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Want to Build Bikes into Your Urban Economy? This Free Program Will Help

By Michael Andersen, People for Bikes

As Triple Pundit has been reporting with this series, there's an emerging consensus in U.S. cities that making biking a popular way to get around is terrific for the economy.

The physical activity makes people more productive at work and reduces health care costs. Retailers where bike lanes are part of the streetscape tend to see higher retail revenue because bikes bring in customers without gobbling up parking space.

There's only one problem, of course: in the U.S., biking for transportation isn't very popular yet. But the tectonics are shifting.

Inspired by thriving Northern European cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam, which in the last 40 years dramatically increased the share of trips taken by bike to more than 35 percent, many U.S. cities are embracing one of the main tricks in the European bag: bike lanes that are physically protected from auto traffic, just as a sidewalk is.

Pioneered in this country by New York City in 2008, bike lanes protected by curbs, parked cars and plastic posts are now going in everywhere from Atlanta to Long Beach to Lincoln, Neb.

But 43 percent of the growth since early 2012 has come from just six cities: Austin, Chicago, Memphis, Portland, San Francisco and Washington. These are the ones selected two years ago as focus cities for the first round of the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project.

Starting Friday, the Green Lane Project, a nonprofit program that helps cities design and build better bike lanes, is welcoming city governments' applications to join its second two-year round of focus cities. For the six cities that will be chosen, the program is free.

The selected cities will receive a swarm of professional and technical support from national and international experts, intended to catalyze and enable major improvements to a city's bike network.

"It's really, in some ways, a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with people who are on the cutting edge of an innovation," said Randy Neufeld of the SRAM Cycling Fund, one of the project's creators.

The project generally does not fund infrastructure projects directly – the idea is to make the work replicable in cities everywhere. But the Green Lane Project does award cities small grants of $20,000 to $25,000 that can be used for flexible purposes such as research or communications.

"It really lights a fire"

Cities are selected not based on their streets' current bike-friendliness but on their demonstrated commitment by their public and private sectors to improving streets for bikes.

Nathan Wilkes, an associate engineer for the City of Austin, said this week that the simple process of applying for the Green Lane Project's first round had been a big part of his city's success in rapidly adding protected bike lanes since 2012.

Trying to compete nationally to get admitted into the program, and then once you've committed to the program, living up to the commitments … It really lights a fire to put those types of facilities on the ground," Wilkes said. "On multiple levels, from the staff level to the political support, the way they've set it up, you as a community are backing the vision of getting protected lanes on the ground. That's very powerful.

"While you're doing that, it's great to have the support of other cities that are doing the same thing and trying to find solutions and make it work," Wilkes added.

City technical experts receive travel scholarships to a series of domestic workshops attended by peers and street design innovators from around the country. They also receive site visits from the Green Lane Project's own team of experts, participation in international study tours to the Netherlands and Denmark and ongoing collaboration with other cities in their cohort.

"I described it as therapy, grad school and summer camp all wrapped up in one delicious pastry," said Seleta Reynolds, livable streets section manager for the City of San Francisco.

To apply, visit greenlaneproject2.org. A letter of intent to apply is due Nov. 15, with the final application due Jan. 15.

Michael Andersen is staff writer for the PeopleForBikes Green Lane Project. He doesn't live to bike, but he does bike to live.

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