Sandy Fry, Principal Transportation Planner, Capitol Region Council of Governments
The Capitol Region Council of Governments (CRCOG) based in Hartford, CT, completed its Regional Bicycle Plan in April 2000 with the vision that by the Year 2010, residents and visitors to the region would be able to conveniently and safely bicycle wherever they need or want to go. The Plan included a variety of recommendations to reach this vision, including a mix of facilities, education, enforcement and encouragement. But there were two major findings during the study indicating that it would be unreasonable to expect meaningful implementation of the plan’s recommendations:
These issues are not extraordinary, but they do give some indication of where the Hartford, CT, region resides in the spectrum of becoming a bicycle-friendly community and the amount of basic education that needs to be done.
Shortly after the plan was adopted, the CRCOG staff decided to kick off the implementation of the Bike Plan with an all-out effort on National Bike to Work Day in May 2000. A committee was formed, activities and an event were planned for a park in downtown Hartford on the morning of Bike to Work day, gifts for cyclists were obtained and breakfast was ready. Unfortunately, Bike to Work Day 2000 was extremely rainy, and only 12 intrepid souls attended the event. The planning committee felt the momentum created by the event needed to be maintained, and a decision was made to continue Bike to Work Day on the last Friday of each month throughout the summer.
From this start, the region embarked upon a regular Bike to Work promotion, with monthly events through the spring, summer and fall. The events have been designed to:
The Bike to Work program has grown since the first event in May 2000. In 2000 the events were low key and informal — one or two staff members set up a card table in a downtown park and served juice, coffee and donuts to bicycling commuters on the last Friday of the month. A new location was selected in the second year of operation, but the major change in the program was the addition of a raffle. In 2002, the location was changed to a more central downtown spot and the events were expanded to run from April to October. In May, eight towns in the region hosted their own events. The following sections describe the features of the program.
The Bike to Work Planning Committee, now named Bike to Work — Capitol Region, is chaired by a staff member of the Capitol Region Council of Governments (the area’s Metropolitan Planning Organization). Organizations represented on the Committee include state agencies (the Departments of Public Health, Environmental Protection, and Transportation) and advocacy groups (the Connecticut Bicycle Coalition, the Sierra Club, the American Lung Association and All Aboard!, a transit advocacy group.) The MPO provides overall administrative support with other agencies contributing time and funding as they are able.
Bike to Work has evolved to be a once-monthly activity running from April through October. Commuting cyclists are met at a central location where they are provided with free breakfast, a small gift and the opportunity to meet other cyclists. Cyclists fill out a form at the event which makes them eligible for a drawing held at the end of the year. Those commuters who work in locations other than downtown Hartford can still enter the raffle by submitting a raffle form for each event day that they bicycle to work. Other towns in the region are encouraged to sponsor their own events, and their participants are entered into the regional raffle.
To date, the events have been strictly low-budget. A small fundraising campaign, targeted at bicyclists, provides $500 to $1,000. Agencies on the Bike to Work Planning Committee have contributed to the effort in various ways. In 2002 the Department of Public Health provided funds from a cardiovascular health grant to cover the cost of producing and displaying Bike to Work signs on transit buses ($8,500). The Department of Environmental Protection covered the cost of printing and distributing a payroll insert announcing the Bike to Work program, which went to all state employees (at a cost of about $500) in 2001 and 2002. Gifts for cyclists attending events are donated by bike shops.
In addition, the year-end raffle is for a bicycle that is provided by a manufacturer’s representative at wholesale price. A bike shop fits the bike and builds it for the winner. The cost of the breakfasts is covered through donations (primarily from members of the planning committee) and some funding available through the Council of Governments. In 2002, one of the monthly events was sponsored by a large downtown employer, who provided the food and manpower required.
Promotion of Bike to Work has several aspects:
CRCOG maintains a Web site (http://www.crcog.org/biketowork2005.htm) that has monthly updates on the program. Each month press releases are distributed widely to create interest in the program, a payroll insert goes to all state employees (one insert each year) and brochures are distributed (including distribution to noontime crowds at a center city park). A large e-mail address list of those who have participated in Bike to Work or who have shown an interest in it is maintained, and they are sent e-mails monthly. The Committee also works with large employers, requesting that they send e-mails to their employees about the event each month. The placement of advertising signs on buses in 2002 significantly boosted the program’s visibility.
To encourage those who have never tried bike commuting, a ride coordinator system has been developed. The coordinators are individuals who bike to work regularly and have volunteered to meet cyclists on their trip or to help them plan their commutes. They are listed on the Web site with contact information, trip origin and destination, and frequency.
To encourage bicyclists to continue biking to work, each month we select one individual as our area’s Super Bike Commuter with recognition in the monthly press release, on our Web site, and at the monthly event. Selection is based upon dedication to commuting by bike and ability to inspire others to give it a try. This recognition has received significant press attention.
Other features of the program are designed to generate public interest. At each event, cyclists can select a gift (generally related to bike maintenance or safety) and enter a raffle. Monthly raffle prizes are awarded, and the year-end raffle includes a new, high-quality bike with an approximate retail value of $900. In 2002, a T-shirt was given to the first 50 participants and then made available for sale.
In 2002 the Big Wheel award was created to recognize towns that exhibit a commitment to integrating safe bicycle travel on their roads. (This award was presented only once during the promotion, as only one town, Windsor, CT, exhibited progress warranting the award.)
Safe cycling has been a continuing theme of the events. A Share the Road brochure was developed for the initial event in May 2000 and has been available at all events. The brochure contains tips for both bicyclists and motorists on how to share the road safely. All cyclists are encouraged to take a copy of the brochure, and since the brochure is targeted to motorists also, passersby are encouraged to pick up a copy.
Cyclists are also given an opportunity to report any hazards they find on their commute. These are reported on a postcard designed for this purpose and returned to CRCOG. CRCOG then forwards the concern to the appropriate road department (state or town) for resolution. Some of the comment cards are returned with specific maintenance issues (debris on the road, potholes) while others note longer-term issues, like the need for bike lanes or paths.
The success of Bike to Work events can be measured in a number of ways:
But most importantly for our events:
A database was developed to measure attendance and characteristics of bike commuters. In the first year (2000), approximately 25 attended the Bike to Work events, but little was known about their commute trip. In 2001 and 2002, a raffle form was designed to provide information on each participant’s bike commute and the database was created using this information.
Community awareness has been measured with a surrogate — how many news articles covered the event each year. A survey of the public would provide a more accurate understanding of changes in public perception and attitudes, but presence of news articles indicates that the information is going out to the public, and that opinion-makers such as the media view the topic as important.
An analysis of the database indicates that the program is having some impact in convincing individuals to try bike commuting. In 2001, 15 percent of the participants were trying bike commuting for the first time (see table). In 2002, the number dropped to just over 10 percent. The diminishing numbers of new bike commuters is somewhat expected. Those who first try biking to work tend to have schedules, work locations and skills most amenable to biking to work. Once the “low-hanging fruit” joins in the program, a greater effort is needed to encourage those who may have more difficult schedules or whose work locations lack suitable facilities to try biking to work. In addition, to continue to attract new commuters, the region’s roads need to feel safe to bicyclists with a wide variety of skill levels. At this point, the Bike to Work program has not been accompanied by widespread introduction of new bike facilities (e.g. bike lanes, parking racks, showers, lockers.)
|Number of individuals participating throughout promotion||25||201||236|
|Highest attendance at a single event||20||95||153|
|Number of first timers (biked to work for the first time on the day of an event)||NA||30||25|
|Percent of participants who were first timers||NA||15%||11%|
|Annual bicycle commute miles reported by participants||NA||204,000||225,000|
Follow-up work is required to determine whether those who tried biking to work as a result of our program have continued to bike to work and if so, how often.
The evaluation has indicated that the program is having some impact in convincing people to try bike commuting, but the numbers are still very small. Feedback from cyclists and those who have considered biking to work, but have not, indicates that new commuters are discouraged by the lack of bicycle facilities (there are no trails or bike lanes leading into downtown Hartford) and that many of them lack the confidence needed to ride in traffic. The ride coordinator program is designed to help build confidence for novices, but it is not being fully utilized. To date no one has ridden with any of the ride coordinators, but they have been contacted for information regarding preferred routes. In the future the Committee will work to strengthen this program, adding coordinators and improving publicity.
The hazard-spotting program is an effort to improve conditions for bikers, but implementation is still difficult. Some maintenance departments take the complaints seriously and respond immediately. Others are less prompt. The challenge to the Bike to Work Committee is to get the commitment of all the towns and the state to respond promptly to concerns. Other successful bike hazard-spotting programs in the country have been developed from the top down and there is a management directive to implement the program. In this case, the implementation is from the users, and this bottom-up approach will require time before it is fully institutionalized.
The region has not seen a sudden increase in development of bike facilities as a result of the Bike to Work promotion, but there have been some positive signs. The town manager of Windsor, CT, has directed his Public Works Department to examine every street scheduled to be repaved to determine if bike lanes can be designated on the street. The city of Hartford has undertaken a major citywide traffic calming project, and bike lanes are being considered on several major arterials. The town of East Hartford has been working diligently to get funding in place for a piece of bike trail that will link the eastern suburbs with downtown Hartford.
Media coverage has increased each year, and the tone of articles has changed from a focus on trails and paths to a greater emphasis on bicycling as a means of transportation. This indicates a significant change in attitude about the role of biking in the transportation system, at least among the opinion makers of the region.
It does appear that the program has been successful in raising the profile of bicycling as a legitimate part of the transportation system, as evidenced in the increase in media coverage. In addition, the mere presence of a number of bicycle commuters one day each month reinforces the idea that bikes do belong on the street. It is unclear if the message that bicycles should follow the vehicle code has been conveyed. There is no evidence to indicate that more bicyclists and motorists are properly sharing the road.
The Bike to Work promotion has played a role in raising the profile of cycling as a means of transportation in the Hartford region, and it appears that it can play a role in reinforcing the idea that bicycles follow the vehicle code. The program will continue next year with an emphasis on providing support to those who are considering biking to work but are hesitant. This will include expanding the ride coordinator program and providing tips and demonstrations for bike commuters, such as how to dress, how to make a safety check of your bike and how to repair a flat. Further outreach to employers to encourage them to support bike commuting will be undertaken. In addition, more information will be collected from cyclists to better understand how effective the program is and to learn more about the impediments to biking to work.
With the Big Wheel award, the program will continue to recognize towns, to encourage them to consider bike needs on their roadway system. This will dovetail with the MPO’s adoption and implementation of the U.S. DOT Policy on Integrating Bicycling and Walking into the Transportation Infrastructure. Also, it is hoped that many of the region’s towns will agree to sponsor at least one Bike to Work event next year. Continued dissemination of “Share the Road” information will be an important part of the continuing program.
We consider our program a success in meeting our goals, and expect that by continuing the program we will continue to see benefits. Our advice to others contemplating a similar program is to start simply, add to the program over time and share the responsibilities with partner organizations.
|Event costs||Food (7 events at $60 each)||$420|
|Publicity||Banner: 2' X 10' (reused year to year)||$120|
|Banner: 3' X 20' (reused year to year)||$360|
|Signs on Buses||$8,500|
|Bicycle to raffle||$500|
Principal Transportation Planner
Capitol Region Council of Governments
241 Main Street
Hartford, CT 06106