The League of American Bicyclists recently named a new round of Bicycle Friendly Communities and businesses. Several Minnesota communities have jumped through the hoops and made this list, including Richfield, Winona and Duluth. Previous awardees include Greater Mankato, Minneapolis, Rochester, St. Paul, Bemidji, Grand Marais, and Grand Rapids.
Minnesota itself ranks #4 among the 50 states for bicycle friendliness, per the League’s standard.
The process of becoming a Bicycle-Friendly Community requires a voluntary application process, so the very act of applying suggests a community has some commitment; the award lasts for 4 years, at which time the community must reapply.
Criteria are fairly arbitrary, as would be expected in this kind of program. Rating points include:
- Percentage of arterial streets with dedicated bicycle facilities
- Population density
- Mode share for bikes, pedestrians and transit
- Schools offering bicycle education
- Existence of comprehensive bicycle plans
- Police/law enforcement education
- Local ordinances that promote safety for cyclists
- Existence of bicycle events, advocacy groups and public relations campaigns
These guidelines can be arbitrary. For instance, state rules and funding can highly impact the ability of an individual community to excel; the bulk of traffic code is at the state level.
Good public relations also matters. In other states, communities with mandatory sidepath rules — ie, cyclists must use signed sidepaths if they exist — have been named BFCs. In one case, a community with a mandatory sidepath rule has labeled most of its sidewalks as bicycle paths, thereby requiring cyclists to ride on residential sidewalks. (In the instance of the community noted, they have been a BFC since 2003, but only removed this rule in 2012. Thus, their last renewal included the sidepath rule.) But they spin the other criteria really well.
Local reviewers also sometimes have bias, with a preference for recognition (medals for everyone to encourage achievement!) over denying a community status. Many local reviewers are League Cycling Instructors, who have generally imbibed a bit of the Kool-Aid. (Disclaimer: I have been an LCI and could renew if the new League web site didn’t suck so hard for doing the paperwork.)
A community can follow the guidelines for the award and still be lame. A community can also use these guidelines as a reasonable map to things to think about and/or implement within their community. The truth of the matter is that an engaged community at the local level is the most important indicator of bicycle-friendliness; state or federal funding merely helps that engaged community get stuff done.
So, a qualified congratulations to Richfield and Duluth. Hooray for all communities that care enough to apply, and those who have received their shiny badges of shininess.