by KEVIN TAYLOR & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & n the year since Jason Gilman has been riding his bike to work at Gonzaga University, he says he's lost weight and found crucial mind-clearing time in his day. It's a story typical to new commuters. But Gilman isn't a new commuter, per se. He's a renewed commuter.
The 34-year-old computer support tech at Gonzaga used to ride to work on his Trek 7500 hybrid when he first bought it in 1999 -- back when he lived on the Lower South Hill. But then he had two kids and moved up to 54th and Hatch, and the idea of riding six miles up 500 feet of elevation at the end of the workday wasn't so appealing. The bike went by the wayside.
"I finally decided to bite the bullet last spring," he says, recalling that first time back on the bike. "The first week or two, it was definitely a case where I had to take a day off to recover, rest my legs a little bit. [But] within a month or so it was no problem to go three or four days in a row." The backslider became a convert. "It's definitely made me fall in love with bike riding all over again."
Though he now commutes regularly, Gilman is one of almost 600 people in Spokane who have registered for Bike to Work Week, which begins on Monday. The week's worth of events is put on nationally by the League of American Bicyclists and locally by a nonprofit headed by Barb Chamberlain, a Washington State University spokeswoman. Monday will be celebrated with a free pancake breakfast in Riverfront Park for all registered riders. The rest of the week includes mechanical and traffic skills classes, a Bike to School day, an urban group ride and a film screening before closing with a wrap-up party and prize drawing at the Steam Plant Grill. (For more detailed information, visit biketoworkspokane.org.)
This is the first year in about a decade that the weeklong event has been pushed in Spokane, but Chamberlain says major sponsors like Unico Properties, REI and the city of Spokane jumped on board very early. And commuters have been appearing seemingly from nowhere. The organizing committee originally intended to give out free T-shirts to the first 300 registered riders but is now planning to give away 600 after registration surged. "It's an issue whose time has come," Chamberlain told The Inlander two weeks ago.
Bike to Work Spokane and its alliance of bike clubs and shops have been helping first-time commuters understand the logistics of clothing, proper bike condition, traffic safety and route planning. They've paired with the Spokane Bicycle Club's Bike Buddy program to pair newbie riders with mentors. And mechanically able representatives from Pedals2People will be roving the streets next week looking for bike commuters who need help.
Commuting to work was a kind of gateway drug for Jason Gilman. Since getting back on the Trek in the mornings, he's gotten involved with Pedals2People's volunteer-driven bike garage, taken several long solo rides and begun writing the bike-centric blog, 100km.us.
"It's exciting all of the bike-related things that are appearing around Spokane," Gilman says. "We're kind of poised for a break-through."
& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & J & lt;/span & ohn Speare will tell you the same thing. In the last few weeks, the local bike writer and member of the city's Bicycle Advisory Board attended all three of the city's public meetings to gather input on the way the city treats cycling on the streets and in the Comprehensive Plan. The city's master bike plan hadn't been updated in decades, and the advisory board wondered if it still reflected the needs of the community. Speare says the process was "inspiring." In an April 29 posting to his blog, Cycling Spokane, he wrote, "At these meetings I have seen bike people crawl out of the woodwork to provide thoughtful, enthusiastic, and really valuable feedback on the plan..." He added, "And by 'bike people,' I'm talking about a lot of citizens that want to ride their bikes but just want some basic infrastructure and fixes to help get them out there more."
City planners say attendance for the three meetings totaled about 320 people. Around 50 showed up to stare at huge maps displayed inside the Northeast Community Center last Tuesday. The maps, initially a little overwhelming to those clustered around them, showed current Comp Plan bike facilities, ideas for changes, ideas for additions and problem connections.
Two common themes emerged, says city intern Joel Soden: the need for better signage and the relative lack of secure bike parking throughout the city. "People often say they would ride more if they had a safer place to store their bike."
Specifically, many people wanted alternatives to crossing the river downtown, better connections between the Centennial Trail and the Fish Lake Trail to Cheney and "climbing lanes" up to arterials on the South Hill.
The city is taking input via an online survey about cycling needs and behaviors until May 30 (at spokaneplanning.org). Once all input has been received, the city will analyze the data and make recommendations for changes to the plan.