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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Getting There: Bikeways are coming to East Sprague

Visitors and dignitaries gather at the south end of the University Gateway Bridge during a ceremonial ribbon cutting in this May 2019 photo. After some consternation between state and local officials, the city of Spokane is set to approve a study that could bring a dedicated bike trail to the south landing of the bridge, linking it with the Ben Burr Trail farther east on East Sprague Avenue. (Jesse Tinsley / The Spokesman-Review)

What started as an idea from a former Spokane City Council member, and turned into a war of words between the state Senate majority leader and the mayor, is inching toward reality.

East Sprague bikeways are coming.

Well before the University District Gateway Bridge was built, Councilman Jon Snyder proposed building a bike trail paralleling the railroad tracks and East Sprague Avenue. The multimodal Snyder had lots of ideas that remain just that, ideas – like the winding paved path through Edwidge Woldson Park to replace the 88-year-old Tiger Trail and his unlikely push to get a trail on the downtown railroad viaduct, from Maple Street to the University District.

But not this one.

Monday night, the Spokane City Council will consider approving a $90,000 study of a bicycle trail connecting the south landing of the University District Gateway Bridge with the Ben Burr Trail to the east. The study will look into various aspects of the trail, including whether or not it’s possible to build, but the city’s charge to Toole Design Group is “very open-ended,” said Spencer Gardner, a locally based transportation planner with Toole who will work on the project.

Toole, a national engineering and planning company specializing in bicycle and pedestrian projects, which will lead the study following council approval, will recommend an alignment for the trail and develop a conceptual design to help determine cost of construction.

Colin Quinn-Hurst, the city’s bicycle and pedestrian planner, said the study is expected to be complete by May 2020. Quinn-Hurst said challenges to build the trail in the area included the many different property owners, including BNSF Railways and Avista, and the difficult topography.

“There are so many questions about the proposed alignment,” Quinn-Hurst said. “The geology is tricky, with all those bluffs right there. There are a lot of challenges. The thought is we take it as far as we can.”

Toole’s Gardner said the off-street trail was the preferred outcome of the study. But if it proves too difficult to build, bike lanes could be built on streets paralleling East Sprague.

“We’ll first look if anything is feasible as an off-street path,” he said. “If we come to a point where that’s just not possible, we’ll look at other options. That only happens if the trail is just not possible.”

Years after Snyder proposed the trail, it was jump-started earlier this year when state Sen. Andy Billig, a Spokane Democrat and majority leader in the state’s upper house, demanded the city develop “an infrastructure plan to provide an east-west safe connection for the increased bike traffic volume on Sprague Avenue and identifying funding for these connection improvements.”

Billig said he’d withhold state funding for Spokane road projects until the city had a plan in place for the Sprague bikeways at the base of the University District bridge. Billig had helped secure $12 million in state funding for the $15.4 million pedestrian and bicycle bridge, and had pushed the city since June 2018 to include bikeways in its plans to rebuild East Sprague Avenue in the vicinity.

Though a conceptual bike trail paralleling the railroad tracks had been in the city’s Bike Master Plan since Snyder proposed the idea, it remained a distant idea. Instead, the city told Billig that bicycle traffic was envisioned “to parallel Sprague on Pacific and First avenues.”

When Billig’s plan to hold up state transportation funding to Spokane was approved by his Senate colleagues, Council President Ben Stuckart took the lead and wrote a letter to Billig saying the city would build an east-west trail near the south landing of the University District Gateway Bridge, install “shared bike route” signs on Sprague and add the trail project to the city’s six-year transportation construction plan. It was signed by Mayor David Condon and city council members, and Billig lifted the block.

During the same legislative session, state Rep. Marcus Riccelli, D-Spokane, set aside $3 million for the Sprague bike trail project, though funding may change depending how the study goes and as the city integrates the project into its short- and long-term construction plans.

The study is paid for with city funding. Four bids for the contract were submitted in early May, and Toole’s was chosen as the best by city staff, a decision that must be approved by council. Toole is behind some significant projects in Seattle, like the city’s first protected bike lane on Second Avenue, as well as the 27-mile Burke-Gilman Trail.

Snyder’s trail, however, would be Toole’s first project in Spokane.

Protected bike lanes yes, sharrows no

Speaking of bicycling, a study published in the June edition of the Journal of Transport and Health found that cities with lots of facilities for cyclists are safer for all road users.

The study, based on 13 years of data collected from 12 large U.S. cities, included information surrounding more than 17,000 fatalities and 77,000 severe injuries. It looked at various types of bike facilities, from sharrows (markings indicating shared lanes for both motorists and cyclists) to protected bike lanes, and found that increasing the prevalence of protected bikeways made a city’s roads safer for everyone.

In an article in Outside magazine about the study, one of its authors, Wesley Marshall, a professor of civil engineering at the University of Colorado at Denver, said there were many factors at play, but “protected bike lanes was the only significant correlation” with improved safety. The gains in safety from protected bike lanes lowered crash and injury rates for all residents, including motorists and pedestrians. Sharrows, one of Spokane’s preferred ways to mark a bike route, were actually less safe than having nothing at all.

Marshall noted that when protected bike lanes are usually constructed, the design includes changes that generally are associated with lower traffic speeds. What that means is even when collisions do occur, they are less likely to kill or injure anyone.

Aside from design, the findings pointed to disparities in safe streets that depended on wealth.

“Here in Denver, if you start down a street in a rich neighborhood and go toward a poor one, the characteristics of the street change,” Marshall told Outside. “Big beautiful trees go away, the bike lanes go away. So there are physical things happening here that these variables (like wealth) are a proxy for.”

Seattle cyclist wins suit

The Seattle Times reported last week that the city of Seattle paid $1.55 million to a bicyclist who sued after being thrown into the path of a Metro bus in May 2015 after his wheel got caught in a 2-inch gap alongside some streetcar tracks.

The man, Daniel Ahrendt, broke his leg and pelvis during the crash on South Jackson Street west of 12th Avenue South. Ahrendt nearly died from blood loss and spent 30 days at Harborview Medical Center.

Moral of the story: beware of buses when riding your bike by streetcars.

In the city

A $1.3 million road, water and sewer project has closed 33rd Avenue from Bernard Street to Lamonte Street. The work will reconstruct pavement, perform a grind and overlay, and replace a sewer main, water distribution main and water transmission main.

Jackson Avenue from Perry Street to Columbus Street is closed until Wednesday, July 24, for pipe rehabilitation work. The following day, Thursday, July 25, the south half of High Drive will be closed from Grand Boulevard to Hatch Street for similar work. Flaggers will direct traffic.

Euclid Avenue between Ralph and Market streets is closed to traffic for a $2.4 million project to relocate and encase water and sewer mains beneath railroad tracks crossing Euclid. The work will also install a new water main under Market Street between Euclid and Bridgeport Avenue, and under Ralph from Euclid to Courtland Avenue. The work is related to construction of the North Spokane Corridor.

Five Mile Road is closed between Lincoln and Strong Road for a $2.7 million project that is completely rebuilding the road. Vehicles are not permitted. A detour is in place, which takes motorists along Johannsen Road and Cedar Street, which connects to Country Homes Boulevard. The pavement restoration project includes the installation of ADA ramps at intersections and crosswalks, replacement of an 18-inch steel water main, installation of swales, trees and pedestrian illumination at Five Mile and Strong Road, and the construction of a roundabout at the intersection of Five Mile and Strong.

Crews are out doing minor chip seal maintenance work at Stonewall and Dakota, in the area bound by Lincoln Road to Vicksburg Avenue and Nevada Street to Antietam Drive; Joseph and Elm, in the area bound by Central to Rowan Avenue and Ash to Belt Street; and Fiske, in the area bound by Ray to Regal Street and 33rd to 36th avenues.

East Sprague Avenue remains closed between Scott and Grant streets. First Avenue is the detour route. The $3.1 million project includes the installation of water, sewer and stormwater utilities, new sidewalks, and roadway reconstruction.

A grind and overlay project on Wellesley Avenue from Nevada to Pittsburg starts Monday.