The League of American Bicyclists has been working over the past ten years to “identify the DNA” of bicycle-friendly cities. The League does not simply put out a list of the most friendly cities, businesses, and universities in the nation, but provides education on the important components of that DNA they have identified. The annual lists of awards are based on comprehensive applications that take into account a community’s bike infrastructure (engineering), education, encouragement, laws applicable to cyclists and motorists (enforcement), and commitment to biking as a viable form of transportation going forward (evaluation).
Top-ranking (Platinum) on the League’s awards list are cities like Portland, Oregon and Davis, California that are renowned for their bike culture and commitment to infrastructure and education. However, the University of Michigan and its hometown Ann Arbor, Michigan are designated as Bronze Level Bike-Friendly University and Silver Level Bike-Friendly Community, respectively. How does a typical Midwestern town, one not far from the city that brought mass-production of automobiles to the nation, end up on such a list?
Ann Arbor’s distinction from the League recognizes the city for the engineering, encouragement and enforcement criteria. The Bicycling page on Ann Arbor’s city website has sections on helpful information ranging from bike safety and laws to bike parking and lane maps. However, compared to the biking information page the city of Portland has set up, that boasts 19 highly specific sections, Ann Arbor is significantly lacking in educational materials for citizen cyclists. Many recent studies on bicycling point to a rather fitting “cyclical” nature of bicycle education: more cyclists on the streets will spur more investment in cycling infrastructure which will encourage more cycling. Citizen groups and city government will need to start working together to raise awareness for biking in Ann Arbor.
Additionally, with recent sustainability initiatives at the University of Michigan, bicycling has become a pet-project for administrators and students. The League commends this Bicycle-Friendly University for working with urban planners on the City of Ann Arbor’s Alternative Transportation Committee. Increased participation in cycling by professors and students is a major goal for the future.
How can we implement more education on biking at the University and City levels? And, how can we hold University administration and City officials accountable for increased progress on alternative transportation in the future?
Credits: Photographs by Meg Mulhall. Data linked to sources.