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In the Dakotas, Sioux Falls rides alone

The League of American Bicyclists has given “Bike Friendly Community” status and bronze, silver, gold or platinum awards to 291 communities across America.

Only one is in the Dakotas. It is Sioux Falls, S.D., which won a Bronze Award from the League in 2009.

Sam Trebilcock is Sioux Falls’ transportation planner.

Q. Why did Sioux Falls seek the League’s recognition?

A. We looked at it as an important way of raising awareness about all that our community has been able to do, and also about getting feedback from a national organization that could tell us what we could do better.

In our bicycle plan, we’re now talking about trying to be a Gold Award community, which would take quite a bit of work. But that’s the kind of thing you’ve got to shoot for.

Q. Has the League’s award and the city’s focus on bike friendliness been meaningful?

A. Yes, I think it has been. You do hear it come up in conversation — especially in the bicycling community, but community leaders have started to look at it, too.

They say, “Hey, we’ve been recognized. Let’s use this award as a springboard and build the awareness that we’ve really got something here.”

Also, the leaders and the community start to note that there are benefits not just for bicyclists but also for the community in terms of the economy and the area’s livability.

For example: We always look at bicycling as a mode of transportation — as a means of getting around. Lot of people can’t afford or don’t want to use a vehicle; so, that option of bicycling needs to be available.

Second, we’re doing it because a lot of people bicycle for the environment. It’s a sustainable aspect of your community, and it’s an easy way to promote sustainability.

And the third thing that has come up is trying to create a healthier community. People are trying to find ways to exercise, and being able to bike to your destination or to your favorite trail are some of those ways. It’s a meaningful way of trying to create a community that’s healthy.

Q. What about Sioux Falls’ long winters?

A. Recently, a gentleman by the name of Mark Fenton — a national bike and pedestrian advocate — was in Sioux Falls, and he talked about that very thing.

One of the top bicycle communities in the entire United States is Minneapolis, he pointed out. New York City; Madison, Wis.; Chicago — all of these cities also have become much more bike-friendly, and they’re all northern cities, too.

The same is true in Sioux Falls. One of our biggest assets is a bike trail that kind of goes around the city. So, Fenton asked our parks director, “Do you plow the snow on your trail?” “Yes,” the director answered.

“What happens if you don’t?”

“We get calls,” the director said. “That trail is used year-round.”

I run on that trail, and it’s amazing how well used it is, even right after a snow.

It’s a way of getting around.

Q. What kind of improvements will you need to be a candidate for a Gold Award?

A. One thing is that we need a greater number of “complete” streets.

For a “complete” street, you look at every mode of transportation as part of your road. You look at walking facilities, bicycling, motor vehicle and transit; they all need to be accommodated.

A lot of communities have “complete streets” policies, but I don’t think we have one of those yet.

Also, the league wants to see more city and community staff time devoted to bike-friendly policies. They want to see laws — for example, “safe passing” laws, vulnerable road-user laws.

And they want to see results. They want to see more bicycle commuters on the road.

Basically, we need more facilities — more bike lanes, more sharrows.

Q. Is Sioux Falls seeing any benefits from its efforts?

A. One benefit is strictly economic, in that bicyclists do come to your community, and they do spend.

Also, regarding people who come to your community and are thinking about living there, we’re seeing more and more interest in bike amenities.

They don’t want to just come to a place that has low traffic congestion, for example. That’s not all they’re looking for in terms of livability.

They want a community that promotes and accommodates bicycling, too.