Wednesday, June 7, 2017

West Bend’s Bike-Friendly Report Card

On May 25 I got email from the League of American Bicyclists with a link to West Bend’s bike-friendly community report card. Our city didn’t meet the League’s criteria for Bronze-level recognition, despite recent efforts by Bike Friendly West Bend. And this came as no surprise; BFWB applied for recognition with no expectation of success. The application was intended to elicit exactly the response that came: a point-by-point checklist for BFWB to use as a blueprint for future initiatives.

The League recommended that West Bend adopt a Complete Streets policy. That won’t happen anytime soon. There’s more hostility than support for Complete Streets from the governor and the state legislature, and without their attention the city’s Common Council doesn’t even have to consider, much less to accommodate, the needs of cyclists and pedestrians. West Bend only grudgingly repairs its streets for motor vehicles; expecting anything more would be silly.

The League also noted that “the current on-street bicycle network does not appear to include striped bicycle lanes.” True, nor will it in the future. Bike Friendly West Bend isn’t even asking for that. The goal of BFWB is bicycle boulevards: a network of low-traffic routes defined by signs and sharrows.

There is reason to hope that the League’s recommendation of an official Bicycle & Pedestrian Advisory Committee will become a reality. Bike Friendly West Bend already functions as one, and it wouldn’t take much for City Hall to create an official committee, perhaps one that could share resources with such existing groups as the Board of Public Works, the Park and Recreation Commission, the Plan Commission, the Police and Fire Commission, the Safety Commission, and the Tourism Commission. The League recommends that West Bend “increase the amount of staff time spent on improving conditions for people who bike and walk,” but that can’t be done until we have committee status. The efforts of Bike Friendly West Bend, however effective, won’t meet that recommendation.

The last of the League’s recommendations was to review and (ideally) to repeal sections of the municipal code that mandate bicycle registration. The League says, “Mandatory registration can be a barrier to some people choosing to use a bicycle.” I say that a $10 lifetime registration fee is hardly a barrier to prospective riders in a state that requires $75 annual motor vehicle registration. But it is possible to argue that bike registration in West Bend should be discontinued for other reasons:

  • Low rates of compliance by citizens
    • Citizens likely are unaware of the requirements
    • Citizens are unlikely to comply when enforcement is unlikely
  • Low rates of violation enforcement by West Bend Police
    • Registration applies only to City residents, not to visitors, and
    • Registration stickers are hard to see when a bike is in motion, so …
    • Enforcement is likely only when a rider is detained for another infraction
  • Low rates of lost or stolen bicycle recovery in which registration was a factor

Kenneth Meuler, West Bend’s Chief of Police, addressed these points in an email to Bike Friendly West Bend on May 29. He confirmed that his department is not citing residents for non-compliance, but argued that the requirement functions as a valuable service to reunite owners with lost or stolen bicycles. It remains to be seen whether the League will be mollified by the distinction between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

Getting recognition from the League of American Bicyclists will be an uphill battle. At their May meeting last Wednesday, members of Bike Friendly West Bend reviewed the League’s report card and seemed resolved to continue to work toward that goal. But there was some discussion about the value of League recognition—i.e., just what would being a Bronze-level bike friendly community do for West Bend? Would it be a boon for tourism? Would it encourage new families to relocate here? Those are unanswered questions. A different advocacy group would have been discouraged by the League’s critique but for Bike Friendly West Bend it was just another agenda item. The group remains confident in its plans to make the city better for cyclists and pedestrians, whatever outsiders may think.

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