So, What’s the Plan?

My newest essay is in the local paper this morning and, as promised, here is the text of it for all of you who can’t buy or don’t subscribe to the M-P-D-N.

Don’t let the cold and snow dissuade you from believing that spring is around the corner. Pitchers and catchers have reported; gardeners are perusing their seed catalogs; backpackers are prepping their gear for the next adventure; and the cyclists of the Palouse are replacing tires, inspecting chains, and keeping an eye out for clear days- and roads- for an early-season ride.

Institutions are making plans, too. Washington State University has hired ALTA Transportation, a professional consulting firm, to work with them on an updated bicycle route network. An enterprising Civil Engineering student named Andrew Stephenson has come up with a plan to adapt campus bike routes to the contours of the landscape. He envisions lifts or elevators at critical junctions to help mitigate the difficulty of the hills. The city of Moscow is  looking ahead as well, its “Moscow on the Move” program dedicated to implementing the vision of the city’s Comprehensive Plan of 2009.

The city of Pullman has a plan, too. It was just updated…in 1996. I think it’s fair to say that the city has changed somewhat since then, considering that the population has risen by some 5,000 people. Still, the plan is both an interesting glimpse into the recent past and a potential blueprint for the future. It’s worth dusting off, updating, and using as a springboard to launch Pullman into a new era of bicycle accessibility that could put the city on the map as an example of how to enhance alternative transportation. As WSU moves forward, the city of Pullman needs to pick up and move along with it. The campus cannot be left to become an island, cut off from its surroundings, for city and school grow best when they grow together. The border between city and campus is so permeable as to be nonexistent in some areas, and I think that’s a wonderful thing.

As I discussed in my previous essay, open borders make for easy migration and dispersal, while barriers don’t have to be large to be effective. Something as mundane as a gravel-covered street or a bumper curb in the wrong place can ruin an otherwise good bicycle route, to say nothing of streets without bike lanes or multi-use paths that ultimately lead nowhere.

The 1996 pedestrian/bicycle plan does a good job of identifying the high-traffic areas where conflicts are likely to occur, and while there has been notable improvement (the Grand Avenue Greenway, for instance), some notorious tangles remain (like crossing Stadium Way on said path). Comparing the ideas in the plan to the reality on the ground, it is easy to see that the plan has been followed only partially and sporadically. It seems reasonable to expect more progress after sixteen years, especially considering how many other ways the community has grown. We have to ask ourselves, and our representatives in city government, why. Perhaps the answer lies in the truism that the squeaky wheel gets the grease, and other wheels have squeaked more loudly. Is it because cycling is still seen more as recreation than transportation? Has it to do with revenue? I noticed a fee-based registration proposal in the plan, yet I have never heard of it elsewhere.

Maybe it is best, then, that WSU is leading the way on this issue. We need to make sure that the city follows closely. To that end, there is an open house this Thursday, March 7, in the WSU CUB Junior Ballroom (210 East) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., featuring the transportation consultants the university has hired for its  Bike and Ped plan. Considering that the world is run by those who show up, I intend to be there. But first, I have to fix my bike chain.


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