Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I Bike KNX

With so many people squeezed into the upstairs of Barley's and the pizza coming out of the ovens, it just didn't turn out to be the right forum for a presentation. So I'd like to share what I was going to say on Sunday evening.

So you probably heard that we were named a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Bronze level. We got Honorable Mention two times before finally getting an actual metal. And yes, I have heard the laughter when someone hears that we got this award. So what is this award about anyway?

The League of American Bicyclists is a national advocacy organization (they used to be the League of American Wheelmen and they helped get roads paved for bicyclists). The BFC program started in 1996. Levels go from Bronze to Platinum. (I had a list of all the cities who have gotten an award as well as our own application.) Prospective Bicycle Friendly Communities are judged in five categories: Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation/Planning. A community must demonstrate achievements in each of the five categories to get an award. Applications are reviewed by staff and external reviewers and they get feedback from local cyclists and advocates. There are questions like: do you provide training for local engineers (and our answer is yes, we regularly host relevant webinars, and there have been two seminars in the past 5 years where engineers come for an entire day, all about bicycle facility design.) What have we done in the past 18 months to educate motorists and bicyclists on sharing the road, how do we promote bike month, what mapping info is available, how many people bike to work? The application is 19 pages long with small print, and there are 87 questions.

So what have we done to get this award? For those of you who only recently got involved with the Bicycle Program’s efforts, let me give you a quick background. In 2001, a few bicycle advocates convinced the TPO to start a Bicycle Advisory Committee. When I started working for the TPO in July of that year, we got to work quickly on a comprehensive bicycle plan covering the five E’s—engineering, enforcement, education, encouragement and evaluation. While many people thought that a bicycle plan should just be a map of desired facilities, we knew that it takes much more than bike lanes to make a great bicycling community.

There are too many great projects and programs to cover. So here are just a few of the highlights that I think helped us get Bronze:

--The Neighborhood Bike Ride turned 10 this year. Tina Rosling couldn’t be here today but it was her idea and I will admit to not believing anyone would want to come on a short ride of nearby neighborhoods when she suggested it. But 125 people showed up that first year! Tour de Lights is celebrating it’s 4th year next month. I still can’t believe we had 455 people last year and expect even more this time. People apparently love to decorate their bikes and come in costume!

I think an indicator of a bike community is not just what the government does but the organic rides -- the alley cats, the Freedom Thighs, the New years rides…I’d like to thank everyone who organizes those events.

--we have provided more than 400 bike racks throughout the region at just 20% of the cost with a grant program.

--we have conducted training on bicycle issues for all enforcement officers in Knoxville, Knox County, Maryville, Alcoa and Blount County.

--due to tremendous efforts by more than 10 volunteers, especially Mike and Paige Winck, we are presenting to all high school drivers ed classes in Knox County on sharing the road with bicyclists, every semester.

-- Knoxville is about to have three signed destination-based bike routes. That means the routes go from point A to point B and the signs actually tell you where you are heading, like UT, downtown, West Hills etc. The signs will be installed soon. The routes have been on our website for years with cue sheets and maps, but it’s much easier to follow signs than hold a cue sheet while you’re biking!

--we’ve offered bike classes on riding in traffic since 2006. We have 12 certified instructors and are increasing our efforts at getting the word out about the classes for 2011. We also held two kids bike rodeos last spring and had more than 150 kids complete the courses.

--we have been conducting bicycle counts since 2005, mostly in the center city, and have seen a tripling in the past 5 years. And to add credence to those counts, recent Census data shows that Knoxville’s bike commuting rate doubled between 2008 and 2009, and is now running at twice the national average.

--the complaint I hear most often is about hostile motorists. It’s very difficult to get a message across to the general public, but we have developed a campaign called “I Bike”—you can see the banner over there featuring Sherry Wiles, a local bicyclist. The message is that bicyclists are people--your neighbors and your co-workers—so please be careful. There are tips for sharing the road as well. The second banner features Linda Gray, who is also on our advisory committee. These have been on display at West Town Mall and the Regal Pinnacle, Regal Riveria and Kroger in Fountain City. If you have ideas for where else they can be displayed, let us know! (We’ve been turned down by many places, but are still searching.)

--our most recent accomplishment is the Bicycling Ambassadors program, which uses volunteers to do outreach and education to bicyclists and motorists about sharing the road and greenways safely. We’ve got our booth set up right here and would be very happy for you to visit it and get your burning questions answered.

So what is next? We got Bronze after applying three times. Chattanooga has had Bronze since 2003 and is working toward Silver. I would like to beat them to Silver…how about you?

We can’t do it without your help. Please let me know if you want to volunteer! kelley.segars@knoxtrans.org

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