Does Auburn, Alabama live up to bike friendly designation?

Universities help make headway in a state that fails in bike friendliness

Auburn is the only city in the State of Alabama to be recognized by the League of American Bicyclists as bicycle friendly. The city attained a ‘Bronze’ award in 2005 and continues set examples for the state that ranks 50th in bike friendliness.

Alabama fails in 5 out of 6 of the League’s graded categories of: legislation, policies and programs, infrastructure, education and encouragement, and evaluation and planning. It received a ‘C’ in the final ‘enforcement’ category. To say the state has plenty of room to improve is an understatement, but the city of Auburn is working to hold onto their Bronze status and leverage the local university, and their bike-riding student population, to keep bikes in the mind of city planners.

Auburn traffic engineer Brandy Ezelle and the city reportedly accept bikes as a viable transportation mode for citizens, and continue to push the development of new programs and facilities for bikers within the city. The city cites their latest work on a network of 35 miles of lanes and paths.

Some locals, however, question how “friendly” the community is to biking. The main issue is that many of the touted bike paths aren’t connected, therefore not very useful.

“Auburn is the most cycling friendly city in the state?” Questions Robert Bedsole, president of Auburn Triathletes, “I find that hard to believe, but we are in the Deep South. Student ‘cyclists’ riding to class dominate the sidewalks because they're afraid of getting hit in the streets; and while the city may have a lot of bike routes in other places around town, they're completely disjointed.”

Bedsole also notes that many of the bike paths are not even near the campus.

In 1998, the Auburn City Council signed the “Auburn 2020” plan, a document outlining goals for community development including an extensive bike plan. This plan was directly cited when the city earned their bicycle-friendly status, but that is just the first step. According to Bedsole and others Auburn still has a long way to go.

Kirk Iverson, chairman of the Auburn bicycle committees, noted that the University of Auburn is willing to help the city with its bicycle friendly efforts. These immediately included the addition of a bike lane on a major artery near the campus. The city says this key connector should be finished this summer and should eliminate the student bicyclists’ use of the sidewalk.

Future plans include a bike shop to assist students on campus and, while still in the planning stages – this shop, which is being devised help students, staff and faculty learn about bike repair – should open by fall.

Perhaps the most ambitious goal is one devised by Iverson —and will certainly appeal to Bedsole — to make every street in Auburn safe to ride on, which will be a major victory for bikes in Alabama.

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