By ERIC A. HOWALD
Of the Keizertimes
Keizer has earned an honorable mention as a bicycle-friendly city from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB).
It was announced last week in Washington, D.C., that Keizer joined 33 other communities throughout the nation in the honorable mention category of recognition. Platinum, gold, silver and bronze designations are also available should city officials decide to pursue them. Oregon has 11 communities that rank bronze or higher. Ashland (gold), Corvallis (gold) and Bend (silver) also received designations this time around.
An honorable mention recognizes Keizer’s efforts toward improving conditions for bicycling through investment in bicycling promotion, education programs, infrastructure and pro-bicycling policies. The Bicycle Friendly City (BFC) program provides a benchmark for communities to evaluate those conditions and policies, while highlighting areas for improvement.
A trio of city volunteers were the driving force behind the application to LAB. Hersch Sangster, Pat Fisher and John Henry Maurice, all members of Keizer’s Traffic, Bikeways and Pedestrian Safety Committee, took on the effort with the blessing of the city council.
“We really tried to play devil’s advocate as we went through the checklist of qualifications,” said Sangster. “And we came out better than we expected. This is a big thing for the city.”
More than an honorable mention or a metal designation, the group wanted a baseline assessment of where Keizer stood in relation to other cities in the LAB program. In addition judging the application to the program, LAB officials sought out input from residents who use Keizer’s bikeways through an online survey and then selected some responders to interview about their experiences.
The results were somewhat mixed. Keizer outperformed other cities in some categories but lagged behind in some key areas.
While only 20 percent of the average city’s high speed roads have bike facilities,, 45 percent of Keizer’s do. Keizer’s bicycle-friendly laws and ordinances were rated “excellent,” far above the standard community with a BFC designation. Keizer was also deemed to have good Bike Month and Bike-to-Work events.
Other assessments were less kind to Keizer. While the BFC program suggests 9 percent of the city’s transportation budget be spent on cycling, Keizer clocked in at 1 percent. Bicycle education programs were also found to be needing improvement. Keizer also generally scored on the low end of cycling encouragement, enforcement and evaluation and planning.
A constrained budget limits what the city can do to achieve a higher designation, the report city officials got back from LAB suggests some actions to be taken. Here are a few:
• Adopting a complete streets policy requiring all new road or repaving projects to include bicycle striping.
• Making bicycle safety a routine part of education for students of all ages.
• Increasing staff time spent on improving conditions for those who bike or walk.
Sangster said that the biggest impact could likely be seen with more education, but making it a priority on the local level is something that happens school-by-school.
“The schools just don’t have the budget for it here, unlike Portland where it is an actual program in place,” he said. In times when more funding was available, the Salem-Keizer School District would host Safety Town camps during summer months that guided students toward best practices, but the camps fell victim to budget cuts.
“Bringing things like that back will require a budget and volunteers,” said Sangster who was one of the Safety Town instructors.
On the whole, he’s been pleased with Keizer’s acceptance of pro-cycling policy and inclusion.
“The roundabout was a great example of that. We felt like we were part of that discussion from the start,” Sangster said.
He also commended the city for adopting a planning policy requiring bike parking within 50 feet of entrances.
If he had one wish, it would be for more enforcement of bike laws. He cited adult riders disobeying traffic control devices or traveling the wrong way as two areas of concern.
The other area where Sangster saw opportunity was in encouraging local businesses to apply for a “Bicycle Friendly” designation through Travel Oregon.
While food destinations are the logical starting point, Sangster said bikers on long rides make use of everything from banks to hotels.
“I really think it’s just a matter of connecting with the Chamber of Commerce and helping them promote it to members,” Sangster said.
Another added benefit to the BFC designation is that Keizer can use it as a feather in its cap when applying for transportation and other grants to improve local amenities.
Keizer will have to reapply to the program annually to maintain its honorable mention designation.