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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Does a mile of bike lane really cost $63,500?

Mike Fagan, a Spokane City Councilman who is no fan of bike lanes, has said numerous times at City Hall and on the campaign trail that a mile of bike lanes costs $63,500. 

The number always struck me as wrong, so I finally dug into it to see if Fagan was exaggerating, or if I was just being naive when it comes to the cost of bike infrastructure. 

Well, Fagan's number is not really true, and I am naive - building a road cost A LOT of money.

Claim: "We are laying down a mile of bike lane ($63,350.00 per mile) to accommodate a very small part of the population (in Spokane 1-2%)."

Source: A response from incumbent Councilman Mike Fagan discussing the city’s Complete Streets policy, which states that street planning must consider all users of the road and include amenities for different modes of travel if appropriate.

Truthfulness: Largely untrue, but based in fact.

Analysis: It’s nearly impossible to calculate how much it costs to install a mile of bike lane, and Fagan’s figure is deduced from the entire cost of a road-striping project.

First of all, the city rarely, if ever, puts down just a bike lane. Due to the city's Complete Streets policy, new bike lanes are only installed when a road is slated for a re-build or maintenance. Put differently, a bike lane never initiates road construction. Rather, road construction is designed to include bike amenities, either when it makes sense for a bike lane to be on the road, or if the road is on the city's Master Bike Plan.

Secondly, installing a bike lane requires nothing more than putting paint down on the road. The striping, as putting paint on a street is called, is done as part of an entire project. For instance, the recent work done on the Downtown Bike Network cost about $107,000. That included design, engineering, construction management, traffic control and a little bit extra the city requires called the administrative reserve equaling ten percent of the project’s cost. The price tag also included removing old striping, as well as striping all lanes on the road. Main Avenue got a new buffered bike lane, but it also got new striping for three lanes of vehicle traffic. The project cost about $96,000 per mile. Using Fagan's math, finishing the Downtown Bike Network cost $96,000 per mile of bike lane. Using Fagan's logic, the same could be said of vehicle lanes: A traffic lane costs $96,000 per mile (only in relation to the Downtown Bike Network project).

In short, Fagan’s cost per mile of bike lane is largely inaccurate as it also includes cost per mile of traffic lanes, as well as all other related costs in road-striping projects.

As for the bicycling population statistic, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates for bike commuters line up with Fagan’s figure. In 2013, the League of American Bicyclists estimated that 1.2 percent of workers commuted by bike in Spokane. Of course, that number does not consider the percentage of population who don’t commute to work by bike, but do ride a bike for recreation or pleasure.

Nicholas Deshais
Joined The Spokesman-Review in 2013. He is the urban issues reporter, covering transportation, housing, development and other issues affecting the city. He also writes the Getting There transportation column and The Dirt, a roundup of construction projects, new businesses and expansions. He previously covered Spokane City Hall.

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