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An eight-page League of American Bicyclists document outlining the reasons Tucson region was not designated at a platinum level bike friendly city found its way to my inbox this week.

While some of points in the two-year-old document are not a surprise, it’s interesting to see the League of American Bicyclists’ — an advocacy organization who ranks cities based on their bike friendliness and advocates for cycling — thinking.

Here’s a snippet from the feedback:

The League of American Bicyclists has once again designated Tucson and Eastern Pima County, AZ as a Bicycle Friendly Community at the Gold level. The BFC review committee was hugely impressed by the herculean effort the Platinum Task Force Committee, staff, community leaders and everyday bicyclists have undertaken to create a truly Gold-level Bicycle Friendly Community.

We understand there will be significant disappointment that the Platinum designation is still not awarded. Here are a few significant things that stand out when comparing the Tucson-Eastern Pima County Region BFC and the average Platinum-level BFC.

Reason #1: Not enough commuters

Tucson has been hovering around 3 percent bicycle commuter share for years, which does not compare favorably to the other platinum cities in the country.

Ridership – The percentage of workers commuting by bicycle in an average Platinum BFC is 12%. In Tucson-East Pima it is 1.7% (American Community Survey five- year average 2005-2010). The percentage of workers who commute by bike is roughly seven times lower than the average Platinum BFC. It was noted in the application that the student population isn’t being counted. It is well known that the ACS data is not a perfect measure but the only consistent data available nationwide which allows us to make comparisons. For example, conditions in Tucson with regards to student populations are comparable to that of Platinum-BFC Boulder, CO., which has a 9.59% bicycle commuter modeshare compared to 3% in the city of Tucson. Our review team is very excited about the current effort to expand the counting program and looks forward to the data.

Reason 2: Crashes and Fatalities

The LAB said our crash rate is much too high.

he number of bicycle/motor vehicle crashes per 10k daily bike commuters in an average Platinum BFC is 64. In Tucson-East Pima County it is 212. The number of bicycle/motor vehicle fatalities per 10k daily bike commuters in an average Platinum BFC: .42, Tucson-East Pima: 2.32. The Tucson-Eastern Pima County Region has three times as many bicyclist/motorist crashes and five times as many bicyclist/motorist fatalities per 10k bicycle commuters than the average Platinum-level Bicycle Friendly Community. The community is working very hard to reduce bicyclist/motorist crashes and fatalities across the region and is seeing good results. Still, the numbers are very high and must be significantly reduced to be considered a Platinum-level BFC.

Reason 3: Not enough dedicated routes

Percentage of total road network with dedicated on-street bike facilities in an average Platinum BFC is 21%. In Tucson-East Pima County it is 11%; Total bike facilities mileage to total roadway miles in an average Platinum BFC is 60%. In Tucson-East Pima it is 14%. The Tucson-East Pima County Region has a solid Gold-level percentage of arterial streets with bike lanes at 62% but it must continue to expand and close gaps in the bicycling facility network, and strongly consider innovative solutions such as buffered bike lanes and cycle tracks found in the NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide.

The organization also made recommendations about how the region can improve.

• While the bicycling network is impressive, there are still some critical gaps that remain, especially to key destinations like downtown Tucson and the university. Regional funding should be dedicated to improve the connections to these centers as these could dramatically increase bicycle ridership.

  • Complete and expand the bicycling network. Access for bicyclists of all abilities and comfort levels should be promoted through the use of bike lanes, protected bike lanes, cycle tracks, shared lane arrows, bicycle boulevards and bicycle cut-throughs. Adding facilities like bicycle boulevards in addition to addressing high speeds and improving intersection safety are keys to creating a low-stress bicycling network that will accommodate more citizens. On-street improvements coupled with the expansion of the off-street path system will continue to increase use and improve safety.
  • Implement a multi-year intersection safety action plan. Prioritize and improve the most dangerous intersections based on statistics and user input.
  • Ensure the best possible pavement condition of the transportation system. Reviewers reported increasingly deteriorating conditions of roads and bicycle facilities.
  • Given that this is a regional effort, constituent communities should continue to improve collaboration, dedicate more staff resources to bicycling projects at the municipal and regional levels and work to expand dedicated funding for bicycling projects and programs across the region.
  • Collaboration between the University of Arizona and the community should continue to be strengthened. Cross-pollination of ideas, programs and infrastructure will strengthen the overall bicycle-friendliness of the community and serve as a national model.
  • Complete The Loop and expand the promotion of it as the signature “must ride” of the community for all residents and visitors.
  • The advent of the Street Car is a positive development for the community. There is a concern about the dangers posed by tracks—especially at first—and reviewers recommend substantial public information and education campaign.

Download the document to check out all the feedback.

10 thoughts on “Three reasons why Tucson isn’t Portland”
  1. The statistic about crashes per 10k commuters is an odd one, especially when you consider the shear number of recreational riders in the Tucson area who do not commute. Why are they only concerned with car/bike crashes involving commuters? I’m sure that they care when a recreational cyclist gets hit by a car just as much as when a commuter is hit so why count it that way?

  2. KyleVanRenterghem This is speculative, but it could be that as a national advocacy group LAB has to focus on the type of cycling that overall has the largest footprint, growth, need, and (theoretical) fixability when making comparisons. That would seem to be commute/utility.

    Clearly, if one considers climate, terrain, mtb trails, the whole sport/rec thing, etc., Tucson/Pima would be awarded some element stronger than the universe. But other important things would get lost…

  3. The road surfaces along many of the most frequently used bike commuting routes are in extremely poor shape.

  4. KyleVanRenterghem I would think that a recreational rider inside the city limits would count the same as a commuter. I see no difference.  I also think maybe the crash/fatality numbers might be used as an indicator of how much regard there is in the community for cyclists on the roadway. Either that or how great the drug/alcohol problem is.

  5. KyleVanRenterghem You mean sheer number, not shear.  Shear is a verb meaning to remove hair.  Sheer is an adjective indicating a large degree.

  6. Michael, you have a grammatical error in the 1st paragraph.  Found it’s way into my mailbox should be found its way into my mailbox.  Substitute it is for the contraction it’s in the sentence.  If it doesn’t make sense, you need the possessive its.

  7. @snwaites KyleVanRenterghem I did indeed mean sheer, its too bad auto-correct isn’t always correct.

  8. @zz KyleVanRenterghem I would think their number for commuters comes from something like census or some other survey data.

  9. @snwaites Or, as Red Star’s 5th grade teacher, Miss Fernandez, told us: It’s its. She made us write that 500 hundred times. Forever hot for that teacher, a very lovely and memorable young woman.

  10. The good thing about applying for an upgraded status is that it allows you to benchmark yourself. You can see from an independent viewpoint how you are doing. Tucson has improved and more work needs to be done. This can also be used to help push for even better infrastructure in the near future.
    Good luck Tucson and keep trying.

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