Saturday, September 17, 2011

Scottsdale Achieves Bicycle Gold: Friendship is a Two-way Street

Time to bling up these signs a bit: add the word GOLD

Scottsdale has joined the small group of cities that are designated as GOLD level Bicycle Friendly Communities by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) [CAzBike Blog]. This is a well-deserved honor, not easily achieved, and I want to congratulate everyone involved with making it happen.

Bicycle Life in the Golden City

I think most readers of this will already know what it means, and possibly even have an opinion about it, but in case the LAB GOLD designation is not familiar to you, I will just briefly describe what it requires. It may be easiest to quote directly from the site: "Applicant communities are judged in five categories often referred to as the Five Es. These are Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation and Planning. A community must demonstrate achievements in each of the five categories in order to be considered for an award. Communities with more significant achievements in these areas receive superior awards. Filling out the BFC application is an education in itself, as communities see where they are lacking in each of these categories." The site goes into much more detail about the program, please go click if interested.

Pima Road in Scottsdale, recently widened, repaved, and striped with bike lanes

Scottsdale has an abundance of bike lanes and multi-use paths (MUPs), and I enjoy riding them often. I also commute by bicycle through the city every day, and overall it is a very good experience. The City of Scottsdale (COS) has installed drinking fountains, shade structures, and underpasses/tunnels at key locations that make cycling all that much better.

Key friendly gesture from my perspective: shade and cold water next to the path

This is a brand spanking new tunnel on the MUP along Hayden Road

All these gestures and symbols of friendliness towards cyclists go a long way. They do. On the other hand, I have always been taught that friendship is a two way street. In other words, a bicycle friendly city requires city-friendly bicyclists. Friendship is a relationship between two human minds, ultimately, and is not proven or disproven by how many tunnels are built or how many miles of bike lanes are striped. They matter, all the 5 Es can be seen to be relevant, but ultimately friendship boils down to mental factors in the participants in the relationship.

Friends: watch out for each other, emphasize the other's strengths and accommodate the other's weaknesses, and exercise boundless patience and restraint when the other's physical or emotional well-being is on the line. To me, those factors are at the fore of friendship.

To me, fundamental to a truly friendly relationship between a city and bicyclists is a clear demonstration, in practice, on the streets, that all road users alike are clearly informed about the fundamental principles and laws related to safe and legal operation and cooperation of bicycles. Around here, that would mean that everyone was a master of AZ Bicycling Street Smarts, as well as knowledgeable about the laws most relevant to cyclists. That is, almost no matter how hard a city tried to build stuff and make the local environment encouraging and friendly for cyclists, roving bands of sociopaths on two wheels who harass pedestrians, run red lights, ride the wrong direction on the street, and generally induce road mayhem can severely undermine the human side of the bicycle friendly relationship.

Some general observations in no particular order, that would require much more fleshing out to be completely supported but which I believe have merit in this discussion, about the keys of establishing and nurturing a friendly relationship between people on bicycles and people not on bicycles:

--Informing all road users alike about the pluses and minuses of bike lanes, and about the techniques required of all road users to ensure their safe and effective usage. Vehicle parking in bike lanes undercuts all of their virtues and advantages. Part-time bike lanes that become parking areas at designated hours border on the absurd in terms of ambiguity and difficulty of sensible use: if there's a bike lane painted, and marked with the "helmeted cyclist symbol", but it is signed as a not-bike-lane, OK-to-park-lane during certain hours, am I required to ride in it? No, certainly not, ARS 28-815 A.3 surely applies since parked vehicles are specifically listed as reasons for cyclists being permitted to take the lane, and I want to ride as straight and predictable line as possible. But what if there are no parked cars there during parking hours? Cars certainly come into conflict with cyclists in the process of parking there, too, and I would much prefer riding in the active lane that cars are leaving to get to the parking space, rather than being in the parking space that cars are diving into out of the active lane. Also, cars backing out of their driveways into a full time bike lane is one thing, cars backing out into a parking area is another. Both backer-uppers and parkers have been one of the leading causes for me to swerve in avoidance maneuvers. Also, safely riding in a bike lane requires MORE skills to be learned and practiced than just riding on the street, not FEWER as is sometimes assumed. I like bike lanes not because they are safer or easier, but because I am an experienced rider comfortable with almost all street conditions.

--Sidewalk riding is legal in Arizona. When faced with some situations, for example five lanes of 45mph rush hour traffic like on the marked bike route of 44th Street in Phoenix, sidewalk riding is an alternative to be considered. But the sidewalk is no place to train for a triathlon or criterium, and there are important risks to be understood and mitigated with pedestrians, crossings and intersections in particular.

--Multi-use paths (MUPS) can have equestrians, pedestrians, cyclists, roller bladers, and powered vehicles operated by handicapped people moving in both directions on a route that is narrower than some of the unidirectional bike lanes I ride. The risks, and proper, legal, safe operation on these paths are apparently not understood by the majority of MUP users, in my experience.

--Cyclists riding the wrong way on the street are a menace to themselves and all other users of the road, and strict enforcement should be considered.

--Cyclists running stoplights are a menace to themselves and all other users of the road, and strict enforcement should be considered.

--Arizona's three foot passing law is a boon to cyclists except that it is rarely enforced (never?), and has been bizarrely construed by some locales to be about cyclists staying in the bike lane at all times, rather than about motor vehicle passing distance. ANY enforcement of this law would be helpful, and education of all road users about it would be a positive step.

Anyway, in this round Tempe maintained its SILVER rating, and Phoenix entered the ranks for the first time with an HONORABLE MENTION. I took the photos in this post on a glorious late-summer TCT (Tri-City Tour) through Scottsdale, Phoenix, and Tempe, and I gotta say, Scottsdale better watch out, because Tempe and Phoenix are coming on strong too! At this rate, I may have to change the name of this ride from "TCT" to "Triple Gold". Wouldn't that be great?

Tempe almost ready to play their Ace: the ped/cyclist bridge over Tempe Town Lake. Note the tensile shade structure

So very close to opening, so very close to BFC GOLD...

Phoenix's secret strategy: bike lane prickly pear fruit offered for energy and electrolytes! (remove spines before eating)

At the end of the discussion, friendship is about behavior, attitude, emotional control, and quite possibly, LOVE

UPDATE: Check it out: the Scottsdale LAB BFC application is available, and gives more insight into what it takes.


  1. The post at reveals the selection process to involve many factors. I wish the Bike League were more transparent about how it decides this. It is MUCH more than simple bike lanes. I guess that makes it more of a feather in Scottsdale's cap than even JRA claims. Congrats! And that is the first time I have ever said that in conjunction with a BFC designation.

  2. limom part of me still thinks PHX is getting the short end but I'm looking for its BFC application to compare with what SCD submitted.

    Steve see the update, too, I linked to the SCD BFC application which really gives insight into what it takes to get GOLD.


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