Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Some Boring Government Stuff About How SRTC Tries To Improve Bicycling In Our Area

My name is Staci Lehman. I’m the Public Education/Information Coordinator for Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC). Chances are you haven’t even heard of SRTC. We're the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) for Spokane County. MPOs are a transportation policy-making organization made up of representatives from local government and transportation authorities (STA in this case).

If you’ve never heard of us you're probably wondering what do we do for you? A lot of stuff, but John asked me to limit my posts to items of interest to the bicycling community, so that’s going to save you at least a couple paragraphs worth of reading.

As far as bicycling, SRTC tries to get more bike facilities constructed, and existing ones improved. We do this through distribution of federal money and through local programs, and promoting coordination through the agencies we work with such as the City of Spokane, Spokane Valley, Spokane County, WSDOT, etc.

Each year, we get allotments of federal funding to distribute. When that happens, we put out a call for projects. We then evaluate the submitted projects submitted and use a ranking system to determine which will receive funding. Projects that include bike lanes, sidewalks, pathways, etc. receive more points in the ranking process. We also put out calls for projects specifically for ones that help reduce carbon emissions and provide air quality. Projects that include bike lanes or construct bike trails qualify for these funds as the intent is to get people out of cars and onto bikes. When ‘stimulus’ money was available this past year, SRTC helped secure enough to complete phase 2 of the Fish Lake Trail. And we were one of the driving forces behind the ‘SmartRoutes’ movement to double the non-motorized transportation budget to $9 billion in the next federal transportation budget.

Okay, that one didn’t go anywhere, but that’s because we’re waiting to see what happens with the reauthorization of SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Act- A Legacy for Users), the bill that governs federal surface transportation spending. So where does that stand? I’ll have to tell you next time. I’m already WAY over the space that John allotted me, and this is not nearly as exciting of content as he'd like to see. I felt it was necessary though to lay the groundwork of who SRTC is and how we help the average person. So, if John actually lets me blog again, I’ll provide an update of the reauthorization bill and what we’re expecting that to mean for you. I'll even try to throw in some pictures.


John Speare said...

Thanks Staci... while not rivetting and exciting, this is important stuff. I think the two most important things cyclists in Spokane can do to improve cycling in Spokane are:
1. Help get other "on-the-fencers" bike commuting.
2. Show up, be heard, be political at the local level. Spokane is small enough where a relatively small group of organized people can make a huge difference over the long haul. Politicians should be looking to court the "active transportation" voter.

Anyway, keep it coming Staci. I look forward to reading about pending projects...

John Speare said...

BTW: the bike hang is at 5:30 tonight at Huckleberries.

SRTC Staff said...

Two very good points there John. A couple years ago, we never heard anything from the bike community. As a result, we didn't push for many bike projects. As more and more people have contacted us asking for more bike lanes, trails, etc. we have gone to bat for them more and more. And that trend will continue as long as we keep hearing from the public. Thanks for the opportunity to give some insight. I'll try to make it more exciting next time :)

Anonymous said...

Staci, I hope John let's you post regularly on regulatory items of concern to Bicyclists in Spokane.

I confess to being hooked on the blog. One of the interesting side effects of reading Jonathan's (Maus) blog is developing a taste for the politics behind a city's bicycling infrastructure.

"Currently in America, street design guidelines are the domain of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) Guide to the Development of Bicycle Facilities and the Federal Highway Administration’s (FHWA) Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). These companion manuals are considered to be the bible for traffic engineers, offering persuasive guidance on what types of facilities and designs can and can’t be installed."

The link is to Maus's report on Cities for Cycling. Cities for Cycling has been adopted as an official project of the National Association of City Transportation Officials. It sounded to me like the big bike cities like Portland, Seattle, San Francisco, New York and probably others, are taking on the AASHTO/MUTCD guidelines.

I didn't realize why that would be important until I read the wall of text in the blog post. Basically a city can only get federal monies for projects that comply with the AASHTO/MUTCD guidelines. That means something as progressive as green paint in bike boxes wasn't covered and require a long process of reviews and exceptions. I think Cities for Cycling is going to try and get those projects that are approved included in the guidelines.

Staci, are you in a position to get the inside scoop on what's happening with this? Maybe it's something the Spokane bicycle transportation planners and traffic engineers could attend? Maybe Spokane can ride in the draft of the big cycling cities! We may not be in the lead but we can get way ahead of cities that aren't planning ahead.

Erik M.

SRTC Staff said...

Erik- Thanks for the comment. We need people like you who watch what other cities are doing so you can help us with ideas. Unfortunately, I just don't have enough time to watch everything that goes on.

As for the AASHTO/MUTCD guidelines, you're right, anything that isn't covered in them can take a ridiculous amount of time to review and get accepted. One exception in our area though is the “sharrows” the City painted at Southeast Blvd. and 37th Ave. They're not AASHTO/MUTCD accepted at this time, so the City is being progressive in this case. In the meantime, they are doing research into getting them accepted.

I'm on a lot of non-motorized groups that involve representatives from the City, County, Spokane Valley, Health District, YMCA/YWCA, etc. and I haven't heard any mention at any of those meetings about Cities for Cycling. So that means I can introduce the topic. And the beauty of being in the big cities' draft is that they do the heavy work and we come in and reap the rewards after they hammer out the process. By the way, that's exactly what we're doing with cities like Portland, Seattle, Colombia and others; observing their 'bike free days' and planning some of our own based on their models.

So I'll start compiling some info on Cities for Cycling and take it with me when I make my rounds and see what kind of interest is out there.- Staci

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great follow up response.
I see that Cities for Cycling has up their inaugural website:
They have nice descriptions of the main bicycle traffic control mechanisms being used by cities. (including sharrows)

For the 'Bike Free Days' you mentioned is that a street faire type event where a road is closed to vehicle traffic and vendor's booths are set up? Sort of like the short stretch of road by The Elk this past Summer when there was a band and art displays?

Could you explain some of the nuts and bolts of how Spokane, Spokane Valley, and Spokane County interact concerning bicycle infrastructure? How does anything get done?

Thanks, Erik M.

SRTC Staff said...


I looked into Cities for Cycling a little last week and talked for just a moment with John Snyder about it, who said he hadn't heard of it before. So that makes two of us.

The car free days I mentioned will be dubbed 'Summer Parkways' and are indeed somewhat like a street fair with the road closed to vehicle traffic and vendors booths set up along the side. In the middle participants will be able to bicycle, skateboard, walk, scoot (is that the correct verb for what you do on a scooter?), rollerblade or whatever else you want to do via transportation that doesn't involve a motor.

As far as how the individual jurisdictions interact on bicycle infrastructure, it's usually pretty limited. If Spokane Valley wants to add bike lanes to a street, as long as it fits the comp plan and all applicable laws/policies/etc., the public doesn't put up a huge outcry and they have the funding for it, they'll usually just do it. They aren't reqired to run it by the County or the City of Spokane for approval, although they will usually mention it at either our Board or Transportation Technical Committee (TTC) meetings so that everyone is aware that they're doing it.

The process usually starts with a public request. A citizen will talk to an engineer or elected official at a public meeting or even through a phone call. The message will get passed on to the engineering department and they'll take a look at the particular road suggested, then either disregard the suggestion as not being feasible or start working up plans for the addition. Usually bike lanes aren't just striped on a random day though, they're installed as part of a larger project, such as the Broadway project in Spokane Valley recently where they did an overlay on the street, then restriped it from four lanes down to three to add room on the shoulders.

On cases like the Centennial Trail though, where it runs through all three jurisdictions, they will work together to fill in and improve sections of the trail to make sure it is one continuous trail. Also, I know that the Indian Trail Neighborhood Council has been talking with representatives from Liberty Lake on how to build a pathway system similar to Liberty Lake's.


Erik Spokane said...

Thank you Staci,

It was good to hear that you and John Snyder chatted about the Cities for Cycling. I'm envious of Spokane for it's progressive bikeway thinkers. Spokane Valley feels sort of quiet on the subject. But it's probably most likely that I'm just not listening in the right places. To keep things positive it should be noted that their maintenance team is quite responsive to requests for sweeping Montgomery ave when it gets dirty with glass, nails and other stuff from local industry. And the Pines/Mansfield intersection actually has a striped bikelane! Broadway from Sullivan to Pines is really great. Wish it could just go on forever with that striping set up. ;)

This seemed like a good time of year to put in requests for bike lane striping next painting season. It should provide sufficient time to the engineers/planners (to decide I'm right) to look the problem over and see if striping is a workable solution. Staci, with your perspective on how things work, is it a good idea to send a reminder at some point and if so what time of year is probably good for reminders to go out?

You've got me looking forward to the 'Summer Parkways' series. Gosh in just a few minutes of daydreaming about it I can see there are alot of details to consider in creating a nice mix of vendors (food and otherwise), music, and gather spots for chatting with friends and not creating traffic snarls. Did Portland put together a package of information on how they organize and put on a successful 'Summer Parkway'?

Good for Indian Trail Neighborhood Council! Liberty Lake certainly has done some nice bikeway work and I hope they can help. Their bike bridge over I-90 is magnificent and the trail on the South side of I-90 at first seemed extravegant but it sure is nice to have the option to change up route riding through that area and it must serve the cyclists quite nicely when on their way to the Centennial Trail.

Once again, thank you for sharing bicycling policy from inside the marbled halls of government.
Erik M.

Barb Chamberlain said...

The Summer Parkways events are being organized by a committee that I'm sure would welcome more enthusiastic volunteers! It's under the auspices of SpokeFest as its nonprofit home, so contact those folks:

Kudos to SRTC not only for posting here, but also for having one of the few good public-agency blogs in the Spokane region: Well worth subscribing to in order to keep on all things transportation, and having more bike folk commenting there would be great for building the case online and inside the agency for continuing their attention to bike issues.

I've been able to serve as a representative of the nonmotorized transportation community on SRTC prioritizing of regional projects for state/federal funds, and the process includes criteria for increasing choices, reducing car trips and reducing congestion. Bike projects are great for all of those. (It does strike me that by using "nonmotorized" as a needed qualifying adjective, we're accepting that "motorized" is the default setting, which is a type of thinking we might want to move beyond. Kind of like saying "woman doctor"? :D)

Chair, Bike to Work Spokane

SRTC Staff said...

Thanks Erik and Barb. And Barb, your payment is in the mail :) Just joking, but it's nice to hear someone other than my mom say nice things about what I do once in a while.

Erik- the jurisdictions welcome public comment (may not seem like it sometimes when you're on the phone with them though) because they have to prove at the end of each year that they actually did public outreach, so if they can show they talked to you, it looks good for them. So go ahead and send reminders. And winter is a good time, because they're doing all their pre-engineering for the spring then. Keep in mind that there are people who call once a week to say the same thing, so don't do that because then you'll be considered a little loonie and not taken serious.

The Valley planners seem to be pretty good about bicycling and pedestrians, but it doesn't seem to be at the top of the list for politicians, especially with new members of the council coming on. I didn't hear anything about non-motorized in their campaigns. Diana Wilhite was on our Board before losing her campaign and we're not sure yet who is going to take over the Valley seat, but we'll start working on him/her when the new year gets started :)