The League of American Bicyclists was founded in 1880 to improve road conditions for, and acceptance of, cyclists.
Since then, the league has continued with the vision to encourage and facilitate “a nation where everyone recognizes and enjoys the many benefits and opportunities of bicycling.” It is in fulfillment of this vision that the league offers the Bicycle Friendly America program.
This program awards cities recognition tiered from bronze up to platinum with a designation that lasts four years. Each designation includes a report card and recommendations for achieving the next level.
For Walla Walla, the seed for its designation as a bicycle friendly community was planted three years ago by City Engineer Neal Chavre in an email to the city’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee chair: yours truly.
The time for action, however, didn’t come until summer of 2015 when cycling enthusiast, retired U.S. Air Force veteran and league member Jeffrey Fritts offered his help to the committee.
Jeffrey researched and presented on the application requirements and process to the BPAC and to City Council with the recommendation to apply. Through discussions of the potential for a joint application of the Valley’s metropolitan planning area, the initiative lost some momentum and missed that year’s deadline.
Plans found new life this March, when Barb Chamberlain, chief strategic officer of the Cascade Bicycle Club, invited me to the Washington Bike Summit in Tacoma.
The session on seeking bicycle friendly status spurred the spirit of competition in me. So the race was on!
I worked with community partners, groups, cycling advocates, and city staff and leaders to demonstrate Walla Walla’s progress in the main application categories; education and encouragement; engineering; safety and enforcement; and evaluation and planning. Thanks to much input and support, the application was signed, sealed, and delivered in time for the August deadline. Last month, we learned Walla Walla received a bronze designation and officially became the 17th Bicycle Friendly Community in Washington, the No. 1 bicycle friendly state.
So what does the designation mean for Walla Walla? I think of this designation as an affirmation of the work that has already been done by so many in our city. That we have a Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee and a Bicycle and Pedestrian Plan are a few obvious examples. Safety signage, especially on county roads; the Tour of Walla Walla; community support for two local bicycle shops; numerous varied riding groups; the Whitman College cycling team; and Bicycle Benefits, a bicycle and business friendly program, are further evidence of cycling’s enduring appeal to many in Walla Walla.
The designation also serves as a starting point for a renewed and continued focus on cycling education and safety in our city. Bicycle friendly cities tend to be destination cities for bicycling tourists, bringing with them additional economic benefits.
The impacts of encouraging and facilitating cycling on health and sustainability should not be overlooked either. Cycling is not only a rewarding and multifaceted recreational option, but it can also be a viable alternative to motorized transportation.
Statistics from the 2009 National Household Travel Study reveal that most school, work, and errand trips are less than 10 miles and 22 percent of trips are under four miles.
If even a fraction of the 22 percent of trips under four miles were taken by bicycle instead, our community would benefit from improved parking and traffic conditions, especially in the downtown core. In Walla Walla, every Valley Transit bus is outfitted with bike racks, making creative commuter options possible. Bicycle commuters benefit from improved health and financial savings. Finally, the environment can benefit at the most fundamental level through a reduction in carbon emissions.
Capitalizing on the benefits the designation can have for Walla Walla is now up to us. As leaders, policy makers, taxpayers, parents, educators, environmentalists, law enforcement and cycling advocates and enthusiasts, we have a framework and tools to continue to make a positive impact on our health and quality of life in Walla Walla through bicycling.
I hope, in four years, to submit an application that shows progress in our efforts and to achieve a silver (or higher!) designation.
Erendira Cruz is the executive director of the Sustainable Living Center. She has a bachelor’s degree in business management from Montana State University.