Spokane is in a great position to build out a world-class bicycle infrastructure.
In the last couple years, I’ve felt that Spokane is at a crossroads with regard to how we plan (or not) our future. The do-nothing, status quo approach to urban and suburban planning will provide us with a landscape familiar to most: miles of strip malls filled with the same corporate big box stores; huge freeways and high-speed, mutli-lane roads cutting through new development; and generally an environment optimized to move cars as quickly as possible. The alternative approach is active planning: specifically, active planning around human scale environments that encourage people to walk and ride a bicycle.
In my mind, the recent election was a strong statement for active planning. Mary Verner, who was welcomed into her new mayoral role by a Salish-speaking woman and a ceremonious drum circle composed of members of the Spokane tribe, is hardly status quo for a traditionally conservative Spokane electorate. Richard Rush, everyday cyclist and the winner of Position 1 in Council District 2, won his seat in part, by promising to honor and implement the comprehensive plan.
The fact that these two folks won tells me that citizens in Spokane have made a very deliberate choice about the kind of future we want for our community. We have chosen the candidates that will preserve and enhance our already great quality of life.
As a member of the Bicycle Advisory Board, I am thrilled that these two got elected. I am bullish on the bike future of Spokane.
The Bicycle Advisory Board is a nine-member, citizen-volunteer committee with members appointed by the mayor. Our primary job is to advise the city on bike-related matters. I should also mention that the opinions I am throwing out here are my opinions and not necessarily those of the BAB.
Joining the BAB about a year and a half ago, it became obvious after I read the comprehensive plan and compared other bike cities to Spokane: we have a great comprehensive plan for the city, but it does not contain a master bike plan. Cities with great bike infrastructures don’t just happen. It takes a master bike plan that is baked into the city’s overall comprehensive plan and has buy-in from citizens, politicians, businesses, and cyclists.
All members of the BAB came to the same conclusion and our number one priority became building a master bike plan. In the following months we petitioned the city to provide staff to help us build a plan. A few months ago, we got the staffing. Another BAB member wrote a grant and secured about $10,000 and some technical assistance from the National Park Service through a grant to help build the plan. We have established a Master Bike Plan committee that includes city staff, citizens, county interests, city police, neighborhood interests and others. The MBP committee is now actively working on building out a preliminary bike transportation grid. The next step is to shop the grid around and get input from neighborhoods and citizens. Although it has taken some time, we are now on our way.
Ironically, the fact that Spokane has come late to the bike party (and it has; comparable cities such as Boulder, Minneapolis, and Boise have master bike plans or equivalent plans) may work to our benefit as we plan out a bicycle infrastructure. Looking to cities that have been building bicycle amenities for many years, we can learn from both their mistakes and their victories.
We can look at the unique needs, geography, and demographics of Spokane and choose from a wide variety of proven designs to build out a bicycle transportation network.
For example, until recently I thought of bike amenities as bike lanes and bike paths, where a bike lane is the striped lane near or on the shoulder of the road. And bike path, or multiuse path, is where a path dedicated to non-motorized traffic keeps bikes and cars off the same road. Much of the Centennial Trail is a “bike path.”
In addition to these options, there are a couple new concepts that I love: the sharrow and the bike boulevard.
A sharrow is an arrow with a cyclist painted in the right wheel-well of the roadway. The intended user of sharrows are more experienced cyclists who tend to ride in traffic already. Sharrows are easy to visualize with an example. Think of riding up Howard St from Riverfront Park to Lewis and Clark High school on 4th Avenue. This is a critical connection for many commuting cyclists today and removing parking for a bike lane on Howard is just not an option. However, painting sharrows on this stretch of road is a visual indication that bikes belong. Painted in the street, away from swinging car doors, sharrows provide a path for cyclists to follow through urban streets.
Bike boulevards should really be called “bike arterials.” A bike boulevard is a non-arterial street that is designed to discourage car use. The purpose of a bike boulevard is to provide, essentially, a multiuse path through neighborhoods; its intended users are children and folks that might not otherwise ride a bike on city streets. Design elements that discourage car use include speed bumps (with bicycle cut aways), restricted entrances from arterials, narrowed streets, decreased speed limits, and huge painted bicycle signage on the streets. Car parking and driving is permitted on bike boulevards, but travel is optimized for bikes. In cities where bike boulevards have been used, property values along the boulevards increases.
At the moment, the Master Bike Plan committee is working on a basic bike transportation grid. Filling in the grid with specific amenities (sharrows, lanes, paths, boulevards, etc) will begin happening as we talk to neighborhoods and get feedback. The first phase of implementation will likely be the creation of the routes, marked by specific route signs to help guide citizens and visitors to specific centers and corridors. After routes are established, we’ll see “lines and signs” going down. This process will take years. In fact, we’ll always be working on bike infrastructure in Spokane, but the fact that we are actively working on a plan with an administration that is excited about future potential is a great way to kick off the new year.
John Speare grew up in Spokane and rides his bike everywhere. He wants you to ride your bike too. Help build the plan. Citizen input is essential for a great plan. Get involved: www.bikespokane.net.