On Wednesday, Steve Clark from the League of American Bicyclists spent the morning and early afternoon visiting with Stevens Point elected officials, city staff, and other residents regarding the bicycling environment in our city. His visit included a group ride followed by a discussion that critiqued our experiences from the ride.
Stevens Point earned a bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Community award from the LAB in 2013. Our status as a BFC is what prompted Clark’s visit.
Clark has been visiting BFC’s all across the country on behalf of the LAB for the past couple of years. These visits allow BFC’s to get valuable feedback from a LAB representative with a wealth of experience observing all levels of bicycle friendliness across the US. These visits also allow the LAB to validate each city’s BFC application based on self-evaluation with independent on-the-ground observations.
At 8:30 AM Wednesday morning, Clark met our assembly outside the County-City Building, the starting spot for an 8-mile bicycle tour of some of the good and not-so-good routes in Stevens Point. The group included Mayor Mike Wiza, District 2 Alderperson David Shorr, Economic Development Specialist Kyle Kearns, Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee members Tori Jennings and Scott Cole, UWSP Sustainability Coordinator Dave Barbier, and two other residents, Neil Prendergast and myself.
Our ride took us on some of Stevens Point’s most scenic paths, including the Green Circle Trail along the Wisconsin River and a few of the bike trails through Schmeeckle Reserve. It also took us on some of our more bicycle unfriendly streets – Division, Stanley, Michigan, and Main – that could improve bike access significantly by providing appropriate accommodations. Our route gave Clark a chance to experience a good range of bicycle-friendly successes and challenges that exist within our city.
After our ride, our group gathered in a conference room where Clark gave a slide show presentation to stimulate discussion about our local bicycling environment. District 8 Alderperson Cathy Dugan and Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee member Trevor Roark were able to join us for this presentation and discussion.
Clark touched on a variety of topics during his presentation. His slides not only provided plenty of examples of quality bicycle accommodations from cities around the US, but also included pictures from Stevens Point that he had taken both during our bike tour as well as from his independent explorations after arriving in town the previous evening. His presentation provided a platform fostering excellent discussion on how Stevens Point could become more bicycle friendly.
The purpose of the presentation and discussion was to help our city devise strategies for moving beyond our bronze-level BFC status. Stevens Point will be submitting an application to renew our BFC award in 2017, and we should be focused on how to move up to a silver-level BFC.
One of Clark’s key messages was that Stevens Point is an underachiever in bicycle friendliness. Based on his observations, he told us that he saw much unrealized potential. Clark encouraged us to make greater efforts to make bicycling better across the city. His presentation provided direction on what such efforts should focus on.
The presentation started with a general discussion of the benefits of becoming more bicycle friendly. One point that stimulated some focused discussion was the potential for local businesses and city government to reduce health insurance costs as bicycling becomes a more common form of local transportation.
Clark then challenged Stevens Point to adopt a vision for how to improve our city through policies that promote bicycling. He cited a couple of platinum-level BFC’s as examples. Boulder, CO, has set an internal goal of reducing VMT (motor vehicle miles traveled) by 20%. Davis, CA, has created transportation policy specifying that on any space-constrained city street, priority in street configuration be given to non-motorized transportation modes such as bicycling and walking. Our group spent some time brainstorming about Stevens Point in response to this challenge.
After this conversation, Clark finished his presentation by reviewing the 5 E’s of bicycle friendliness: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation. These are the five categories of self-evaluation questions that comprise the BFC application.
Most of this portion of his presentation focused on engineering. He touched on many types of infrastructure that are good options for our city based on his observations. His suggestions included implementing road diets that incorporate protected bicycle lanes on our 4-lane arterials such as Division and Stanley, putting contra-flow bicycle lanes on one-way streets such as Franklin between Prentice and Division, and putting advisory bicycle lanes on constrained streets such as Michigan near PJ Jacobs Junior High School where roadway width is insufficient for adding standard bike lanes. Clark provided numerous pictures showing us successful implementations of these and many other bicycle accommodations in cities across the US.
By the time Clark’s presentation had come to an end at around 12:30 PM, our group had spent approximately four hours engaged in productive conversation on how to make bicycling better in Stevens Point. This was an exceptional learning experience for us all, especially for the elected officials and policy makers who participated. Hopefully, this will translate into acceleration in the implementation of new bicycle accommodations across our city.
Before Clark left Stevens Point, I had the opportunity to walk him over to Point Area Bicycle Service so that he could briefly visit with PABS owner John Pawlak. Pawlak has enjoyed great success with his shop, having tripled his store space a few years ago and then doubling his space again this year. But aside from his shop, he has had great influence on our local urban bicycle culture. He has organized many evening rides over the past few years that typically have some sort of theme and often involve battery-powered bicycle-towed sound systems. I have been on a few of these and have observed as many as 75 participants. His annual Bicycle Adventure Extravaganza attracted over 110 people in its first year, and ballooned to over 400 Adventurers last year.
I felt it was important for Clark to meet Pawlak. His events have much in common with urban bicycle culture experiences in cities such as Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, and New York City. And just like in those cities, Pawlak’s bicycle events are somewhat underground, promoted through social media and word-of-mouth, and tend to be disconnected from more mainstream bicycle advocacy. Yet this sort of urban bicycle culture is an important catalyst to encourage transportation bicycling. I was glad Clark had a chance to briefly chat with Pawlak about his bicycle events that give a substantial boost to our city’s BFC cred.
After his visit with Pawlak, Clark set off on his journey to his next BFC destination. I want to thank Clark for visiting Stevens Point and having such a stimulating and productive conversation with our city. I also want to thank the LAB for making Clark’s visit possible.
Based on the conversations I had with Clark, I feel he got exposed to a representative sample of Stevens Point’s bicycle friendliness during his brief visit. As such, our current status as a bronze-level BFC should be quite secure.
More importantly, I am pleased with the messages he delivered to Stevens Point elected officials and policy makers about what we need to do to move our bicycle-friendly needle forward. They heard many of the same messages from Clark that they have been hearing from local bicycle advocates regarding what is necessary to make bicycling better here. More voices repeating the same messages, especially voices arising from the LAB, the most prominent bicycle advocacy organization in the US, can only further educate our leaders and influence them to implement policies and commit resources for creating a better bicycling environment in Stevens Point.