By Charles Pekow
Idaho made a significant jump in the national Bicycle Friendly State rankings this year. Utah, meanwhile, appeared to be pedaling a stationary bike, if you compare the 2013 state-by-state rankings given by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB). Utah came in 14th, down one notch from 2012’s 13th place finish. But Idaho jumped 10 points from a disgraceful 36th to a middle-of-the-bike lane 26th. Almost a reversal of last year, when Idaho fell six notches and Utah soared from 31st (moves partially caused by changes in criteria from the previous year).
But before you think one state did a lot and another didn’t, you must factor in that LAB changed its ranking criteria for the 50 states (territories are not included).
This year, LAB combined its survey with one taken by the Alliance for Biking & Walking, adding some criteria about state activities not included in earlier LAB surveys. “We now give credit for programs, policy and infrastructure that we didn’t before,” explains Nicole Wynands, LAB program manager for the rankings. “It is hard to compare this year’s survey with other years’.”
The changes may help explain why Idaho jumped in the rankings. It also helps that the Idaho Transportation Department completely filled out the survey this year – it didn’t last year and may have shortchanged itself by not providing crucial information.
LAB ranks states in five areas on a scale of one (low) to five (high) in five categories. Neither Utah nor Idaho scored a five in any of them. Both got their highest grades of four for “education and encouragement.” Utah scored a one for “infrastructure and funding.” Utah also scored a one for “evaluation and planning.” It’s easiest to score high in the education category because when it comes to other categories involving funding, policies and legislation, “it’s more politically and financially intensive,” Wynands explains.
LAB gave Idaho credit for passing legislation that prohibits texting while driving.
Both states may move up next year: The rankings don’t reflect recent events that cycling advocates have pushed for. The Utah legislature, for instance passed six bicycle-related bills recently, including a vulnerable road user law that LAB included as a top recommendation.
And LAB’s “top tip” to Idaho this year involved using all available federal funding sources for biking and walking, so the rankings don’t reflect a recent decision of the Idaho Transportation Board not to transfer any Transportation Alternatives money away from bicycling and walking projects, even though the new surface transportation law known as MAP-21 would allow the state to move up to half of it out and into highway and bridge programs.
“That’s a big deal for us because in the past, the state board had not used all the Transportation Enhancements money (predecessor to Alternatives) to enhance alternative transportation projects,” gleefully explains Heather Wheeler, executive director of the Community Transportation Association of Idaho.
LAB also recommended that Idaho conduct a state bicycle summit. In fact, several organizations convened an Intermountain Active Transportation Conference in Boise last year.
LAB’s “top tip” to Utah this year also was to spend all Alternatives money on biking and walking. “Utah typically manages federal funding differently than a lot of other states do. That doesn’t mean we don’t put our own money into programs (for bicycles). We use a lot more of our own funding than other states do so it all comes out in the wash,” responds Evelyn Tuddenham, bicycle & pedestrian coordinator for the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT).
LAB also suggested a statewide Complete Streets policy, a provision it has always rated highly in rankings but Utah never adopted. While the state has never adopted a statewide plan, UDOT is working closely with local governments to develop their own, Tuddenham says.
“Our goal is to be in the top 10,” says Bike Utah Executive Director Scott Lyttle. “We just added a new board member with a keen understanding on how the legislative system works (and three other members who are) keeping us growing and building connections throughout the state.” Bike Utah plans to to use its added clout to push for more state support next year, Lyttle adds.
View the rankings at http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/bicyclefriendlystate/