Push to make Cedar Rapids more bike-friendly isn’t just about the bikes

Articles about the Cedar Rapids drive to become bicycle-friendly inevitably draw complaints. Today, a number of them are from cyclists who maintain that C.R. is far from bike-friendly.

They’re right, but they’re missing the point.

If city officials thought they could get C.R. declared a Bicycle Friendly Community simply by applying, they’d be kidding themselves and us. (I don’t believe that’s what they’re thinking.)

If it were as simple as filling out an application and having a plan on paper, there would be lots of BFCs around the state. However, there is only one Bicycle Friendly Community in Iowa – Cedar Falls – and it has only a bronze rating. There are only 102 BFCs in the entire nation.

That’s because you have to actually be bike-friendly to get recognized for it.

It takes planning and action to become genuinely bike-friendly. We already have some assets that are common to bike-friendly communities – most notably, some good trails. We’ve taken some other, small steps, like putting bike racks on city buses to encourage intermodal transportation (e.g., think about taking yourself and your bike to work on the bus, then pedaling home). Other simple steps are planned that should not take long to implement, such as painting sharrows on key routes and marking bike routes with appropriate signage.

One of our biggest challenges will be education, which is also part of the plan. Some motorists and cyclists have a lot to learn about peaceful coexistence, not to mention common courtesy.

If Cedar Rapids actually becomes more friendly for cyclists, and is recognized for doing so, the potential benefits will be substantial. Some in our community just don’t see it yet, like the commenters who think we’re wasting time and money by even trying to improve.

In part, it’s because they haven’t bothered to really look at the issue, and some just seem to be against everything. In part, those of us who have advocated for becoming more bike-friendly have probably not done a good enough job of explaining it.

Here’s the thing we’ve missed: It isn’t just about bicycling.

It is one step toward becoming a more vibrant community with even better quality of life than we have now. It will be a step toward improved liveability, and it will be one more positive thing we can promote to businesses and people looking for a new home.

We would also benefit if we were to become a more walkable city. The lack of sidewalks in many areas of Cedar Rapids is an embarrassment. (Young mothers should not have to push their children in strollers down the pavement on 29th Street NE to get where they’re going. I saw this again just the other day.)

The really liveable cities in the United States are diverse and lively. The people can walk, bicycle, skate, ride a bus or train, or drive where they want to go. They aren’t so afraid to get out and ride, because they know it’s an accepted form of transportation. Motorists know they need to be careful around their fellow citizens.

The City Council is scheduled to vote on a resolution to aprove the Bicycle Friendly Community Action Plan on Wednesday, May 27, in a meeting that starts at 5:30 p.m. (Added: The meeting is in the Aegon Auditorium, 4333 Edgewood Road NE, Cedar Rapids.)

Be there. Ride your bicycle. Wear a helmet. (And look out for breaks in the pavement along 42nd Street or Glass Road.)

Speaking of bike rides…

I had an opportunity to tag along on today’s Bike Friday group ride with several city employees, some members of the Bicycle Advisory Committee and Ron Griffith, who heads up the local Bicycle Friendly Community effort for the City of Cedar Rapids. Gazette columnist Jennifer Hemmingsen was curious, too, and rode along.

The ride was largely uneventful except for a minor spill taken by one rider. I learned that I’ve been going the wrong way on the trail through downtown Cedar Rapids for quite some time.

Details next time…

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1 Response to “Push to make Cedar Rapids more bike-friendly isn’t just about the bikes”

  1. 1 Monica Vernon May 23, 2009 at 9:18 am

    Thanks for your thoughts on Cedar Rapids’ work to become a Bicycle Friendly Community. You are right that it is a process and not just an application. The city has to start somewhere. I’m so glad that you and others went along for the staff bike ride on Friday. Those rides are a key part of the process. You can talk bike friendly all you want but until the engineers and planners actually see things from the perspective of a biker we weren’t going to make as much progress. Happily we have a program in place where staff making the plans are actually out doing some of the riding. I lok for great things to come of this — let’s just keep the Friday rides going!

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