The League of American Bicyclists has given Onalaska a stamp of approval, awarding the city of Onalaska a Bike Friendly Community Award at the bronze level.
A Bike Friendly Community Award means the community demonstrated essential bike facilities and plans falling under at least two of five categories: Engineering, Enforcement, Education, Environment, and Encouragement. The two that cities typically establish first are Engineering and Education, which were Onalaska’s strengths.
Briefly, engineering deals with physical infrastructure such as bike lanes, bike paths, sharrows, bike parking and safe routes for cyclists to use. Education deals with helping provide people of all ages and abilities the skills and confidence to ride by certified league instructors within the community.
Environment includes many of the aesthetics that people experience as they ride along routes or paths. Enforcement is demonstrated by training, education and involvement by law enforcement within the community towards ensuring safe roads for all users. The fifth element, Encouragement, is a bit grayer of an area as it deals with the varying ways a community can promote people getting out and riding a bicycle, whether for transportation, recreation or physical exercise.
The process of getting the bike friendly designation for Onalaska began in 2010 when the city’s Planning Department and the Plan Commission gave the green light for the application, which documents the status of the five elements of a bike friendly community, including plans for the immediate future.
Getting this status report in order helps to identify accomplishments as well as deficits. The other purpose is to help the League of American Bicyclists identify what level of accomplishment the city has attained.
In the summer of 2011, Onalaska received an Honorable Mention based on the criteria and information supplied. We gained significantly when the city passed its Complete Streets policy, and we now have a licensed cycling Instructor within the city. Along with improvements such as progressing with Safe Routes to School initiatives in education and infrastructure, offering educational sessions and making infrastructure improvements such as bike paths, bike lanes and signage to help promote more riding. Onalaska continues to move forward in establishing healthier neighborhoods, businesses, and citizens with bicycling improvements.
Bike Friendly Community status is good for five years, and there are three levels above bronze: silver, gold and platinum. There are 12 Wisconsin communities with Bike Friendly status: Madison is at gold, La Crosse is at silver, and others include Milwaukee, Fitchburg, Stevens Point, River Falls, Sturgeon Bay, Appleton, Eau Claire, Shorewood, and Sheboygan County.
There are other designations for Bike Friendly businesses and universities. While the Bike Federation of Wisconsin, Trek Bicycle Corp. and Planet Bike lead the state with a gold status, area businesses include Mayo Clinic Health System, Gundersen Health System and the Onalaska School District at Honorable Mention status. The goal of the Bike Federation of Wisconsin is to help each and every community reach a Bike Friendly Community status.