Colin Quinn-Hurst and Pablo Monsivais: Spokane is investing now for more travel options and a safer, healthier future

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

(Guest Opinion in The Spokesman-Review)

May is National Bike Month, as well as Bike Everywhere Month in Washington state. With these national and local celebrations of biking underway, and people throughout the city pedaling to enjoy the sights and sounds of spring in Spokane, now is a good time to ask: How is Spokane doing as a bike-friendly community, and what are the benefits? While there are miles left to go in achieving the city’s adopted goals for a comprehensive bikeway system and target numbers of people walking and bicycling, it is worth also recognizing just how far we’ve come.

Over the past 10 years, Spokane has made great progress enhancing the environment for pedal power: Constructing the Ben Burr Trail and the University District Gateway Bridge, extending the Fish Lake Trail, completing the first segments of the South Gorge Trail, launching a shared-mobility program with electric bicycles, and installing the city’s first Neighborhood Greenway on Cincinnati Street, among other improvements.

All told, this work added 67 miles of bikeways to the total citywide bikeway network, now amounting to over 100 miles of an increasingly connected network of cross-city routes. And momentum is building with projects such as the upcoming completion of the Post Street Bridge prioritizing walking and bicycling through the heart of downtown.

Where these investments have been made, the number of people using them continues to increase. Last year, people biking on the University District Bridge increased 25% and the Ben Burr Trail saw a 67% increase in people walking and bicycling.

Getting Spokane walking and biking more brings benefits for safety, health, transportation equity and economic resiliency. National studies show that when all modes of transportation have dedicated space on the street or nearby pathways, the streets are safer for everyone. This pattern is emerging in Spokane, with fatalities and injuries falling for all modes of travel, including bicycling.

Travel by bike can promote public health, in part because it’s an opportunity to build physical activity into our daily routines, burning off calories, even over short distances. Research studies show that people who switch from driving to biking for transportation are better able to maintain a healthy weight compared to people who drive.

Regular biking and walking can also improve blood pressure and cholesterol, important causes of cardiovascular disease. Other research has found that biking to work can also benefit mental health. For example, switching from exclusive car commuting to biking to work is linked to reduced depression-related symptoms and improved well-being.

Investing in safe, appealing, and healthy modes of travel can promote equity, especially when these investments serve our lower-income neighborhoods and link them to schools, jobs, shopping, and other attractions. Many neighborhoods in Spokane contain high percentages of households with no or limited access to a motor vehicle. Giving these members of our community safe and convenient options to get around the city can increase opportunities for people of all ages and abilities.

With economic recovery on the minds of many, projects that improve walking and bicycling conditions also make financial sense. Analysis of construction projects nationwide shows that walking and biking investments create more jobs per million dollars invested than traditional motor vehicle-oriented projects, and improve local sales on corridors receiving these investments. Recognizing these benefits, Spokane will continue building a transportation system that enhances choice and promotes the safety of all road users, whether walking, biking, taking the bus, or driving.

Colin Quinn-Hurst, MCMP, is a planner at the city of Spokane and liaison to the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board; Pablo Monsivais, Ph.D., MPH, is an academic public health scientist and teacher and a member of the Bicycle Advisory Board.