By Charles Pekow
Utah officially gained a new Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC). And Idaho retained two previous ones, with one moving up a notch from bronze to silver.
The announcements came in October in the biannual BFC awards given by the League of American Bicyclists. The League takes applications from communities around the country and if it deems that they're promoting bicycling adequately will give them metal status as platinum, gold, silver, bronze and honorable mention. (The League just announced it is starting a higher level, diamond, but hasn't honored any community with it yet.)
Provo achieved bronze status in October. League judges praised its trail network and Safe Routes to School program. The city hired Alta Planning & Design, a firm specializing in creating bicycle and pedestrian networks, to help develop a bike infrastructure. The city received a $150,000 grant for the study.
“This will really have an impact if they implement it well,” says Nicole Wynands, Bicycle Friendly America program specialist at the League.
She praised Provo's “very decent mode share,” as about three percent of commuters reported riding a bicycle to work.
Provo also scored points for hosting community events, including bike picnics, night rides and family neighborhood rides. “We like that the city puts these events on and doesn't seem to throw obstacles in the way,” Wynands says. The city and bike groups sponsored a ride to a pumpkin patch and a Halloween ride in October, for instance.
The League praised the effort of the city to cooperate with state officials from the Utah Transit Authority and Utah Dept. of Transportation. A study undertaken with Brigham Young University showed that just installing a few bike lanes in the right places could tie existing bike trails together, “another example of a really great partnership,” Wynands observes.
Judges were also impressed with the amount of volunteer labor that went into organizing events and the Provo Bicycle Collective, a volunteer effort to promote cycling and provide refurbished bikes and education.
But if Provo wants to score higher than bronze, it will need to implement the plan it undertook. “If it collects dust, it is not going to help anyone,” Wynands notes.
It will, Provo Council Member Sterling Beck promises. The city hired Alta not just to come up with a plan but to help put it in effect, Beck says. “The whole council and mayor have been in office less than three years. When we got into office, we changed plans to have the city increase efforts in biking until we received (BFC status) from the League….Our plan is to get it to silver and then gold.”
“They still have a long way to go,” Wynands notes. The city needs to hire a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator, for one. For two, It needs more adult education. “They do pretty well on educating kids. The next step they need to do is to focus on teaching adults on riding safely and teaching drivers on sharing the road,” Wynands suggests. And the city needs to increase the quantity of convenient and secure parking and pass a complete streets policy.
Local bicycle advocates, including Bike Provo, are working with the city on projects such as trying to get bike lanes included in the bus-only lanes in the works on University Avenue, for instance, says Krysta Whitmore, a volunteer at the collective. The city is working on it, Beck says. “It may be better for us to have more bike access than three or four parking spaces per block. It is a trade-off,” he says.
“We are working with the business community and city for more parking,” Whitmore says. Downtown “parking is terrible. It doesn't hold bikes well and is in a dangerous location for cyclists.” The goal: get one parking space dedicated only for cycles on every downtown block.
“Every time we deal with a new development, we ask them to come up with a solution (for bike parking),” Beck says. He points to some artsy bike racks outside the new convention center. “I hope it catches on.”
Whitmore also says the collective is also working on establishing safe riding classes for adults.
Will Provo's success inspire other Utah communities to seek an honor? In the last round of semiannual BFC applications, no one in Utah applied. So at least it's a stroke in the right direction.
Designations last four years so Provo has a few years to move up one or more tiers of precious metal.
That's exactly what Ada County up in Idaho did. Four years ago, it won bronze. (Actually, the county and City of Boise jointly applied.) This year, it moved up to silver. League judges upgraded the county this year, praising its good mode share (2.7 percent of commuters), on- and off-road networks, bike events and monthly bike education classes for adults. The League was impressed that the county raised $2 million for bike projects by increasing vehicle registration fees.
The Ada County Highway District (ACHD) also won silver as a Bicycle Friendly Business earlier this year for the opportunities it provides for its own employees. Boise State won the same rank this year as a Bicycle Friendly University. Both institutions helped the county win its designation. So did volunteer groups and various other municipalities.
Among the noted volunteer efforts, the Boise Bicycle Project also provides free hour-long classes for ages six to 12.
The county also plans to add 322 bikeway direction signs along 80 miles of roadway in the next year.
But to reach higher than silver, the county and city will have to increase commuter mode and provide some more innovative facilities. (It recently added some bike boxes and green shared lanes.)
“They haven't done an economic impact study. It would be great to see how the investment pay in terms of economic development,” Wynands says. The area also lacks a full-time bicycle coordinator and lacks enough adequate parking. The bike parking ordinance does not require large office buildings to provide bike parking, for instance.
And the bike parking guidelines don't conform to standards of the Association of Bicycle & Pedestrian Professionals (APBP). “They have lots of parking but it is also important to keep your bike safe,” Wynands notes.
“I wear the bicycle coordinator hat in addition to other things,” says ACHD Bicycle Coordinator Matt Edmond. “The fact that I'm programmer for capital projects, I don't think detracts from our ability to get bike projects done.”
The county includes six cities and in a unique arrangement, the highway district owns roads and adjacent bike paths but not surrounding land. So it must work with other governments on matters it can't control, such as bike parking.
ACHD is working with Boise on passing an ordinance requiring parking with new development. “It's hard to get it with existing development,” Edmond says. “We don't have a good plan right now but we're seeing what we can do to get (parking) implemented with streetscape improvements…We moved a bike corral into a dining and entertainment area this summer top see how it would be used…Sometimes it takes people a while to get used to it and realize it is there. I anticipate it will be at capacity next summer. It's on a block with a lot of bikes.”
And while acknowledging a lack in the quantity and quality of parking, Edmond says it's hard to get an inventory as much of the most secure parking is hidden from public view. Boise State cataloged every space on campus but doing so in a city or county would require counting those provided by schools, parks, private employers and others.
“I'm confident less than a majority of them are familiar with ABPB standards,” he muses.
Meanwhile, another Idaho community, Coeur d'Alene, didn't move up this time but maintained its bronze status achieved four years ago. “The judges didn't have that many comments, which is never a good sign,” Wynands says. “They continued what they were doing without improving too much on the suggestions they received last time.
The city scored points for the benefits for its own employees: brown bag lunches and a bike rental program for staff.
It added some bike lanes to increase connectivity between schools, parks, downtown and trails. It adopted a complete streets policy and new bikeway master plan, added sharrows and put crossing lights in front of a school.
The League is impressed with the quantity of parking, 39 miles of shared use path and slow speed limits (25 mph or lower on most roads). It also likes the Bike Month activities and facilities for BMX, cyclocross and mountain biking.
While it provides much education for schoolchildren, the city doesn't do enough for adults and “could improve on enforcement,” Wynands notes. Law enforcement staff don't receive specialized training in bike laws.
It's not that Coeur d'Alene didn't make progress. “The last time they just squeezed into the bronze category and what they did now makes them a really solid bronze but it wasn't enough to get them up to another category,” Wynands explains.