Bike champions (or, how bicycle infrastructure can be built faster)
Of all the things that make a place bicycle-friendly, the one I think about every day is infrastructure. I want better bike infrastructure for all the would-be bikers who feel like they’d be putting themselves (or their kids) in unnecessary danger by learning how to bike to work or school using what passes for bike infrastructure right now.
And I want better infrastructure for myself too. Yes, sometimes I feel so very cool sharing the road with cars flying past uncomfortably close—Hey, look at me, I’m Strong & Fearless!—but most times I’d rather just feel Safe & Protected.
Even those of us who have been biking for years can remember the intimidation factor of figuring out how to share the road with 2,000+ pound machines under the control of people who may or may not be paying attention to everyone around them. And all of us can appreciate a good protected bike lane.
Colorado is doing some great things for bikes, but infrastructure is an area where we could definitely improve faster. We are currently rated 2 out of 5 in the Infrastructure and Funding Category of the Bicycle Friendly State rankings, and not a single project in Colorado made the list of America’s Best New Bike Lanes of 2014. I think we’ve gotten a little complacent here because we see some bike infrastructure, and we think the pace it’s being built at is the best that we can do. It is not.
What needs to change?
If there’s one thing I’ve seen in the past couple years, it’s that it does not take a long time to build better bike infrastructure IF you have a champion at the top who is truly dedicated to it, like…
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel
Goal: Build 100 miles of protected or buffered bike lanes in his first term
How he’s promoting bike infrastructure: Bike infrastructure will attract high-tech companies to Chicago.
Quote that sums up his vision: “By next year I believe the city of Chicago will lead the country in protected bike lanes and dedicated bike lanes, and it will be the bike friendliest city in the country. It will help us recruit the type of people that have been leaving for the coast. They will now come to the city of Chicago.”
Memphis Mayor AC Wharton
Goal: Build 55 miles of bike lanes in two years
How he’s promoting bike infrastructure: Bike infrastructure will revitalize Memphis neighborhoods at a low cost.
Quote that sums up his vision: “We wanted to make sure that this was for everybody. When we did the longest stretches of lanes, they were in predominantly black neighborhoods. We wanted to send that message: ‘This was for everybody, in every neighborhood. When you do get ready to bike, it’ll be there.’”
Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto
Goal: Install five miles of protected bike lanes and create connections between trails and planned protected bike lanes within two years, achieve bicycle mode share of 10 percent, oh, and make Pittsburgh a cycling mecca
How he’s promoting bike infrastructure: Bike infrastructure will revitalize Pittsburgh’s core and attract businesses.
Quote that sums up his vision: “What we’re trying to do right now is not just play a game of catch up with other cities around the country, but actually to become a leader.”
What I’m saying is…
When it comes to bike infrastructure in Colorado, we need to get excited again. We need champions who want to do bike infrastructure better and faster than cities and towns in other states. Because at the rate we’re going, we’re going to get our butts kicked by Pittsburgh…and I’m not talking about the Steelers.