Utah and Idaho Get Mixed Reviews for Cycling in New Benchmark Report

By Charles Pekow

When it comes to per capita bicycle/pedestrian commuting and spending, Utah doesn't quite make the top 40 percent of states. Or so reports the Alliance for Biking & Walking in its latest annual report, Biking & Walking in the United States: 2014 Benchmarking Report. Utah just missed, ranking 21st in a state-by-state comparison in both state spending and the percentage of people cycling to work.

The figures can be somewhat misleading as a ranking devise, however, as they don't count the level of urbanization of each state. The figures also do not include territories such as the District of Columbia, which is doing considerable work to promote bicycling in town, and Puerto Rico. Some of the numbers also don't separate bicycling from walking.

The 2014 report is based on data collected in 2011 and 2012, using data from the Census Bureau and other sources, including the Alliance's own surveys.

But Utah ranked 21st in both categories cited above. And it ranked right in the middle – 25 out of 50 – in the unfortunate category of bicycle/pedestrian fatality rates (see the March 2014 issue of Cycling Utah). Again, such rankings don't differentiate between the different urban/suburban/rural mixes of states as the level of danger can vary widely on country roads, small town streets or urban avenues. But the data show room for improvement in Utah: the state suffered six bicycle fatalities per 10,000 bike commuters per year. In Montana, the rate is only one per 10,000.

But Utah residents seem to enjoy their great outdoors more than most Americans. The state missed the top 10, finishing 12th when it came to getting the recommended amount of physical activity, though. Idaho residents did even better, finishing in eighth place. Again, the survey doesn't consider factors such as climate or how much people exercise indoors.

Still, only about 1 percent of workers commute by bike nationwide. Again, Utah just missed the top 10 but did better than average in this category: 11th. But looked at another way, the state did poorly, with only .8 percent of commuters going by bike. The catch is that a disproportionate number of bike commuters live in a handful of states and only in four states did more than 1 percent bike to work. Of Utahns who do bike to work, 73 percent are men.

And in the hall of shame category, the Alliance cited Utah as one of only four states with no statewide bicycle master plan of any kind. And it's one of only 10 states without a carbon emissions plan. And it only funds Safe Routes to School (SRS) in 74 places, 12 percent of the state schools. Maine manages to provide the program in 60 percent of its schools.

On the plus side, Utah spends 2.6 percent of its statewide federal transportation money on cycling and walking, .5 percent higher than the 2.1 percent state average. It's four-year average spending of $10,404,883 amounted to $3.69 per person, above the $3.10 state average.

And in 2011-12, the Alliance says Utah employed 11 state staffers on a full-time equivalent (FTE) level to work on bike/ped issues, or 3.6 per million residents. (Nationwide, the survey counted 388 state-level FTEs.) On this level, Utah is way ahead of the average 1.5 per million – but Vermont hired 19.2 per million!

And whatever strides the bicycling community is making in Idaho, it is doing so without a lot of state support. Idaho ranked 41st in per capita spending on bike/ped projects, with an earmark of less than one percent of its federal transportation funds, $2.01 per person per year. And Idaho cyclists are keeping relatively safe by one measure: it was 15th in the fewest per person bicycle fatalities category, with 4.8 deaths per 10,000 commuters. Idaho folks can take pride in the fact that it is one the four states where more than 1 percent of workers go by bike – 1.1 percent. Only Oregon did considerably better at 2.3 percent. And the gender balance was somewhat more balanced in Idaho than in Utah – with 37 percent of bike commuters female, compared with Utah's 27 percent.

And Idaho gets kudos for being one of only 20 states that has set performance goals for reducing pedestrian and bicycle fatalities. Some 6.6 of its traffic fatalities involve bicyclists and pedestrians, whereas the averages nationally comes to 14.9 percent. And the state funds 180 SRS programs in 40 percent of its schools. (A few cities around the country, including Fort Collins, CO add their own money to SRS.)

The Alliance counted not quite three full time professionals in Idaho state government (2.8) devoted to bike/ped issues, or not quite two (1.9) per million people.

You can download the report at http://bikewalkalliance.org/.

 

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