Moving Beyond Big Cities
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2015 issue of American Bicyclist Magazine. Want it in your mailbox? Become a member of the League today!
I am writing this piece from a hotel in Montgomery, Alabama, and, no, I’m not despairing.
I’m not despairing because in the past three days I’ve met with several mayors and numerous council members, and strategized with dedicated staff and advocates. I’ve had loaner bikes delivered from three different bike stores, and drank free craft beer and pizza at a bike center.
I made the front page news of The Anniston Star, and even got to join 30 club riders on a Tuesday evening ride! And I won’t even tell you about my trip down to Fairhope to deliver an evening presentation or the special reception hosted by Alabama Bikes. Dear reader, if you think I’m just making the best and enduring a challenging stretch of my journey across the country, making visits to cities and towns that could never be mistaken for Bicycle Friendly Communities, you would be wrong. In fact, the opposite is true.
Steve is center, with hand on hip, in Montgomery, Alabama.
These types of communities are our priority in my 2015 city itinerary. Some background: In late 2013, when we began prioritizing cities for site visits to enhance bicycling in the United States, many on the list were what might be called the usual suspects: Madison, Boulder, Philadelphia, Davis, Seattle and so on — places that were already designated as Bicycle Friendly Communities. Our goal was to help them reach (or at least aspire to) an even higher level of bicycle friendliness and the visits were well-received.
We believe that communities of all types can benefit from better bicycling… not just for folks living in big cities or Blue States, but all residents of the United States.
But the places we seemed to have the most impact were communities that had made fewer investments in walking and bicycling over the years but were now hoping to make up for it. And what potential there is in these locations! Let’s face it: When you can ride from one side of town to the other in less than 30 minutes, and personally know that the editor of the newspaper in town is married to the sister of the Mayor’s son who owns a 15-pound Trek Madone but only uses it on weekends when they travel up to a cabin along a rail trail, well, those are places where real transformations can happen — and happen quickly!
As it turns out, these are also places where visits from national organizations are noticed. Mayors make room on their calendars. Television crews appear. In-depth stories on bicycling make front page news. And the local Trek dealer takes brand new bikes off the floor in order to allow city staff to participate in a ride, which has become the cornerstone of the Bicycle Friendly Community Visit.
In Anniston, Mayor Vaughn Stewart said he was pleased by the visit, inspired by his city’s projects to become more bicycle friendly. “It really makes me proud, and proud of the community,” he said, “that we have progressed enough to be noticed.”
As we note in our mission, the League is committed to creating a bicycle-friendly America for everyone. We believe that communities of all types can benefit from better bicycling and the right and comfort to ride should be afforded, not just for folks living in big cities or Blue States, but all residents of the United States.
So this year I’m excited to visit small and mid-sized communities, places like Anniston and Montgomery, where the exciting journey to becoming bicycle friendly is just beginning.