July 25, 2019 – The long-dreamed of East Sprague Bikeway has been approved, at least as a general idea. The next step is to determine the best place to build the trial, and to that end, on Monday, July 29, 2019, the Spokane City Council will likely approve of a $90,000 feasibility study of the trail.
Once passed, the study will begin soon and is slated to conclude by May of 2020. It will look at the feasibility of an off-street bike path that will run along the railroad tracks that run parallel to E Sprague Street. If this off-street trial is impossible to do or proves not to be practical, then a second option will be considered. This would have the trial run on existing streets paralleling E. Sprague Avenue east and south to the Ben Burr trailhead in Liberty Park.
This plan is preferred by those who originally proposed the plan and by most of those who currently support. This would start the trail at the southern landing of the University District Gateway Bridge and run almost due east for roughly 3/4 of a mile and then at some point turn south and cross I-90 and make its way another 1/2 mile to the trailhead.
The difficulty with this plan lies in the geography. The terrain along the railroad tracks pose challenges that might prove too costly to overcome. There are some bluffs that would have to be dealt with, and portions of the path would have to contend with various property owners.
E Sprague Avenue Parallel Street Plan
The existing street plan has less roadblocks but less enthusiasm as well. Since it will use existing streets, the difficulty with the terrain will not exist, and the city controls most of the streets that would be used thus sidestepping other problems with the off-street plan.
A long-Time Coming
Originally the plan was proposed by a city council member who wanted to connect the bridge and the trial with a shared use trial along the tracts, as part of a greater master plan to develop an east-west protected connection for the increasing bicycle traffic on E Sprague Avenue.
This fits in with the city’s grand plan of promoting bicycle and other alternative forms of travel and commuting which will also help reduce the people’s reliance on fossil-fuel cars. Fewer cars mean less congestion, less pollution and fewer traffic injuries and deaths. These are the guiding principles to many of the city’s infrastructure plans, and the E Sprague Bikeway plan fits these goals well.
The Plan’s Revival
However, like anything else, for an idea to come to fruition in city and state politics, it needs backing, funding and lots of political and public support. So, the plan floundered for a few years until a few months ago when a high-ranking senator threatened to withhold state funding for some of Spokane’s infrastructure construction projects—unrelated to the bike path plan—until city leaders put their support behind the bicycle master plan and subsequently the E Sprague Bikeway plan.
The senator and the Spokane’s mayor engaged in a war of words over the threat, but that war was called off when the senator got enough votes in the senate to pass a measure holding up millions in state transportation funds to Spokane until they received some commitment to the plan.
With this log-jam solved though good old fashion bare knuckle politics, it seems by most watchers that the City Council will approve the study next Monday, and the first step in the bikeway project will begin.
After the feasibility study is concluded in May of 2020, planners will then have to make the decision to pick which plan will be chosen. Twelve million dollars for the project has already been ear-marked for the project.
So, whether it’s the preferred off-street trail or the on-street path paralleling E Sprague Avenue, at least today it looks like that eventually Spokane cyclists are going to get their bike path connecting the University Bridge and the Ben Burr Trail.