The Bicycle Leadership Conference—BLC to insiders—has always been a place to exchange new ideas. But even so, League of American Bicyclists President Andy Clarke dropped a minor bombshell on BLC attendees Wednesday morning.
At a time when the federal government is withdrawing withdrawal of financial support for cycling facilities, Clarke told a rapt audience, he’s seeing cities and local communities across the USA stepping up to create bike-friendly communities on their own…and they’re coming to bicycle advocacy organizations for help in doing it.
It’s a dramatic reversal of the status quo top-down model, and one that may have powerful implications for the way bicycle advocacy gets done in the future.
One indicator of this new level of interest is Bikes Belong’s Green Lane Project, which involves the creation of protected bike-only corridors on major urban thoroughfares. When program director Martha Roskowski sent out a call for 32 entries earlier this year, she received 41 responses, not just from the usual bike-friendly communities like Portland and Boulder, but from places like Memphis, Omaha, Pittsburgh, Dallas, and Miami.
Yes, you heard right. Roskowski was getting applications to shut down entire lanes of automobile traffic and put major cycling installations into cities that were on Bicycling’s “Worst Cities For Cycling” list just a year before.
So what accounts for the turnaround?
From the cities’ point of view, says former Madison,WI mayor Dave Cieslewicz, it’s all about the green stuff.
Making cycling a part of daily life, he says, makes a city a model for health promotion, sustainability, and quality of life…all attributes that cities desperately need in order to attract the kind of lucrative retail businesses and employers that bring cold hard cash to struggling municipalities.
And that’s the kind of green that makes all the difference.
So will America’s mayors become the next generation of cycling advocates? Too early to tell, of course. But every single person I talked to at the BLC says this is one development they’ll be watching with interest.