Road Cycling

How West Lafayette became Indiana’s newest ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’ – Journal & Courier

WEST LAFAYETTE – West Lafayette late last week was named Indiana’s 12th Bicycle Friendly Community, a designation the city officials contend reflects the effort put into building trails and updating laws aimed at making cycling safer.

“We’ve been working pretty hard on this to show the world that we value people who bike,” Marcus Smith, West Lafayette’s assistant engineer, said.

“The kind of person we’re trying to bring to West Lafayette is most likely going to be looking to get outside, biking and being active,” Smith said. “This shows we’re thinking along those lines.”

Smith said this week that the city was still waiting for a full report card from the League of American Bicyclists, a national organization that considers Bicycle Friendly Community nominations and grades cities, businesses and university on their efforts.

Last week, West Lafayette earned a bronze status, the entry level into the program.

In Indiana, 12 communities, 50 businesses and two state universities, including Purdue University, are on the list. People’s Brewing Co., 2006 N. Ninth St. in Lafayette, is among Indiana’s Bicycle Friendly Businesses.

WHAT GOES INTO THE DESIGNATION: The League of American Bicyclists started the Bicycle Friendly Community program in 1995, using it to promote what it calls “building blocks,” a set of 10 metrics that show a community’s commitment to safe cycling and cycling promotion.

Among the criteria used to judge a Bicycle Friendly Community: total bicycle network mileage compared to total road mileage, with an average bronze community with a ratio of one mile of one mile of bike network for every four miles of road network; bicycle education in schools; the share of a community’s transportation budget, with an average bronze community reporting 9 percent of its transportation budget invested in bicycle projects; bike to school and bike to work efforts; the presence of active bicycle advocacy groups; and bicycle-friendly ordinances.

WHY WEST LAFAYETTE: Mayor John Dennis touts the city’s trail system every chance he gets. West Lafayette has 37 miles of multi-use trails. The city also added dedicated cycle track on State Street as part of a $120 million reconstruction project, shared with Purdue.

“I’m sure that went a long way on this,” Smith said.

The West Lafayette City Council also added a series of cycling-related ordinances just before the Bicycle Friendly Community application was due in spring 2019. In 2013, the city installed a safe passing distance law, requiring a three-foot berth when a vehicle passed a bicyclist. In 2019, the city added these:

► The city now defines a “vulnerable road user” and sets a $1,000 fine for injuring one by driving carelessly. Vulnerable road users, according to the ordinance, include pedestrians, construction workers, emergency services crews working in a right of way, a person leading an animal, or someone “lawfully operating or riding” a bicycle, skateboard, roller skates, scooter or “electric personal assistive mobility device” in a right of way, crosswalk or shoulder of the street.

► The ordinance sets a definition for “dooring,” which is blocking the path of an oncoming cyclist or other traffic by opening a vehicle door. The ordinance also makes it illegal to keep a vehicle door open and blocking a bike lane or other oncoming traffic for “a period of time that is longer than necessary to load or unload passengers or items.” The city set fines for violations at $100.

► It is now illegal to park in bicycle lane. The city carved out an exemption to that to accommodate high-traffic days at Purdue, lifting the parking regulations “within eight blocks of the Purdue football stadium or basketball arena on the day of a major event at the football stadium or basketball arena (such as a Purdue University varsity football or basketball game or a semi-state tournament basketball game).”

► The ordinance also formalizes rules about where cyclists should ride. Cyclists must “ride far enough to the right as judged safe by the bicyclist to facilitate the movement” of passing vehicles. The ordinance also allows a cyclist to use something other than the right lane, in case of turning left, overtaking another vehicle or avoiding parked cars and other obstacles.

WHAT’S NEXT: Smith said the city is working on safe bicycling education programs for schools. And the Salisbury trail, a roughly two-mile extension that will connect the city’s future recreation center in Cumberland Park with the intersection of Grant Street and Northwestern Avenue, is in design stages. The trail eventually would connect West Lafayette’s elementaries and its high school.

“We really want to emphasize encouraging young riders cycling to school,” Smith said.

CYCLIST’S THOUGHTS: “I think it’s great that our communities are focusing on bike-friendly infrastructure and want to draw attention to those efforts,” Ryan Stremke, president of the Wabash River Cycle Club, said. “There is still work to be done educating motorists and building out infrastructure away from campus and the suburban areas of West Lafayette. Motorist education and appropriate consequences for vehicle-bike collisions may be issues beyond the scope of city government, but would have a big impact, if our local leaders want to significantly enhance our bike friendliness.”

IN LAFAYETTE: In May, Lafayette earned an honorable mention along with a list of things the League of American Bicyclists determined the city needed to improve first before getting a Bicycle Friendly Community designation. At the time, Margy Deverall, Lafayette’s bike/pedestrian/mobility coordinator, said the city was knocked for below-average bicycle education in schools and improvements the League of American Bicyclists said the city needed in bicycle-friendly laws and ordinances.

Reach Dave Bangert at 765-420-5258 or at Follow on Twitter: @davebangert.

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