Urbana celebrates title of ‘Bicycle Friendly Community’

After being named a “Bicycle Friendly Community” by the League of American Bicyclists in May, Urbana celebrated its feat of health and wellness during a short ceremony Saturday.

Urbana Mayor Laurel Prussing was accompanied by various city officials at Market in the Square in Urbana for a brief commemoration of the city’s new label. A representative of the League of American Bicyclists presented a sign to the city that reads “Bicycle Friendly Community,” which will be hung in Urbana. The city is the sole community in Illinois to be added to the list in the league’s recent round of awards, joining Chicago, Schaumburg and Naperville on the list.

Studies show that people who incorporate about 30 minutes of activity into their daily lives, such as bicycling, have healthier lifestyles, said Cynthia Hoyle, transportation planning consultant for Urbana. Rebecca Bird, an Urbana city planner, said she finishes her workout during her commute to work every day, biking four and a half miles. Having a personal connection with biking, Bird said a big benefit from the city’s extensive bicycle-friendly planning process is connected with wellness.

“Biking is so multifaceted,” Bird said. “Health and fitness of bicycling is a huge part of it.”

To allow the city to allow for more wellness, Bird said city planners went through an extensive process to reach Urbana’s new status. In 2007, city planners invited members of the community to come to meetings and share their ideas and concerns regarding Urbana’s bicycling system. Residents expressed a desire to have more resources for cyclists, such as more bike paths, so city planners hired Urbana’s Regional Planning Commission to create a master plan by which the city could begin to map out a more bicycle-friendly community. The commission and city planners studied Urbana’s infrastructure, such as automobile patterns on certain streets. Both groups then carefully crafted more bike paths and lanes.

While non-cyclists cannot be forced to bike, Charlie Smyth, city council member, said the benefits of the activity can only be recognized if the city allows for it. He said things like creating good flow from bike path to bike path is important for transportation officials to consider.

“Connectivity is really important for encouraging people to bicycle,” Smyth said.

While Urbana revels in its bicycle-friendly status, Bird said the city is working with Champaign, Savoy and the University to extend more bike paths so bikers can easily flow from city to city.

Brian Faulkner, resident of Urbana, recently moved to the town from Idaho. He said he bikes about 10 miles per day and finds the city caters well to bikers.

“The whole city is overall pretty bike friendly,” Faulkner said.