I use the word “bikeability” quite a bit these days, but thought I would look it up, for the sake of this article, to see if it is officially a word.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, bikeable means “suitable or fit for biking, or capable of being traversed by biking.” My own definition is that bikeability is like walkability only on wheels. If you are a mayor, city planner or county judge in Arkansas, my question for you is, “What is your community’s bike score?”
Most have heard of a community’s walk score. A bike score is similar but measures whether a location is suited for cycling on a scale of 0-100. The score uses four equally weighted components: 1) bike lanes, 2) hills, 3) destinations and road connectivity and 4) bike commuting-mode share. It is safe to say that nearly all Arkansas towns, except for a few cities in Northwest Arkansas, fall into the 0-49 “Somewhat Bikeable” category (minimal bike infrastructure).
So why should we care? Why is bikeability important?
“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race.”
– H.G. Wells
A community that embraces the importance of bikeability understands that cycling brings several benefits to its residents and visitors. These include benefits on a personal level such as physical health and equity. There are community-related benefits like sustainability, quality of life and transportation. And perhaps the most important benefit, at least from a community leader’s point of view, is economic development. Let us look at how bikeability can affect the bottom line.
“At its most basic, bicycle tourism is a strikingly simple idea.” One of my favorite YouTube channels, Path Less Pedaled, sums it up well. “Encourage people on bikes to travel to or through your community; invite them to stay the night or eat a meal or visit the local museum; and rake in the economic benefits.” PathLessPedaled.com even has a video called “How Bicycles Can Save Small-Town America.”
It may seem odd to the average Arkansan, but some people actually ride their bike across multiple states. An article in this month’s Arkansas Money & Politics introduces readers to the U.S. Bicycle Route 80 that will connect West Memphis with North Little Rock. Nationally, bike tourism accounts for an estimated $83 billion in trip-related spending, which does not even count gear sales (2018, Outdoor Industry Association). According to AdventureCycling.org, most bicycle travelers have a college education, are 52 years old on average, and more than half make $75,000 per year. These could be cyclists who wish to ride through your town as they cross the state or come to Arkansas for cycling adventures, like the state’s five epic mountain bike rides, numerous monument trails or the Arkansas High Country gravel route.
“It is by riding a bicycle that you learn the contours of a country best, since you have to sweat up the hills and coast down them.”
– Ernest Hemingway
Once bicycle tourists are riding through the community or visiting town to start their ride, what comes next? They need accommodations: hotels, Airbnb or campgrounds. They need restaurants, supplies, medical clinics and safe routes through town. That is where bike facilities come into play. (Remember the bikeability score above?) Adding trailheads that lead to paved paths, greenways, bike lanes and even sharrows (arrows on the pavement to let vehicles know they are sharing the lane with bicycles) will provide safe access for all non-motorists. The best part about adding these facilities, which are often partially funded by grants from various state agencies or private foundations, is that local residents will benefit too.
The Federal Highway Administration estimates that 60 percent of all U.S. automobile trips are under five miles in length, a distance in which bicycling and walking could be substituted for driving. When asked why they don’t ride their bike to work or the store, most people will answer, “Because there’s not a safe route to get me where I need to go.” Bicycle facilities accommodate the visitors who want to stay, spend and play while also meeting the local residents’ active transportation needs.
Truly a win-win!
“Nothing compares to the simple pleasure of a bike ride.”
– John F. Kennedy