Ranking envy

Chico’s increasingly bike friendly but has work ahead to catch Davis

City Associate Planner Jake Morley at the tunnel near Annie’s Glen that has opened up a safe and direct route for bikers and pedestrians from Lower Bidwell Park into downtown.

City Associate Planner Jake Morley at the tunnel near Annie’s Glen that has opened up a safe and direct route for bikers and pedestrians from Lower Bidwell Park into downtown.

Photo By melissa daugherty

Getting Gold. Then Platinum.

That’s what it will take for Chico to catch up to Davis when it comes to the League of American Bicyclists’ ranking of Bicycle Friendly Communities.

“Davis is the pinnacle. Biking is part of the culture there; they have a full-time bicycle [and pedestrian coordinator] on city staff,” said Jake Morley, an associate planner with the city of Chico. “We’re getting there, but we’re definitely chasing Davis.”

Indeed, in 2005 Davis became the first city in the nation to achieve the coveted Platinum level from the league, one of three cities to hold this status today (Portland, Ore., and Boulder, Colo., are the others). According to its website, the city of Davis has spent more than $14 million on bicycle projects over the last decade, and has bike lanes on approximately 95 percent of all arterials and collectors, its high-capacity and low-to-moderate-capacity roadways, respectively.

The city’s 2009 Bicycle Plan, a document designed “to improve and maintain the safety, convenience, attractiveness and inclusiveness of bicycle transportation,” notes that Davis is home to approximately 50 miles of on-street bicycle lanes and 52 miles of off-street bike paths. And now, the city is moving toward a new target of becoming the first city in the nation to go Diamond, the League of American Bicyclists’ highest level of Bicycle Friendly Communities, a designation it adopted only last year to raise the bar for leading bicycle communities.

As Bill Nesper, vice-president of the league’s programs, writes on the nonprofit’s website, “We never thought Platinum would be the end of the road, the pinnacle of bicycle friendliness. But the degree of innovation and pace of improvement in the top BFCs blew us away. We knew we needed new ways to support and challenge the Platinum-level communities. And they were eager to step up their game, too.”

The Bicycle Friendly Communities program’s origins go back to 1993, but the more comprehensive program celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. It’s considered a signature program of the League of American Bicyclists.

Riders pass through One-Mile Recreation Area on the way into downtown.

Photo By melanie mactavish

So where does Chico rank?

Morley led an initiative over two months last spring to boost the city’s ranking from Bronze, which the city first attained in 2005, submitting an extensive application to the league outlining the multitude of ways in which the city and various other local bicycling stakeholders (the Bike Advisory Committee, Butte County Association of Governments, Chico Velo, the Butte Bicycle Coalition, for example) are working to better the bike friendliness of the city.

Communities must reapply every four years to retain their designations. Chico did so in 2007 and 2010, and this past October it earned its Silver standing. (City government itself is a Bronze-level Bicycle Friendly Business.)

As Morley pointed out, encouraging biking has benefits even to non-cyclists. Fewer cars on the road means less wear and tear on the infrastructure, less smog, and fewer motorists frustrated by traffic.

“If everyone was in a car, we’d be gridlocked all the time,” he said.

The application includes reporting on “5 Es”: engineering (various cycling-supportive infrastructure and hardware); education (programs geared toward safety, comfort and convenience); encouragement (incentives and events promoting biking); enforcement (laws and programs ensuring motorists and bikers are held accountable); and evaluation (a commitment to measure results and plan for the future).

One of the most significant infrastructural achievements recently is the progress made on the State Route 99 Corridor Bikeway (also called Bikeway 99), the seven-mile-long bike project paralleling Highway 99 that links residential areas to the urban core and areas of retail, employment and education. The completion of a pedestrian bridge over Little Chico Creek last summer connects the bike path at Teichert Ponds near Kohl’s department store to Humboldt Road in the north. Another bridge across the creek on the west side of the highway near 20th Street Community Park is in the works as well.

While it’s somewhat difficult to quantify the increase in bicycling, the city looks to the popularity of bike hitching posts. Within the last year, at the request of local businesses, city staff has installed 45 posts. Many of them went in as part of the First and Second Street Couplet’s first phase. That project, when completed, will include five-foot-wide Class II bicycle lanes, as well as Class I paths in certain areas. Those improvements, of course, will be mentioned at such time as the city goes for the Gold.

In the meantime, making it to Silver has been an accomplishment.

“[The ranking] really recognizes everyone’s commitment, from the city to bike shops, to police to volunteers,” Morley said.