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Bicycle Friendly Fiendish Communities

-- NOT so Friendly to Cyclists --
by Fred Oswald, PE, LCI #947

5 -- Evaluation -- Program is Cyclist-Unfriendly


Bicycle facilities must never introduce hazards, because they attract novice cyclists.
The program must adopt the physician's slogan "First, do no harm."

The BFC program gives far too much emphasis on spending money -- hiring consultants and planners to build facilities.  We have heard that there is a "favored" consultant with ties to staff.

There is too little attention on teaching officials how to improve conditions for the people who actually use bicycles for transportation.  Officials must understand the real issues and treat cyclists fairly, rather than just throwing money at "the bicycle problem".

Most members of the BFC advisory group have had no training in bicycle driving, not even the fundamentals that are part of the entry-level Smart Cycling course.  They do not understand and certainly do not appreciate the best practices of bicycle driving.  The BFC program totally ignores all hazards created by the separate facilities they promote.  This means that BFC tacitly encourages building dangerous bicycle facilities.

BFC as it is currently implemented is about as appropriate as if would be for Mothers Against Drunk Driving to sponsor a wine tasting party.  BFC is contrary to the principles the League claims to stand for and highly detrimental to the cycling community.

Ironically cities that treat cyclists as fully equal users of the road may not receive a favorable score or they may be discouraged from even applying because the criteria so strongly favor "Paint & Path" over education and equitable treatment.  The undeserving are rewarded while the deserving may be snubbed.

An example of a more deserving community that was snubbed is Vandalia, Ohio.  This city, working with the Dayton Cycling Club, reformed their laws to repeal dangerous provisions, fixed road hazards, added secure bicycle parking at city facilities and tested and adjusted vehicle detectors so they reliably detect bicycles.  They did not spent millions of taxpayer dollars on consultants or dangerous separate facilities, so BFC rejected their application.


Here's a Program that Actually HELPS Cyclists

BFC has become so irrelevant to the interests of cyclists that the Ohio Bicycle Federation developed its own award program, called Cyclist Friendly Communities.  Note the name suggests concern for cyclists, rather than bicycles, which are only machines.  Cyclist Friendly Communities has a strong emphasis on education and on treating cyclists fairly.

CFC provides an extensive Web-based "Toolkit" of information to help communities to improve conditions and avoid mistakes.  These articles will also be useful for communities outside Ohio.  The toolkit includes the following articles for community officials (available via free download):

CFC also provides sources for educational materials the community can provide to its citizens.  All articles in the list below, except the first, are available for free download from the Cyclist Friendly Communities Website.

The Ohio Bicycle Federation program sets out a clear roadmap leading to certification.  There is no playing games with communities by telling them "try harder" (meaning spend more money) next year.  OBF provides a sample application that shows how various measures would affect the applicant's score.  The review committee will work with applicants to help them gain the points needed to pass.  The most important factor is the CFC program will benefit cyclists, not just consultants and planners.

Commute Orlando (Florida) advocates a similar cyclist-friendly atmosphere, based on "critical thinking and holistic problem-solving", The Components of a Cyclist-Friendly Community


Evaluation -- How to Make BFC Ethical

Below are measures to end the BFC ethical crisis.
  1. Immediately revise BFC materials to stop indiscriminately encouraging separate bicycle facilities.  In particular, stop encouraging unsafe facilities.
  2. Emphasize education.  Teaching people best practices should count much more than facilities.
  3. Do not endorse unsafe and misleading plans such as in the Chicago Bike Lane Design Guide
  4. Any "cyclist unfriendly" activities must disqualify an applicant, until rescinded, regardless of any other positive measures.  These include:
    1. Having unsafe bicycle facilities
    2. "Bike bans" or other discriminatory laws or laws that require unsafe operation (contrary to uniform traffic law)
    3. Prosecution of cyclists who were riding legally. (The city should apologize and refund fines and legal expenses)
  5. Misguided questions such as "Does your community have a complete streets policy?" or "How many miles of bike lanes do you have?" must be replaced by: "How are hazards caused by segregated facilities mitigated?"  The preferred answer to this question is "We have no segregated facilities, thus we have no such hazards to mitigate."
  6. Rather than just encouraging formation of "Bicycle Advisory Committees", insist that any such committees be comprised of knowledgeable people who understand bicycle driving, else they do harm rather than good.

For communities that already have the award (or with pending applications):

  1. Send a letter explaining the changes and apologizing for the bad guidance given in the past.
  2. If the renewal is due on a "short fuse", offer a short extension to allow a reasonable opportunity for changes.  Give extensions (not to total more than one year) upon evidence of progress and a sincere commitment to meet the new standards.
  3. Make sure communities act quickly to remove hazards caused by separate facilities and that they institute a vigourous education program to counter the negative education produced by bicycle segregation.

You can see guidance that LAB should be giving communities in
Guidelines for a 'Cyclist Friendly Community'.

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© Copyright 2003-2017 Fred Oswald and LAB Reform.  May be copied with attribution.
Some materials may have been reproduced under fair use guidelines or with permission of the original author.
The author is a Professional Engineer in Ohio and a certified bicycling safety instructor.
Minor revision Apr. 2017