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Spokane considers spending millions on ‘cost-effective’ bicycle infrastructure

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(The Center Square) – Spokane officials are looking at ways to curb traffic fatalities with city programs after the state’s Traffic Safety Commission announced a three-decade high for 2023 earlier this month.

City Councilmember Zack Zappone briefed the “Safe Street Now!” resolution during Monday’s Public Infrastructure Environment & Sustainability Committee meeting. If approved, the program would implement “temporary” but “cost-effective” improvements for pedestrian transportation.

Earlier this month, the Traffic Safety Commission announced that Washington experienced 810 traffic deaths in 2023, a 10% increase since 2022 and the most recorded over a single year since 1990.

According to WTSC’s fatality dashboard, 60 of those deaths occurred in Spokane County, with a third taking place within Spokane’s city limits.

Zappone’s program would expand on Spokane’s traffic-calming efforts by implementing adaptive design strategies, which involve temporary devices used to reallocate street space. Generally, traffic-calming deploys physical obstacles to prevent speeding and encourage safe driving.

He said examples include painted crosswalks, parklets, delineators and bike bump-outs.

“It’s important that [the program is] really cost-effective,” Zappone said, “and that we’re able to get more of these types of interventions out across the city.”

The “cost-effective” strategies would run approximately $12 million, according to a list of projects that Spokane might add to its capital finance plan. That money would come from the Traffic Calming Measures Fund, which collects revenue through automated traffic safety camera infractions.

Zappone said the investments would encourage bicycle traffic, which could, in turn, cause a transportation shift and save the city money on street repairs in the future. He noted that a 2017 study showed Spokane had one of the lowest bicycle ridership rates among comparable cities, 0.7%.

Additionally, he pointed to a statistic that noted since 2014, around 1,500 pedestrians and 750 or more cyclists were struck by cars in Spokane County, causing 78 deaths. Zappone said in 2023 alone, Spokane recorded a record-breaking 196 pedestrian incidents.

“If we build more infrastructure, it’s more likely to draw people,” he said. “A lot of people are afraid of biking when they have no physical separation between them and vehicles.”

Councilmember Kitty Klitzke pointed to her experience working at an REI store that sold more bikes than any other location nationwide. She said the problem is not a lack of people wanting to ride but a lack of people feeling safe.

Councilmember Michael Cathcart suggested that the city find a way to start tracking the number of people using the current bicycle infrastructure. He agreed that cyclists likely feel unsafe and that the city should seek to address that.

However, he wants data. Although Spokane already has multiple painted sidewalks, the council has yet to see any data pointing to a measurable difference, Cathcart said. He wants to see more evidence before deciding on what to implement.

“Unfortunately, it’s extremely expensive,” he said. “but it is, I think, the right direction for bicycle infrastructure.”

The Spokane City Council will hear its first reading of the resolution during a meeting at a later date.