November 25, 2015
Santa Cruz for the win! Last week, Santa Cruz became one of 24 cities nationwide and 4 cities in California to be awarded the Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community Award by the League of American Cyclist, moving up from the Silver level award the City of Santa Cruz received in 2008. This award is the result of all of the work that the City of Santa Cruz has done to build and improve bike infrastructure in conjunction with the advocacy and education of Bike Santa Cruz County. Everything from projects like the recently completed Arana Gulch Trail, which connects the East Side with Live Oak and Capitola and the green lanes that were recently installed on Laurel St, all the way to the Youth Education efforts and programs, the Bike Smart program, Greenways to school, afternoon school bike clubs, Project Bike Trip, and more.
“Rising from silver to gold is really a testament to all that we have invested in bike infrastructure in the City of Santa Cruz” — Claire Fliesler, Transportation Planner, City of Santa Cruz
The process of completing the application, with its 111 questions was no easy feat. There were multi-part questions often requiring lots of data to be collected and compiled, like counting the number of usable bike parking spaces that exist (which is somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,363 in case you were curious), or the percentage of children that bike to school (30%), or finding out what percentage of roads have a posted speed of 25 mph (97%, which is ideal for cycling around town). Bike Santa Cruz County, a bike advocacy organization that serves as a link between local governments and the public that cares about cycling, and their team of volunteers led the effort to not only apply for this Gold level award but also to see the application all the way through to its 16-page end.
Receiving the gold level bike friendly award truly highlights what an amazing cycling community we have in Santa Cruz, and the bike infrastructure that exists to make it easier for people to get around. Santa Cruz has one of the highest rates of bike to work trips in the country, and is second only to Davis among California cities with 9.5% of Santa Cruzans commuting by bike. This is what being a bikeable community is all about: removing barriers to people getting out on their bike and making it safe and easy once they are out there. Cycling is also a great way to build community by getting people out of their cars and onto City streets, engaging with other cyclists and pedestrians.
“I walk, bike, and drive to work on various days depending on what is going on, and I find that when I drive I see nothing, when I bike I see a lot, and when I walk I really get to see the details - from the architecture of buildings to improvements being made on our streets. And, you get to see the same people on your commute, and you feel a greater sense of community than you do when you drive.” — Claire Fliesler
In addition to the infrastructure improvements, there is also an ongoing outreach and education effort aimed at building the next generation of the cycling community. Programs like Greenways to school, which takes middle school students out on their bikes, and empowers them with training on how to safely navigate intersections and how to fix their bikes, so that these students can feel confident on their bikes and see from a young age that biking is a great way to get around.
“Cycling can be a solution for a lot of problems that we face in our cities, which is why it is a really good thing for our City to keep investing in and working towards it being safe, comfortable, and easy for people to bike in Santa Cruz.” — Amelia Conlen
City staff and bike advocates are already looking towards the future and working to become one of four cities in the nation with the Platinum level award. The gold award is a great way to celebrate the great work that City staff, City leaders, and City Council have been doing to support bike friendly projects, but it has also been a great way to identify areas for improvement and gaps in the bike network that still need to be addressed. The League of American Bicyclists prepared a report card with the rankings for each aspect of the Gold level award as well as the action steps to Platinum. You can view the report card here.
It is important to remember that around the world in Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Portland and other great bike cities, they did not start off as great bike cities. They just built a network of bike infrastructure that makes people feel super safe and make the rules of the road really clear, so you always know things like who is supposed to do what at every intersection. And these cities have seen dramatic increases in bike commuting. I think it is important for us to know that it is not that the Dutch just have bikes in their DNA, it is a simple matter of building good infrastructure, and if you build good infrastructure people will use it. — Amelia Conlen, Director Bike Santa Cruz County.
The City of Santa Cruz is currently working on its Active Transportation Plan, which will include updates to the 2008 Bike Plan and the 2003 Pedestrian Plan, all of which will focus on closing the gaps and addressing pinch points and areas of concern for pedestrians and bikers. There are also a number of pending infrastructure projects that will help us to meet our goals and hopefully go Platinum in 2019. The Rail Trail is one of those projects; it is a 32 mile walking and biking trail that will extend from Davenport to Watsonville, and will serve a key connector for cyclist traveling across the county. The Santa Cruz City Council has already committed to building the portion of the trail that will run through the City, and has contributed $1 million to the project. The City also just received a grant for the Branciforte Creek Bridge, which will complete the final gap in the levee pathways system. Finally, the Regional Transportation Commission is heading up a bicycle route signage program that will be a county-wide network of signage directing cyclists to the best routes and destinations.