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BFC Steve Hits the Road

If you’re as passionate about bicycling as I am, my gig will sound like a dream: I get to travel the country, visiting cities to help them become more bike-friendly as part of the new expanded Bicycle Friendly Community program.  And you can thank Trek and Trek’s retailers throughout the nation for making this possible.

Yes, I do get to ride a bike with city officials, advocates and engineers and discuss what’s working and what needs to be improved. And yes, I get to share the best ideas from one place to the next and,  because communities want recognition for being bicycle friendly, they take what I say seriously (and even take notes when I talk!). So, for a guy like me, there really isn’t a better job to be had.

After a meeting at City Hall, we geared up for a 27-mile tour of Chandler, Ariz. From left: Traffic Engineer Michael Mohl, me, bike commuter and Site Development Plans Examiner Davis Robinson and Council Member Kevin Hartke.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. I was a City Bicycle Coordinator in Boulder, Colo., back in the early 1980s, where one has all the responsibility but no real control, and the program manager for the Non-motorized Transportation Pilot Program in Minneapolis, where I had to struggle to figure out the best ways to invest $28 million to improve conditions for bicyclists and walkers. But this may be my most difficult job. 

Here’s why.

Every community on our priority list wants to be recognized as bicycle-friendly. If a city has achieved a Bronze, they want a Silver or even a Gold. But I guess you could say that I’m out there ground-truthing the applications that many others review. And here’s the deal that makes my job especially tough: I ride everywhere. I don’t just rely on the tours that the city staff sets up for me. I don’t believe in renting a car, so I ride to my hotel from the airport (when that’s legally possible) and ride to the City Hall  from my hotel. And since I’m often running five minutes late, I want to get to that location as quickly as possible. That means not always using the bike route that the map shows or Google suggests, but the most direct legal route available to me.  And all too often (regardless if a city is a Bronze or a Platinum) that direct route is less than friendly.  

With few exceptions, cities in the United States (and remember I cut my teeth in Platinum Boulder) tend to be far more car-friendly than bike friendly. In most cities, for most of the day, it is still faster and more convenient to use a car than to use something that does not pollute, conserves energy, promotes health and is low on the violence scale.

Luckily, the people I’m meeting — the elected leaders who care, the tireless advocates who keep pushing and pushing, and the city/county staff who are given the task of trying to improve things for cyclists (even if not given the actual control or funding to make it happen) are all incredible people who are doing incredible things despite incredible barriers! So my job is difficult because I’m not the guy that is going to simply congratulate everyone for doing such a great job, or hint that a higher ranking is a sure thing, because the reality is we have — everywhere — a long ways to go.

Still, I truly believe that today, more than ever before, the momentum is in our direction. People want choices.  People want to live in bicycle friendly communities. They want to be able to safely ride bicycles to work, for recreation and for social outings. And community leaders, policy makers and staff understand this. It’s a great time to be doing this work!

Learn about this great work through my updates on the blog — coming up, insight from BFC visits in the Greater Phoenix area — and, if you want to get a daily dose of what I’m up to, follow me on twitter @bfc_steve.