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More than 150 people showed up to Riverfront Park on Monday morning for a pancake breakfast and a group photo — the first big event of Bike to Work Week. The weeklong campaign is designed to encourage people to use bicycles for transportation (to improve health, to reduce our carbon footprint, etc.) and is aimed at both regular cyclists and people who haven’t thrown a leg over a Huffy in years. Last year (the first time in many years that the event was heavily promoted or organized), more than 1,000 people put their mettle to the pedal. This year, organizers expect around 1,500 by week’s end.
But despite the increased turnout at Bike to Work Week — and a kind of cultural awakening to bikes in the area in the last two years — Spokane remains a daunting city for the average person who’d like to start riding to work, to the grocery store or to the clubs at night. The roads are crap, drivers can be hostile and facilities like bike lanes and racks are few.
So what can be done to get more Spokanites on bikes?
The city’s volunteer Bicycle Advisory Board has been wrestling with that question for years now, and their plan — the product of countless hours and public input — will finally be pitched to the City Council on Monday.
But while the BAB’s plan is thorough, well-mapped-out and comprehensive, it’s also a little boring. (Believe us: We’ve sat in on more than one public meeting while covering the process in these pages.)
In honor of Bike to Work Week, we’ve gathered a couple of flashier ideas for helping make Spokane a safer, saner, more exciting place to ride a bike.
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MOVEABLE BIKE LANES
A recent university study in Portland, which followed city bike commuters with GPS devices, found that more than 50 percent of their miles were ridden on streets with bike infrastructure — bike lanes, bike boulevards, etc. — and that riders chose those routes because the infrastructure made them feel safer and/or got them off high-traffic streets. The takeaway? If you build it, they will come.
But striping bike lanes can cost between $5,000 and $50,000 a mile (and lanes, the study suggests, aren’t always even the best type of infrastructure to install).
Enter Altitude Inc.’s LightLane, a small laser mounted to the back of a bicycle that projects a bike lane — and a clear boundary for drivers to avoid — behind the cyclist, wherever they go.
Pioneered by the Dutch and being implemented around Europe, “naked streets” aren’t actually no-clothes zones but streets stripped of their usual attire — lights, signs, lane dividers. This anarchic approach would seem like an invitation for danger, but the result can be heightened attention among drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, and up to 50 percent slower traffic (as opposed to the 10 percent reduction created by speed bumps). Newbie cyclists might still be scared poop-less, but just imagine the madcap effect on rushing Third Avenue!
DESIRE LINES (C)
Desire lines are what urban planners call footpaths worn into the earth. Clear visual markers of how people move through their environment, they can also be a good indicator of where said planners went wrong in planning their paths and sidewalks. Building on this is the Contrail (designed by Brooklyn’s Studio Gelardi), a small frame-mounted device that leaves a fine layer of chalk on your rear tire — and a colorful trail wherever you’ve ridden. The effect is a clear, aesthetically pleasing, crowd-sourced record of where other cyclists have found safe routes. (And perhaps a sweatpants-in-trees-like tradition for Spokefest?) Of course, the street department would hate the idea.
NICE RACKS (D)
Street-side bike racks are a must-have accommodation for current cyclists and a strong signal to would-be ones that a city is ready to welcome them. But why not spruce up the humble rack, as former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne has done in New York City? His simple steel structures are fun and imaginative while remaining functional (a balance Spokane failed to strike with its many overwrought benches but could redeem itself with here).
TRAMPE LIFTS (E)
People often complain that Spokane doesn’t have the climate or topography to be a great bike city. Hogwash. San Francisco and Madison, Wisc., prove that you can be hilly and chilly, respectively, and still be a bike Mecca. But some are unwilling to toil up the South Hill (and that aforementioned Portland study noted that beginning bike commuters are eager to find physically comfortable routes). So let’s consider instead the Trampe Lift, a tow-rope-like Norwegian invention with which a cyclist extends one leg backwards onto a kind of step, which is attached to a rail running up a steep hill. At about 6.5 feet per second, the 2,300-foot trip up the Monroe Street hill would use up just under six minutes and just over zero calories.
Bike to Work Week concludes on Friday with a party at the Steam Plant Grill from 4:30-6:30 pm. The Bicycle Advisory Board will present its master bike plan at the Spokane City Council meeting on Monday.