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The “WOW” of Bicycle Friendly Communities

At some point during nearly every Bicycle Friendly Community visit, I find myself saying, “Wow!” Sometimes it’s late into a visit and might have nothing to do with infrastructure or city policy at all — like seeing a carpenter hauling a load of lumber in a hand-built wooden trailer behind his bike, or witnessing an empowered cyclist take the lane on a high-speed state highway during rush hour.

But more often than not, the “wow” moments come when a city or neighborhood has got it figured out — and even if everything isn’t perfect, you can feel the vitality and optimism and potential of the place, made real by the smiling faces of the people on bikes.

I’ve always thought there’s something magical about threes — think bike frames and the strength of the triangles. So because “wow” has three letters and because those three letters seem to connect perfectly with three key concepts, here’s what I’ve determined (while pedaling along, of course) are the essence of “wow” Bicycle Friendly Communities.

The Why has been laid out and championed

The best communities for bicycling are places where leaders have embraced the bicycle as a viable solution to many different challenges facing modern society. Better health, cleaner air, reduced energy use, less traffic congestion, and a stronger tax base and economic vitality are all things that can be achieved with increased use of bicycles. Once this “Why” is in place and policy makers understand that everyone wins with better bicycling, the real work can begin.

Here’s the strongest why statement I’ve heard in my 35 visits so far, straight from the Fresno BFC application:

“Fresno is investing in bicycling for many reasons including to provide socially equitable transportation, to improve the health of our region, improve air quality in the fourth worst air quality basin in the nation and to improve the quality of life for people in Fresno.”

The community has capitalized on Opportunities 

One of the most uplifting aspects of my visits has been to hear how so many cities are now routinely reviewing every upcoming resurfacing or street preservation project for expanding the bikeway network. A street needs to be restriped after resurfacing so an easy time to add bike lanes.

Cities ranging from Davis and San Diego, CA, to Louisville, KY, are finding they can add many new miles to their systems simply by narrowing travel lanes or dropping lanes all together at very little additional cost. This optimization of opportunities to support cycling is best when it flows directly from city policy at the highest level, but many bicycle coordinators are finding some success just by taking it upon themselves to obtain the list and work directly with the engineers and planners in their departments.

Perhaps one of the best example of this is Lexington, KY, where Bike Coordinator Scott Thompson is looking to double bike lane mileage through these kinds of projects; or San Francisco where more than 60 road diets will be completed with bike lanes.

A Win-over project is envisioned and implemented

Memphis’s Bike Gate in Overton Park

Let’s face it: The first two components, while essential, are not sufficient for getting people excited about bicycling. Sure, bike lanes are nice, and it’s wonderful to have clearly articulated goals and a vision, but the communities that are really seeing growth in bicycling have done something big and beautiful that people can’t help but notice. I call them win-over projects that cause people to turn their heads (maybe even scratch their heads) and get them thinking that maybe bicycling could start working for them.

Tune in to the blog tomorrow to see some of the best Win-over projects I’ve seen around the country. Will a project in your city make the list?