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Tucson fails to earn platinum bicycle-friendly status

Despite an intense effort by government officials throughout the Tucson and Pima County region, Tucson was not upgraded to a platinum community by the League of American Bicyclists, who announced the award this morning.

Tucson remains a gold level community and will not be able to apply for an upgrade until 2016.

LAB president Andy Clarke said safety issues and low ridership numbers were the biggest factors in their decision to keep Tucson as a gold community.

“Tucson’s numbers don’t stack up when it comes to bumping the region up into the platinum category,” Clarke said.

He said the number of people riding to work in Tucson is much lower than the three platinum communities. The three U.S. cities with platinum status are Davis, Calif., Portland, Ore. and Boulder, Colo.

“There isn’t a magic number that we have set as a threshold, what we have done is looked at the communities that have made platinum and gone back and looked at what their levels of use are.”

In Davis 21 percent of the people ride to work. In Boulder the number is 10-12 percent and in Portland, eight percent ride bikes to work. About three percent of Tucsonans ride to work.

He said the LAB took into account the strong recreational ridership in Tucson.

“We understand  — and it was well explained — that journeys to work may not be the best number for us to use when looking at Tucson so we took into account that fact,” Clarke said.”Still the documented level of use we see on the ground in Tucson just isn’t quite there. On a more anecdotal level, when you go to a place like Boulder, when you go to a place like Davis, when you go to a place like Portland, you can’t avoid, but see and feel and behave like you are in place where bicycling is at the core of the community. We are not sure that large swaths of the Tucson region are yet in the same category.”

Safety was also a concern.

“Clearly things are getting better and the safety numbers are improving every year, but again compared to the platinum level we have seen in other communities, the crash record is not as good as we woud like to see,” Clarke said.

Pima Association of Governments planner Ann Chanecka, who led the platinum application committee, said she wasn’t shocked by the decisions.

“Everyone was pretty mixed about it and saw reasons we could potentially be upgraded, but it is still hard to do that and so I think people weren’t sure one way or another,” she said.

Chanecka said there are some good things to take away from the decision.

“I think what they are telling us is that we are great,” Chanecka said. “They are acknowledging how much we have done to accomodate and make our region more bike friendly and at the same time to be the best in the country there is still a ways to go.”

Clarke said Tucson’s application was the most well-done application they have ever seen.

“For the last eight years there has been no community that has put more into the application, into the process, into responding to the feedback we have given. The completeness of the application, the amazing things the community has been doing collectively is honestly second to none,” he said. “The application, the process, the committees, etc… is still the poster child for the rest of the program and the rest of the country. We honestly feel kind of awful that we can’t give the platinum award just for effort.”

Do you think Tucson deserves to be a Platinum city?

22 comments
peanutrider
peanutrider

I feel that it is too dangerous to ride the streets here. Being in a car isn't much better. So, I will make several outrageous, insane suggestions.  First, driving courtesy has to be expected. There should be tickets for failing to yield, for example.  Next, drop all speed limits throughout the city to 25 mph and enforce it.  We may be able to put together enough money to fix the streets. Third, put a tonnage limit on non-work vehicles.

zz
zz

How much we need the platinum rating makes for a good debate. I'm convinced through Andy Clarke's comments (and the ones made here)  that the LAB's evalution criteria is spot on and valid. We might not want to shed the 'regional' apendage too quick. The outer jusidictions could outshine the city if the new transportation director and bike/ped coordinator aren't as good as we've had. I just don't think the 'burbs are going away. Having 'ghost'burbs between dense population areas would be worse from our perspective, I believe. Our city has a hard time with focusing and it would not be good to start losing what we've attained in the name of infill,  green or whatever trendy catchphrase happens to grab their attention. Being able to ride from Green Valley to Marana on bike lanes and/or greenways is good because it is 'us'.

Bob
Bob

As one who commuted for 12 years to west university there have been many near misses, worst one resulted in bent frame. So, YES, safety is a concern. Let's face it, while this is a great cycling area, many drivers just don't see cyclists. Remember this is also and elephant (old republicans?) burial ground and some very poor drivers still on the road.  Until there a media campaign, billbboards, TV spots, etc. about bike safety I don't feel local jurisdictions are serious cyclist safety.

Bluebike
Bluebike

GOOD! I have been a bike commuter into downtown Tucson for 15 years.  I ride everyday rain or shine.  I can tell you as a seasoned experienced rider that riding into downtown is not safe.  Now they add the streetcar and put deadly tracks all along the most heavily used bike commuting corridors and expect to get platnium.   Reef... the cyclist who was killed on the tracks at 4th ave and Congress won't get a chance to "learn" how to get across the tracks safely.  The truck that crushed him when he fell saw to that.  How many more cyclists will be seriously injured or killed on the tracks.  I am GLAD that the LAB cited safety as a reason to not give us platnium. 

Jshapins1
Jshapins1

Tucson needs to address it's sprawl and haphazard development pattern and inhospitable built environment by addressing broad scale planning, preservation and community development initiatives so that a legible, pedestrian and cycling friendly green city is built to replace the mistakes of 30 years of laissez faire civic leadership.

Orvis
Orvis

Bingo and that would be a major difference between Portland and Tucson.  30 plus years ago Portland made the decision to limit sprawl.   Tcmtucson, one way in and out of downtown?  Ok 9th Ave across 6th St and then down Church.  Of course Toole from the south dropping down behind the parking garage then over the Maynard's bridge is also just fine.  What's wrong with both 6th Ave and Stone from the south using the bike lanes especially if you use 5 points from the east or west?   From the west you can get in off of the Santa Cruz path and then go under the freeway at Cushing St.  That's about to get a lot better with the bridge completion. Who should get platinum is Ann Chanecka. 

Bob Rogers
Bob Rogers

1. We don't  need LAB to tell us how we are doing; waste of effort and money. Tucson is unique, and they will never understand. 2. We will never make the grade as long as we try and drag the exploding suburbs along with the city. We are the only (as far as I know) regional entity trying for platinum. It isn't going to happen, unless we limit the geographic area to the city.

Bigclydesdale
Bigclydesdale

"drag the exploding suburbs along with the city"?   This is a ridiculous comment.   Exactly which privileged neighborhoods make your cut, Bob?   I would rather we work on improvements in Greater Tucson, allowing everyone access to bicycle safety, as opposed to limiting our efforts to the smaller more centralized areas so that we can earn platinum status.  

reef
reef

@Guest dude, they are doing construction, that is temporary but takes time. As for the tracks... well learn how to cross them and/or wear a helmet  I agree with Alex, James and TCM. I was kinda mad when we got gold status, so not really a surprise we didnt get platinum BUT, it does show that people do care and want tucson to be a bike city . anyone who rides regularly around town knows there is a ton to improve upon. bike lanes that are appropriate size (or at least consistently 1ft+)more dedicated bike paths. (maybe with overhanging trees so we dont completely fry in summer)bike infrastructure, bike racks right up front, take out the best car spots if need be. Public showers? its one of my favorite summer heat tricks, cold shower~clothes~ride. you will be dry when you arrive (or as dry as you would normally be covered in sweat)drivers that DONT want to run me over when I ride. cyclists that dont break all traffic laws IN FRONT of cars (im ok with a rolling stop but not when there is a car who has the right of way)

Bobsluggo
Bobsluggo

loving the loop, riding at least 2 days a week to work and waiting for completion of Julian wash..we aren;t there yet but we are headed there

noah
noah

Failure to achieve platinum status is a  good thing for Tucson cyclists.  The particular LAB metallic designation is arbitrary - your cycling experience does not depend at all on what the LAB says.  what Tucson cyclists need is for the region to be constantly improving and expanding cycling infrastructure.  Without the LAB platinum carrot there would be less motivation to do so.  I would rather live in a city that is continually improving what  it has rather than a city that reaches some arbitrary goal and says "ok, we did it, done with that, lets move on to something else...".

Tcmtucson
Tcmtucson

Gold is a stretch. Show me one way to ride safely into and out of downtown and I'll buy it. 4th ave designated as a "bikeway"? Let's see... Traffic, booze, street parking AND wheel- sucking trolley tracks! We have a ton to work on. Nobody should be shocked that this isn't a platinum city.

James
James

It's surprising we bothered to apply. Good work has been done, but nothing close to what the highest ranking US bicycling cities should be at. The infrastructure just isn't there yet. The culture isn't there yet. Who knows if it ever will be. I'm not necessarily complaining.

Alex Luna
Alex Luna

Sounds like some changes need to be made in our community for it to reach the much desired platinum status - honestly, it makes me excited to see what changes the city of Tucson is willing to embrace to achieve it. the key word here being willing... A city like Portland is a cyclists dream! When I visited Portland recently, the inspiration was all around you to get on your bike! Everywhere you look there is an accommodation for cyclists - from structures that not only allow you to park & lock your bike up, but also provide shelter from the rain (or in our case, sun) to bike/pedestrian paths, like the rillito river wash that run all throughout the city - not just on the outskirts. Again, I look forward to Tucson becoming more & more inspired to rise to this challenge & will do all that I can to continue to be an advocate for cycling.

MikeI
MikeI

You know, people keep complaining about potholes, but it was our State Legislature who skimmed the funds from all of the transportation related agencies so that they could pretend to balance their budget.   We can be proud of the work that was done so far on the Urban Loop, which is a great project for use by all, not just bicyclists.   And one of these days when gas prices spike ( as we know it will ), our ridership will go up, but until then, it's going to be difficult for people to start to ride to work on a bicycle, even though it will make them healthier and save them money.   Thanks to all who worked on this application for all of your hard work !

Guest
Guest

How can Tucson expect platinum status if we can't even fix 4th avenue so people aren't slapping their heads off the concrete falling on those tracks? Plus all of downtown is shut down right now it seems.

3wheeler
3wheeler

The conditions in Boulder & Davis are different from ours.  They're both smaller and they're both college towns.  I don't see how we could ever match Davis in ridership, especially considering that they have infrastructure we'll probably never be able to match, and I think they have better weather.  We might reach Boulder's percentages someday tho.  It seems to me that Portland is a better comparison to Tucson than the other towns.  I've never been there but I imagine there are conditions beyond infrastructure that gives them a more enticing bicycle experience than ours.  Can anyone who's been to Portland offer some info on what makes Portland a nicer place to ride?  Michael, you went there and wrote an article about it, I'd love to read that again, can you link it here?  Also, Mike, do you have any further insites into the Portland / Tucson comparison you've thought of since you wrote that piece? 

zz
zz

Bicycles did not create the shortage of funds for fixing potholes. The city did that. It would be a waste of what has been done so far to not progress toward this goal. The efforts of the folks invovled in the application process are to be applauded. We just don't deserve it yet. Natural elements have led  Tucson to be conducive to cycling. I'm thinking not is the case for Boulder and Portland. Their culture had to make up for that. Their conduciveness to cycling may have come from that shift in culture.      This is the nicest illustration of that I've seen lately:                    http://vimeo.com/38385810 We need people running the city who won't quit on people like Tom Thivener.

pal2002
pal2002

This is a completely stupid and pointless status to try to earn. Despite our city budget, we have spent an incredible amount adding bike routes around the city, funds that could have been used to fix some damn potholes. I'm sorry we don't have bike ridership numbers like that in Davis, a complete college town with about 1/10 Tucson's population. This is a distinction that is very costly and simply not fit for Tucson to try and get.

Ryan Fagan
Ryan Fagan

"an incredible amount adding bike routes around the city"? Really? How much? How does it compare to spending for cars?

Red Star
Red Star

Red Star tends to agree with LAB's findings and decision. On the subject of ratings, Walk Score launched its interesting Bike Score (beta) resource today... "Walk Score Launches Bike Score" http://www.theatlanticcities.com/commute/2012/05/walk-score-launches-bike-score/1994/ and: http://www.walkscore.com/bike

Martha Retallick
Martha Retallick

 I concur with Red Star. As for Davis, CA, that town has had the right things going on the utilitarian bicycling front since the 1970s. I went through Davis when I was pedaling around the U.S. in 1981-82. Was very pleasantly surprised to find that my "solo woman on a bike" status wasn't at all unusual. Matter of fact, I was in a bank and a teller just flat out asked me if that's what I was doing. I didn't have to do my usual song and dance.