The Story Behind a BFC: Ann Arbor, Michigan
In the Fall of 2021, the City of Ann Arbor, Michigan, climbed the ranks of our Bicycle Friendly Community program when it was promoted from Silver to Gold-level designation for its efforts to be better for people who bike. Now the first and only Gold BFC in Michigan, and one of only 35 Gold BFCs in the U.S., Ann Arbor has made significant strides for cycling in its community.
“We’re pleased the League of American Bicyclists has recognized the work done in Ann Arbor to improve cycling,” said Raymond Hess, City of Ann Arbor transportation manager. “This honor is a testament to the hard work of the City of Ann Arbor, our elected officials, our partners, and the community at large. Collectively, we are working together to give people safe and sustainable choices to travel to all the places they want to go. We also take this honor with a great deal of humility as we know there is still far more work to be done as laid out in our Moving Together Towards Vision Zero – City of Ann Arbor Comprehensive Transportation Plan.”
Ann Arbor first joined the Bicycle Friendly Community program as a Bronze-level BFC in 2005 and moved up to Silver in 2009. Advancing to Gold on their sixth BFC application in sixteen years is a testament to the steady progress of the city over time, and also of a common theme in the BFC program: that investments and efforts can take time to translate into impacts such as increased ridership and improved safety outcomes.
According to the city’s transportation program manager Eli Cooper, “More than 1 out of every 10 trips taken in Ann Arbor is a bicycle trip. The current statistic is twice as high as the statistic reported in the previous application and exceeds goals set by previous plans. Even further, 36% of all trips within Ann Arbor are made by walking, biking, or transit. Simultaneously, community support for bicycling has led to an explosive growth in the development and use of bicycle infrastructure in the past few years. All of this information aligns with the City’s carbon neutrality goal for 2030. Looking at the big picture of Ann Arbor it brings the city pride to say that our current practices are in line with our goals.”
To achieve these improved outcomes, ensuring major infrastructure improvements for on-street and off-street bicycle networks has been a long-haul project for the city. Since the city’s previous application, the Downtown Development Authority planned and implemented new cycle tracks on William Street and First Street which encourage residents and visitors to spend more time bicycling downtown. These two particular bikeways incorporate buffers and barricades to make the cycling experience more comfortable and safe. Some barricades hold plants as well, further improving the look and draw of the bikeways.
The William Street Bikeway also connects to the Ann Arbor District Library Downtown Branch and the University of Michigan’s central campus, a Silver-level Bicycle Friendly University. This provides a comfortable ride for those commuting to and from the University. Both the William Street and First Street cycle tracks have been met with overwhelming support in the community and are enjoyed by experienced and beginner bicyclists alike. The Downtown Development Authority has also approved contracts for two more downtown cycle tracks, on Division Street and Catherine Street/Miller Avenue. The addition of these bikeways, in conjunction with the William Street and First Street Bikeways, will complete a connected “bike loop” around downtown Ann Arbor.
Aside from the on-street bikeways, the City of Ann Arbor has improved access to off-street bike networks through the Allen Creek Berm Project. This $9.4 million project provides safer access from the downtown area to the Border-to-Border Trail and aligns with Ann Arbor’s connectivity and safety goals stated in the Moving Together Towards Vision Zero plan.
The promotion of bicycling is a key part of Ann Arbor’s non-motorized system development, supported by the city and countless community partners. Ann Arbor promotes bicycling through “Commuter Challenges” – annual month-long, city-wide competitions to commute to work by bicycle, bus, or foot – as well as a month-long “Conquer the Cold” challenge for winter bicycle commuters hosted by getDowntown. The Conquer the Cold challenge encourages non-car commuting through commute tracking and educational seminars. Local bike shop Wheels in Motion hosts a Worst Day of the Year bike ride in January in partnership with getDowntown and several other local businesses.
Ann Arbor Public Schools hosts a Bike to School Day and is encouraging bicycling as a part of the 100% commitment to Safe Routes to School. The Program to Educate All Cyclists, Common Cycle, Sic Transit Cycles, Wheels in Motion, the Ann Arbor Bicycle Touring Society, the Bicycle Alliance of Washtenaw, the Washtenaw Bicycling and Walking Coalition, and the getDowntown Program all promote bicycling through community rides for families, mountain bikers, road bicyclists, city youth, casual bicyclists, new bicyclists, commuters, refugees, women, and cyclists with disabilities. As Ann Arbor further grows its bicycling infrastructure, additional plans are being deployed to increase the number of community rides, encourage more bicycling to school, and add bicycling events beyond the existing fairs/challenges to ensure that bicyclists of all ages, levels and backgrounds can bike safely throughout the city.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR ANN ARBOR
As with all Bicycle Friendly Communities, there is still room for improvement in the newest Gold-level BFC. In their current state, not all of the city’s bicycle facilities are considered accessible to people of all ages and abilities. In order to create an equitable and accessible bicycle network, the City is working towards its goal of completing an All Ages and Abilities bicycle network by 2035, with 26 miles established and 72 more miles planned.
The All Ages and Abilities network plan, which was developed based on an analysis of bicycling conditions and feedback from the public, consists of new and improved bike lanes and cycle tracks across Ann Arbor. Once completed, 97% of the population would live within 1⁄4 mile of the All Ages and Abilities bike network. With this, the city hopes to provide equitable access to places where people live, work, and play to people of all abilities, ages and stages of life, income, races, cultures, and ethnicities.
In addition to planning and implementing bike network improvements, the City of Ann Arbor is actively pursuing lower speed limits for vehicles, traffic calming devices, road diets, lane diets, and adding improved bike lanes in pursuit of desirable bicycling conditions for all.
If you’d like to learn more about how you can improve bicycling in your community or how to become a Bicycle Friendly Community, visit bikeleague.org/community. The next Bicycle Friendly Community submission round will open in May 2022 and close in Fall 2022. The BFC form is currently offline for updates through Spring 2022, but you can find steps you can take now to strengthen your next BFC application here and sign up to be notified when the BFC application reopens here.