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Why Your State’s Ranking Matters

Two years ago, Arkansas came dead last in the Bicycle Friendly State (BFS) ranking. There was no state advocacy group and Arkansas is one of two states where the state highway agency doesn’t even pretend it is anything other than that (Nebraska Dept. of Roads, meet the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Dept.)

Frankly, we wondered if anyone would care about the last place score. Or notice.

Well, the Governor’s office noticed. Department heads were called to discuss how and why this had happened and meetings with the cycling community soon followed. People in some high places noticed and wanted to change things. The BFS program feedback and input from local cycling groups turned into an action plan.

Last weekend, I attended the first Arkansas Bike Summit, organized by BikeWalkAR, a new statewide advocacy group, at the Old Statehouse in downtown Little Rock. On the agenda: an update on the development of a statewide bicycle and pedestrian plan, an explanation of how to access different funding program, and a lot of awesome success stories from communities around the state. Oh, and by the way, Arkansas is now ranked 38th — and still not happy.

Photo courtesy of Bike/Walk Arkansas.

Back east in Delaware, I was intrigued by an invitation to announce their 2014 ranking at the Bikeable, Walkable Delaware Summit, but not to tell them their ranking ahead of time. Make it a surprise. I like surprises, but they also said the Governor would be there alongside the head of the DOT and Natural Resource agencies and key state legislators. No pressure there. They went up one spot -– from 5 to 4 -– but what impressed me the most was the desire to keep going and use the program to spur further progress. The day after the Summit, top DOT staff went over the BFS feedback item by item, figuring out how they could get them done.

And then just last week we heard from the New Jersey Bike/Walk Coalition that a drop of 5 places in the rankings (highlighted by the coalition) was sufficient to unlock a “safe passing”  bill in the legislature that had been stuck. A quick alert to our members in New Jersey generated welcome back-up to the Coalition members testifying in the New Jersey legislature –- and once again the outcome was a win for bicyclists: a four foot passing law passed out of Committee and onto the next stage.  

The takeaway for us is that as we’ve continued to improve the value and relevance of the BFS program, so it has become a more valuable tool in the hands of state and local advocates, and agencies. Combine that with the power of our on-line advocacy center, as New Jersey did, and we can make change happen.