Bicycling in the United States has become increasingly popular in recent years as both a recreational activity and a way to get to work. And Simsbury's efforts to promote this healthy lifestyle are having an impact on surrounding towns.
The League of American Bicyclists, whose mission is “to promote bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation and to work through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America,” is achieving that goal, in part, by recognizing communities that actively support bicycling.
Two towns in the state, Simsbury and South Windsor, have been recognized and received the designation of “Bicycle Friendly Community,” and now Farmington is hoping to join their ranks.
“The application was submitted and we are waiting to hear about any acceptance into the program,” Assistant Town Manager Erica Robertson said.
Direction for pursuing the application came from the town council.
“We started talking about applying for the designation over the summer in the context of the expansion of the UConn Health Center,” Council Chair Jeff Hogan said. “We’re making a huge capital investment there, yet we don’t see any plans for bicycle and pedestrian assets.”
The east end of town, where UConn is located, is not connected to the rest of Farmington where bicycle trails exist, he said, and town officials would like to change that.
“As a town, we’re committed to being bicycle friendly, whether we get the designation or not,” said Hogan, adding that he and his whole family are bicyclists. “We’ve invested in a lot of green initiatives like the rail trail, and helped Burlington complete their leg of the trail.”
The Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) designation would be great for the town to receive, however, because it brings with it many benefits, including a boost in tourism, business growth and increased property values.
“I’ve seen what it’s done for Simsbury,” Director of Public Works Tom Roy said. “I see more cyclists in town and it’s been an economic incentive. Cyclists stop off for coffee or ice cream, helping local businesses.”
Roy said he bicycles around Farmington quite a bit – he’s a resident – and was happy to hear that the application has been submitted.
“I think all towns should be bicycle friendly,” Simsbury First Selectman Mary Glassman said. “I’m thrilled that our neighboring community is applying to become the third town in the state for the designation,”
The application process is rigorous, she said, but the designation yields “tremendous benefits and reflects well on the community.”
It took a lot of effort and collaboration by volunteers for Simsbury to achieve its goal, Glassman said, and the campaign was spearheaded by resident Steven Mitchell, vice president of Mitchell Auto Group and an avid cyclist.
“The application is an audit of a community’s efforts to create a bicycling culture,” Farmington Town Manager Kathleen Eagen stated in a report to the town council. “The audit reviews engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement, and evaluation and planning efforts for bicycling.”
Each application is reviewed by national experts and local cyclists to determine whether the community should get a BFC designation, she said.
“The League’s standards for bicycle friendliness are set very high, as is evident by the fact that there are only two BFC’s in Connecticut,” Eagen said.
“I don’t know if we’ll get the designation on the first try,” Hogan said. “Farmington is so congested and roads are narrow. There are things we may have to do to meet the standards.”
Eagen made note of one particular challenge — that the town has limited control over the 36.5 miles of state roads that run through Farmington.
“If the designation is not awarded, the League of American Bicyclists will provide in-depth feedback that can be used as a task list to improve the state of cycling in Farmington and improve our chances should we choose to apply again,” she said.
When a community is recognized with the designation, there are four award levels – bronze, silver, gold, and platinum. Simsbury currently holds the bronze and has applied for the silver award.
“We expect to hear back by October,” Glassman said.
When a community is recognized, a representative from the League of American Bicyclists comes to the town to present an award and road signs at a local ceremony.
Other benefits for communities that receive the BFC status include technical assistance and training, grants and funding notification, recognition, and promotion.
The league also recognizes states, businesses and universities that actively support bicycling.