By Charles Pekow
The folks in the Boise area sure know how to get credit for improving bicycling conditions in their community. They are winning incredible recognition from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) Bicycle Friendly America programs. Not only was Boise State University not satisfied with its bronze medal won last year (the fourth highest ranking) that it reapplied and moved a notch above and won silver ranking this year (see May 2012 issue) but two other employers in the area won Bicycle Friendly Business (BFB) awards in the spring announcement.
The Ada County Highway District (ACHD) and Idaho Mountain Touring (IMT) each won silver status in LAB’s recent announcement. These awards come on top of ones LAB gave in previous awards announcements to Ada County as a Bicycle Friendly Community and six other bicycle friendly businesses in the county (plus one more honorable mention).
“In Idaho, the word is definitely getting out, thanks to the work of local advocacy groups” notes Bill Nesper, LAB’s vice president for programs. LAB announces new awardees semiannually.
The new awardees include the agency responsible for maintaining the bike facilities in the area. ACHD took silver status, the third highest ranking (beneath the hard-to-achieve platinum and gold). “The county has been leading the bicycle friendly efforts in the whole Boise region for years,” Nesper explains and now gets honored largely for recognizing that even at a highway agency, employees can use non-motorized ground transit. “Even top management commutes by bike,” an impressed Nesper says.
ACHD offers its staff alternative work schedules and gives certificates to any of its 300 employees who bike to work, LAB noted. It provides covered bike parking, shower facilities and a bike repair station and distributes bicycle education information to employees. “We have bike parking in front of our building. Visitors can park outside or bring their bikes inside,” says Justin Lucas, senior transportation planner and county bike coordinator. “We prefer they park outside but they can bring (bikes) in when they need to.”
ACHD also provides bike maps and other cycling information during events like Bike Month and supports local advocacy efforts. It supports local Bike Week activities and staff participate in bike rodeos. “We have a pretty active bike committee that meets in our building,” Lucas notes. ACHD also provides the public a Street Smarts booklet about rules of the road.
So how could ACHD improve and bump up a notch or two to gold or platinum? “The main thing they can do is increase the amount of education to their employees. They do give out education stuff but they could increase the amount of classes” and offer them to the general public, Nesper says.
“We’re an infrastructure organization so we don’t do as much education as some other groups,” Lucas responds. But he said ACHD is considering more employee rides and education.
Meanwhile, an outdoors sporting good store in Boise also won a silver medal. IMT provides a fleet of bikes for employees. The company staff even take bike trips to their staff meetings as a team building exercise. “We’ve done a couple of store meetings where we just have a group ride. We ride and when we get to the top of the climb, we do a meeting and ride down to the store,” Sales Manager Bill Davis explains.
LAB also gives points to companies like IMT for offering employees a ride home if they bike to work and weather turns ugly or they have to leave quickly.
And yes, one reason Boise is getting crowded with BFBs is because the program is infectious. “We noticed that a local non-profit was named a BFB,” Davis explains. “So one of our employees took it upon herself to get us signed up for that…. We said we can do this. We have a locker room here for employees. We have bike storage…..We spent the time….We didn’t know it would be quite as widely publicized as it has been and we’ve been really happy with it….It’s great to get recognition for the stuff we’ve been already doing.”
To reach a more precious medal award than silver, LAB suggests IMT offer employees incentives for riding a bike and track the economic benefits of its promotions. LAB also likes to promote itself by awarding points for keeping a LAB-certified cycling instructor on staff, which IMT lacks.
“We are still a small business. Some of the stuff they have listed is not feasible for a small business like ourself,” Davis responds. You “can only incentivize people so much. Some of the stuff they recommend would be better suited for larger corporations.” A government agency, large corporation or hospital can afford to offer financial incentives to employees to bike that would strain a small business, he notes.
In Utah, only one company got awarded this go-round, Saturday Cycles bike shop, another silver winner. The Salt Lake City store offers employees a $30 a month incentive to ride to work. Owner Mark Kennedy, who naturally cycles to work, keeps his car at the store and allows employees to take a ride home if they need one.
“I drive the most of anybody who works here and I ride my bike every day,” Kennedy says. Kennedy’s small shop employs only one full-time and three part time workers and until its recent move from West Bountiful to Salt Lake City, kept regular hours only on Saturday, as Kennedy works another job at Northrop Grumman.
The store maintains a fleet of bikes for employees to use and even a trailer to haul cargo. It maintains a benefit for a small business that LAB put so much emphasis on: a shower. (Though maybe customers benefit the most from that, even though they don’t use it.) LAB also praised the company for supporting state and local bicycling efforts and sponsoring the LAB’s National Bike Month activities and charity ride as well as maintenance and riding skills classes for customers.
Kennedy echoes the concern that to move to gold or platinum would take a lot of work for a small business. While he plans to offer some evening riding classes, he says that “the higher levels practically require you to have a person on staff doing those kinds of things as opposed to sweeping floors and cleaning toilets like I have to do.”
As has been the case from the start, most of the employers winning BFB awards are somehow connected to the bicycle business – if not directly by manufacturing or selling vehicles or equipment, then employers involved in promoting bicycling such as ACHD, or those in the health or planning fields. Previous Idaho BFB awardees included REI Boise, the Boise Bicycle Project and Healthwise, Inc., a healthcare provider. (A few other local firms have gotten the nod, however, including Microsoft Boise.)
“The ones that easily get the award go for it,” Nesper acknowledges. But he adds that “the word is definitely getting out,” noting that some Fortune 500 and other large companies and government agencies not directly involved in cycling, health, recreation and related fields have won honors, such as Rockwell Collins in Salt Lake City.
Employers in these fields can just see the benefits more clearly. “If you promote healthy lifestyles for your employees, that’s a financial benefit,” Davis says. “Pretty much any business can benefit somehow financially from having more of their employees bike to work. There’s less use of limited parking spaces….People who exercise are happier at their jobs.”
Word does spread – at least among the cycling community. Like IMT, Saturday Cycles got the idea from another local winner. Kennedy says he was inspired to apply for BFB status after talking with former Mad Dog Cycles manager Brad Woods of Orem. Mad Dog won gold status for its employee benefits and advocacy work.
“There has to be some sort of champion within the human resources section of a bigger business to do it, or an executive that has an interest,” Kennedy explains. He tried to sell the project to Northrop “but they’re not that interested.” The site employees 800 people and “two of us ride to work regularly, others intermittently and others say ‘how can you possibly ride your bike to work?’”
So convincing the government that bicycle infrastructure is good public policy remains far from the only battle bicycle advocates must fight these days. We’ve got a long way to go to convince the business world that it helps the company image and bottom line to encourage staff to ride.