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Q How can advocates get involved in helping cities identify the needs of cyclists throughout the winter?
A There’s no greater deterrent to bicycling than a giant mound of snow sitting in a bike lane. In areas where winter hits hard, cities need to consider how snow maintenance schedules affect citizens who bike. There’s plenty that advocates can do to help.
Dorian Grilley, executive director at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota, has plenty of good advice. The best approach to winter snow maintenance, he shared, is to create an official policy for how the city or state deals with snow on bike infrastructure.
Good snow policies outline clear plans for plowing bike routes – including protected bike lanes, painted lanes and off-road paths. Advocates can work with a city’s public works department to create and pass such a policy and then implement the plan once it is in place. Good snow policies help a city deploy plows after a storm to prevent the gritty white stuff from piling up exactly where bicyclists are accustomed to riding. Grilley noted that plows in snowy Minnesota pass over streets with painted bike lanes two times: once to clear the driving lane and a second time to clear the bike lane. And on off-road bike paths, plows shovel snow all the way to the pavement but go light on salt to help reduce damage to bike components.
Bike advocates should also partner with community groups to ensure sidewalks get cleared. I’ve seen plenty of bad examples where cities have used sidewalks as snow storage, forcing people to walk or push wheelchairs in the roadway and/ or bike lane.
In addition to working with the city to do their part to make riding accessible year-round, there’s also plenty that advocates can do to make sure that bicyclists are equipped to ride safely in the winter. Because winter commuting often means riding in the dark, advocates can partner with city agencies or businesses to promote bike lights (sales and giveaway programs have been popular) and hold classes on biking safely during the winter.
Having lived in Maine most of my life, I know that biking in the winter is as simple as having the right clothing (layers and not too many) a little extra equipment (lights, fenders), and the right attitude. Indeed, riding during the winter can be greatly rewarding and refreshing!
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Jeffrey Miller is the president/ CEO of the Alliance for Biking & Walking, a coalition of nearly 200 state, provincial and local bicycle and pedestrian advocacy organizations across North America. @BikeWalk | peoplepoweredmovement.org