by Jeremy Morrison
The city of Pensacola has embarked on a long journey. On a bicycle. Or rather, for bicyclists.
In August, the city applied for a Bicycle Friendly Community designation from the League of American Bicyclists. Its likely the beginning of a considerable quest.
“It’s an arduous, huge application,” said David Mayo, who chairs the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board.
The board began working on the application last February. The 30-page application dives into issues such as speed limits, public transit, vegetation maintenance and street repair, as well as inquiring about infrastructure specifics, such as the prevalence of bike lanes.
Mayo, an avid cyclist, doesn’t really expect the League to bestow its bike-friendly designation on Pensacola just yet. He knows the city has a ways to go before it is actually bike friendly. But the application is a starting point.
“We anticipate we may fall short of the goal, but they give us homework so to speak,” Mayo said.
The bike advisory board chairman first noticed the Bicycle Friendly Community designation when cycling in Fernandina Beach. He immediately thought of bringing the notion back home with him.
“I thought, ‘wow, that is pretty cool,’” Mayo recalled. ‘I thought, ‘man, Pensacola needs to attain that status.”
It would be a heavy lift. Cyclists in Pensacola routinely battle an unaccommodating infrastructure and environment. The place doesn’t exactly square up with locales one might consider to be exemplary cycling environs.
“You think of Portland, extremely bike friendly. The culture is much different there,” Mayo said. “[In Pensacola] there’s still a lot of people in cars that think bikes don’t belong on the road. It’s a mindset thing.”
Mayo said that city officials were very receptive to the idea of striving toward becoming a bike-friendly community. The official designation, in fact, is seen as a selling point when recruiting new talent and businesses to an area.
“Certainly the mayor’s all about it, he’s a cyclist himself,” Mayo said. “Certainly it’d give us and the Chamber [of commerce] a recruiting tool. To say, ‘hey, this is a BFC,’ that’s helpful.”
Mayor Ashton Hayward said he wants to work toward evolving Pensacola into a “more walkable, bikeable, livable city.” He’d like to see people biking for both recreation and transportation.
“This is another opportunity to make your community a vibrant destination for residents, visitors and bicyclists,” Hayward said in an email.
It’ll take a lot of work to make Pensacola hospitable to cyclists. And plenty of money, too, when you start talking about things like installing bike lanes along the roadways.
For now, Mayo’s hoping the city is able to attain the League’s bronze ranking. That would put Pensacola on the path to one day getting its BFC.
“That’s what we’d like to get,” Mayo said. “It’s a starting point.”
That might be doable. Eventually.
According to Ken McLeod, with the League, Auburn, Ala., is a somewhat comparable community to Pensacola when it comes to seeking the bike-friendly designation. Auburn is currently recognized as a bronze Bike Friendly Community.
“They have applied for recognition six times, starting in 2003 when they were given honorable mention,” McLeod explained in an email, pointing out that Auburn and Pensacola have similarly-sized populations.
But there are also differences that could point to a tougher haul for Pensacola in its attempt to obtain the designation. Data that might paint a steeper terrain.
McLeod lists off the “notable differences”: Pensacola is more dense, with more people per square mile; the city has half the amount of staff as Auburn that work on bike-related issues; bicycle education in schools is about half as prevalent as in Auburn; and Pensacola has fewer bicycle commuters, .4 percent of commuters compared to Auburn’s 1.4 percent.
Mayo said he recognized that aiming for the Bicycle Friendly Community Designation was ambitious. And that to fully realize such a goal will take a generational effort.
“You’re dealing with decades of a process,” Mayo said.
The city is currently waiting to hear back from the League of American Bicyclists regarding its application. Mayo said that process could take up to two months.
Check out the city of Pensacola’s application for the Bicycle Friendly Community designation: bfc-application-complete.
To read about the evolution of Pensacola’s bicycle culture, check out Slow Ride’s Big Mission.