Cycling advocates say Spokane is clipped in to serving its two-wheel commuters, with a growing number of bike-friendlier options.
With more bike lanes and some national recognition for its bike friendliness, the community has pedaled in a direction bicycling advocates would like it to head.
"Things have improved to a significant degree," says Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board Chairman Bradley Bleck, who helps advise the city about bicycle policy and advocates for a safe and user-friendly bicycle infrastructure. "The city has received a number of what are called congestion mitigation and air-quality grants. The city engineering department has aggressively sought grants and continues to do so, so we're making progress."
With federal grant money, the city began work last fall on a nearly $700,000 downtown bicycle loop that includes new bike lanes and designated shared lanes with cars, seen as a painted "sharrow" symbol. The loop runs roughly from Fourth Avenue on the south to Spokane Falls Boulevard on the north, and from Howard Street on the east to Jefferson Street to the west. More than 80 percent of the project is complete, and work is scheduled to finish this summer. One section already done includes a bike lane extending down Howard Street north of downtown, running through Riverfront Park on a shared path, and continuing to Buckeye Avenue.
Overall, the city has added seven miles of bike lanes since adopting its Master Bike Plan in 2009. Out of nearly 1,000 miles of paved streets within the city limits, it now has 23 miles of streets with designated bicycle lanes. The city also has installed bike racks for 50 bikes in the downtown area in the past year and a half.
Meanwhile, the city of Spokane Valley is scheduled to complete a bike-and-pedestrian master plan this August, says Mike Basinger, a senior planner, who often commutes in good weather by bicycle from the South Hill to the municipality's offices at 11707 E. Sprague. With more than 350 people responding to a city survey, a majority said they wanted to see improved access for bicycles and identifying roads where bike lanes make sense.
In 2010, The League of American Bicyclists named Spokane to its bronze level as a "Bicycle Friendly Community."
"We've made progress," says Barb Chamberlain, co-chairwoman of Spokane Bikes, formerly called Bike to Work Spokane, and director of communications at Washington State University Spokane. "With the League of America Bicyclists naming Spokane a bike friendly community at the bronze Level, that's a beginning level, (but) it's a rigorous process. It means we've been stepping it up."
Bicycle advocates and commuters will try to raise more awareness with Bike to Work Week, starting May 16.
Some Spokane-area businesses, such as Mountain Gear Inc. and Coffman Engineers Inc., already have taken a number of steps to promote bike use. Both have encouraged bicycle commuting by offering employee showers and indoor bike storage, among other incentives.
Mountain Gear, a sporting goods retailer, has its corporate offices at 6021 E. Mansfield in Spokane Valley and a retail store at 2002 N. Division, with a total of about 90 employees. The company offers indoor bike parking, a bike stand if someone needs to do repairs, and two showersall part of promoting bicycling among its workers, says Wyeth Larson, Mountain Gear's sustainability coordinator. During warmer months, the company sees at least 20 percent of its employees commuting by bike, says Larson, adding he often rides about eight miles from Browne's Addition.
Mountain Gear also works with Two Wheel Transit Inc., a Trek Bicycle dealer at 1405 W. First, to enable employees to buy bikes at a group-discount price or to provide no-interest financing over eight months, with payments taken out of employees' paychecks. The company has worked with other bike shops in the past and has offered the program for three years now. In all, Larson says, employees have purchased more than 70 bicycles. While some workers buy for recreational use only, many employees get bicycles they can ride to work.
"Most people are riding 12 to 15 times a month," Larson says.
The company also participates in a federal commute-to-work incentive that puts an extra $20 in an employee's paycheck per month if they document bicycling-to-work trips at least five times a month. "We want to encourage people to be active, to be as healthy as possible."
During Bike to Work Week, Mountain Gear plans to hold lunch sessions with speakers, videos, and demonstrations teaching about how to ride safely, fix a flat tire, or do basic bike maintenance.
"Bike to Work Week is about getting new people and more people out there biking to work who might be scared or just haven't tried it yet. It can be daunting. We're providing them with the skillset to where they feel more comfortable."
Coffman Engineers, an engineering firm, is located in the Peyton Building, at 10 N. Post. Andrew Kolman, an engineer, cycles 2 1/2 miles to work year-round. He says about 10 Coffman employees among about 64 in Spokane bike to work seasonally, and the company has provided bike storage, showers, and company cars.
"Pretty frequently, we have to leave to go to a job site, and we have access to two company cars stored nearby, so you don't have to have your own personal car," Kolman says.
Nick Lawhead, a producer at Spokane-based online development company 14Four who lives in the Indian Trail area, commutes about 10 miles by bicycle during better weather to his job downtown, at 244 W. Main. The downtown building also houses another business, the online marketing agency Seven2. Combined, the two companies have about 55 employees who can access the building's gym, locker room, shower, and indoor bike storage.
"The two principals of both (14Four and Seven2) are into fitness, and they encourage employees to do that as well," Lawhead says. He says in good weather, about 12 employees cycle to work. "I ride my bike as much as I can. Sometimes commuting in the morning and evening, that's the only way to guarantee I get a (bike) ride in."
He started about three years ago when a former co-worker challenged him. "It's not that big of a hassle once you get in the mindset, it just means packing your bag" with essentials such as a change of clothes, lunch, wallet, and keys, he says.
Chamberlain says Spokane Bikes has expanded its Bike to Work Week May 16-20 this year to offer promotions for the entire month of May, and people can register whether cycling to work or going on a fun outing. Chamberlain commutes regularly to the Riverpoint Campus.
"The more people who are out riding, the safer it is for everyone," Chamberlain says. "Drivers become acclimated to people cycling. People who might have been hesitant, if they know more people are out there cycling, they get out there too."
Chamberlain also cites a "definite addition of infrastructure" in the past three years. Although she recently stepped down from the Spokane Bicycle Advisory Board, she says she continues to see examples of growing support in the city and among businesses for bicycle use.
Where she works on the Riverpoint Campus, employees can store bikes in a secured, indoor loading area. She cites other examples of dedicated, protected bike storage at the Bank of America Financial Center, the U.S. Bank Building, and the Spokesman-Review, among other sites.
The Bike to Work Week has seen participation here grow from more than 950 people the first year in 2008 to more than 1,400 registered in 2009 and an estimated more than 2,000 in 2010, Chamberlain says.
Looking forward, biking advocates say more work remainswith an eye to safety and a more connected network of routes.
"A lot of what we're doing is to plug holes in the network," Bleck says. He gives the example of Southeast Boulevard from the South Hill, which has a bike lane near 29th Avenue that ends at Fifth Avenue heading toward downtown. "That's the thing that discourages people."
"We lack a lot of connectivity," Basinger adds. "We have facilities (bike lanes), but they're not connecting. It's a problem throughout Spokane County. You have a bike lane, but it ends."
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