Lawrence is still a “Bicycle Friendly Community,” but now Manhattan is one, too.
They were among a list of award winners released Monday by the League of American Bicyclists.
“I think the competition is on,” said Bill Nesper, vice president of programs for the League of American Bicyclists. “Who’s going to be the best? Who’s going to set the standard for the state?”
There’s only one other bicycle-friendly community in Kansas and that’s Shawnee, and the three are among only 214 communities nationwide.
While Manhattan just earned its designation, Lawrence has been dubbed bicycle friendly by the organization since 2004, re-earning the title in 2008 and this year. The League of American Bicyclists began handing out the awards in 2003, and there are four levels: bronze, silver, gold and platinum. It selects communities based on an extensive application that looks at five areas: engineering, education, encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement. Only about one-third of the applications receive an award.
Nesper said while Lawrence was among the first communities to receive a designation, it hasn’t moved up to the silver level because there’s too much work to do. He noted three specific areas:
• Infrastructure. Lawrence needs more bicycle lanes and other infrastructure so riders can safely get to their destinations. “We think the bicycling network should continue to expand and help connect and close the gaps for people who are trying to get from one place to another,” he said.
• Education. Nesper said Lawrence needs to improve its outreach to children by providing more education in schools. He said some communities are part of a national Safe Routes to School program. He said the community needs to do a better job of educating adults, too.
• Ridership. If Lawrence improves its infrastructure and education, then maybe more people will ride their bicycles. He said Lawrence’s bicycle ridership is below the norm for a college town.
“You have a new bike plan, which is really encouraging. You have a new Complete Streets Policy,” Nesper said. “I think you are right on the cusp of something really great in Lawrence.”
Among other accomplishments in the past four years:
• Lawrence Central Rotary launched a website called RideLawrence.com which promotes bicycling and adding bicycle parking.
• Burroughs Creek Trail, which runs from 11th to 23rd streets, was completed. The 1.7-mile-long trail can be used for bicycling and other activities.
• A bicycle rideability map has been created and is available on the city of Lawrence’s website. The map assists riders in choosing routes most applicable to their skill level.
• The first Community Bike Ride was held July 2011 and it drew 125 participants. This year's event will be July 21 at the Lawrence Rotary Arboretum.
Jessica Mortinger, transportation planner for Lawrence-Douglas County Planning and Development Services, said while the city has made progress, there’s plenty of work ahead.
She said the Lawrence-Douglas County Metropolitan Planning Organization has received $100,000 from the Kansas Department of Transportation to conduct a countywide bicycle study. The study will start in late summer or early fall and take about one year. It will help guide future plans on improving and expanding bicycle routes.
Lisa Hallberg, a bicycling enthusiast, said she wouldn’t have considered the town bicycle-friendly until two years ago when she began serving as chairwoman of the Lawrence-Douglas County Bicycle Advisory Committee. Now, she’s more aware of the efforts being made and the time it takes to complete each one.
“I have a very different view about how the city is really trying to put in place better accessibility for all users in transportation,” she said. “It’s an evolving process. That car-centric way of thinking is pretty entrenched but they are doing the best that they can and they’ve accomplished a lot in the last four or five years.”
Her goal is to become the first Kansas community to earn the silver-level award. Falling behind Manhattan is not an option, she said.