By DAN MINER, Observer-Dispatch, link to original post
The inaugural Tour D’Utica bicycle ride took place in September 2011 and featured 10 riders. Fast-forward to June: The third ride, which focused on local parks and green initiatives, included 50 people.
And that increase in popularity has at least one of its founders thinking that the city, with its pre-automobile grid and flat landscape, could be poised to capitalize on major bicycle trends seen in other cities across the country.
“I’d say the tour is tapping the pulse of a trend in our community that probably mirrors what is going on in the rest of the country,” said John Ossowski, a cycling advocate, city resident and Tour D’Utica organizer.
In Manhattan, bike trips to and from the central business district tripled between 2000 and 2009, according to a 2011 analysis by Elsevier, an international publishing house. In Portland, Ore., the biking share of work commuters over that timeframe went from 3 percent to 8 percent.
Biking has widespread benefits for both personal health and for communities, said Tim Blumenthal, who serves as president of Bikes Belong and PeopleForBikes.org, both national bicycling advocacy organizations.
“Every time somebody decides to ride a bike, they are reducing road congestion,” Blumenthal said. “You can park 20 bikes in a single automobile parking space.”
Biking increased about 40 percent nationwide from 2000 to 2009, said Blumenthal, citing U.S. Census Bureau statistics. Boston and Washington, D.C., have instituted very cheap short-term bicycle rentals, and New York City is doing the same, he said.
So far, progress has been slow locally. Utica’s roads are in difficult condition, and a city-based committee to advocate for bicycle and pedestrian needs called for in the Utica Master Plan has not yet materialized. A portion of the recently passed federal highway bill that would have increased investment in biking infrastructure was scaled back.
The $62.5 million North-South Arterial project will include the construction of a bicycle lane, but plans fall short of the eventual vision to connect the Phillip A. Rayhill Memorial Trail to the Erie Canal trail.
Brian Thomas, the city’s Urban and Economic Development Commissioner, said Utica is seeking grant funds to connect the trail.
“The whole New Urbanism movement is looking, in newer communities, to build what we already have and have had since the beginning, which is a grid system,” Thomas said. “Walkable, bikeable streets.”
Central New York Bicyclists and Pedestrians and Utica Velo, in association with the Mohawk Valley Bicycling Club, coordinate to put on the local bike tours.
Ossowski said much can be done to improve conditions for bikers locally. He said drivers are generally not cognizant of bicyclists’ right to the side of roadways. Infrastructure accommodations such as bike paths and parking are needed, along with government advocates, he said.
“I think in the future you’re certainly going to see an increased presence in bicycling, especially in the last spring, summer, early fall,” he said. “Some diehards do it all winter long. My theory is, if they can do it in Minnesota, we can do it in Utica.”