Project encourages walking, bicycling, bus transportation
Organizers of Walk Bike Bus Spokane, an alternative transportation advocacy program, are boasting significant progress in reducing short drive trips within the program’s pilot areas in the Garland and South Perry neighborhoods.
The program encourages residents to replace short car trips with walking, biking, and taking the bus, says Mariah McKay, active living coordinator with the Spokane Regional Health District.
Typical short-trip destinations that could be reached without driving include grocery stores, schools, restaurants, churches, and parks, McKay says.
Walk Bike Bus Spokane is being funded as a pilot program through a two-year federal $84,700 grant administered through the Washington state Department of Transportation.
Local contributions will total about $15,000 and include installing bike racks and kiosks in both neighborhoods, McKay says.
The health district oversees the program locally with support from the Spokane Regional Transportation Council, the Spokane County Commute Trip Reduction program, the city of Spokane, Spokane Transit Authority, Spokane Bicycle Club, and the Lands Council.
This summer, the program has added the Garland neighborhood in the second phase of the pilot program after successfully launching the pilot’s first phase last summer in the South Perry neighborhood.
McKay says Walk Bike Bus proponents here wanted to start modestly, anticipating they would recruit 50 participants in both districts.
“We wound up with 297,” she says.
The program currently focuses on people willing or ready to change their behavior and reduce vehicle trips.
“If they are in the target audience, we make an appointment and do a brief consultation,” she says. Walk Bike Bus ambassadors arrive by bike to assess the prospective participant’s travel habits and help with personal travel plans and goals.
“People are inspired when they have achievable goals,” she says.
Often, the first goal of participants is to fix their bike, McKay says.
In follow-up calls, 90 percent of participants in the South Perry neighborhood achieved one or more goals.
Walk Bike Bus developed safety-education programs and produced separate maps for the South Perry and Garland neighborhoods.
Each map covers six square miles surrounding the neighborhoods, with reverse sides focusing on their respective business districts.
“We tell them you can get to everything on the map by walking, biking, or taking the bus,” McKay says.
Maps show bus routes and stops, bike lanes and bike-friendly routes, bike parking, intersections with traffic lights, and walking paths.
They also highlight businesses, natural areas, and points of interest.
“It helps people discover new ways to get places,” she says. “We want people’s first experiences with alternate modes of transportation to be seamless.”
For example, the Perry map demarks a few public staircases that people new to the pedestrian alternative likely don’t know about, such as a direct walking route from the heart of the South Perry District to the South Hill Library.
The education and safety portion of the program includes individual cycling, pedestrian, and bus guides with information on safety and appropriate laws.
In the Garland District, the Walk Bike Bus program also recently hosted an educational event called Traffic Skills 101. The first day of the two-day workshop was held in a classroom-type setting. The second day included a road ride.
Even experienced bicyclists were surprised at how much they learned, McKay asserts.
“Once they take the class, they become evangelists for the program,” she says.
Walk Bike Bus likely will sponsor another traffic skills workshop this fall, she says.
The Walk Bike Bus program encourages businesses within the districts to provide coupons and discounts for participants and to donate incentive items for those who log walking, biking, or bus trips on the program’s website.
McKay says Walk Bike Bus has been received well by the business communities in both districts.
“Most business owners already get it,” McKay claims. “They know that most regular customers are people who are walking or riding in the neighborhood. They are more likely to explore side streets and go off the beaten path and take up business incentives.”
Julie Shepard-Hall, president of the Garland District Business Association, says she’s seen an increase of foot and bicycle traffic in the district.
Shepard-Hall, owner of Zippers Z Inc. women’s clothing store, at 911 ½ W. Garland, and broker at Integrity Insurance Solutions, at 3913 N. Post, says the program also helps promote community connections.
“I’m seeing an increase in neighbors coming down and using shops and eating here,” she says.
Walk Bike Bus supporters in the business community also will continue to promote bus transit, Shephard-Hall says.
“We’re going to work more on promoting Garland as a destination place for a day,” she says. “(STA bus) 24 comes right to the corner of Garland and Monroe. It’s a perfect way to get here to spend a couple of hours and visit the shops.”
Walk Bike Bus proponents are seeking funding to expand the program into other neighborhoods.
“The concept for the second round is to choose areas with recent infrastructure upgrades and help people access and utilize new multimodal transportation infrastructure,” McKay says.
Target areas for the next few years include the Millwood area, the Logan neighborhood, and the north Monroe Street area.
McKay says the Walk Bike Bus program has developed surveys to measure trip reduction, although organizers are still refining how to quantify it.
“We know the Perry District has seen a significant increase in the number of people using alternate modes of transportation,” she says.
The South Perry numbers, though, might by skewed by a few avid bicyclists who logged hundreds of miles.
“We’re not measuring recreational rides,” she says. “We’re measuring trips that replaced car trips.”
For the Garland District, the survey will focus on participants who indicated at the beginning that they were willing to change short-trip behavior, rather than focusing on those who already use alternate transportation.
McKay says her goal for the Walk Bike Bus program is for it to become a permanent component of the county’s Commute Trip Reduction initiative.
Spokane County is among counties mandated by state law to enforce a Commute Trip Reduction program requiring employers with more than 100 employees to participate. Smaller employers also can participate voluntarily in the CTR program.
“Walk Bike Bus makes the commute trip reduction concept available to whole neighborhoods, not just people who work for large employers,” McKay says.
She says she’s optimistic about the future for Spokane-area alternative, active transit.
“Spokane is a great, relatively flat area with a lot of dry days,” she says. “Spokane isn’t huge. It’s possible to ride a bike to Coeur d’Alene on a weekend.”
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