Cyclists celebrate town’s designation as ‘Bicycle Friendly’
On hand at a ceremony in University Mall this past Friday to celebrate Chapel Hill’s designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists, Mayor Mark Kleinschmidt said peddling pedaling is an easier sell than peas and carrots.
“Riding a bike isn’t like eating broccoli or Brussel sprouts – you begin with the idea that it’s fun,” Mayor Kleinschmidt said. “Bicycle is already a fun activity, so you can take something that’s fun and have it be something that’s also productive, like commuting.”
The validation that commuting by bicycle is recreational was key to Chapel Hill’s prestigious distinction as a bronze level “Bicycle Friendly Community.”
Remarks by the mayor, visiting Director of Bicycle Friendly America Bill Nesper, and Chapel Hill Transportation Management Coordinator Len Cone highlighted the ceremonies, culminating in the unveiling of a plaque commemorating the town’s latest distinction.
Public opinion was welcomed through a bike “Open Mike.” Goldsprints allowed stationary bike riders to compete in a timed race, and local businesses, including Performance Bicycle, The Bicycle Chain, and the ReCYCLEry were also on hand.
Chapel Hill is not the first local community to catch the eye of the League of American Bicyclists, nor is it likely to be the last.
In 2001, Carrboro was the first community in the State of North Carolina to be so-recognized. Initially awarded a bronze-level designation, Carrboro attained a silver designation in May, 2004. A 2005 Mobility Report Card revealed that bicycle activity increased 25 percent between 2003 and 2005 in Carrboro.
UNC, already a 2010 Gold Award winner at the Best Workplace for Commuters “Race to Excellence” Virtual Awards Ceremony held in January, is also working toward designation as a Bicycle Friendly Community.
Nesper said the Bike Friendly distinction is given to those earning a minimum number of points on a scale as indicated through a submitted application.
There are currently 158 communities out of 400 applicants who have received the distinction in 43 states, he said, adding that the application questions are not solely relegated to commuting issues.
“We have about a hundred questions which pertain to all kinds of cycling, including recreational cyclists and questions pertaining to recreational facilities and bike clubs,” he explained. “All of that plays in.”
“What put us over the hump was passing our new Complete Streets policy,” Cone added. “It makes sure all of our departments are on the same page as regards guidelines for pedestrian and bicycle efforts, skateboarding, and even unicycling – there are several unicyclists in the community.”
Nesper said the American Commuting Survey conducted by the US Census Bureau indicated a 40 percent increase in those commuting by bike over the past eight years.”
“In bicycle friendly communities, that number is 70 percent,” he added.
More importantly than numbers and policies, however, are tangible improvements where the mettle meets the pedals – changes bicyclists can see.
“Just the feel of this place tells you that the bike culture is here,” Nesper said. “We were driving in from the airport this morning, and they’re everywhere – not just around the University.”
Annie Martinie, community outreach coordinator for BeActive North Carolina, said cycling offers the benefits of a great workout, and is of even greater fitness value when used in combination with other types of training.
“I run a lot, but I’ve also taken up biking because it takes all the impact off of my knees,” she said. “Too many people just do that one exercise that they really like to do…but your body adapts so quickly. If you’re doing the same exercise every day, your body starts to burn fewer calories.”
Cone said the bronze Bike Friendly Community designation earned by Chapel Hill is just an entry point.
“We only missed the silver designation by two points,” she said. “In the next year or two, when we fill out a new application, we’ll probably be in the silver category. We’re shooting for platinum, of course.”
“On Friday, we had a lunch, and everybody was there, including Carrboro and Durham,” she added. “We rolled up our sleeves and there was a moment where there were no boundaries or lines, and we worked together. There’s about to be an explosion in this community.”
One future development hinted at by town officials and bicycling enthusiasts is a local connector route with bicycle lanes to the American Tobacco Trail via Barbee Chapel, Stagecoach, and Massey Chapel Roads.
The initiative is sponsored by the Davis Wealth Management Foundation
Most importantly, however, the distinction is simply emblematic of one more feature that makes Chapel Hill a more attractive and healthier environment.
“It’s not a coincidence that Bicycle Friendly Communities are the ones that people want to live in, to work in, to go to school in,” Cone said. “Here in Chapel Hill, you don’t have to get in a car to go recreating.”
Best of all, riding a bicycle may even be healthier than eating broccoli.
And it’s a whole lot more fun.