Bicycle Commuting in Wenatchee – 17 Years Later

by Charlie Hickenbottom

Charlie Hickenbottom bicycling the routes in Wenatchee.

In August 2005, Bob Bugert completed an article for Wenatchee Outdoors called Bike Commuting in Wenatchee describing some of the major bicycle routes here. The article included a bicycle routes map. Bob knew his stuff, using his bicycle to ride to work in downtown Wenatchee from his residence near the Wenatchee Foothills. He bicycled the gauntlet that was Fifth St before bike lanes were added there. Bugert’s knowledge of Wenatchee’s city streets served the Greater Wenatchee Bicycle Advisory Board (GWBAB) as the committee prepared its first bike plan (1997-1998). Later he served in the president’s role of GWBAB.

Meanwhile, 17 years have gone by since 2005. Both the bike board and Wenatchee’s network of bike routes and bike lanes have undergone significant change. In 2013 the bike board shifted from the city of Wenatchee to the Chelan-Douglas Transportation Council (CDTC).  A major bike map of Greater Wenatchee was published by CDTC in 2017, available on-line and at local bike shops. I will organize my review of Bob’s piece below by updating information about each route that Bob discussed, then add information about other routes.

The bike lanes Bob wrote about on Fifth St were from the Loop Trail as far west as Miller St. In 2012 the bike lanes were extended past Wenatchee Valley College (WVC) to Western Ave. Parallel parking in front of the college had been a real safety issue. When the college added additional parking on campus, WVC lobbied for the bike lanes and safer pedestrian crossings on Fifth.

Bob also wrote about a possible bicycling route across the WVC campus. There was old history of a carriage road that passed in front of the Wells House. There was discussion about a bicycle trail that would connect Fifth St and Ninth St. The precedent, of course, was the Burke Gilman Trail running through the University of Washington campus that was, and remains, immensely popular. But WVC administration has never seriously considered a dedicated bicycle facility across campus. Savvy bicyclists yield the right of way on campus sidewalks and still get through.

Bugert pointed out that Riverfront Crossing, built in 2002, made First St an ideal route to access the Loop Trail. In 2020 the First St Bikeway, a city of Wenatchee project, altered First St between Miller St and the Loop Trail to become more bike friendly. Traffic circles calmed the flow of traffic through the residential portion of First St, and protected bike lanes between Chelan Ave and Wenatchee Ave which made it safer to bike through the business district. April, 2022 the city of Wenatchee announced that the signal light at Miller/First is funded to be replaced by newer technology that includes detection of bicycles to activate the signal.

Bob wrote about using both Cherry St and Washington St as routes that lead towards Western Ave from downtown. In 2021 Washington St was improved somewhat for bicyclists by two changes. A raised sidewalk in front of the courthouse serves as a quasi-speed bump to slow traffic. Stop signs at the intersection of Washington St and King St also serve a traffic calming purpose. Planned for 2022 is a bike lane in the uphill westbound direction on Cherry St between Miller St and Western Ave.

The value of using a combination of Maple St and Miller St to reach the Loop Trail was documented in 2005. Bike route signs were placed in 1998. Bike lanes were added to the portion of Maple St between Western Ave and Miller St in 2005. Bugert also mentioned a tricky crossing of railroad tracks on Miller St.  By the end of 2005 Burlington-Northern had improved the railroad crossing with wider strips of hard rubber, making it less likely that bicycle wheels would get caught by railroad tracks that cross the road diagonally.

Bugert reviewed some north-south corridors and mentioned using Okanogan St. Bike route signs were placed on Okanogan St way back in 1981. The committee of that era recognized Okanogan as a one ray fanning out away from Memorial Park and extending as far south as Circle St. The bike committee of 1998 suggested adding bike lanes on Okanogan St between Orondo St and Crawford St. That suggestion was not implemented, but a short portion of Okanogan St between Orondo Ave and Kittitas St was modified in 2001 with bike lanes. The remainder of Okanogan remains somewhat of an enigma. Anyone riding Okanogan St would probably notice the bike route signs still in place from 1981. Experienced bicyclists use it as a way south towards the Malaga Highway. But it has never been popular with lesser experienced bicyclists who are reluctant to ride with traffic that has grown exponentially since the days of 1981 when traffic volumes on Okanogan St. were much less.

Western Ave is another north-south route described by Bugert in 2005. At that time there were bike lanes on Western Ave between Maiden Lane and Maple St. Fast forward to 2017 and a bike lane on one side of the road was placed on Western Ave between Cherry St and #2 Canyon Rd. The bike lane extended west on #2 Canyon Rd to Skyline Drive. Right of way acquisition (cost) prevented doing more. The next year (2018) a paving project on Western Ave was a convenient time to add bike lanes on Western Ave between Maple St and Cherry St.

While not mentioning it by name, Bugert reviewed the Princeton Route, which passes through neighborhoods between Maiden Lane (Home Depot) and Millerdale St (Wenatchee High School). Bob appreciated the utility of this route, which passes by or near several schools and a park. This route has had several improvements since 2005. The Pine Ave bike lanes were constructed in 2013. Then in 2017 a contraflow bike lane on Princeton Ave just south of Fifth St improved what was a very narrow roadway.  Bike lanes in front of Lewis & Clark Elementary in 2018 was a huge safety boost. The Tacoma St bike lanes placed in 2021 was another nice improvement.

Heading out of town, Bugert mentioned bike rides towards Entiat and Leavenworth. In 2008 a spur was placed between the Loop Trail and Euclid Ave, which made it easy to access Highway 97A towards Entiat. In 2018 this spur was extended north to Easy St, making it easier to ride out of town towards Leavenworth.

There has been many other notable bicycling improvements since 2005. Walnut St was realigned with Hawley St in 2007, improving access to the Loop Trail. Another spoke to the Loop Trail was placed in 2009 from a new trailhead on 37th NW in East Wenatchee. The complete rework of the Sellar Bridge and approaches from both sides of the river between 2009-2013 by WSDOT included numerous safety improvements for bicycling. The long wait for the Rocky Reach Trail ended in 2015. Bike lanes on Millerdale St in front of Wenatchee High School in 2018 improved safety through that corridor. Also in 2018, bike lanes on Red Apple Rd between Miller St and Okanogan Ave made it safer to access Confluence Health. The Elliott Ave Bikeway in 2020 improved bicycling access to Wenatchee Valley College. Funded for 2022 are bike lanes on Methow St in front of Lincoln Elementary, and bike lanes on Ninth St near Confluence Health.

On the horizon are funded projects for bicycle/pedestrian bridges over the railroad tracks to connect Wenatchee Ave to the Loop Trail and over Highway 28 to connect the Loop Trail with East Wenatchee.  With few exceptions getting to destinations in Wenatchee on a bicycle is very feasible with careful route selection. One suggestion would be to do a trial ride very early on a Saturday or Sunday morning to get acquainted with a route. See you out there, the riding is fine.

In 2022 Charles Hickenbottom published Bicycle Routes in Greater Wenatchee – A History Told through Maps, Drawings, and Pictures. The book is available for checkout at the library and for purchase at Wenatchee Museum and Cultural Center. Hickenbottom was on the inaugural bike board in 1997 and has remained involved with the bike board since then.

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