the more urban region is challenging.

“As for commuter cycling, the urban street system was not well thought out or planned in advance for cyclists. In order to develop a mode shift to non-motorized transportation, an identified bicycle network that connects centers throughout the region would be attractive and useful to many cyclists.”

Phillips said the South Hill Coalition of neighborhood councils spent two years planning for a series of transportation improvements, including greenways and bike and pedestrian thoroughfares. The City Council approved the plan in June.

The city’s move toward a “complete streets” concept for transportation, including bike and pedestrian infrastructure, has helped build support for nonmotorized transportation and its link to good health.

The city is also updating its 2008 bicycle master plan to add greater detail on best practices for bicycle mobility, said Louis Meuler, city planner.

He said citizens can comment on an interactive Web map that can be found by searching Google for “Spokane bicycle wiki.”

The proposed Spokane Valley and Millwood Trail is a multiagency effort to develop an abandoned rail grade from Spokane Community College to the Spokane Valley Mall. It’s seen as a useful route for bike commuting, but the trail isn’t currently funded. The cost is estimated at more than $4 million.

Spokane Valley last month launched the second phase of construction of the Appleway Trail, again on an old rail right of way, from University to Pines roads.

That will be followed in 2017 by the segment from Pines to Evergreen roads. A federal grant of $1.6 million is available in 2017 for the $2.7 million project. The city plans to make up the difference with future grants or city funds.

The third and fourth phases of that trail from Evergreen to Corbin roads are planned for the 2018 to 2020 time period at a cost of $4.2 million. Funding hasn’t been landed.

“Spokane Valley and the City Council are very committed to seeing the Appleway Trail completed,” said Steve Worley, senior capital projects engineer.

He said Spokane Valley’s next step in bicycle and pedestrian mobility is to draft a new master plan to create linkages for neighborhoods and businesses to the Appleway Trail.

In 2009, the Kootenai Metropolitan Planning Organization completed an elaborate plan for nonmotorized transportation in its region. The work came after North Idaho opened its Prairie Trail leading north and west from Coeur d’Alene. It is an adjunct to the North Idaho Centennial Trail.

One of the big visions in North Idaho is to extend the North Idaho Centennial Trail from its current eastern terminus at Higgens Point across Fourth of July Pass to the Rose Lake area.

The value of trails as a recreational resource and tourist draw can easily be seen with the popularity of the Route of the Hiawatha trail above the North Fork of the St. Joe River to Lookout Pass. It includes the 1.7-mile St. Paul Pass Tunnel and draws more than 30,000 people each summer.

Here are other big bike and trail projects:

• An extension of the Ben Burr Trail from Liberty Park to the Centennial Trail is planned at a cost of $1.7 million starting next year.

• A fix for a gap in the Centennial Trail west of downtown Spokane from Bridge to Boone avenues was opened this summer.

• Spokane city officials are spending nearly $900,000 for bike lanes and other bike facilities downtown.

• High Drive is getting new bike and pedestrian facilities in a two-year construction project that started this summer.

• A bike and pedestrian bridge over the BNSF Railway at the University District is being planned at a cost of $16 million and is in competition for federal funding.

• The John Wayne Trail on 9 miles of abandoned rail line from Malden to Rosalia is expected to get a usable trail surface and access improvements next year by the state parks department. The state purchased the bulk of the line through Bankruptcy Court in 1981 at a cost of $1.9 million. It’s the former route of the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad, better known as the Milwaukee Road, the same rail line used for the Route of the Hiawatha Trail in North Idaho.


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