Friday, May 17, 2013

Fort Collins Wins Platinum Award: "Fort Collins bicycle culture, in nation's top 4, aims higher"

By David Young, the Coloradoan
First Published May 13, 2013
 Fort Collins has been climbing the ranks of “bicycle friendly” communities for 10 years now, but there’s still one more rung to go.
The city has been working toward becoming a platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community ever since it reached the gold level, said Molly North, FC Bikes Program Specialist. To finally achieve it is a proud moment.
The League of American Bicyclists awarded Fort Collins the Platinum Bicycle Friendly Community status on Monday. It puts Fort Collins into the upper echelons of cities that embrace bicycles as a lifestyle.

Troutman Underpass on the Mason Trail, March 2013

Next up, the city is striving to reach the next level: diamond.
In the past five years, programs such as the bicycle library, bicycle ambassador program and bicycle infrastructure were key in reaching the next level, said North, who applied for the designation. She also credited both the city and the community for sustained commitment to cycling.
“Part of the spirit of this bike-friendly community program is that competition,” North said. “Really, competition against oneself.”
With bikes used as recreation as well as transportation, the city needs to get more people on bikes and further the programs in place if it wants to reach the diamond designation.
“We are not going to rest on our laurels,” North said. “We are not going to be ‘as is,’ but if not broken, we won’t fix it.”
Nicole Wynands, program manager of the Bicycle Friendly Community program with the League of American Bicyclists, said one of the big achievements that helped Fort Collins move to the next level was the Bike Ambassador Program, in which trained cyclists work with the community to advance safe cycling.
In addition, the infrastructure, such as an expansive 133 miles of off-street trails and 280 miles of bike lanes, contributed to the designation. Wynands also noted how CSU and businesses encourage cycling by offering bike parking.
More people ride bikes than walk in town — a rarity — as 6.6 percent ride and 3.3 percent walk, she noted.
The diamond designation is still in the works. In addition to an application, it would require a survey and some stricter requirements that accompany it. A diamond designation requires that ridership would need to be 15 percent and bike crashes would need to be limited to 50 per 10,000 daily commuters, with fewer than .02 fatalities, Wynands said.
Rick Price, Fort Collins Bike Co-op safe cycling coordinator, said the award is well deserved and the city has been working toward this moment for years. He gave much of the credit to City Council for its foresight in helping put Fort Collins on the map for biking.
Price has his eyes on the next level — diamond — noting that to reach it, there needs to be more education and policies that will help raise the next generation of cyclists.
Fort Collins achieved the status for its investment in bicycling promotion, education programs, infrastructure and pro-bicycling policies.
The Bicycle Friendly Community program evaluates quality of life, sustainability and transportation networks, providing benchmarks toward improving bicycle-friendliness. There are 259 Bicycle Friendly Communities in 47 states across America. But there are only four platinum cities in the country: Fort Collins; Boulder; Davis, Calif.; and Portland, Ore. There are five levels of the award — diamond, platinum, gold, silver and bronze. Fort Collins received a silver designation in 2003 and a gold designation in 2008. No city has reached the diamond level yet.
Moving forward, Dan Porter, cyclist and operator of local bike website, said he would like to see more races, such as the USA Pro Cycling Challenge, become standards for Fort Collins.
Coinciding with the award, FC Bikes new program manager, Tessa Greegor, started Monday. Greegor, 30, comes from Seattle, where, for the past five years, she has been the principal planner for the Cascade Bicycle Club, the largest bicycle advocacy organization in the country.
Greegor said the award reflects the level of commitment that the city has to cycling.
Coming into her first day on the job, she noted the framework is in place for bikes freeing her up to focus on updating the bike plan, expand the bike library and work on bike safety.
Greegor wants to help families and children feel safer when riding.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

'The Bear's Bicycle' a route to reaching all ages on safety

First Published in The Coloradoan, Jan. 7, 2013
By Rick Price
During three years of teaching in the City’s Safe Routes to School program I’ve been surveying children’s literature on bicycling.  There are some wonderful children’s books about bicycling available and there are some absolutely terrible bicycle safety books – terrible because they are boring and because they try to teach kids by lecturing them rather than through creative engagement.

But at least one book should get the award for excellence in both entertainment and bicycle safety.  It is The Bear’s Bicycle written by Emilie Warren McLeod and illustrated by David McPhail (Joy Street Books, Little, Brown and Company).  In a read-aloud program this book could reach elementary school kids, seniors or parents and CSU student volunteers all at the same time. 

This story begins with a simple statement:  “every afternoon we go bike riding.”   An illustration shows a little boy and his teddy bear preparing their bikes for a ride.  The boy checks the air in the tires and tests the brakes in preparation for the ride. 

Kindergarteners through second graders sit spellbound when I read this to a class.  I ask them to look carefully for lessons they would like to teach bear, who is the alter ego of Tommy in this book, and is not the safest of cyclists.   

The bike ride begins with the two cyclists coasting down the driveway.  Tommy (the boy) looks left and right, then signals a right turn while bear coasts down the driveway, turns right without stopping and picks a few apples off a tree in the yard while oblivious to anything else around him. 

The book continues in this vein:  Tommy walks his bike across the street after first checking for traffic while bear rides right into a milk truck.  Tommy watches for hazards such as opening car doors, debris or dogs while bear is oblivious to all of these dangers.  Tommy stops at stop signs, keeps to the right and warns pedestrians of his approach. At the end of the afternoon he wipes his feet before entering the house.  Bear does the opposite on all of these.

At the end of this book I ask kids what they would tell bear to help make him a safer cyclist.  Hands shoot up.  “Bear,” the kids begin, “you should stop at stop signs.”  Or “Bear,” they’ll admonish, “you need to walk your bike across the street” or “yield to pedestrians.” 

No bicycle book is perfect.  Inevitably one of the kids will raise his hand and say, “Bear, you need to wear a helmet.”  Indeed, neither bear nor Tommy wear helmets in this book.  That’s a failing, for many, with any kids’ bike book.  For me it is a teaching moment.  I never complete my lesson without mentioning the importance of wearing helmets.  The other thing about this book that makes it less than perfect is that both Tommy and bear use bikes with training wheels.  

Monday, December 31, 2012

Preparing Bikes and Kids for Spring Cycling

First Published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, March 1, 2010
by Rick Price

Children five to ten should learn the rules of the road as pedestrians before they begin bicycling: teach them how to walk through parking lots, crosswalks, driveways, and sidewalks.  The rules they learn walking (“look left, look right, look left again . . ,” stop at the edge, and so on) will serve them well when they begin bicycling. 

Smaller children should not ride alone on the street (your cul-de-sac excepted, perhaps).  They don’t have the cognitive ability to judge distance and speed. Encourage them to ride behind you until they learn the concepts of keeping right, watching for hazards, and making way for those passing.  While they ride behind you they imprint on you as goslings do on their parents.  So follow the rules of the road: signal, keep to the right, use two hands, and wear a helmet.  How many parents do you see without a helmet?  They are, effectively, teaching their kids that it’s ok for adults to not wear a helmet. 

By the time children are 10 (4th grade) they are ready to ride on neighborhood streets with parked cars and light traffic.  They’ve developed their peripheral vision and have the judgement necessary to be allowed freedom to discover the world.  But now they need real instruction in bike handling, hazard avoidance and they are able to understand that bicycles are vehicles and must follow the rules of the road.

Those of us concerned about bicycle policies in the community advocate that the education of a cyclist should be focused on 4th and 5th graders where we should set a goal of training every single one of them in PE classes over a ten-week period.  If they can get pedestrian rules of the road earlier and apply them in 4th grade we’d have a much safer bicycle community.  Continue that teaching on the bike into middle school and we’d also have safer young drivers of motor vehicles.

About that bicycle.  Get out to the garage right now and check:  “A,” air in the tires; “B,” the brakes; and “C,” the crank, chain and cassette if it has more than one gear.  If the ABC Quick Check shows that the bike is ready, you’re good to go. We do this regularly in elementary school bike parking lots, though, and find that 60% of the bikes need air AND a brake adjustment.  This last one is serious.  Your child needs to learn how to ride his or her bike but he or she needs to learn how to stop it effectively.  Most brakes on kids’ bikes won’t stop the bike because they are not properly adjusted.  If the bike didn’t pass the ABC test and you can’t fix the brakes, please take it down to the bike shop today.

If you are buying a child’s first bike please go to the bike shop, not a department store, and get professional help with proper sizing.  
Rick Price, Ph.D., LCI #2347 lives and pedals in Fort Collins where he is the Safe Cycling Coordinator for the Bike Co-op.  If your school or group would like a safe cycling presentation

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. 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Are We Building Too Many Bike Lanes?

First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, May 21, 2012

Sometimes I worry that we are building too many bike lanes.   We build them to encourage children, families, and novice cyclists to ride more.  But bike lanes can be misleading if they give a false sense of security to novices who need to learn when and how to get out of the bike lane safely.  They can also mislead motorists and parents into thinking that the only place for bicyclists is in the bike lane. 

Looking east on Lake Street on the Colorado State University campus.  I've seen east-bound cyclists use the left hand bike lane, riding the wrong way on this street because they were afraid to take the travel lane and felt that they should be in the bike lane.  As you can see, City and CSU authorities don't do a very good job of plowing this bike lane.  What's a cyclist to do?  What will it take to teach college educated students that they should just take the lane and avoid wrong way riding?

If we are going to become the safest bike town in the nation we’ve got to come to an understanding of where bicycles belong on our streets and the role of bike lanes in this.   Three principles govern the concept:  1) Colorado law; 2) common sense; and 3) best practices in bike safety.  Common courtesy also plays a role. 

Colorado law requires cyclists to ride in the right-hand lane if they are traveling at “less than the normal speed of traffic.”  In Fort Collins we’ve built 130 miles of bike lanes to encourage people to ride bicycles. But there are many conditions when bikes should not be in the bike lane and it is important that everyone understand those conditions. 

Cyclists should exit the bike lane if it is dangerous for them to be there because of debris, potholes, glass or the threat of opening car doors from parked cars.  Cyclists should also get out of the bike lane and merge into the travel lane to make a left turn, when overtaking a slower vehicle, and to avoid a right turn lane if they are continuing straight through an intersection.

Conflicts are often built into intersections where right turning cars must cross bike lanes.  How many motorists know that the law requires them to allow one hundred feet before turning right after passing a cyclist?  Not many, I fear. 

When there are no bike lanes cyclists can and should use the right-most regular travel lane in a position where they feel safe:  they should stay away from parked cars and occupy the entire lane if it is not wide enough to share side-by-side with motor vehicles.  Lanes less than fourteen feet wide cannot be safely shared so cyclists should position themselves in the center or the right third of that lane.

Roundabouts in south Fort Collins often have bike lanes leading into them.  In some cases the bike lane ends before the roundabout, requiring cyclists to merge with traffic, which is desirable, while other times the lanes end abruptly at the roundabout itself creating potential confusion for cyclists and motorists.   

Instead of more bike lanes we need an intensive education program to educate all road users of the rights of cyclists and best practices for everyone.  The City should take the lead in this.  Maybe when we conduct a national search for a new bike coordinator we can look for someone to help us move in this direction.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Clear Up Confusion on Bicycling in Old Town Fort Collins

By Rick Price
First published in the Fort Collins Coloradoan May 14, 2012

Last week a passenger in a car on College Avenue shouted at me to get off the street.  When the car stopped at a red light at College and Laporte Avenue I pulled up beside it and asked the occupants if they had spoken to me.  The young male passenger said, “yeah, get the [expletive] out of the road or at least keep to the right.”  
Photo compliments of Preston Tyree.
 I explained that College Avenue was too narrow to share and that diagonally parked cars constituted a hazard for bicyclists so I needed to stay at least six feet away from them, hence in the middle of the lane.  I also mentioned that his shouting at me constituted harassment and that I was going to report the license number of the car to the Colorado State Patrol.  The driver pleaded with me not to “put this on his license.”  I explained that since he was the driver he was responsible for the behavior of his passengers.  In reality you can shout anything you want at a bicyclist in Colorado as long as you don’t throw anything.  But I made my point.

There is still plenty of confusion about where we can ride our bicycles in Old Town Fort Collins.  Maybe it is time the City and the Downtown Business Association took steps to clear this up, especially for those who work in Old Town and who are in a position to help educate others.

When I mention the dismount zone to cyclists on the sidewalk in Old Town I’ve often had reasonable people ask me if I want them to “ride on College Avenue?”  When I say “yes,” they are incredulous and explain to me that it is illegal to ride on College.  We need to bust this myth once and for all:  it is illegal to ride on College Avenue only between Harmony Road and Laurel Street.  North of Laurel it is perfectly legal to ride on College and between Magnolia and Maple Streets it is actually safe since the speed limit is 25 miles per hour and College is, for all practical purposes, a parking lot.  You are safer pedaling College Avenue here than you are bicycling across the parking lot at Foothills Fashion Mall.  Admittedly you need to practice basic principles of vehicular cycling but you can learn these at

The City could help this situation in two ways: 1) publish a single panel flyer to explain where and how to bicycle in Old Town; 2) pass an ordinance, similar to ordinances in Los Angeles and Independence, Missouri, where it is illegal to harass “any person riding a bicycle, walking, running, or operating a wheelchair” by shouting or otherwise directing “loud or unusual sounds toward such person.”

Yes, it would be difficult to enforce such an ordinance.  But the publicity alone would go far to make Old Town a safer place to ride a bicycle.