Sunday, October 6, 2013

LAB, Bike Delaware skew BFS rankings in recent webinar

The League of American Bicyclists needs to reconsider their strategy and be more diligent with fact-checking.

Some of us looked forward to the new Bicycle-Friendly State (BFS) application and webinar. It was disappointing, therefore, to see inaccuracy in the section about Delaware’s progress towards becoming bike-friendly. Not only is it a simplistic portrayal that ignores all efforts outside of Bike Delaware’s Walkable Bikeable Delaware initiative, but the history of rankings that support this portrait are inaccurate. Delaware was ranked 31st in 2008, not in 2010. We rose to 9th place in 2009, in good part due to the Complete Streets policy and the Bike Summit. We fell to 10th place in 2010, and then to 18th place in 2011. After that we rose to 10th for 2012 and now 5th for 2013 (TBA), in agreement with the webinar/power point.

This page from the webinar, found on You Tube HERE, is not the reality. It became obvious when we pulled the magazine archives and checked. For one, Delaware ranked #31 in 2008, not 2010.

There is no doubt that Walkable Bikeable Delaware has had a substantial impact, but the more accurate history of the State’s rankings below illustrates a much different sequence of events than the presentation leads us to believe. Delaware made the initial 22 point leap based in good part upon Complete Streets and other on-road improvements, and Delaware’s first bike summit. This was before Walkable Bikeable Delaware.

2008: Ranked #31
Common sense tells us that the road to becoming bike-friendly is not as simple and easy as the Delaware presentation implies. Even with our bike-friendly Governor Jack Markell, it is not a smooth downhill coast, but a long, winding, rocky road full of ups and downs. As with all efforts towards progress, that is the reality. And it has been and will continue to be true in Delaware as well as in other states over the years to come. Most of us, therefore, look to the LAB, a venerable organization with much experience, to guide us through these bumps and not to provide us with an unrealistic impression that is bound to disappoint.

LAB should promote an upbeat, you-can-do it attitude and serve as a cheerleader for advocates who are making an effort in all 5 Es. It is possible
2009: Ranked #9
to accomplish this while maintaining a realistic and inclusive approach. Not only cyclists, but non-cyclists who are in a position of responsibility, look to the LAB for guidance. In Delaware, these folks are well aware of the specifics of the Walkable Bikeable initiative which has centered almost exclusively on off-road bike path facilities. Unfortunately, most do not have the bicycling experience to recognize that such a simplistic vision is incomplete.

It’s true that Delaware is behind a number of other States in the construction of off-alignment pathways, and therefore, it’s very nice to see us making up ground. Some wonderful projects are underway, and Delaware has a number of realistic and progressive people in government agencies and organizations throughout the State. We don’t need to promote the notion, however, that a State can become bike-friendly
2010: Ranked #10
solely through funding of off-road projects.

Although combined efforts continue to help our State move forward and we are making progress in most areas, without support it becomes an uphill battle to work on other areas that are necessary to make a state truly bike friendly, including: On-road infrastructure, education, legislation, enforcement, and encouragement. By promoting a misleading impression of our efforts and progress, the LAB makes it that much more difficult for the rest of us Advocates in Delaware (and perhaps in other states as well) to continue to pursue improvement in all of the other necessary areas.

2011: Ranked #18
There is no question that the Trails and Pathways initiative - and thus a more Walkable Bikeable Delaware - is worth supporting. However, off-road paved bike paths are the most expensive, highest hanging fruit of all when it comes to time and money well spent. The recent workshop and tremendous turnout surrounding the Newark-Wilmington Pathway is very encouraging, however, I give this project 15-20 years to complete - and that relies on future administration's support and preservation of its funding. The Pomeroy Trail in Newark, under 2 miles in length, took over 10 years to complete, despite most of its ROW readily in tact. Now up and running for almost 10 years, and very popular indeed, it becomes immediately apparent that our existing roads are still necessary to reach our final destination, hence the Newark Bicycle Plan - all inclusive.

2012: Ranked #10
While serving on the Board at Bike Delaware for 5 years, I received numerous inquiries about a fully marked on-road bike route with well designed bike lanes between the two cities. I had few suggestions to offer, other than watch for repave/rehab activity in coming years, and consider joining forces in Advocacy. Only then could our Complete Streets policy be encouraged, perhaps on a direct connect like Kirkwood Highway, some of which was already scheduled for 2013 (we will soon report what we know about DelDOT's pave & rehab schedule for 2014.)

As the Wilmington-Newark pathway and others like it crawl forward in future years, or decades, there remains no additional funding set aside for even the lowest hanging fruit, which could include road re-striping for the purpose of traffic calming and bicycle safety measures in the present. But with a passive President, a Vice President that abhors bike lanes and shoulders, and an Executive Director that openly quotes bike pocket lanes (through intersections with right turn-only lanes) as human meat grinders, don't count on Bike Delaware for support. It is their ED's opinion that bike lanes are especially dangerous and inappropriate on the very higher speed arterial roads on which most of us depend - and has even written letters and emails to that effect.

So now the question becomes, is Bike Delaware an all inclusive, full service (as in the 5 Es) advocacy organization as found in other high ranking BFS states?  Sadly, LAB appears to think so.

- Frank Warnock has been an award winning Advocate, Ride Leader, and Event Director in multiple states since 1989.

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