UW News

July 20, 2011

Whats behind that ‘bicycle friendly designation?

Think there are a lot of bicycles around campus? Well, youre right. According to Transportation Services, 8 percent of all students, 6 percent of staff, and 13 percent of faculty commute trips are made by bicycle. On any given day, its estimated that approximately 4,500 students, staff and faculty bike to campus.

Stephanie Franz (in orange and black jacket), commute programs manager for Cascade Bicycle Club, teaches a Basic Bike Handling Skills class.

Stephanie Franz (in orange and black jacket), commute programs manager for Cascade Bicycle Club, teaches a Basic Bike Handling Skills class.

With statistics like those, one could assume that the UW is bicycle friendly. In fact, the UW received the official Bicycle Friendly University designation from the League of American Bicyclists last spring. According to the league, the Bicycle Friendly University Program — which is new this year — “recognizes colleges and universities that create exceptional environments where bicycling can thrive and provides a roadmap and technical assistance to create great campuses for bicycling.”

Just what does it mean for a university to be bicycle friendly? That was a question UW staff had a chance to help answer before the league launched its competition.

“The league has had programs for bicycle friendly communities and bicycle friendly businesses for a while,” said David Amiton, transportation analyst for Commuter Services. “When they decided to develop a program for universities, they recruited some of us from a listserv for bicycle coordinators to help them set the criteria. Celeste Gilman (transportation systems manager) and I were among those who provided feedback to them on ways they might evaluate universities.”

Once the competition started, the league judged universities in five categories:

  • Education — includes classes, printed information, promoting safety
  • Encouragement — includes special events, mentoring, organized rides
  • Enforcement — includes promoting bike security and responding to accidents
  • Evaluation & planning — includes research on bicycling and planning for the future
  • Engineering — includes road design, way-finding signage, secure parking
Transportation Services threw a trail party for those who biked in during Bike to Campus month in May.

Transportation Services threw a trail party for those who biked in during Bike to Campus month in May.

“We had to submit a pretty lengthy online application, outlining our achievements in those areas,” Amiton said. “That was an interesting process for us because some of the information they wanted, we dont keep in the transportation office. So there was a lot of talking back and forth with UW Police, Campus Engineering, Capital Projects, as well as going back through the records.”

The application also had a community input portion. So Transportation Services distributed a survey to about a thousand people who had at some point expressed interest in bicycling at the University.

“They got to provide their take on the information that we were submitting to the league,” Amiton said.

The UW received a silver designation from the league. Only one university — Stanford — earned platinum and two — UC Davis and UC San Diego — earned gold.

The UW got high marks for its educational programs, which include webinars offered through the transportation offices membership in the Association for Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals and classes offered through a partnership with the Cascade Bicycle Club.

“The club has staff members who are certified instructors, and we contract with them to present classes open to faculty, staff and students, more or less on a monthly basis,” Amiton said. “They range from classroom presentations to on-the-bike trainings.”

The application also included a component on how bicycling is incorporated into the academic program, so the transportation office reached out to academic departments and found relevant classes in the School of Public Health, the College of Built Environments and the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, among others.

The Universitys encouragement programs were also praised. Two monthlong events — Ride in the Rain in November and Bike to Campus in May — are designed to attract and retain bicycle commuters. Ride in the Rain provides some friendly competition for experienced riders, while Bike to Campus, which coincides with the Group Health Bike Commute Challenge, offers enticements for new riders. The latter includes a “trail party” featuring, among other things, bike shops doing tune-ups and fittings, and a bicycle-powered blender to make smoothies.

The four major recommendations the league listed for the UW were:

  • Incorporate bicycling into the new student orientation program.
  • Consider launching a bike-sharing system for students, faculty and staff.
  • Consider creating a campus bike plan that will guide future plans with a long-term physical and programmatic vision for your campus.
  • Provide opportunities for ongoing training on accommodating bicyclists for engineering planning staff and law enforcement.
A campus commuter stores her bike in one of the many bike lockers available for rent.

A campus commuter stores her bike in one of the many bike lockers available for rent.

Amiton said plans were already under way to fulfill the first recommendation, as Transportation Services will offer bicycle classes during Dawg Days this year. He said summer classes — which were generally poorly attended — were dropped in favor of adding them to the fall orientation program.

Work is also under way to eventually create a bike-sharing program that would go beyond the University. Bike sharing is just what it sounds like — a system whereby people can “check out” bicycles to use for a specific period of time.

“Were working closely with King County, the City of Seattle and other regional stakeholders like Childrens Hospital, Microsoft, Sound Transit and the Cascade Bike Club to try to get a system that would serve the whole city or the whole region,” Amiton said.

Transportation Services staff are also working on a 10-year bike plan for end-of-trip facilities — such as bike racks, bike lockers and bike houses (secure bicycle enclosures).

As for the fourth recommendation, Amiton says some of the webinars offered emphasize engineering and design best practices. Examples include Bicycle Boulevards and Neighborhood Greenways, Bike Boxes, Bicycle and Pedestrian Facility Design within a Constrained Right-of-way and Understanding the Highway Safety Manual.

“The webinars are regularly attended by our campus civil engineer,” Amiton said. “Also, the UW Police Department has a two-person bike patrol squad, and about 10 officers are cert
ified through the International Police Mountain Bike Association.”

Amiton said the University is limited when it comes to some of the evaluation categories. Under engineering, for example, universities are graded on the number of bike lanes they have on campus, but the UW doesnt have very many miles of streets where bike lanes could be installed. He said, however, that the Campus Master Plans development program does include bicycle improvements on Pend Oreille Road.

In any case, he and his colleagues are committed to continually improving the campus environment for bikes. Right now hes poring over the 150 or so comments received on the survey sent out as part of the application, which should help with planning for the future.  The “bike friendly” designation is for four years, and you can bet the UW will be gunning for a gold, or even platinum rating next time.