Let’s become a ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Let’s become a ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’

Jim Scripps

In terms of bicycle friendliness, South Lake Tahoe is better than most towns.We have a little trouble with some danger spots here and there (like where motorists stare at the lingerie in the windows at Romantic Adventures – the same spot where the path ends and cyclists dart out the wrong way on Highway 50), and in the winter we haven’t figured out exactly who should be doing the snow clearing on bike paths, but we manage. And we are getting better.

So it came as somewhat of a surprise to get a letter from local cycling advocate Ty Polastri, calling on community members to urge the city of South Lake Tahoe to help turn our side of the lake into a “Bicycle Friendly Community.” We are, after all, already fairly bicycle friendly. And getting bicycle friendlier every year.

I called Ty, and he explained to me the “Bicycle Friendly Community” designation is handed down by the League of American Bicyclists, the largest cycling advocacy group in the country with approximately 300,000 affiliated members. The league’s BFC program is a set of strict criteria communities must meet to earn the designation. A lengthy application process (And I saw the application – it’s serious) ensures these communities are actively thinking about cycling in their infrastructure development, and in education of law enforcement, school students and other affected parties.

“We’re trying to create in integration of all the powers that be,” Polastri explained. “It’s not just infrastructure, but things like signage and knowing the rules.” He said he is involved in a project to map local cycling routes, a simple step that helps the cause.

Bicycle friendly communities have things like bicycle advisory boards that monitor the cycling community and suggest improvements; they have programs for police officers to train them in the nuance of right-of-way laws. Bicycle friendly communities aggressively teach safety in the schools, so kids know what they are doing when mixing with cars.

We know how we can benefit locally from an increase in bicycle usage. Cycling cuts down on the traffic that dogs drivers every day throughout the South Tahoe corridor. In turn, that leads to cleaner air. Cleaner air equals healthier residents. But perhaps the most important benefit that comes from promoting cycling is changing attitudes about lifestyle. It’s good for the ticker to ride instead of drive, and it’s a habit that can last a lifetime.

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And the potential benefits to tourism are obvious. It’s no coincidence bicycle rental companies dot the South Tahoe landscape, or that America’s Most Beautiful Ride is one of our most popular events. Lake Tahoe is a cycling Mecca, and visitors will be drawn to a Bicycle Friendly Community. We already know that’s why a lot of people live here.

The BFC cause is not new to local cycling advocates. Jeff Miner was one of those who proposed it in 2003 to South Lake Tahoe officials (both Polastri and Miner are active with Tahoe Region Advocates for Cycling). He even filled out the first part of the application in March 2004. Even though the ball was rolling, the issue was put on the back burner like so many things secondary to running a town. But because the standards are so high, the advocates need someone in the city to spearhead the next phase.

The League requires information about our bicycle master plan (there is one for the region), streets, bike paths, population demographics and training programs. They need to know about policies and laws that are on the books, and efforts that are currently under way. Miner and Polastri feel the city’s Parks and Recreation Commission would be a good champion for the cause – but no matter who takes it on, the champion should come from within the city ranks. They have the information and the wherewithal to make this happen.

So here’s my letter to the city, to whoever wants to champion this noble cause:

“Lake Tahoe has long attracted the outdoors-oriented, those who would rather be with nature than in an urban setting. We have an opportunity, by earning the Bicycle Friendly Community designation, to join other communities in the country in promoting the healthy lifestyle that draws us here.

“In so many ways, Lake Tahoe leads the country in its approach to quality of life issues. Promoting cycling fits with our ethic about the way the way we want to live. And it advertises this ethic to those who don’t know our community.

“Please consider taking on this project. We stand to benefit from becoming a Bicycle Friendly Community.”

– Jim Scripps, managing editor of the Tahoe Daily Tribune, can be contacted at jscripps@tahoedailytribune.com.