Monday, July 2, 2012

Budgeting Will Allow the City of Fort Collins to Prioritize Bicycle Safety

First published in the Coloradoan July 2, 2012
By Rick Price

How can we get more people to use their bicycle for transportation in Fort Collins?  Offer more classes in safe cycling skills?  Build more bike paths?  Hire a marketing firm to advertise the health benefits of bicycling?  Continue to offer a free bicycle lending program to encourage tourists to ride bicycles?  

Gimmicks are great to increase the visibility of bicycling.  But they don't teach bicycle safety.  The City needs a solid bicycle safety education program aimed at school children, their parents (who are also drivers of motor vehicles) and college students.  The current budget development cycle presents a perfect opportunity to prioritize bicycle safety education in City bicycle policy.

Last January I conducted a survey of interested citizens in order to provide input to City Council on these priorities.  Five hundred thirty-six people responded to the survey.  87% of respondents felt that the City's bike program contributes to their personal well-being and quality of life and 84% felt that our bicycle programs and culture constitute an economic driver, enticing businesses and residents to move here. 

When asked to rank programs, including law enforcement, the bike library, and education programs for children, college students and motorists, education for children came out on top, supported by 82% of respondents.  Second was educational outreach to motorists which attracted the support of 68% of respondents.  Third was support of the bike library (67%) with summer bike to work day close behind at 64%. 

Respondents in this survey were not asked to allocate funds in a hypothetical budget but they were asked a number of times to prioritize programs.  Bike safety programs for school children came out consistently at the top of the list with three quarters tagging this as “very important” and another 21% identifying it as “somewhat important.”

Two popular programs that give bicycling great visibility in Fort Collins came in near the top of this list of priorities.  They are the bike library and summer bike to work day.  But answers to additional questions made it clear that most people feel that these are programs that the City should continue to sponsor but not pay for entirely.  Only a quarter of respondents felt that the City should continue to fund the free bike library while a majority (66%) felt that the program should be self-supporting.   A similar sentiment was expressed with Bike to Work day.  32% encouraged the City to continue to sponsor this while 57% felt that local businesses or bicycle advocacy groups should assume more of a role in financing bike to work day.

Among the bicycle programs that had less support in this survey were the Bicycle Ambassador Program (only 25% of respondents supported it), the Bike Safety Town for school children and Winter Bike to Work Day, both with 43% support.  In my view the Bicycle Ambassador Program and Bike Safety Town, if properly launched and funded, could be the mainstay of an educational outreach program in the schools while winter Bike to Work day could easily be passed to the private sector.

As staff finalizes the 2013-2014 budget recommendation for City Council approval later this fall they should consider the results of the above survey.  The community is asking for more bicycle safety programs and fewer costly, headline-grabbing initiatives.