To quote the late, great Freddie Mercury, “Get on your bikes and ride!”
The Spokane Valley City Council unanimously – although one vote was reluctant – voted Tuesday to pass the Bike and Pedestrian Master Program and integrate it as part of the city’s comprehensive plan.
The vote came after months of haggling over language – much of it initially deemed too declarative by council members – and possible misplaced priorities within the plan.
The program is designed to make streets safer and dedicate specific routes for all modes of transportation with an emphasis on bicyclists and pedestrians. It’s the latter that Arne Woodard, who was appointed to the council earlier in the year to replace Rose Dempsey, believes doesn’t get enough representation in the plan.
Saying he continues to be “the fly in the ointment,” Woodard said the city can make streets better for bicyclists by keeping them well-maintained as part of its ongoing road-preservation program. Sidewalks, however, do not exist in many rural areas of the city.
“I am going to vote for this tonight, however, with some reservations,” Woodard said.
Four members of the public spoke in favor of the plan’s passage. Cathy Harris called the plan a “win-win” for the city and community as it provides more opportunities for walkers and cyclists. She also said it’s a positive move in the ongoing fight against obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Art Zack, who said he is a longtime Valley resident, agreed, saying he often bikes and walks along with driving his car. He said, while the plan could be beneficial for future grant opportunities, it doesn’t make sense to limit thinking to just smooth roads for cars or creating sidewalks.
“That’s like saying I want good police protection or good fire protection or good schools,” he said. “Yes – we want all three of them.”
Heleen Dewey, health program specialist with the Spokane Regional Health District, also said that obesity is a “public health crisis” and that the bike/pedestrian plan was laying good groundwork for better fitness in the community.
“It says the city cares about its citizens,” Dewey said.
Council Member Brenda Grassel – who last summer called the plan “extreme” and was not present for the Oct. 11 first reading of the ordinance – also said she would give the plan her blessing.
“From the beginning, this plan was quite large,” she said, adding that she doesn’t believe a government-created bicycle plan will do anything about obesity as that’s a “personal choice.” Still, she cast a “yes” vote with the others.
“Now get out there and ride your bike!” she said.
Council Member Dean Grafos said he is glad to see the plan put in place as it could be attractive to new development.
“Everybody believes that Spokane Valley has a car culture. Well, maybe we are,” he said, adding that there is plenty of room for bike lanes on the city’s wide roadways. “I think it’s great.”
In other news, the council passed a first reading of its 2012 budget, which will total $57 million with operating expenses being held at or below 1 percent over 2011. The council also set its property tax at $1.52 per $1,000 in assessed valuation for next, which also remains the same as 2011’s rate.
Final passage of the budget is expected on Nov. 15.