The Jefferson City Environmental Quality Commission resurrected its bicycle subcommittee last week, bringing the city one step closer to a bicycle-friendly community designation.
The bicycle subcommittee will be "the 'doers' in our community to build a culture of cycling," said Ashley Varner, commission vice chairwoman.
A small group of city staff and health advocates is applying for a national BFC designation through the League of American Bicyclists, an organization that promotes "stronger" bicycle-friendly communities. Creating a bicycle advisory committee was one feature suggested in the designation application.
If awarded, the BFC designation would mean Jefferson City welcomes the bicycling community, said Varner, healthy communities coordinator and wellness navigator at Capital Region Medical Center.
States have experienced a 46 percent increase, on average, of people commuting by bicycle, according to LAB. In Missouri, there has been a 70-100 percent increase.
City Transportation Planner Alex Rotenberry said with the increase in bicyclists in the community, the city wants to encourage cycling.
Rotenberry was tasked by the city earlier this year with assembling a group of people who could find ways to make the community more bicycle friendly.
Rotenberry and Varner are two group members working toward the BFC designation. The group also includes City Engineer David Bange; Amy Schroeder, community relations manager for the city's Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department; Jennifer Wenkel, the city's wellness coordinator and coordinator for the bicycle-friendly application; Kathy Craig, health educator in the Bureau of Community Health and Wellness; Lesha Peterson, injury prevention program manager in the Bureau of Community Health and Wellness; Jefferson City Police officer Jason Sederwall; and Cary Maloney, a Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization Technical Committee member.
The BFC designation focuses on the five E's: engineering, evaluation and planning, education, encouragement and enforcement. Rotenberry said the group applying for the designation has reviewed these categories to learn what the city could improve.
To receive the BFC designation, a city has to earn a certain number of points, awarded for different things the city does to promote cycling, such as creating bike lanes, installing bike racks and hosting cycling events.
The points translate into ranks: bronze, silver, gold, platinum and diamond. The designations are for four years.
Jefferson City, as an employer, received the bronze bicycle-friendly business designation in April, which means the city provides bicycle programs and education to its employees. The community designation would mean the city as a whole, not just as a business, welcomes the cycling culture.
CAMPO, which includes Jefferson City and other Mid-Missouri municipalities, approved the Capital Area Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan in October 2016. The plan outlines goals and strategies for CAMPO's areas to improve pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
Part of that plan is applying for a bicycle-friendly designation. CAMPO applied for the BFC designation in 2014 for its represented area but did not receive it.
The BFC designation application is due mid-August. Rotenberry said he is not sure how likely it is the city will receive the designation. If it does not, the group will reapply for the designation. If it does, the city will try to boost its rank in the future.
Bicycle culture improvements
The application process allows cities to apply for the designation and find areas that could be improved along with the best ways to make those changes.
"We've really come along in the last couple of years, but taking this application also enlightens everybody that we still have a long way to go, too," Rotenberry said.
Some improvements for Jefferson City include adding more bicycle lanes. While the city has added bicycle lanes in the last two years, Rotenberry said there is room for more. The next bicycle lanes are set for East Capitol Avenue.
Jefferson City resident John Borgmeyer was cycling Friday afternoon in one of the advisory bike lanes on West Main Street. He said he enjoys cycling downtown and on the Jefferson City Greenway Trail, but he suggested the city expand the greenway and connect the Katy Trail more to downtown.
"A lot of people come off the (Katy) Trail and ride to some place in the city, so I think that would make Jeff City a destination for bikers," Borgmeyer said. "Anything (the city) can do to make this a place that bicyclists want to be at and gets the word out that Jeff City is a bicycle-friendly town is great."
Maloney, a mechanic at Red Wheel Bike Shop, said he would also like to see more connectivity with the greenway system and downtown, as well as more awareness from motor vehicle drivers and bicyclists.
Education is one aspect Wenkel said the city needs to improve. This could include school courses, community classes and flyers.
"We need to be educating not just bicyclists but also motorists so that people do feel safe on the road," she said. "They need education on how to handle, whether they're on a bike or in a car, how to handle the interactions between a bicycle and a car."
Varner, who will be leading the bicycle subcommittee, said providing education and safety classes will be one of the subcommittee's top priorities.
The city is also considering ways to enforce bicycle rules. Rotenberry said the Jefferson City Police Department provides training to officers on how to enforce the law while using bicycles.
"You think, 'Well, I learned how to ride a bicycle when I was 10, and I started riding again a week ago. It's easy; it's no problem.' There's a lot more nuances to that in terms of enforcement for officers," Rotenberry said. "It's not only just being aware of how to maneuver and use the bicycle strategically for them, but it's also a refresher of all the state statutes and city ordinances that have to do with bicycles."
Bicycle-friendly communities in Missouri
Missouri is ranked No. 34 in the country for bicycle friendliness, according to LAB.
There are 416 bicycle-friendly communities in the United States; and if Jefferson City earns the designation, it would become the eighth city in Missouri to do so, according to LAB. The other communities are Clayton, Columbia, Ferguson, Kansas City, Lee's Summit, Springfield and St. Louis.
Janet Godon, park planner for the Columbia Parks and Recreation Department, said the city received a silver designation because of improvements to bicycling infrastructure like fixing bicycle lanes, adding bike trails and making improvements to intersections. It also provides educational and encouragement programs like guided rides, cycling classes and special events.
Michael Park, city traffic engineer for Lee's Summit, said Lee's Summit's first step toward earning its bronze designation was to create an advisory committee and a bicycle master plan. From there, the city made improvements to its bicycling infrastructure.
The work does not stop after cities receive designations, though. Godon is considering including a bike-sharing program and making downtown Columbia more bicycle-friendly, while Park wants to encourage more bicycle education in Lee's Summit.
Godon said one benefit of the designation has been the change in cycling culture in Columbia. Motor vehicle drivers are more aware of cyclists on the road, and bike riders view cycling as a mode of transportation, not just a form of exercise.
"In Europe, cycling is clearly seen as transportation as well as fitness and recreation; whereas more in the United States, people think cycling as a sport so bicycles are often sold in the toy section. So I think it's moved more to a level of people in Columbia thinking cycling as transportation," she said. "People who ride bikes tend to do it in a way that they don't necessarily wear sporting clothes to ride a bicycle. They wear work clothing, not necessarily a biker's outfit."
Between 2000-13, the bicycle commuting rates increased 105 percent in large BFCs, which is more than triple the rate in non-BFCs — 31 percent — according to LAB. It is also above the national average of 62 percent.
Godon said the designation is also beneficial to a city's economy and overall wellness. Citizens are not only purchasing bikes but also remaining active and lessening the carbon footprint from vehicles.
The designation could also attract more tourists to Jefferson City, especially with the city being near the Katy Trail and having the greenway trail, Rotenberry said.
Maloney said he thinks the designation would not only bring more recognition to Jefferson City but also connect the community more.
"When you're out on a bike, you have more personal contact with people than you would with people driving in a car, so it would kind of bring people together a little bit more in the community," he said.
The city will receive feedback from LAB after the application is submitted, and Maloney said the group will most likely work to implement some of those suggestions in the community.