Ashland bicyclists are celebrating the town's award as the Most Improved Bicycle Friendly City in the U.S., issued in large part because of its "road diet" on North Main Street that added bike lanes.
The jump in status from bronze last year to gold this year among Bicycle Friendly Cities is "really huge," says Ashland bicyclist Bill Heimann, as he led a ride Tuesday out busy North Main. The awards are given by the League of American Bicyclists.
The higher classification also recognizes the city's "truly multi-modal transportation plan," which supports all modes of transportation, says Heimann, a retired bicycle industry professional.
Ashland's new "sharrows" (street markers that remind motorists to share the road with bicyclists), its Bicycle Safety Education Program in public schools and a diversion program for bicyclists who get moving violations also added to the city's new distinction.
The city treats bicycle violations the same as motor vehicle tickets and levies the same fines, but violators can attend a one-day safety class for $70, instead of paying a stiff $282 fine, says chiropractor John Colwell, an administrator of the program.
The goal of diversion is to offer an educational alternative in which violators can learn the rules of the road and get beyond "what we all learned as children, that bikes are free to go where they want, when they want," Colwell says.
The shift to multi-modal began eight years ago with the city's Bicycle and Pedestrian Commission, winning Ashland a bronze-rating, the lowest category, says avid bicyclist David Chapman, a former member of that body and former city councilman.
"We used that award to focus on Ashland's shortcomings for bicyclists," says Chapman, pointing to the intersection of Wimer and North Main, which he says used to be the most dangerous one for bikes.
"There were no bike lanes on North Main and no sidewalks — and cars drove too fast. When North Main was re-done, bikes got a freebie, a big win, with two lanes," Chapman says.
Ashland has several League Cycling instructors, seven bike shops, several nationally ranked bicycling events and lots of bike vacationing, all bringing in tourist dollars, Chapman says.
The local Siskiyou Velo club boasts 330 members and seven League Cycling instructors in the region, says its president, Gary Shaff. In addition to their touring, they work to promote bicycle safety and accommodations for two-wheelers, he says.
Cities that adopt the "modal equity" model into their transportation plan "have better livability, less traffic, cleaner air and happier people," says David Young, chairman of the Ashland Transportation and Parking Commission. "It's not just the road diet. It's safer travel on foot, bicycle and in vehicles and more space for cars."
The gold rating is not the highest one; Ashland is now shooting for the platinum.
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.