News » Metro

Norman, Edmond try to become friendlier to bicyclists, hoping to earn national distinctions



Five years ago, one of Tim Tillman's goals was to make the City of Edmond prioritize becoming friendlier to bicyclists. About that same time, the city was considering adopting a master transportation plan that would run through 2030.


The problem, Tillman said, was that the plan did not have any provisions for bicyclists. So he, alongside fellow two-wheelers, got vocal. They talked to City Council members, organized protests, attended meetings and got some media attention.

"We started showing up at the public meetings on our bikes and parking our bikes in the hall, making our presence felt. And next thing you know, we've got bicycle infrastructure in the city master transportation plan," he said. "And at that point, the mayor said, 'You know, we probably need to have a committee to stay on top of these things and keep this agenda at the forefront.'"

Tillman now chairs that group, the Edmond Bicycle Committee, which he said came into existence three years ago. Since that time, the group has had another goal in mind: become a League of American Bicyclists "Bicycle Friendly Community."

The league is a national bicycling advocacy organization that developed a program to recognize communities around the nation that focus on being friendly to bicyclists. Twice a year, the league accepts applications from aspiring communities, said Jeff Peel, a bike-friendly community specialist with the league.

He said the league evaluates the applications based on 75 questions in five categories: engineering, education, enforcement, evaluation and encouragement. About 250 cities have applied since the program started, Peel said, and 108 have been awarded the label. The only city in Oklahoma to achieve the honor is Tulsa.

"So it's not an award we give out freely," he said. "A community has to earn it."

Even when a community is not recognized, however, Peel said the league sends feedback on the application, so the city officials know what they can do to improve and become more bicycle friendly.

Tillman said the plan for Edmond is to apply sometime in the near future knowing the city has a good shot of initially getting turned down.

"Statistically, probably 90 percent of cities that apply for bicycle friendly community status get turned down on the first go-round," he said. "And the value in that for us is that we can look at it. They send you a report of why they declined, and you can look at that and get a lot of information."

The City of Norman applied last year, but did not meet the standards for the label at the time, said James Briggs, Norman park planner.

Peel said Norman was lacking in two major areas: the absence of a complete streets policy and an outdated master bicycle plan from more than 10 years ago.

He said a complete streets policy requires all of a city's street construction or renovation projects be done. That allows the streets to accommodate all modes of transportation, including automobiles, bicycles and pedestrians.

Since that time, however, Norman made some changes and worked on a new application, Briggs said. The 2009 fall deadline for communities to apply was Aug. 7.

Briggs said he feels more confident about Norman's chances this time around, citing several biker-friendly initiatives in the city.

These include a revamped bicycle route map, the addition of bicycle detectors at major intersections and a recent law requiring new commercial and apartment buildings to have bicycle parking, he said. Another addition Briggs hopes will impress the league's judges is Norman's Rock Creek bridge project, which he said is cyclist and pedestrian friendly.

Many in Norman will be anxiously awaiting the league's decision, which usually takes between four and six weeks to make, Peel said.

Briggs said the city would benefit in several ways if declared "bicycle friendly," not the least of which could be monetarily.

"If you can be designated as 'bicycle friendly,' that sort of gives you more credentials when you're trying to get, especially, federal funding to help match what you can do with your local and capital funds to do bigger projects," he said.

The label would also make Norman more competitive with other Big 12 cities that have taken significant steps toward becoming friendly to bikers, like Austin, Texas, and Boulder, Colo.

Tillman said the work that goes into becoming a bicycle-friendly community is the most important thing.

"Most of all, it's process that does the work," he said. "That's what really counts. Once you reach that status, you have made so many changes in the way transportation takes place in your city." "Will Holland


Latest in Metro

Add a comment