Photo by Martin Austermuhle
It's been a while, spring 2014 I think, since I last updated our local Bicycle Friendly Communities (BFC) and so why not do it now. The Bicycle Friendly America program is a program that the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) uses to create goals for cities to improve, measure their improvement, and encourage friendly competition. The long-term goal is to help states, communities, business and universities to make bicycling a real transportation and recreation option for all people.
The current levels for BFC are Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum and Diamond, but no community has achieved Diamond yet. There's also an Honorable Mention.
Here are the updates (not counting renewals and being very generous with the term "local"):
In Fall 2014 Hagerstown, MD - Bronze.
Spring 2015 Sailbury, MD and Norfolk, VA - Bronze.
Fall 2015 Virginia Beach - Bronze
Spring 2016 Columbia, MD - Bronze; Catonsville, MD - Honorable Mention.
Fall 2016 Vienna, VA - Bronze.
Spring 2017 Howard County, MD and Fairfax County, MD - Bronze
Fall 2017 No local awards
Spring 2018 Washington, DC - Gold
As I wrote back in March when DC was awarded Gold, it's an achievement to be proud of, but it doesn't mean the work is done.
DC debuted at Bronze back in 2003 as part of the second class of awardees. By that time Portland, Palo Alto, and Corvallis, OR were already Gold. Davis, CA debuted at Platinum in 2006, by which time there were six Gold level cities. It took DC eight years to get to Silver, and another seven to get to Gold.
Local bike advocates can take some pleasure from the speed at which DC has climbed up the ranks. In 2006 it was tied with 44 other cities at Bronze with 22 others ahead of it, but it is now among 29 Gold level cities with only five ahead of it. 15 years later, Palo Alto and Corvallis are still Gold.
That being said, DC is still far behind other cities. Portland moved up to Platinum more than a decade ago, and Davis has been at Platinum for longer than that. Though Platinum sounds world-class, the LAB's 12 percent mode share (percentage of travelers or number of trips using a particular type of transportation) benchmark wouldn't even get a city into the world's top 50. DC is closer to 5.5 percent bike mode share.
LAB recently created a new, higher level — Diamond — that would require a city to hit benchmarks similar to average European cities, but no American city has reached that level yet.
On that post, and elsewhere, I've heard some push back on the "Gold" ranking. That DC is hardly Gold because of this problem or that one. Or that "we're supposed to be a Gold city, but (thing that sucks)". It's the equivalent of "We can put a man on the moon, but we can't (simple thing)." I'll agree that in retrospect, the use of the term Gold for such a low level is unfortunate. We think of Gold as the best - liking winning the Gold Medal, earning a Gold Star, or calling the ideal test the "Gold Standard". The latter also possibly the result of confusion about Gold as the best. Maybe they should have started lower - Tin, Bronze, Silver, Gold, Platinum - which would put DC at Silver now.
But when LAB says DC is a Gold level community, they aren't saying that DC is the very best. That's pretty clear because there are two level above Gold, with other communities above them, and those communities below the best communities in the world. They're just saying that DC is 3 levels up a 5 point scale. They're saying that DC is one of the more bike friendly communities in the United States (which is true, in part because the competition is weak).
So hooray, DC is Gold, Alexandria and Arlington are Silver and Rockville is Bronze. Those are no small accomplishments. They should be proud (while Germantown, Silver Spring, Bowie and Clinton should be filled with a deep shame). But it's not a stopping point. No more than a Golden Wedding anniversary is.