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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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City benefits as commute miles driven take a dive

The city of Spokane got encouraging recognition this week for curbing wasteful driving practices in the region. That kind of success is a plus for the community’s image, its economic development and, oh yes, its health.

Spokane, one of seven Washington cities designated as growth and transportation efficiency centers, or GTECs, has topped the other six in terms of reducing vehicle miles traveled and the drive-alone rate. Spokane’s goal was to get 1,000 people to convert to alternative transportation modes in the next four years. It took 10 months.

Remember, we’re talking about Spokane, the community that not long ago suffered some of the foulest air in the nation. Twelve years ago this month, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency identified Spokane as one of six American cities with carbon monoxide concentrations above legal allowances, putting us in the company of Los Angeles, Denver and Phoenix.

Spokane’s troubles were due in part to such uncontrollable influences as climate and topography, but the EPA still forced motorists here to burn oxygenated gasoline during the inversion-prone winters. Many drivers bristled under the mandate, but thanks to that and dramatic improvements in automobile engine technology, we’ve been off the list since 2005.

Now that the region’s air is measurably cleaner, keeping it that way is imperative, and Spokane’s generally conservative political attitudes have not prevented the community from pursuing sound environmental goals, as the GTEC report demonstrates.

For more than 15 years, state and local governments have collaborated with businesses and workers to promote transit, walking and biking, and car and van pools while reducing single-occupant vehicles. But because the successful Commute Trip Reduction program focuses on rush-hour commuters employed by large businesses, many people were being excluded.

An expansion approved by the Legislature in 2006 created the GTEC model, which gives local authorities the capacity to reach schools, small businesses, neighborhoods and individuals.

There are always those who cry “socialism!” over efforts to install bike racks and distribute bus passes and otherwise promote alternative transportation methods. But by emphasizing a partnership approach, and by coupling incentives with education, state and local agencies have brought about positive change that most of Spokane has embraced.

For the record, all six of the cities that Spokane bested with its admirable GTEC performance are west of the Cascades.

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