By Charles Pekow
Boise State University just passed its first exam in Cycling 101. It became one of the first officially designated bicycle friendly universities in the country. The school was awarded a bronze metal from the League of American Bicyclists. It joined the first group of 20 such institutes of higher education to be awarded honors in the Bicycle Friendly Universities program, the latest addition to the league's Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) awards program, which already includes Bicycle Friendly Communities and Bicycle Friendly Businesses (BFB).
The league also awarded one Utah and one Idaho business BFB honors this round. All three awardees got bronze, the fourth level (down from platinum, gold and silver). So despite successful efforts to promote bicycling, they all still can improve and get awarded more medals designated in metals more precious than usually used to make bicycles.
So what can the other colleges and universities in this part of the country learn from Boise State? What did it do right?
For one thing, it opened a Bike Barn last fall in a parking garage. The covered area can store 65 bicycles for students, faculty and staff. But only those who have signed up in the campus parking office can enter the gated area. Cyclists pay $15 per semester. Though the barn is only about half filled, the university is planning another one in a different part of campus. “We're building for the future,” says Casey Jones, director of transportation and parking services.
With the help of an outside designer, “we are working on a bicycle master plan right now,” Jones says. BFA staff also were impressed with the school's bicycling activities, ranging from Bike to Work Month activities to classes, contests and events to encourage people to ride. Departments compete for prizes to see which use the most alternative transportation.
If it succeeds at current efforts, it can raise its BFA precious metal rank. “We are in the formative stages of developing solutions” to making campus safer for bikes, Jones says. “We have an architectural firm working with us on that right now….There is a lot more for us to do.”
Meanwhile in Utah, the Salt Lake City office of Rockwell Collins won a bronze, making it the fourth business in the state to win a BFB honor. The Utah office of this international aerospace firm hopes to set an example for the conglomerate's other offices around the USA and maybe the world. The Utah office actively promotes biking to work, since the aerospace engineers haven’t yet figured out a way to fly to their jobs.
But employees are treated to a goody bag with bicycle equipment and covered bike parking. Rockwell also matches up beginning cycling commuters with mentors and offers group social rides and lockers and showers for commuters.
The company has also reached out to work with local governments to promote safe routes to the premises, says Senior Human Resources Representative Robert Jackson. “We’ve really promoting bike-to-work days and we have cycling groups that get together during lunch.” The company also installed a fitness center with spinning bikes so employees can keep in shape during the off season.
But the company only got bronze because a rather small number of employees, only 17 out of 240, report regularity bike commuting in summer. The company also doesn't offer the commuter tax benefit. “That incentive is something we're trying to promote,” BFA Program Assistant Carly Sieff says. Sieff added that Rockwell could also raise its level by providing a maintenance depot and supplies on the premises.
“We'll look at their suggestions,” Jackson promises. He added that some of Rockwell's other offices are taking up cycling. “Our corporate office in Cedar Rapids (IA) encouraged us to apply for the designation. They have a fairly active bicycle commuting group.” But the headquarters wanted to see how Salt Lake City fared before it applied. So the league may be seeing some more Rockwell applicants in coming years.
Back in Idaho, meanwhile, the REI store in Boise also took a bronze. The store provides not only bike parking but repair stations and showers on the premises. It's easier for REI to offer many of these services than it would be for most other businesses – as it sells bikes. The store also offers the public presentations on communing safety and maintenance clinics.
“We sponsor clinics at the store on bike commuting, mountain biking, bike maintenance and other topics for anyone who wants to attend,” says store Supervisor Teri Garvin. REI touts the seminars in its Gearmail electronic newsletter, fliers at the store and in the weekly outdoor section of the Idaho Statesman. Anywhere from 60 to 90 people will show up, Garvin says. Sure, the events bring in potential customers “but many people come just fore the information,” she notes.
“We work with the Boise Bicycle Project, an organization that takes and refurbishes donated bikes and donates them to people who have need of basic transportation,” Garvin relates. “Kids can come in and learn how to strip the bike down and rebuild it. Children get to take the bike home with them. This works for kids who may be economically disadvantaged and for the refugee population…(The youth) rebuild the bicycle, clean it up and learn how to maintain it. That gives them pride of ownership in their bike and helps make sure the bike donated goes out of there in really good rideable condition. We support it with grants and we also have a number of employees who volunteer there.”
REI also sponsors charity rides for Terry Reilly Health Services, a non-profit that offers medical services in Idaho's Treasure Valley using a sliding scale based on people's ability to pay.
But like Rockwell and Boise State, REI didn't get higher than bronze because its bike policies lack some goodies the league likes to see. It doesn't, for instance, offer the commuter tax benefit. The league also noted that a rather small minority of REI employees – 15 out of 50 or so – regularly commute to work in summer. “It gets challenging sometimes when you have to be here at six in the morning or don't get off until 10 at night. Its not exactly a 9 to 5 job,” Garvin explains.
And returning to Utah, Mad Dog Cycles, which won silver two years ago, upgraded to gold this year. The operator of bike stores in Orem and Provo offers cash to employees who set an example by riding to work. It also provides covered parking, lockers and showers, “a big thing we put a lot of emphasis on (in the application),” Sieff says.
Mad Dog worked hard at upgrading over the last two years, says Brad Woods, manager of the Orem location and company director of advocacy. “We started doing a lot more with the community,” including sponsoring Bike to Work Day events in both cities. “We've done 50 check stops on the Provo River Parkway Trail. We set up and will pump up people's tires, take a quick look at their bikes and help them evaluate their bikes for safety. A lot of people never get their bikes checked. They just ride them till they break. We give them safety literature and trail etiquette tips,” Woods states.
Additionally, store employees help teach drivers' ed classes in local high schools. “We talk to the kids about how to ride safely around cyclists, how and why cyclists do what they do – and maybe they might want to bicycle instead of drive sometimes. We remind them of how much fun cycling was when they were a kid. They're 16 and focused on their driver's license. We're probably not making too much of a dent but some kids have come in to the store and said it made a difference,” Woods says.
Mad Dog also works with Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts and sponsors a community-oriented race team. And it sponsors events that bring people into the stores with weekly family night rides, ladies only rides, bike clinics and community education classes. “Almost every day, we have something going on,” Woods notes.
Mad Dog also got involved in developing Orem's bicycle master plan the city council passed last year, Woods adds. And it is continuing the work to make sure it gets implemented. They put in about four miles of bike lanes last year” with another four or five slated for this year, he says.
Mad Dog's work isn't over in climbing the metal mountain either. It plans to strive for platinum in two years, when its accreditation comes up again. The company hasn't figured out how yet but “we have a few things up our sleeve.”