There is a place in downtown Spokane where the bike lane ends.
It’s at Main Avenue and Howard Street, and it’s not the greatest transaction for cyclists. When the light turns green, they either must join a lane of traffic rushing ahead to turn right on Washington, or they must pedal furiously to keep up with four lanes of traffic heading to Division.
This month, that transaction will end as the city lays down new paint, creating a new type of bike lane for Spokane and completing the downtown bike network. Nearly 12 complete blocks along Main and Spokane Falls Boulevard will get new bike lanes, creating a mile-and-a-half loop of dedicated lanes circling the city’s core.
Councilman Jon Snyder, a bike enthusiast, said the loop completion is bounds ahead of where the city was five years ago, but still far from ideal.
“I hate to call it completion of the downtown bike network. I like to call it the start,” he said. “We need cycle tracks. We need to have protected bike lanes. We need to offer more bike parking. There are a lot of additional phases.”
Still, some of the new lanes will bring an innovation the city hasn’t seen before. Part of the loop will feature buffered bike lanes, basically a conventional bike lane with a 3-foot buffer of empty space between cyclists and the traffic lane. More cities are building buffered bike lanes because they create greater distance from cars and safety for riders, allow cyclists to pass each other without encroaching on vehicles and give riders space outside the “door zone” of parked cars.
The work will cost nearly $77,000 and is paid for with funds from the federal Congestion Management and Air Quality program. The work will be done by Road Products Inc. and will begin this month. The company’s bid for the work was half of what city engineers estimated it would be.
Inga Note, a senior traffic planning engineer with the city, said the Spokane Regional Transportation Council will decide how to spend the remaining federal funds.
The bike lanes on Main were originally supposed to go all the way to Division, but business owners near Division lobbied against leaving so many lanes of traffic on their trendy stretch of Main between Bernard and Pine, which has been called Little Portland and the Saranac block.
When the city’s done remaking that street – which could come as early as this fall, said Snyder – it will have just two lanes of traffic and a lane of parking in the middle of the street. The corners of the nearby intersections will bulb out, a common practice city planners used to slow traffic down and create a safer environment for pedestrians. A midblock crosswalk, new trees and more lighting will also be installed, done in conjunction with the Downtown Spokane Partnership.
The City Council designated $100,000 for the redesign, and the city’s parking committee put forth $60,000 in funds generated by parking infractions for the streetscape beautification.
Note said the new design will add up to 25 more parking spaces while keeping enough lanes to support the street’s traffic. Also, midblock parking is not only new to Spokane, but a novel idea in general, though it has been done in Lancaster, California.
“It’s a fairly recent idea for everybody,” Note said. “You don’t find it very often. Actually, this is the only place that is considering doing it on a one-way street. All the others are two-way.”
Such innovation is welcome on the Saranac block.
“We’re super jazzed for it and I’d be surprised if you found somebody that wasn’t. Parking down here is ridiculous,” said Alison Collins, who owns Boots Bakery. “And the street isn’t busy enough to require that many lanes of traffic.”
Snyder said the Main reimagining is part of what he sees as the city getting better at using streets.
“We have a 70-square mile city, and 25 percent is right-of-way,” he said. “Those streets are not working for us on an optimal level. Many of them are not safe, they don’t contribute to our quality of life and they don’t increase our mobility. What we need to be asking is, ‘How can we make these streets work better?’ ”
Now, as Snyder tells it, that work will begin to happen on most of Main downtown, where cars will share the street with bike lanes. On the Saranac block, the street will be a jumble of parking, walkers, bikes and traffic.
Snyder called it “confusing,” which he said was a good thing, and likened it to the lack of clarity on downtown’s cobbled Wall Street.
“With angled midblock parking and two lanes on either side, which is more than we need, the street’s going to be a little confusing, and it will slow people down,” he said. “Lowering the speed, the sense of disruption, is going to create safety for cyclists and pedestrians.”
Not everyone is happy.
Annette Silver, owner of Milliman Jewelers and E-Z Loan across the street from Auntie’s Bookstore, said the plans for the street were “ridiculous.” She said she preferred the traffic lanes to be left to vehicular traffic and was vehemently against the midblock parking.
“It’s an accident looking for a place to happen,” she said. “It’s going to create a traffic nightmare like nobody’s ever seen.”
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