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Initiatives Give Cycling Fresh Legs

The Hartfrord Courant: Initiatives Give Cycling Fresh Legs

By ANDY CLARKE
January 10, 2010

Connecticut cyclists are looking forward to a banner year in 2010 — and that’s good news for the state’s economy, environment and quality of life. After decades of official neglect, recent months have seen completion of important sections of the Farmington Valley Trail, adoption of a statewide bicycle and pedestrian plan, passage of a law requiring motorists to pass cyclists safely, and a policy ensuring that future street and highway projects across the state are built with cyclists — and all users — in mind.

Leaders around the state are responding to national trends that have brought about a 46 percent increase in bicycle commuting from 2000 to 2008. This increase is even more pronounced in cities that have encouraged cyclists with bike lanes, trails, education and promotional programs.

Even New York City, often perceived as one of toughest riding environments, enjoyed a 28 percent increase in ridership last year alone thanks to more than 200 miles of new bikeway that have helped civilize the city’s mean streets.

Investing in better conditions for bicyclists pays multiple dividends. Consider these examples:

•The North Carolina Department of Transportation reports a 9 to 1 return on investment for bicycling improvements on the Outer Banks.

•Portland, Ore., enjoys an annual $100 million economic boost from cycling-related businesses and the 1,700 people they employ.

•The province of Quebec invested $200 million to create the 2,500-mile "Route Verte" bike route network over a twelve-year period. Before it was finished, Quebec was seeing $90 million to $100 million in annual economic activity in return.

With a five-fold increase in the number of bicyclists since the mid-1990s, Portland has documented an average reduction of four miles of driving per person per day and one of the lowest percentages in the nation of household income spent on transportation. The region also saves because it doesn’t have to build or maintain as much highway infrastructure.

Thankfully, Connecticut is jumping on this opportunity to address not just economics and transportation, but the triple threat of obesity, climate change and dependence on foreign oil. New leadership at the state Department of Transportation is finally paying attention.

Most exciting of all, perhaps, is the re-emergence of a statewide voice for cyclists as the Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance takes on the challenge of making every community in the state more bicycle-friendly. There is a well-traveled road map for communities to follow: the Bicycle Friendly Community program administered by the League of American Bicyclists. More than 320 communities across the country have applied for recognition as a BFC; 124 have made the grade to date, but none yet in Connecticut.

Connecticut has what it takes to become much more bike-friendly. Compact communities built around transit and rail; dozens of coastal towns and cities with a dynamic mix of student, industrial, and tourist populations; gorgeous scenery from mountains in the northwest to the legendary Mystic Seaport in the Southeast; and the historic and recreational gem of the Farmington Valley canal trail right in the middle.

Perhaps only the hardiest of riders are saddling up in the depths of this cold, snowy winter, but after years in the cycling doldrums, changes are afoot in Connecticut that everyone will be able to enjoy.

HAPPY CYCLING

The author will discuss the Bicycle Friendly Community program at a symposium from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford. For more information see www.crcog.org.

• Andy Clarke is president of the League of American Bicyclists.