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Creating Bicycle-Friendly Communities

Urban develops guidelines for a more bicycle-friendly America

An Urban Systems project is supporting a national U.S. advocacy group’s vision for a bicycle-friendly America. Practice lead Brian Patterson in Vancouver says the project — developing guidelines for bicycle account — is “a nice launching point” south of the border for Urban since the company works primarily in Canada.

According to Brian, the non-profit League of American Bicyclists is also “a unique type of client” for Urban, though he notes that the company does partner with universities and local cycling organizations in Vancouver to help promote cycling. “It all just helps to get better information out there and get everybody working towards becoming more bicycle-friendly,” he says.

The League connected with Urban through Andreas Røhl, the City of Copenhagen’s bicycle program manager who was seconded by Urban for 10 months. Known as one of the world’s most bicycle-friendly cities, Copenhagen was among the first to implement a wide-scale bicycle account. A bicycle account is a comprehensive report that is used as a tool in several cities worldwide to monitor local bicycle activity and infrastructure development, helping to track progress, cycling trends, areas for improvement and whether cities are meeting their bicycling objectives.

Urban transportation planner Hailey Steiger says Urban drew heavily on Andreas’ insights and Copenhagen’s experience to develop the guidelines, as well as the high-profile bicycle accounts of other cities like Melbourne, Australia, and Minneapolis, Minn., in the U.S.

The bicycle account, generally updated every two years, provides a good snapshot in time of bicycle activity and infrastructure based on hard, objective data. But it can also gather perceptual data through phone and online questionnaires of residents and even surveys of cyclists in the field to help identify trends and areas for improvement. In Copenhagen, for example, cyclists have been asked since 1996 about the width of the bike paths. They’ve become congested over time with the growing popularity of cycling, which is reflected in the bicycle account surveys. This has led to a city policy to widen the paths.

“A bicycle account can determine where there are successes in a community and where they need to do more work,” says Hailey.

According to Bill Nesper, vice-president of programs for the League of American Bicyclists, its first work with Urban Systems was a very positive experience. “The possibilities (for the bicycle account guidelines) were broadened I think through this process and that was definitely a learning experience,” Bill says.
“When I started on this project, I thought this is just going to be for the best communities out there,” notes Bill, referring to the highest-ranking communities under the League’s bicycle-friendly program. “But after talking with Brian and Hailey, I was able to see that we could actually take a little bit more time and . . . have what I think could be the content for almost any community to use this document.”

According to Hailey, the League plans to share the bicycle account guidelines with communities it works with across the U.S. to become more bicycle-friendly. Among the first likely to receive the document are Portland, Ore., Boulder, Colo., and Davis, Calif., which have earned the League’s second-highest platinum ranking for bicycle-friendliness. The League hopes the guidelines will help these cities reach its highest level of diamond status. “They want to give the bicycle account guidelines to these three communities as a starting point to really follow the Copenhagen model,” says Brian. But the League is also aiming to have U.S. cities participating in its bicycle-friendly community program adopt the account.

“We have bronze through platinum levels (for ranking communities in our program) and we needed to raise the bar and add a new level, and what we thought would be a good thing is to look at what Copenhagen is doing and try to help our platinum-level communities really move toward being world-class, bicycle-friendly communities,” explains Bill.

“I think what’s attractive to the League about the bicycle account is that when they’re evaluating communities on their spectrum of bicycle-friendliness, it’s generally (based on) self-reported information. This provides a consistent and objective tool that they can use and the communities can use to measure how bicycle-friendly they are, instead of relying on self-reporting” notes Brian.

The bicycle account guidelines also discuss how to communicate to citizens the progress of a bicycle program.

According to Bill, “one of the biggest hurdles any community faces in becoming more bike-friendly is making it real and getting public support.” By tracking and communicating the success and progress of bicycle activities and infrastructure development, a community can show its members who want to bicycle more what is being done.

This process “is really essential to moving a community forward,” Bill says, noting that even successful cities like Copenhagen must reinforce to citizens the return on investment that is realized.

Now being finalized by Urban, the bicycle account guidelines will be a glossy, public-oriented document when it’s done. “It’s a first for us in this way,” Brian says. “There’s the planning aspect but the way it’s being published, the document in itself will become a marketing and communications tool to further promote cycling.”

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