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Sonoma feted as 
‘bike friendly’

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The City of Sonoma was named a bronze level “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American of Bicyclists last week.

“The City of Sonoma is playing a critical part in creating a truly Bicycle Friendly America,” said Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists.

The League of American Bicyclists, an organization that encourages bicycling, and cultivates a bicycle friendly America through advocacy and outreach, grants Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC) awards to cities throughout the United States every four years based on five components – engineering, education, enforcement, encouragement, and evaluation and planning, in effort to transform how communities evaluate their quality of life, sustainability and transportation system. Communities must apply – and reapply – for the award, which has five levels (diamond, platinum, gold, silver and bronze). This contest rounds out the number of communities in 48 states that have received distinction to 291. Sonoma received a bronze level BFC award in 2009.

In a press release announcing Sonoma’s achievement, the League of American Bicyclists notes the bronze level BFC award recognizes the Sonoma’s “commitment to improving conditions for bicycling through investment in bicycling promotion, education programs, infrastructure and pro-bicycling policies.”

“We know the City of Sonoma’s investment in bicycling will be returned many times over in the health, environmental and quality of life benefits of a thriving community,” Clarke said.

Sonoma Associate Planner Wendy Atkins was praised by the coalition and Mayor Ken Brown for her efforts to increase bicycle friendliness in the community, especially in working with the Sonoma Bike Coalition to have valet bike parking at the popular Tuesday night farmers market on the Plaza.

“It’s an honor to be recognized for all of the projects City Council has approved to make the city a better place to ride a bicycle,” Atkins said.

This award, Atkins said, positions Sonoma as an even better tourist destination because people can explore the town on bike.

Sonoma County Bicycle Coalition Executive Director Gary Helfrich agree, adding, “If you come to visit Sonoma, you don’t have to drive everywhere.”

While Sonoma has a vast range of cyclists, ranging from avid riders looking for challenges to tourists exploring to locals just taking a Sunday cruise, Helfrich is always surprised at how many people are casual riders, using “a one-speed coaster bike with basket on the front” to trek through town. To him, this is a testament to not only the ideal location of Sonoma, but also the city’s layout, which enhance rider experience. “It’s really remarkable that a city so small has such a vibrant bike culture,” he said, noting that Sonoma’s uniquely well-defined center makes it especially bike friendly.

The BFC program encourages communities to reapply for the award in effort to not only advance in award levels, but to improve their level of bicycle 
friendliness.

“This designation may inspire more people to ride their bike and it will make Sonoma an even better place,” Atkins said, explaining how promoting bicycling not only coincides with goals to improve public health, but also environmental sustainability.

Now that the Sonoma has been recognized at the bronze level, said Atkins, city staff is working to move up to a higher award level. “One of the biggest things that the League of American Bicyclists wants the city to do is educate bicyclists,” Atkins explained.

Helfrich says in order to improve, the city could look at how many people are using their bicycles and identify issues that prevent others from using theirs. This evaluation, he said, is key in advancing Sonoma to a higher BFC level of distinction. Education – or teaching people to “think like a cyclist” in terms of navigating the town – is also vital to improving community cycling.

In addition to various roads and bike lane projects, Atkins said, city staff members are working on outreach and education programs that will not only teach bike safety but also teach street skills for riding near traffic and teach drivers how to navigate around cyclists. As part of its education campaign, Atkins sais, the city will organize family rides and hold bike rodeos at Sassarini, Prestwood and St. Francis Solano schools.

For more information about the league’s Bicycle Friendly America project or to find out how other cities rank, visit bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica.