By Charles Pekow – A class project has turned a city into an official Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC). That’s right; sustainability class students at the University of Wyoming (UW) completed the BFC application for the City of Laramie and earned it bronze status, the lowest level (other than honorable mention), in the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) fall round of BFC awards. But the class project earned Laramie the only new BFC award in the Mountain West region this round.
To earn a minor in sustainability, Wyoming undergraduates work in groups with a mentor to complete a community project. In 2015, students taking the class pushed the university to earn bronze Bicycle Friendly University (BFU) status. So in 2016, Dan McCoy, assistant director of campus recreation, “got us in front of the city council at one of its board meetings. We got the full involvement of the city council to help us with the project,” recalls Tyler Carroll, now a UW junior and one of four student participants. The class officially ended in May but “a few of us stayed in contact with McCoy and he got the application turned in in August.”
The students also worked with a bike shop, the local tourism board, city planners and others, Carroll relates.
Laramie won because of its high 6.9 percent level of bike commuting and the city’s efforts to implement a bike plan, explains Ken McLeod, LAB state & local policy manager. The city enjoys a “pretty good overall bicycle network model and a lot of bike trails,” McLeod says. “They have a current bike plan being implemented” and plan to improve.
But it didn’t get the next highest level (silver) because “compared to other communities, it doesn’t spend as much of its transportation budget on cycling. It doesn’t have as much of its staff working on cycling issues,” he adds. It didn’t report a full-time equivalent working on bike/ped issues and lacks a Complete Streets policy. The city also needs to improve bicycle education in schools and “do a better job to communicate progress on bicycle paths and make sure the public is aware of the program.” Specifically, the city should use tools such as signs and maps to help riders find “lower stress routes.” It also should encourage public safety officials to ride bicycles,. LAB suggested.
Todd Feezer, Laramie’s director of parks and recreation, says “it’s going to take time” to retrofit the city streets to make them bicycle friendly. “It’s a question of manpower.” One reason so many people in town bike to work is that they develop riding habits while attending UW “and people who live here after college who got used to that lifestyle continue to commute when they graduate.”
But Feezer acknowledges that the class did “the lion’s share” of the application and “if it wasn’t for Dan McCoy and the class, we wouldn’t be able to complete the survey.”
Provo and Coeur d’Alene
While no other town in the area got a new award, Provo, Utah and Coeur d’Alene, Idaho moved up from bronze to silver this round.
Provo improved because it adopted a new bicycle master plan and moved to integrate cycling and public transit infrastructure. It did “a really good job with encouragement, such as Bike Month events and encouraging people to bike to work, McLeod points out.
But, he adds, to go for the gold (the next level up), Provo needs to increase staffing levels dedicated to cycling and develop goals for getting people to bike to work. “We didn’t find any goals listed on the application. We couldn’t find specific safety-related goals. Publicly stating them would be a good step toward reaching them,” McLeod says. He also suggests that the city form a partnership with local Brigham Young University, which earned bronze BFU status in 2015, (Think of what UW did, speaking of partnerships!) The city, in fact, works with the university on bicycle awareness and rules of the road projects. It is trying to come up with ways to improve the links so people can ride smoothly to and from campus.
Provo worked with the Utah Transit Authority to put bicycle parking (including lockers in some areas) at its commuter center and at bus stops “and we’ve made bike lanes along roads that interconnect in those area so it is easier for people to get to transit and then park their bicycles,” says Gary McGinn, Provo director of community development.
“We’d like to add more staff, of course, but that’s all constrained by budgets,” McGinn says. The city established a bicycle committee that meets monthly. The mayor leads a bicycle ride around the community and the city arranges some bike tours,” he adds.
LAB also suggests that Provo improve its education program and continue improving the transit links. “We are taking about working with the school system so before school starts next fall, we’ll try to have some high-visibility activities where kids and their parents can come to downtown Provo to a rec center to register bicycles and learn about bicycle safety,” McGinn says. The local Bicycle Collective has been a great help in refurbishing two-wheelers to provide them to local kids, he adds.
“Hopefully, we’ll go for the gold” next time, McGinn says.
Coeur d’Alene ID also improved from bronze to silver this round. It first won bronze in 2008 and renewed the four-year bronze designation in 2012. The city improved by installing its first bike boulevard and bike corral and buying railroad property to add to the trail system, McLeod says.
But to get gold, the city should update its design manual and add separated or buffered bike lanes, he adds. LAB also says Coeur d’Alene should designate a specific bike or bike/ped staffer. City Trails Coordinator Monte McCully says he spends most of his time doing bike/ped work for both the roads and parks; it’s just that his title is “trails coordinator,” not “bicycle coordinator.”
The city is developing a bicycle master plan; when it finishes and implements it, it will be on its way toward gold, McLeod says. LAB also recommended doing bicycle counts and getting more people to bike to work.
The city is doing better than many gold awardees in many ways already, McCully says. It has a higher percentage of bike lanes than most gold cities and spend a higher share of its transportation budget on bicycling (14 percent) while the average gold spends only 13 percent. But he acknowledges the government needs to improve its efforts to encourage businesses to provide amenities such as showers and bike parking. It also needs to work on enforcement, evaluation and planning.
The city is also working with the North Idaho Centennial Trail Foundation on a grant to put counters along the Centennial Trail, which will provide bike counts that LAB values so highly. “They recently asked me if we should use this grant money for other things. I say bike counts are one of the most important things you can do to see what bikes can do for your community,” McCully says.
The city is also working with a University of Idaho economics professor to study the impact of bicycling on the local economy. McCully hopes it will “show the powers that be and the community and the elected officials that bicycling brings a lot of money to the community.”
He says “I believe by the time we reapply in four years, we’ll have all these things down and move up to gold.”
Regional Bike Friendly Cities
Meanwhile, several other jurisdictions in the region renewed at the same level but failed to move up. These include Durango CO at gold (next step consists of platinum, followed by diamond that no community has yet reached). Ada County ID, Aspen CO, Bozeman MT and Longmont CO stayed at silver. Lakewood CO remained at bronze.
Also, Greeley CO remained at bronze for the third time. It was so eager to move up that it applied a year early but failed to achieve silver. “The data didn’t support it. Ridership is low for silver; staff to population is close to silver but still low,” McLeod explains. Greeley also hasn’t placed enough bike facilities along high-speed roads, he adds.
“We were disappointed” at the news, replies Greeley Traffic Engineer Eric Bracke. “We’ve done a lot in the last three years in terms of bike planning and events.” The city developed a Complete Streets policy and bike plan and many infrastructure improvements, he says. “We were kind of weak on the education side and that’s where we have to put some more effort,” he acknowledges.
“We started off with an incredibly low ridership level” but have improved it greatly, he says. Greeley just wasn’t able to document it to LAB’s satisfaction. “Anecdotally, we’re seeing more and more bicycles but we can’t officially quantify it.” An effort to do so would drain scarce resources. “We have a limited budget. We just can’t go out and buy more and more counters. Maybe I should.” But that would mean less money for street signs, paint, lights and other maintenance and improvement needs.
While the city doesn’t employ a specific bicycle coordinator, it’s got plenty of people who work on it in various city departments working on bicycle matters as part the government’s culture. “A dedicated staff member to push it would probably be marginally helpful,” Bracke says. “Do we need a bike person to say we’re bike friendly or do everything we do to say we’re bike friendly?”