‘Bikeability:’ Does the region have the right stuff?

Bicycle-friendly communities across the United States are pedaling for improved health and quality of life, say experts here this week to tell the Roanoke Valley how it might become one.

Published January 7, 2008 by The Roanoke Times
By Jeff Sturgeon

Bicycle-friendly communities across the United States are pedaling for improved health and quality of life, say experts here this week to tell the Roanoke Valley how it might become one.

"The more people you see out riding, the more attractive, the more pleasant, the more economically desirable your community is," said Andy Clarke, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists.

Clarke and Bill Nesper, head of the league's Bicycle Friendly Community Program, will spend today and Tuesday in the valley to promote biking. They will sit down with elected leaders and cycling enthusiasts from close and far, including the New River Valley. They also will ride.

A workshop Tuesday will explain how a community achieves the league's bike-friendly status, a designation held by 73 cities and counties.

While that event's registration closed last week, the public can join the contingent today at 1 p.m. on a 30-mile loop from downtown Roanoke that includes a portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway. Its purpose is to show visitors the region's "bikeability." Clarke, 45, will pedal his Trek 520 touring bike.

Bike-friendly communities are those that, in the opinion of a panel of evaluators, are serious about developing the benefits of biking for fun, fitness and transportation.

Beyond that, widespread biking supports business growth, property values and tourism, advocates say. But it takes infrastructure, education, promotion, support from law enforcement and a desire to continually improve.

It's not clear whether the city of Roanoke or another regional entity will apply for status to the Washington, D.C.-based organization, but the exploratory phase is beginning and there is no deadline or cost to apply. The league is funded largely by its membership of 25,000 individuals and 600 affiliated local bike clubs.

The region would have several assets to trumpet, including progress paving the Roanoke River Greenway, where bikes are welcome, and the proposed launch of a free or low-cost shared bicycle program. The Blue Ridge Bicycle Club has 425 members.

David Harrison, a cyclist and lawyer, said he thinks this program is good for the valley for a host of reasons, including the emphasis it would place on risk management.

"Cycling is growing in the area, and we need to acclimate cyclists on how to ride safely and motorists on how to share the roads with them," said Harrison, chairman of the bike club's safety and education component. He lined up Clarke and Nesper to come.

One Virginia community, Arlington, carries the bike-friendly label. In the 2003 certification, which was renewed in 2005, the community was credited with having 89 miles of designated bikeways.

Clarke said equally impressive is Louisville, Ky., which is completing a 100-mile loop linking parks, its riverfront, downtown and key travel corridors. The effort has generated $55 million to $60 million in federal, state and private funding. The mayor hosted a ride that drew 4,000 people this past Labor Day, Clarke said.

Clarke missed that event but was there earlier last summer with 2,000 other riders when Louisville dedicated the first cycling lane markings on a busy highway bridge.

The markings were added after the death of a cyclist who was rear-ended by an automobile on the then-unmarked bridge even though the rider was following the rules and in full safety gear, Clarke said.