I think that the image most people have of a bike friendly city involves someplace urban. Millennials and repositioned warehouses are often part of the mix. This is understandable. These places tend to get the most press and bringing bicycles into the transportation mix in America’s great urban places makes perfect sense.
But bicycle friendly is not just a big city thing. It’s also something that more and more suburbs and small towns are striving for. Here in Utah, the League of American Bicyclists has recognized six communities as bicycle friendly cities . Three of these (Ogden, Provo and Salt Lake) are urban. One (Riverdale) is suburban. Two (Moab and Park City) are rural. It’s the rural ones I want to focus on today.
Perhaps it is because I’m closing in on retirement and have less and less need to be in a big city as the years go by. Maybe it’s the crumbling infrastructure so prevalent in these places and the unwillingness of people and leaders to fix it. Maybe it’s something else entirely, but as life goes by I find myself attracted to small towns more and more. This is especially true in the West. Out here, geography and water limit where development takes place and so small towns tend to be relatively delineated from one another and densely compact. They don’t spread out and fade into each other like they do in wetter places with lots of level land.
I found myself thinking about this as I visited Park City with my family this weekend. This place cut its teeth as a ski town but like a lot of ski towns across the American West it has morphed into something more.
Park City is this weird and funky roux of mountain and road biking. It is bikes for recreation and bikes transportation. Like a lot of ski towns, Park City sits in a narrow valley so space is at a premium. Since it takes a lot of space to park cars and since people head to these places for a certain vibe, many ditch the car and get around town on foot or bicycle. The load share numbers for bicycles, pedestrians and transit here is an impressive 13% of all trips.
It’s not because the people who live here are trying to pinch pennies. Per capita income is almost twice the national average. The median list price for homes on the market is $1 million. These people can afford to drive. In fact, we saw several Ferraris while we were out and about.
But we also saw Colnagos, Moots, Salsas and all sorts of other exotic bicycles. Park City has built out an impressive network of side paths and on street bike lanes and not just in town. They extend up and down the valley to neighboring communities. You’re as likely to see a fat tired mountain bike cruising city streets as you are an urban bike or sleek racing machine. Oldsters and youngsters alike ride here and they ride everywhere. The schools offer bicycle safety as part of the curriculum and most of the streets (the Bike League says 76-90%) have some sort of accommodation for cyclists.
Ultimately, Park City is bicycle friendly because the people who live here want it to be bicycle friendly. They understand that in smaller towns where distances between destinations are shorter it’s often more convenient and quicker to hop on a bike than into a car. They recognize that it’s better for their health. Just as importantly, they do it because it’s good for the community and planet, too. If you’re out this way, Park City is worth a visit. You’ll likely discover something that you can bring home and implement where you live.