Last weekend, Urbana residents celebrated the city's recent recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Community (BFC).
To be considered for the award, which is issued by the League of American Bicyclists (LAB), applicant communities must demonstrate achievements in five categories: engineering, education, encouragement, enforcement and evaluation and planning.
"We were strong in all five categories, so we were able to get the recognition," said Jennifer Selby, civil engineer in Urbana Public Works.
Urbana was given a bronze level award last May and held an official award ceremony at the city's farmers market on July 16. It was the only city in Illinois to win an LAB award this round and is currently the only city in downstate Illinois to hold BFC status.
Urbana's recognition as a BFC fulfills one requirement of the city's Bicycle Master Plan. Adopted by city council in April 2008, the plan aims to increase cycling in Urbana by 50 percent by 2013.
According to Selby, the city made a number of efforts to meet the requirements for BFC status.
In May, Urbana sponsored Bike to Work Day, an event intended to encourage bicycle commuting.
"I think we were shooting for 200 to 300 people, since it was the first time the event happened. But we had over 700 people register, and we know that a lot more than that actually participated," Selby said.
At eight percent, Urbana has the highest bicycle commuting rate in Illinois, according to the LAB website and a 2002 household travel survey.
While Urbana's bicycling rates are considerably higher than other Illinois cities, LAB still recommended that the city increase its efforts throughout the year to encourage bicycling within the community.
They also recommended that Urbana increase the number of bicycle lanes on busy streets, continue to implement the bicycle plan, increase education opportunities for both children and adults, and adopt a complete streets policy to maintain its BFC status.
According to Selby, "a complete street is a street that is safe for all modes of travel," including vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians. Such streets typically include bicycle lanes, pedestrian walkways and public transit stops.
Under a complete streets policy, any street that Urbana replaces or changes will be made into a complete street.
"That doesn't mean you have to put bike lanes on every street," Selby said. "(We'll) look at who is using the street and if it's reasonable to accommodate (them) in some way, even if it's just a sidewalk."
The city plans to add bicycle lanes to busy sections on Washington Street, Race Street and Philo Road later this year, as well as paint bicycle lanes on shared parking and cycling streets.
While the city is making efforts to maintain and improve Urbana's BFC status, several community groups are also involved.
Champaign County Bikes, an organization dedicated to making the Champaign-Urbana area safe for bicyclists, created and distributed maps outlining safe bicycle routes throughout the community.
"It's not just what the city is doing, but what is happening within the city," Selby said.
Photo: Kim Hawthorne