Two decades stand prime for Spokane cycling.
The first was the 1890s, when Spokane Mayor E.D. Olmsted gave his “hearty approval” for a vast network of bicycle paths to be built throughout the city, paid for by an annual “good roads” tax of $1 per bicycle. Cinder paths proliferated.
The second decade of note is coming to an end.
Much can be said of the 21st century’s teens when it comes to transportation. We saw the Central City Line and North Spokane Corridor get all of their funding. Roundabouts came to the region in a big way. Old roads that used to be busy – East Sprague Avenue and North Monroe Street – were skinny-ed up and given new life. Lime came to town. So did Uber and Lyft.
But the biggest gains came for those on two wheels.
When this decade began, Spokane had 29 miles of bikeways within its city limits. Ten years later, that number has tripled – to more than 96 miles.
The merits of bike lanes versus protected cycle tracks can be debated – and don’t even bother with the topic of “sharrows,” which aren’t included in the total bikeway mileage. Regardless, name any other form of transportation that has seen such growth in Spokane.
This decade saw the expansion of the Centennial Trail through Kendall Yards, a 2-mile extension that immediately became the most popular segment of the 61-mile trail from Nine Mile Falls to Lake Coeur d’Alene.
It also saw the paving in 2016 of the 1.5-mile Ben Burr Trail in Spokane’s East Central neighborhood, creating a much needed connection to one of the city’s poorer areas.
The nexus of the Centennial and Ben Burr trails – the University District Gateway Bridge – was completed in 2018. The bicycle and pedestrian bridge has already spurred significant growth at its south landing on East Sprague Avenue, most obviously with the $60 million, five-story, 159,000-square-foot Catalyst Building.
In 2015, the city built the Addison-Standard bike corridor, a north-south route from near the Division Y that will connect to the Cincinnati Greenway, a route that prioritizes bikes and people that got its funding in 2015 and began construction this year.
High Drive on the South Hill got a shared-use path separated from traffic, bringing the road closer to how it was originally envisioned more than 100 years ago. The section of Sharp Avenue running in front of Gonzaga University lost some vehicular lanes and gained fancy new, pollution-fighting porous bike lanes.
There’s still more – like the work to complete the 3-mile Spokane Gorge Loop trail and the wide, safe path up Sunset Hill on its namesake boulevard and the guerrilla bike lane that headed toward Browne’s Addition. What it all adds up to is steady progress for Spokane bikeways – progress that continued through this year.
In May, after a trip to Copenhagen, incoming City Council President Breean Beggs launched Spokane in Motion, an effort to encourage bicycling in the city. The group of cycling advocates, planners and engineers brought Troels Andersen, a Danish cycling planner, to town to think up new ways to build better and safer cycling infrastructure. That was followed by a daylong workshop, which led to a temporary, “pop-up” protected bike lane being installed in early October on Spokane Falls Boulevard in the University District.
Though the weather didn’t really cooperate for the week, the city collected some interesting data.
Over the course of three days, an automatic bike counter tallied 166 rides in the protected lane, which is also known as a cycle track. A survey done after the lane was taken out found that only 6% of cyclists riders felt “very safe” riding in Spokane normally. But 91% said they felt “safe” or “very safe” in the protected bike lane – an argument for increasing the number of such safe cycling facilities.
The good news is that the city has plans to build a protected bike lane on Riverside Avenue through downtown Spokane. Not everyone is on board with the idea, and incoming Mayor Nadine Woodward expressed skepticism in July.
“Bike lanes are great for those who use them,” she said when asked if she supported protected bike lanes on Riverside. “I would like to see usage counts to gauge actual activity. On some busy arterial, are they worth the space and cost? Our taxpayers deserve the most efficient roads for their money.”
With Woodward and Beggs at the city’s helm, it’s unclear if the 2020s will match the decade we’re leaving behind. If momentum has its way, however, there’s plenty more to come.
This is my last Getting There column. I’ve enjoyed telling the stories of our city’s transportation past, present and future. Happy New Year!