PHOENIX — Less than a year after a committee was tasked with making recommendations to improve the city's appeal for bicyclists, the town of just more than 4,500 residents has been recognized for its efforts by a national biking organization.
The Bike Friendly Phoenix Committee, which began work earlier this year to identify improvements to accessibility and safety for cyclists, helped the city earn an honorable mention under the Bicycle Friendly Community program established by the League of American Bicyclists.
The bike-friendly distinction gives communities added leverage when applying for grants related to projects focused on promoting and improving bike transportation, said bike committee member Laurie Nielsen of Phoenix.
In the Rogue Valley, Ashland is the only other city to be recognized as a bike-friendly community, ranked bronze. Phoenix didn't rate as highly as Ashland, but Nielsen said the months-long process included a breakdown on how Phoenix can improve its rating.
The League of American Bicyclists designates communities as bronze, silver, gold and platinum and acknowledges communities that are close to becoming bicycle friendly, but which still have some room to grow, with an honorable mention, according to the group's website (www.bikeleague.org).
Nielsen said local committee members learned during the grueling process that first-time applicants don't often make the grade.
"From what we've heard, only one of three applicants gets any sort of distinction the first time they apply, so this is really a big deal for our little town," Nielsen said.
As part of the process, Nielsen said, the league will make recommendations in a number of areas, including engineering, education, enforcement, evaluation and planning, as well as ways to encourage cyclists to access the city's businesses and trails.
Improvements thus far have included safer crossings along the Bear Creek Greenway, setting up an $8 helmet program at City Hall, bike safety programs at local schools and a diversion program for cyclists who receive traffic violations.
With 170,000 bike trips a year going through the city's Blue Heron Park, according to the National Bicyclist and Pedestrian Documentation Project (http://bikepeddocumentation.org), the city has enough bicycle traffic to warrant a serious evaluation of biker safety and accessibility, Nielsen said.
Nicole Wynands, Bicycle Friendly America program specialist, said recognition under the program requires a lot of work, even for larger cities.
"The application has five parts, and there are a lot of questions and very data-heavy portions of the process," she said.
"Depending on how many people are helping, it can be 20 to 60 hours of work. The process is really designed to encourage community members to network and partner together."
Ashland resident Bill Heimann, a League of American Bicyclists certified instructor, said Phoenix's recognition is impressive.
"It's amazing, and Laurie deserves all the credit," he said.
"I don't know if she's told many people, but this whole thing started because she got upset that people were parking in the bike lanes in Phoenix," Heimann said.
"It's against state law, but it wasn't being enforced. Laurie just kept at it and got things going. So in just a matter of months, we went from that scenario to having a community that is recognized nationally."
Buffy Pollock is a freelance writer living in Medford. Email her at email@example.com.