Monday, February 25, 2013

Good Work Going On Along Both Sides of The River

There are positive developments for the cycling community underway in both Little Rock and North Little Rock, and much of the credit goes to volunteers who give their time and talent to make things happen for the rest of us.

In my most recent post, I made reference to some committees like the Little Rock and the North Little Rock Bike Friendly Community Committees and the Arkansas River Trail Task Force.

The ART Task Force is affiliated with Metroplan, which serves as a regional transportation planning resource. Metroplan views the Arkansas River Trail System not just as a recreational asset, but as a key component of a long-term plan for central Arkansas regional transportation development. Chair Rob Stephens got dragged into his position due to his passion for the Leave No Trace principles of outdoor ethics to which I believe he'd been introduced as a Boy Scout leader. I think Rob simply hoped see some kind of consistent message put in place for responsible use of the River Trail and soon found himself heading a committee and embroiled in the politics of cyclists, equestrians, and other trail user groups. That's what can happen when you show up with a problem and an opinion.You should be prepared to get drafted to help find a solution. 

The primary mission of the BFCC's is to help guide the cities through the process of earning Bike Friendly Community status from the League of American Bicyclists. North Little Rock earned Bronze level a couple of years ago and is now working for Silver, while Little Rock got "honorable mention" on its last application, so Little Rock is working hard to make the grade. Most cities do not earn the league's recognition easily--currently four Arkansas cities have earned the honor: Bentonville, Conway, Fayetteville, and North Little Rock. Unless the city is Boulder, Co, or Davis, CA, it can take years of effort to create a culture that is conducive to cycling. In the case of Little Rock, a stumbling block has been the lack of a "Complete Streets" policy. While it would seem simple enough for a city to declare that consideration must be given to cycling and pedestrian traffic when a street is built or goes through major repairs, such codes or ordinances must be approved by the Little Rock Board of Directors. Many developers and self-proclaimed "pro-business" interests decry anything that could smack of regulation or that could possibly add to the cost of urban expansion, so something like "Complete Streets" must survive a fairly high degree of scrutiny in a city like Little Rock. Several drafts of a complete streets policy have come out of the committee over the last couple of years and none have made it to the Board of Directors for consideration.

Nothing happens overnight in the world of public policy, but progress is made in small increments.

In Little Rock, Jeremy Lewno, owner of Bobby's Bike Hike, was recently hired as the city's bicycle/pedestrian coordinator. This position had been years in the making and is a big step in the BFC process. In his new role, the LRBFCC also decided that it would be appropriate for Jeremy to lead the committee. Long-time chairman Ed Levy supported the motion and Ed will remain as a committee member. Jeremy is already at work and has set up a Little Rock Bike /Ped Facebook page.
It was also announced that the Clinton Library, with support from the City of Little Rock, had replaced a gate east of the Presidential Center with a new structure that includes a bike bypass . Here's how Judy Lansky describes it:

Thanks Little Rock. The gate (formerly known as the horizontal bar) across the River Trail on the east side of the Clinton Center has been replaced with an actual gate & a space to the south of the gate has been paved for bicycle & pedestrian traffic. The space is plenty wide to safely accommodate bicycles. Because the streets to the east & south of the gate are lightly traveled by vehicular traffic, the simple opening of the bicycle space next to the gate effectively extends the River Trail to the airport & beyond to Frazier Pike, Terry Lock & Dam, etc. For those who haven't ridden Frazier Pike, there is so little auto traffic that it is like a dedicated bike trail &, though flat as a pancake, is quite scenic & tranquil. So how about putting in bike lanes starting at the gate and making the route to the airport a designated bike route.

In North Little Rock, Fit2Live Coordinator and BFCC co-chair Bernadette Rhodes has been working with the NLR School District, city planners and department heads, community leaders, and others to help create safe routes for kids to cycle or walk to schools. North Little Rock just started a massive project to rebuild virtually the entire school district infrastructure (10 new schools, several major renovations), so this is a perfect time to include transportation alternatives into long-range plans.  In addition, NLR has embarked on a campaign to raise awareness of the 3-foot safe passing law, even as work continues on the Levy River Trail Spur and plans progress for replacing the Shillcutt Bayou "wooden bridge".
The city has  also acquired a number of bike racks for installation around the city. If you're aware of a North Little Rock location that needs a bike rack here is an address to get in touch!
Contact: (501) 975-8777,

This has been a bit of a ramble, written over several days, and it kind of reflects how things get done for the benefit of the cycling community:
It takes a lot of work, some false starts, and quite often a lot of frustration, before anything actually happens. Much of the credit for progress goes to concerned folks who work on our behalf in between the demands of their real-life jobs and for no pay. When progress is slow, they often face complaints from the very people they are representing and when goals are achieved, they receive little more than a moment of satisfaction before moving on to the next challenge.

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