To coincide with National Bike Month, the League of American Bicyclists announced it's 2010 Bicycle Friendly State Rankings. Here it comes...wait for it...WHOA! Hold up, what's going on? Last year, the League's Bicycle Friendly States list ranked Arkansas as 38th. The new report is out and now we are 45th! What?!
First things first: Hats off to North Little Rock for everything that has been done to earn the Bicycle Friendly Community - Bronze designation receiving points in Engineering and Education (if I'm reading the chart right). Plus, two businesses received "Bicycle Friendly Bronze" nods - Chainwheel and The Ride. Congratulations to everyone involved to earn that recognition!
I'm a little baffled, however, by the backward slide for the state. It seems like there is so much going on - more riders than ever, more routes being developed, and more events to encourage the sport of cycling for every age. The grading criteria included categories such as Policies & Programs, Infrastructure, Education & Encouragement, and Enforcement. I was kind of a competitive A/B student in school - so let me tell you Ds and Fs on my report card are hard to take!
We're "The Natural State" for crying out loud; this ought to be a no brainer for us. Arkansans bike for exercise; are we not commuting enough? Are we creating enough safe routes to ride and walk on? Does your business make it possible, that is, encourage you to ride to work? Where can we get involved not only to regain our good ranking but to really improve our cycling situations?
BACA (Bicycle Advocacy of Central Arkansas) actively promotes "many benefits of bicycling to our community." Speaking with Tom Ezell, the new President of the group, it sounds like they have many of the aforementioned criteria on their radar and are actively pursuing ways to improve those areas and more. It also sounds like they need more volunteers and community involvement. More involved equals a louder voice, right?
Another group I've recently discovered is the Safe Routes Partnership. This national program works to establish safe routes for our children to walk and ride to school including planning routes, training parents and children, and motivating school participation. This partnership is working with many of the state highway departments as well including our beloved Arkansas. Just think - this could actually change the mindset of a generation! If you're a parent, ask your school if they are involved with this effort or lead them to get engaged. Our kids need our involvement.
Admittedly, I want Arkansas to receive awards for our bicycle friendly communities. I am slightly competitive afterall. But, what would it take for us to really earn these accolades and have cyclists just be commonplace in our state? For me personally, I think I have to figure out how to get more involved with efforts like these and how to ride other than just supporting this cause so close to my heart. I need to ride more for errands, for work, and over to the park for some plain ol' family fun.
Got any ideas? What can we do to climb back up the ranks and recover our cycling glory? Talk about it, make a plan, get involved, and Ride to Work. :-)
(I'll let you know as soon as I figure out how I can do it too.)