Chapel Hill: Opinion

Colleen Barclay: Biking good for riders and everyone else

Recently Carrboro joined more than 325 other towns and cities across the country that are currently recognized as Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists.

Through the efforts of town staff, local advocacy groups, and citizen enthusiasm for the “real-time and long-term impact that a culture of bicycling can create,” Carrboro earned North Carolina's only Silver Level designation; there were no Gold Level awardees in the state, and 10 other NC communities were presented with Bronze designations.

The application process for the designation constitutes a tool for progress toward the kinds of infrastructure, attitudes and outreach that normalize bicycling as a transportation option. Carrboro’s attention to the safety and comfort of two-wheeled road users, via a growing network of bike lanes, increased bicycle parking for local businesses’ customers, and public education is reflected in our ridership levels, which exceed those reported by many Gold Level recipients, as well as in our safety statistics, which show significantly fewer crashes per 10,000 daily bicyclists compared to the average Gold Level community. The league rated Carrboro highly in public education and outreach, the bike friendliness of our laws and ordinances, and our support of Bike Month and Bike to Work events.

Some of the league’s recommendations for further promotion of bicycling in Carrboro are already under way. The Carrboro Bicycle Coalition is working on better bike parking around town; on engaging business owners through the Bicycle Friendly Business program; and on collaborating with the public schools on the Safe Routes to Schools program. Increased communication between the bicycling community and the Carborro Police Department led to several officers participating in a league-sanctioned bike skills and safety class. Gold Level status should be within our reach when reapplication rolls around in 2018.

Other suggested improvements can alert us to the ways in which improving a community's bicycling environment benefits all of its residents. Streetscape design that creates pleasant, comfortable surroundings for bicyclists and pedestrians also is associated with reductions in crime. Community pride and social capital are enhanced by conditions that make all road users feel welcome and included. A Complete Streets policy, which the league recommends for adoption by Carrboro planners and engineers, promotes transportation and right-of-way design focused on access for all users, regardless of age, ability, or mode of travel.

The right direction

It doesn't take much reading between the lines to find the most important message behind the league recommendations. We’re all in this together: not as factions locked into mutually exclusive identities as motorists, bicyclists, pedestrians, but as citizens of Carrboro, traveling to work, school, shopping or play on Carrboro streets, sharing an appreciation for the town’s personality.

People who ride bikes, people who walk, can be viewed as what biologists call an indicator species, whose well-being provides a measure of the entire ecosystem’s health. Our designation as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community is a sign that we’re doing things right – for everyone who lives here. We’re justifiably proud, and excited to keep working together toward an even more bike-friendly future.

Colleen Barclay is a member of the Carrboro Bicycle Coalition and the Town of Carrboro Transportation Advisory Board, a UNC employee, and a multi-modal road user in Carborro and Chapel Hill.