Vermont in center of bicycle pack
The League of American Bicyclists, a 300,000-member organization based in Washington, D.C., dropped Vermont four spots in its latest ranking after completing a 75-item survey covering legislation, policies, infrastructure, education and enforcement.
In celebration of Bike to Work Week (May 11-15), the organization began releasing a national ranking of the states that are best promoting and encouraging more residents to ride.
While Vermont excels in fostering new bicycle policies and programs, the state ranks near the bottom for new biker-friendly legislation.
The state also ranks in the bottom half in regards to infrastructure, which comes as a surprise to officials at the Vermont Agency of Transportation.
The agency has set aside $4.27 million in the fiscal 2010 budget for bicycle and pedestrian projects, according to AOT spokesman John Zicconi.
Additionally, the agency puts out about $3 million in enhancement grants, with a primary focus on bicycle and pedestrian paths and walkways. Through the federal stimulus money, the state is releasing an extra $3.8 million available to Vermont communities this year for enhancement projects.
Zicconi said the agency is ensuring some of the major routes have a three-foot shoulder to allow more room for bikes. While the AOT has a limited ability to widen some roads because of storm water basins, the agency tries to look at each project with a bicycle viewpoint.
"That makes it bike-friendly ... it gives bikes enough road to safely use the road," he said. "We're always looking to make it better for bicyclists."
But other Vermonters say the ranking is not startling because the state needs to do more to attract cyclists.
"Not much is really done for cyclists, so I'm not surprised," said Arnie Glim, owner of Putney's Ranney-Crawford House Bed & Breakfast. "It's a beautiful state to cycle in, but it's mainly private people doing their thing."
Glim's business focuses on cycling-oriented guests. He also operates the Web site www.cyclingvermont.com which provides information about bicycling around the state and a dozen routes around Windham County, many of which he takes his guests on.
"We're very cyclist friendly ... very often we get all of our rooms filled with cyclists," he said. "We get lots of cyclists from all over the country."
Glim said the natural beauty and quiet roads make Vermont an ideal location for bicycling, however, the state could draw in more bike enthusiasts if businesses like his were listed in a special directory or booklet.
Currently, Vermont's tourism advertising combines all outdoor recreational activities such as hiking, skiing and climbing.
Neighboring New Hampshire and Maine ranked eighth and third respectively as the two New England representatives in the top 10.
In 2008, Vermont finished the survey at 17, but lost four spots in the ranking because the state idled when others expanded their two-wheeled programs.
"The slip in the ranking wasn't so much in the state's downslide in biking, it was more just other states outpacing them," said Jeff Peel, a programs specialist with the bicycle league.
Vermont remains a great bicycling state, but there is no advisory committee at the state level representing the interests of the different groups, said Peel. While many different towns and counties have mapped biking routes for their regions, there is not a complete chart of the entire state, he added.
But the state can change its status on the rankings list very quickly.
One new bike-friendly law or educational program could move a low-ranking state into the top 10. Delaware skyrocketed 22 spots from 31 in 2008 to 9 this year.
"A handful of questions could really move you up the rankings," said Peel.
Maine moved up three spots because of the state's new law requiring motorists to give three feet of clearance while passing bicyclists, something introduced in the Vermont Legislature but did not pass.
"Vermont is being left behind. Other states have passed the three-foot law," said Nancy Schulz, executive director with the Vermont Bicycle and Pedestrian Coalition. The Montpelier-based group is a member of the League of American Bicyclists.
The three-foot law in Vermont would have protected vulnerable bicyclists from motorists passing too closely and would have provided them the same rights and responsibilities. The measure went as flat as a bike tire on a rocky road.
Another preventative statute that has not picked up any traction is having vehicles come to a complete stop in front of crosswalks for bicyclists and walkers instead of just yielding.
Recently, New Hampshire passed a bill requiring bicyclists to wear reflective vests at night, another measure bumping the Granite State up in the rankings.
According to Schulz, improving the state's ranking with the league would help create a boom for the tourist industry while strengthening Vermont's position on biker safety.
"What would be required to get into the top ten is not difficult," said Schulz.
Washington and Wisconsin have been ranked first and second, respectively, for both years of the survey. Oregon has also remained in the top four since the initial ranking.
"It used to be just the Pacific Northwest, but now bicycle-friendly policies are being implemented throughout the nation," said Meghan Cahill, director of communications for the bike league. "It's not just an isolated phenomenon now, it's nationwide."
Alabama was ranked last on the bike-friendly list. Montana, Oklahoma, Alaska and New Mexico rounded out the five least-friendly biking states.
Connecticut was the only New England state near the bottom of the list at 44th, two spots worst than in the 2008 ranking.
Chris Garofolo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 802-254-2311, ext. 275.
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