‘Bicycle Friendly’ designation sought by city and county

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Moab and Grand County may soon be joining the ranks of America’s designated Bicycle Friendly Communities. On Feb. 12 the Moab City Council voted to apply for the designation, and on Feb. 19 Grand County Council also endorsed the application.

The Bicycle Friendly Community designation is made by the Bicycle Friendly America (BFA) program, which is under the umbrella of the League of American Bicyclists. The program now includes 242 communities in 47 states.

The hope is that the designation will demonstrate Moab and Grand County’s commitment to being bicycle friendly, and encourage more alternative transportation infrastructure.

“It makes sense that Moab would be a great candidate for being a Bicycle Friendly Community since we draw the world here,” said David Olsen, Moab’s community development director.

Olsen completed the application with the city’s planning director Jeff Reinhart and Sommer Roefaro, a public lands transportation scholar with the Bureau of Land Management who has been working in Moab for the past year. Trail Mix, a local advisory committee on non-motorized trail issues, and the Moab Trails Alliance also helped in crafting the application.

The League of American Bicyclists has been running the Bicycle Friendly Communities program for the past 10 years in an effort to encourage communities to improve their level of bike-friendliness.

But the program is not just designed to reward communities that are already doing well; the Bicycle Friendly Communities program also works with applicant communities to help give them the tools and expert guidance they need to make improvements in alternative transportation.

Communities are ranked annually at five levels; diamond, platinum, gold, silver and bronze. The criteria are quite strict, with no community at the diamond level and only three at platinum.

The three communities with Bicycle Friendly Communities platinum-status in 2012 were Portland, Ore., Boulder, Colo., and Davis, Calif.

The Bicycle Friendly Communities designation shows that a community has made a commitment to being environmentally friendly and sustainable.

Both Jackson and Teton County, Wyo., and Breckenridge, Colo., have a gold designation

“They are very similar economically and demographically to Moab,” Roefaro said.

She said that the significant alternative transportation infrastructure that Moab and Grand County installed in recent years make it a strong applicant. But that much more can still be done, especially in mapping the trails and ensuring that riders know where and how they connect.

“The effort in the last 20 years with paths and trails has been substantial,” Olsen said.

Since its inception in 2000, Trail Mix has built over 75 miles of single track in Grand County. The North Moab Recreation Area Alternative Transportation System (NMRA ATS) has put 10 miles of paved path along US 191 and three miles that follow the Colorado River east along Hwy. 128, according to the Bicycle Friendly Communities application.

The city’s general plan also aims to make accessibility for walking and biking a large part of the amenities that the town offers. A Bicycle Friendly Community designation will help to push that even further, Olsen said.

This application is the second that Moab has filed. The first attempt, made several years ago, was thwarted by computer problems.

Deciding to combine Moab and Grand County in the same application was a very conscious move, Roefaro said. Her view is that the areas bicycle system should be as much about creating alternative transportation opportunities for locals as it is about improving recreation.

The application itself is long and involved, requiring the applicant to answer around 88 questions, many of which require written answers and involve sub-questions.

All of the questions revolve around ‘The Five Es’: Engineering (that’s the physical infrastructure side); Education (programs to raise awareness and ensure safety); Encouragement (incentives and promotions to increase riders); Enforcement (laws to hold motorists and cyclists responsible); and Evaluation (measuring the results and planning for the future).

“Filling out the application is its own process of looking at your community in a different way,” Roefaro said. “It’s a tool to understand what it takes to be bike friendly.”

The application takes about four months to process, at which point Bicycle Friendly America will provide the community with a customized report.

“What you do get is a report (from the league) so from that you can learn what you can do to make the town friendlier and better for bikes,” said Sandy Freethey, the chair of Trail Mix, who helped with the Bicycle Friendly Community application.

The goal of the Bicycle Friendly America report is to give applicants customized feedback on their application as well as technical assistance. So even if the applicant community did not get the Bicycle Friendly Community designation this time, “we’ll help you get there,” said Bicycle Friendly America’s website.

A Bicycle Friendly Community would also be a feather in Moab’s cap because “bike friendly communities are often on the (lists of) best places to live,” Roefaro said.

There are no financial rewards or grants directly associated with biker-friendly designation, only indirect benefits, Olsen said.

But while the Bicycle Friendly Community designation does not directly provide financial support, having it certainly does not hurt when applying for state and federal alternative transportation grants, Olsen said.

Other certifications that Moab has received, such as Tree City USA, and Blue Sky Community Challenge, have been helpful in getting infrastructure and grant money for the town, he said.

However, not everyone is thrilled about Moab and Grand County’s push for more alternative transportation.

“There are some people in town that don’t like the direction Moab is going in this way,” Olsen said.

Some in the community see all of the money going towards bicycle-related projects and believe that these projects are taking away from more traditional roadwork. This is not the case. Most of the time the money that the county and city receives from the state and federal government is earmarked for very specific projects, Olsen said.

If Moab and Grand County do indeed receive bicycle-friendly designation, Roefaro hopes it will increase momentum to educate the community and improve the environment for cyclists. Bike to work and bike to school events are already being planned for the coming year.

“I’m hoping that it will inspire people to use their bicycles,” she said.

According to recent census data, communities who received Bicycle Friendly Community designation saw their number of bicycle commuters rise by as much as 80-percent from 2000 to 2011. In non-BFC cities bicycle commuters only increased by 32-percent.

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