Covering the Land of Lincoln

EIFLING: Fayetteville works, plans for its biking gold

Next time you roll into Fayetteville look at our city limits signs. Along with our new population figures, you may notice a Bicycle Friendly Community sign posted right underneath.

These little signs might not look like much. But these things do not come easy. In fact it took decades of work and investment to earn the right to post these signs.

Every year, cities and towns of all sizes across the country vie for Bicycle Friendly Community designations bestowed by the League of American Bicyclists. The Washington DC-based league is the nation’s oldest, best-established bike advocacy organization, dating to the 1800s. The league grades communities on key areas known as the five E’s: engineering, equity, education, encouragement and evaluation and planning.

Communities submit applications, answering literally hundreds of questions, to report on every imaginable metric related to the five E’s. The league evaluates the data and, based on a community’s bike network and bike culture, can decide to award a designation of bronze, silver, gold or platinum.

The league is very careful — some might say stingy — when selecting communities to award. During the 25 years of the Bicycle Friendly Communities program, the league has received more than 1,900 applications and issued awards to only 501 communities. Just 2% of all those applications have earned gold or higher. In fact, only one community in the country received a new gold designation for 2022: Fayetteville.

Now in the Central time zone, only Madison, Wisconsin, has a platinum designation. and only Austin, Texas; Urbana, Illinois; and Minneapolis carry gold status. It’s rare company.

What has Fayetteville done to surpass 98% of other applicants? The E’s hold the answer.

In Fayetteville’s case, engineering means building more than 53 miles of beautiful, shared-used paved trails. Encouragement means bringing enthusiasm to new riders with beginner-friendly events such as the twice-annual Square-to-Square rides. Education means putting kids on bikes as part of the regular public schools’ physical education curriculum, to raise a generation of confident, informed riders. Equity means building infrastructure and programs for everyone, serving all ages and abilities. Evaluation and planning means creating and sticking to a master plan. In Fayetteville, 70% of residents live within two minutes’ bike ride or 10 minutes’ walk from a paved trail. By 2040, the city is on track to make that 100%.

Fayetteville is by no means going it alone in this region. Of the eight awarded bicycle-friendly communities in Arkansas, five are in Benton or Washington counties. Northwest Arkansas has benefited from meteoric economic growth, visionary planning and (not to mention) being home to a few of the world’s wealthiest bike advocates.

Being real, there are some obvious advantages that come along with having the Razorback Regional Greenway in our backyards.

But I believe the friendly competition among our neighboring cities is a secret ingredient in the formula for success in our corner of the state. Rivalry fuels innovation and investment and pushes us to do bigger, better things. The signs posted on our roads and trails celebrate the award and also challenge peer cities to outdo one another. So, while I’m proud that Fayetteville is the first city in Arkansas to be designated gold, I by no means hope it’s the last.

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