Simsbury has the bronze and is going for the silver — in Bike Friendliness that is.
When Simsbury became a Bike Friendly Community in 2010 it was at the bronze level. Now, those instrumental in helping the town receive that designation from the League of American Bicyclists and more recent supporters want to move Simsbury up to silver.
The League, based in Washington D.C., promotes bicycling for fun, fitness and transportation and works through advocacy and education for a bicycle-friendly America.
The Simsbury Bicycle Advisory Committee held its first meeting in late November and will host its second meeting — open to anyone interested — on Jan. 19, 2012. The timeline is to have the application completed in late June for early July submission.
At the November meeting nothing was off the table for discussion, as the application process has to have concrete action steps and other improvements to show before being considered for the designation. The town can continue to pursue higher designations as well, from gold to platinum.
The initial November meeting had a strong showing from town officials and other leaders, as in attendance and saying a few words were First Selectman Mary Glassman; Steve Mitchell, co-chair of the advisory committee and a board member of the East Coast Greenway; Larry Linonis, executive director of Simsbury Free Bike; Simsbury’s Public Works Director Tom Roy; Town Engineer Richard Sawitzke; Planning Director Hiram Peck; Chief of Police Peter Ingvertsen and a representative from the Capitol Region Council of Governments, among others.
Also represented were local businesses and residents. The effort to move to silver has to be broad based and include the community at large if it is to succeed, say organizers.
The areas of focus include: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation.
The five focus areas break down this way: engineering includes offering more options for bicycle users of all ages and abilities for example; education includes promoting shared roads with education for bicyclists and motorists; encouragement can be developing more loop rides around town; and evaluation could be to conduct an economic impact study.
Since the bronze designation the town has made progress that can help in acquiring silver. The town launched Simsbury Free Bike, which continues to expand — the Simsbury Inn is slated to become another distribution center for the bikes — the town continues to play host to many bike groups at Simsbury Meadows, and this fall Tootin’ Hill Elementary School held a successful bike/walk to school event.
In addition to the Simsbury Free Bike program there is the Connecticut Adaptive Cycling program — also Simsbury based — that gives people of all abilities the chance to ride a bike.
More progress includes the sharrows (shared bike lane indicators) that were painted in town on several streets.
All of these achievements help move the town closer to silver designation. But more has to be done and the effort needs volunteers.
“It takes a lot of collaboration and cooperation to get to the level we’re at,” said First Selectman Mary Glassman.
Pattie Jacobus, who is on the advisory board and is part of Simsbury Free Bike, gave a presentation that she also delivered at the CT Bike Walk Summit 2011 at Yale University in mid-November.
“We do have big draws but biking can be even bigger than it is today,” she said as she listed the Simsbury Meadows, International Skating Center and the bike trail as a few of the tourist attractions in town.
Jacobus said to move to silver a biking component needs to be part of almost all discussions relating to the town, from boards and commissions to the town departments. For example, a development project should include a biking element, or new library programs can include bike education. There are plans to have a biking component added to the town’s web site.
The message of inclusiveness is important, said Jacobus. She said that a complete streets approach (meaning various transportation modes) should be considered and a bike master plan. The goal is to have town-wide safe, well maintained and connected bike routes.
Sawitzke said Simsbury has been dedicated to bike friendliness for decades, noting that when Iron Horse Boulevard was being planned years ago a one-mile bike trail was included.
He emphasized regional cooperation and the work with the various groups such as the Farmington Valley Trails Council, state Department of Transportation, as well as Capitol Region Council of Governments.
“The state and feds were big payers,” he said, noting that they continue to help fund programs and continue to be important partners.
It was noted that the state as a whole lags behind others in the country as bike friendly. Increasing the state and the town’s standing can become a recruitment tool for employers, not to mention a way to encourage healthy lifestyles.
For all of the work that is needed to reach silver, Sandy Fry, transportation planner at the Capitol Region Council of Governments, noted that Simsbury is ahead of the curve in many respects.
“You guys are kind of the beacon for the rest of the region,” she said. “You’ve done so much since you got the bronze.”
Next steps include increasing the Simsbury Free Bike program, which started with about a dozen bikes at and this coming season will include distribution centers at Riverfront Miniature Golf & Ice Cream in Unionville, Bidwell’s Yard and Garden, , and a possible location in Southington.
There was discussion of bringing bike safety programs into the school systems at grade four and continuing to increase awareness at all levels.
There are also awareness programs such as Bike to Work Week May 14-18 and Bike to Work Day May 18 that the town hopes to promote. May is National Bike Month as sponsored by the League of American Bicyclists. The police department often offers a bike rodeo as well.
Safety was a big concern among all those present, and that comes back to education and awareness. Some things can be done locally, signage, painting more sharrows, and offering educational programs.
The lines down the bike trail have helped as well said those present. It provides a divider for people who are leisurely using the trail with those who are more focused on bike riding,
“The center lines have helped, said Deputy First Selectman John Hampton.
Suggestions at the meeting to raise awareness and participation in biking include getting the physical education teachers in the local schools involved, partnerships with businesses such as the Hartford, and Ensign-Bickford and simple steps such as increasing the number of bike racks in town.
“I want to make what we’re doing is fun,” said Steve Mitchell, who said part of the effort means “changing culture.”
The state as a whole is making progress as well. The League of American Bicyclists moved Connecticut from 40th to 21st on its list of bike friendly states in 2011.
A lot of elements need to come together to make Simsbury eligible for the silver designation, and anyone interested can either show up at the Jan. 19 meeting at the from 3 to 4:30 p.m. or contact Anne Marie Potter at 860-408-1361 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more information on the League of American Bicyclists click here. For information on the National Complete Streets Coalition cick here. For more on Bike Walk Connecticut, which is holding its annual dinner, awards and silent auction Dec. 13, click here.