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3 Steps to Bicycle-Friendly Suburbs

This article, written by Jeff Pearson, originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of the League’s American Bicyclist magazine.

In 2013, the City of Richfield became the first suburb in Minnesota to be awarded the Bicycle Friendly Community designation in Minnesota. We’ve since been joined by our neighboring City of Edina but I’m still often asked by staff and bike advocates in other suburban cities: What are the key issues we should focus on to become a more bicycle friendly suburban community? 

In the City of Richfield, our support can be broken down into three specific areas.

Community and Advocate Support

As Transportation Engineer for Richfield, I’m very fortunate to have engaged and supportive citizens that assist with many aspects of my job.  Although not officially sanctioned by the city, the Richfield Bike Advocates group has been very active in representing bicyclists at city meetings and providing a voice for that community in public forums.  They also regularly participate in community events such as health fairs, Open Streets events, and trail clean-up days to actively engage the community around walking and biking issues in Richfield.

Policy and Planning Support

Probably the most important step in becoming a BFC is having the support and encouragement of your policy makers. Richfield’s leaders have consistently given this support through adoption of planning documents, such as a Bicycle Master Plan and Safe Routes to School Plan, as well as a Complete Streets Policy to assure all modes are considered in future road projects. City Council members also started a tradition of riding bikes in the annual 4th of July parade.

Implementation Support

Despite community support, issues like conflicting demands, limited budgets and right-of-way, and localized opposition can easily halt bike infrastructure. This is particularly the case in Richfield where roads and development were completed 60 years ago — and updates to either can be controversial. But, through a significant public involvement process, Richfield has been successful in five recent or upcoming projects that will make meaningful improvements to biking across the city, adding 7.5 miles of off-street trail, 7.5 miles of on-street bike facilities, and nearly 3 miles of protected cycle tracks.

We aren’t done yet and we certainly have some significant challenges that remain, but through the support that continues to build, I’m confident that Richfield can continue to become an even more bicycle friendly suburban community.

Jeff Pearson is the Transportation Engineer for the City of Richfield, MN