How Libraries Are Creating Community Connections by Serving Summer Meals

This is a guest post by Patrice Chamberlain, director of the California Summer Meal Coalition

Summer is right around the corner, yet in many low-income communities, this time of year can leave children with limited access to learning opportunities, few safe places to gather and without access to the free or reduced-price meals they received through their school lunch and breakfast programs.

In California and across the nation, a growing number of public libraries are teaming up with city agencies, schools and community-based organizations to ensure that low-income youth stay healthy and engaged when school is out by serving summer meals alongside library summer reading and enrichment programs.

Why Public Libraries? kids eating at library - blog
Libraries are community hubs: trusted, safe spaces that provide an engaging, welcoming environment for community members of all ages. Library summer reading and enrichment programs keep kids engaged and combat summer learning loss. In addition, access to computers and the Internet are a crucial resource for families with limited access to technology at home. Interaction with library staff and opportunities for social engagement can also be invaluable to families. Librarians can help guide reading choices, serve as positive role models and connect families to community resources.

Recognizing the need in their communities, libraries across the nation are stepping up to address the summer nutrition gap. In California, the number of libraries serving summer meals has increased dramatically, from fewer than 15 library branches in 2012 to more than 90 this summer. In 2014, nearly 65 libraries served more than 88,000 summer lunches to kids in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Libraries As “Community Connectors”
Children aren’t the only ones that benefit from library meal programs. Libraries benefit, too. Among participating libraries in California in 2014, library staff reported an increase in library card issuance, participation in summer reading programs and new families visiting the library. Library meal programs also provide valuable volunteer experiences for youth, helping them develop workforce readiness skills and opportunities to engage with the community. USDA summer meal programs are enhancing libraries’ community-building efforts and are helping to create connected and vibrant cities. Here are some examples from communities across the country:

  • At California’s Riverside Public Library, meals were provided by Riverside Unified School District, and the city public works department provided weekly conservation programming for kids participating in the lunch program.
  • At Massachusetts’ Peabody Institute Library, volunteers from the sheriff’s department, local churches and the Rotary Club managed activities with kids. Funds from the local Workforce Investment Board paid for youth to manage the lunch service.
  • In New York State, some libraries are expanding their involvement in out-of-school time nutrition programs by offering afterschool snacks and dinner alongside their afterschool enrichment programs during the school year.

There are several ways that city leaders can work with the public libraries in their communities to organize summer meal programs, ranging from the immediate to longer-term opportunities:

  • Convene city and school leaders to create a citywide dialogue about promoting summer meals and literacy. This dialogue should include an assessment of summer learning programs and summer meal sites to identify gaps in neighborhood coverage or opportunities for collaboration with local libraries. In addition, many libraries participating in local Campaign for Grade Level Reading efforts can help connect summer meal providers to their networks. Or consider creative school collaborations like Washington State’s Federal Way Public Schools’ F.R.E.D. mobile lunch and literacy bus.
  • Provide support for enrichment activities. Adding incentives and activities can help increase participation at summer meal sites. Bringing the library bookmobile to a meal site, for example, can pique children’s interest in reading while they eat a healthy meal. Similarly, facilitating relationships with other agencies — such as police and fire departments — that may be able to support library meal programs with activities or serve as guest readers can be mutually beneficial and stimulate greater interagency collaboration.
  • Encourage libraries to become summer meal sites for 2016. For many municipal libraries, budgets have been set and plans have been made for this summer. Yet starting the dialogue now will facilitate effective planning this fall or for summer 2016. Now is the time to set the vision for a connected city and identify how a library summer meal program can be a driving force behind it.

Additional resources for libraries are available at LunchAtTheLibrary.org.

P_ChamberlainHeadshotAbout the Author: Patrice Chamberlain is the director of the California Summer Meal Coalition, a program of the Institute for Local Government. The Institute for Local Government is the education and research affiliate of the California State Association of Counties, League of California Cities and the California Special Districts Association. Follow the California Summer Meal Coalition at @CA_SummerMeals.

Don’t Drive(rless) Alone

What should cities do to prepare for a future where technological innovations not only continue to disrupt traditional approaches, but catapult forward at an accelerated pace?

Let’s start with what the near future might hold. One big shift on the transportation front could be the advent of networked driverless cars. The news in recent months surrounding the pursuit of driverless car ride-hailing presents great potential opportunities for a more sustainable transportation future.

Since the horse and buggy there has been a fundamental relationship between vehicle and driver — on-demand driverless car fleets greatly inverts this dynamic. Due to the popularity of application based on-demand vehicles now it only stands to reason that if driverless fleets can bring these costs down and the reliability of services up that there is a great potential for growth.

Tied together with demographic shifts and generational preferences, the nature of transportation and mobility is shifting in cities. Millennials are driving less and getting drivers licenses at a lower rate, as they choose alternatives over the traditional dream of owning cars. And, I don’t know about you, but I never bought into a car as freedom. I look forward to the day where I can sit back and have a driverless vehicle take me wherever I want to go.

With projections from a range of sources putting driverless cars on the street in the next 5 to 15 years, this once seemingly futuristic concept will soon become reality. Google has proffered a 2020 timeframe with Cisco’s technology trend watchers recently opining that by around that time it will cost more to drive our own cars than to allow them to ferry us about.

We need fully utilized carpooling machines

How driverless vehicles are ultimately used — as either single occupancy or fully utilized carpooling machines — will weigh heavily on their ultimate environmental footprint. Shared driverless cars could lead to more sustainable outcomes, due to less intensive use of individual vehicles, and greatly reduced traffic. Combined with sensor networks, data driven transportation decisions will become paramount.

We have already seen examples of such systems at play internationally. Singapore’s unified transportation platform, comprising multiple data feeds that are processed real-time, leads to reduced traffic and better vehicle flow. Marrying this type of data output with networked driverless vehicles can only allow cities to better anticipate additional road capacity and maintenance needs while also improving occupant safety.

Furthermore, driverless cars are one of the more powerful tools to help solve the first- and last-mile problem in metro regions nationwide. With over 80% of U.S. residents now living in urban areas, and the growth in cities outpacing the rest of the country, a self-driving environment could be key to rolling into a more sustainable future.

The positives must be tempered by the potential negatives and this is where the companies themselves as well as policy choices by government leaders can make a difference. UberPool and LyftLine are positive developments from the current generation of transportation network companies that should be enhanced and expanded. Currently being piloted in a few cities, more extensive roll-outs nationwide would accord quite well with city environmental goals.

This on-demand mix of ride-hailing and carpooling augurs well for the future. Tying this together with robust HOV restrictions and other environmentally friendly policy choices could push this decidedly in the right direction.

Current trends for vehicle miles traveled have also been going down for nearly the last decade and mass transportation and bicycle usage has gone up. However, if rather than moving to an intensive shared-driverless car future we all ride alone, the outcome could be detrimental rather than supportive of environmental goals.

Who’s doing the sharing?

It is also imperative that we properly consider the equity considerations that arise under a shared driverless future. Public versus private delivery of vital services is a key issue. Will this model be wholly operated by private industry? Should municipal ride-hailing models be on the table or potential driverless fleet options be further explored by government? How will transit agencies react to these coming shifts?

These issues and more will need to be encapsulated into long-range planning that is happening now in cities. Local demand for transit projects in recent years has been growing dramatically. There are currently 99 transit expansion projects and 23 major system renovations underway, as well as a host of others in the planning and review stages throughout the United States.

With this type of public transportation expansion underway and the goal of public transit to serve the whole city as a community benefit, a predominantly private driverless system could negatively affect transit systems and lead to reduced usage and support. While private service is preferable to individually owned vehicles, unlike public transportation, it increasingly separates residents in different classes from one another.

The ultimate sustainability goals may be able to be met in the short-term with a predominantly private system, but wider community goals must also be taken into account. In the long-run private business models can change whereas fixed municipally owned transit infrastructure is a community benefit that has historically stood the test of time. Let’s be sustainable on all fronts as we plan and execute our coming shared transportation future.

Transportation not the only arrow in the sustainable sharing quiver

While transportation is a key area for a low-carbon future influenced by sharing, it’s by far not the only arrow in the quiver. From bikesharing to homesharing to co-working, there is a clear environmental tie that promotes lifestyles focused less on consumption and more on greater access. It is possible now in most cities to make it through your entire day using shared resources.

Furthermore, the cultural zeitgeist reflects these values, with millennials showing enhanced preferences for sharing over ownership more generally. The smartphone has provided the platform for this shift, and the current generation of sharing economy companies has been quick to capitalize and enhance this direction.

Building upon this headwind as we move into the future will be a key component to success. Our nation’s cities have long been leaders on sustainability and one of the great promises of the sharing economy is the better use of underutilized resources.

Our recent study on the sentiment surrounding the sharing economy in the 30 largest American cities shows that the majority of cities recognize that sharing is here to stay. And, in a world where the only constant is change, it is imperative that cities allocate time to understanding these emerging technologies and trends.

The future is anything but settled, but what is settled is the centrality of cities to our nation’s success. Technology developments will enhance our urban experience, but they also risk leaving more people behind. The city of the future must be a city for everyone.

Waking up one day in 2025 and looking around we want our cities to be socially cohesive, environmentally positive places where the benefits of growth and new technologies enhance quality of life. Proper planning and coordinated efforts now can continue to help us move toward a future where the terms sharing and sustainable are forever interchangeable.

 Brooks Rainwater bio photoAbout the author: Brooks Rainwater is the Director of the Center for City Solutions and Applied Research at the National League of Cities. Follow Brooks on Twitter at @BrooksRainwater.

Sandy Recovery Highlights Resilience Lessons

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy. (photo: Ayasha Guerin/inhabitat.com)

Graffiti in New York following the devastation cased by Hurricane Sandy in 2012. (photo: Ayasha Guerin / inhabitat.com)

The Chen residence in the Midland Beach neighborhood of Staten Island is occupied once again. During the 2012 superstorm known as Hurricane Sandy, the Chen home was inundated with 10 feet of flood water, as were other residences in the Midland and New Dorp Beach areas. As of March 2015, the Chen family is back in a restored home thanks to New York’s Build It Back program and the partnership with IBTS (Institute for Building Technology and Safety), an National League of Cities Corporate Partner.

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The completed Chen house. (photo: james Brooks)

The Chen home and others like it have new siding, enhanced insulation and better fire resiliency measures. The property is also raised twelve feet above the ground. The critical measure is that the property is well above both the Base Flood Elevation (BFE) and the Design Flood Elevation (DFE). This means that even if the property is on a flood plain, flood insurance is not required.

The City of New York, working through its Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Mayor’s Office of Housing Recovery Operations, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), established the Build It Back program to coordinate, streamline and evaluate the recovery effort. IBTS is one of the largest contractors serving the city in the areas of architectural and structural assessments, rehabilitation or reconstruction design, contract management and reporting, and final inspections for single family homes.

Visiting the hardest hit neighborhoods on Staten Island and in the Gerritsen Beach area of Brooklyn is an experience both similar and different from visiting neighborhoods in New Orleans hit by Hurricane Katrina 10 years ago. The topography is familiar, and it’s the first sign that these beach bungalows are susceptible to a rising tide. Although the beach dunes rise up from the shoreline, once the waters crest the dunes and flow across Staten Island’s Father Capodanno Boulevard, the landscape drops away another 10-20 feet. Flooding in this area continued nearly a mile inland to Hylan Boulevard.

Build It Back is a massive project. Through March 2015, nearly 26,000 registrants have applied for the program. From Queens, where Breezy Point is located, there are 11,374 registrants. Staten Island has 5,782 registrants, and Brooklyn has 7,968. Eligible homes can have both exterior and interior storm damage repaired. Where appropriate, homes and utility lines are elevated above flood levels as well.

To date, the IBTS team has received contracts to carry out 483 housing elevations. Of these, 253 have received home owner reviews, 198 have received elevation designs for approval, 139 have had construction documents turned over to the city Department of Buildings, and 106 have received permit approvals.

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with the contractors. (photo: Jim Brooks)

Mr. & Mrs. Slaven with IBTS contractors. In the background sits the Slaven house on cribbing. (photo: James Brooks)

The drama in the story is not in the numbers, but in the first-hand accounts told by residents such as Mr. Francis and Mrs. Lauren Slaven of Gerritsen Beach, Brooklyn. Today, their house sits atop 12-foot timber cribbing waiting to be permanently set on its new foundation. A gregarious and talkative woman, Mrs. Slaven is vivid in her recounting of swimming to safety in the face of Sandy. She even managed to save her dog, but lost a pet bird in the ordeal. They will return to their renovated home shortly.

The results of the recovery work thus far have helped drive some innovations both in the management of CDBG Disaster Recovery funds and in the design specifications for home elevations. For example, with support from HUD, IBTS developed a unit price contractor procurement model for CDBG-DR housing rehabilitation and/or reconstruction. IBTS is applying these lessons to the balance of their Build It Back work, bringing a considerable level of savings to New York City storm recovery efforts and also to new work awarded by the Governor’s Office of Storm Recovery (GOSR) on Long Island.

Brooks, J.A. 2010About the Author: James Brooks is NLC’s Director for City Solutions. He specializes in local practice areas related to housing, neighborhoods, infrastructure, and community development and engagement. Follow Jim on Twitter @JamesABrooks.

Should Local Governments Build and Own Broadband Infrastructure?

This is a guest post by Bayfield, Colo. Mayor Rick Smith.

The San Juan Mountains of Southwest Colorado. (photo: Ed Cooley)

With less revenue, municipalities across the country are being asked to do more. While continually providing water, sewer and transportation services to their constituents, many communities are discovering a new infrastructure is being added to the list – broadband.

The southwest Colorado region is made up of five counties and 11 municipalities. It became apparent to these governmental entities that they were paying more for broadband services than their counterparts in urban Colorado. Upon further investigation, it also became apparent that the smaller, more rural communities had few options when it came to broadband service providers.

Regional map of Southwest Colorado

Regional map of Southwest Colorado. (photo: SWCCOG)

These southwest Colorado governments joined together to form the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG). The initial emphasis of the council was to address the gap in broadband service. The SWCCOG’s vision was to build a robust regional network that would allow the counties and municipalities to streamline their broadband costs while increasing bandwidth for their residents. An added goal was to build the network in a manner that allowed the governments to communicate and share data with each other more effectively in the future.

An engineering study was commissioned to determine the current state of broadband infrastructure across the region. The engineers also sought to develop a picture of what a network might look like if all the government buildings within a city or county were connected in a small network, and then each of the small networks were connected to form the larger regional network.

Armed with this information, the SWCCOG sent a small contingency to Denver to request funding for this initiative from the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA). The project was approved for full funding at $3,000,000 with an additional $1,000,000 in local match. With this funding, the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments launched a three-year broadband initiative: the Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN).

The Southwest Colorado Access Network had four main objectives:

  • Install broadband infrastructure (fiber-optic and/or wireless) connecting government buildings in the various SWCCOG communities.
  • Design and install a regional component whereby these small networks could be joined together to create a large regional network.
  • Build redundancy into the regional network so as to minimize the risk of loss of Internet access for the SWCCOG members.
  • Ensure the sustainability of the network.
The Southwest Colorado Access Network

The Southwest Colorado Access Network. (photo: SWCCOG)

The SCAN initiative took three and a half years to complete – and, thanks to the forward-thinking perspective of the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments, the project had many positive outcomes:

  • Each SWCCOG member was able to implement or improve broadband access for itself and its residents.
  • Partnerships with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) resulted in lower per-megabyte costs for broadband services.
  • A regional network involving public/public, public/private and private/private partnerships was created.
  • County and municipal governments worked closely with each other to connect their smaller networks to the larger regional network (La Plata assisted Bayfield, Cortez assisted Dolores and Mancos, Montezuma assisted Dolores, etc.).

The Southwest Colorado Access Network was successfully implemented, and the SWCCOG hit its target of improved broadband service throughout the region at a lower cost. The most surprising outcome of this collaborative effort was the number of newly-forged private/private partnerships between ISPs. These partnerships resulted in significantly lower broadband costs not only for the local governments, but for their residents as well – a win-win scenario for the entire southwest Colorado region.

Mayor Rick SmithAbout the Author: As Mayor of Bayfield, Colo., Dr. Rick Smith was appointed to the Southwest Colorado Council of Governments (SWCCOG) and in 2010 was elected Board Chairman. During his tenure on the SWCCOG Board, he successfully presented the $4.3 million Southwest Colorado Access Network (SCAN) project to the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DoLA).

Resilient Cities Summit Challenges Government and Industry to Plan Collaboratively for the Future

This article was co-authored by Jeremy Sigmon, Director of Technical Policy at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

Aspen_Mayor Becker“Resilience is bigger than disaster management,” said Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker, president of the National League of Cities and co-chair of the Resilient Cities Summit hosted last week at the Aspen Institute in Aspen, CO. “It’s about preserving and improving quality of life for our citizens every single day.” The Mayor facilitated a timely dialogue on community resilience amongst his peer mayors and city leaders from across the country with the help of dozens of private sector experts and practitioners.

The National League of Cities and the U.S. Green Building Council recently hosted the event that drew more than 50 attendees from cities and the NGO and private sectors. Leaders from communities of all sizes and shapes participated in the two-day discussion, including: Aspen, Colo.; Boulder, Colo.; Cleveland; Edgewood, N.M.; Fort Collins, Colo.; Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.; Little Rock, Ark.; Mercer Island, Wash.; Multnomah County, Ore.; Nashville, Tenn.; Pinecrest, Fla.; Salt Lake City; San Francisco; Santa Monica, Calif.; Snoqualmie, Wash.; Waukesha, Wis.; and West Palm Beach, Fla.

Aspen_Group PhotoThese city leaders were able to quickly move beyond ideas and discuss specific actions they could initiate because more than two dozen other attendees represented organizations that are actively running programs to help cities become more resilient. They were able to draw on expertise from federal agencies like FEMA, HUD, EPA, and DOE; from technical assistance providers like the Trust For Public Land, Urban Land Institute, Sustainable Concrete, and the International Code Council; and from private companies such as Esri, Skanska, Trimble, Constellation Energy, Tremco, Wells Fargo, Socrata, and many more.

Over the course of two days, participants were led through a series of discussions on the following themes (view the full program):

  • The complexity of resilience;
  • Resilience as a leadership opportunity;
  • Lessons in city resilience;
  • Making the next resilience investment;
  • Transforming conversation into action; and
  • The global implications for U.S. city leadership

“In our fast-changing world, local government leaders in every region and of every size, shape, and culture increasingly face difficult questions of how best to ensure a strong, safe, healthy, prosperous, and sustainable community,” said Roger Platt, President of USGBC. “Community resilience is the heart of this challenge and this opportunity. The time to address it is now.”

The Summit was a unique opportunity to take stock of how far we have come in the effort to create more resilient communities, and to understand the barriers that remain.

City Resilience as a Term and a Movement

The idea of city resilience is not new. Hurricane Katrina, in 2005, is considered by many to mark the birth of ‘resilience’ as a term and a movement. In the intervening decade, professionals in environmental, risk management, urban development, and homeland security fields have increasingly worked together to recognize and pursue mutual goals. Codes, standards, and other policies have all improved to support more resilient design and development practices.

Even with a decade of work on the subject, resilience is still not very well understood amongst government officials and the industry writ large. It’s true that resilience – and associated terms like mitigation, preparedness, and adaptation – is not an applause line on the campaign trail. Still in its early stages, the resilience movement is generally confined to professional or academic circles. An observation that many shared is that for every glossy example of a project being made smarter, more sustainable, or more resilient, there are still many more counterexamples of projects that are failing to consider and address long-term risk.

At the conclusion of the Summit, it was clear that everyone in the room had learned something they could use to make their government to be more effective, or make their organization to be more innovative, or make their community to be more responsive. Alex Wilson, founder of the Resilient Design Institute, said his article summarizing the event, “The Summit was unlike any other I have attended… I came away optimistic that the attendees in the room weren’t going to simply sit by and wait for action; they were going to make it happen.”

Additionally, Summit hosts NLC and USGBC are excited to join the Urban Land Institute in the joint creation of a “Blueprint for Community Resilience” later this year. Drawing on the conversation from the Summit, the blueprint serve as a tool for city leaders and practitioners to better understand how best to leverage existing resources and successes and to encourage more effective public private partnerships that can drive community resilience.

We are excited about this collaboration between USGBC, NLC and ULI, and how our organizations and our members can accelerate the uptake of resiliency thinking in communities nationwide. Look forward to our joint report this fall, and perhaps we’ll see you at a future Resilient Cities Summit!

About the Author: Cooper Martin is the Program Director for the Sustainable Cities Institute at the NLC. Follow the program on twitter @sustcitiesinst.

Louisville’s Cradle to Career Initiative: Improving Education Across the Pipeline

This is a guest post by Greg Fischer, mayor, Louisville, Ky. The post originally appeared on the U.S. Department of Education’s blog. More on Louisville’s Cradle to Career Initiative can be found on the city’s website

Mayor Greg FischerMayor Greg Fischer hosted Louisville’s community conversation.

As Mayor of Louisville, I’ve learned that city government plays a major role in making sure that all of our city’s young people have a chance to succeed. That is why I launched the Cradle to Career Initiative that recognizes that whether you are a baby in a crib or an adult getting a new certification, you must constantly be learning if you are to succeed. Cradle to Career has four pillars: Early Childhood, K-12, 55K, Louisville’s postsecondary completion goal, and 21st Century Workforce.

Our friends at the Metro United Way convene the Kindergarten Readiness Pillar, in which more than 40 individuals and organizations meet regularly to discuss strategies to make sure our children are ready for kindergarten. In the past few years, we have increased kindergarten readiness from 35 percent to 51 percent, and we are committed to attaining our goal of 77 percent by 2020.

Although Louisville has incredibly exciting momentum, there are some challenges that remain. Too many kids – almost 50 percent in Louisville – arrive for their first day of kindergarten already behind. But, over and over again I hear the same thing: the number one way we can dramatically improve our youngest citizens’ life potential is with quality early childhood education.

You want to create more high tech jobs of the future and fill those jobs?  Get more kids into early childhood programs.

You want to lower our crime rate and keep Louisville a safe place for our families and businesses?  Make sure those early childhood programs are quality programs.

You want fewer kids dropping out and more enrolling and completing a postsecondary degree?  Give parents the tools they need to help their kids on Day One.

To continue dialogue around early childhood development and kindergarten readiness in Louisville, local leaders, educators, parents and community members were invited to participate in one of 15 community conversations hosted by the U.S. Department of Education and the National League of Cities. These conversations included early childhood education, afterschool learning and postsecondary success, and explored ways that cities are working to close the achievement gap and increase student outcomes. Louisville’s community conversation was the last one in this series of events held over the last year.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provides closing remarks at Louisville's community conversation.

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan provided closing remarks at Louisville’s community conversation.

Dr. Libby Doggett, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Early Learning at the U.S. Department of Education, Dr. Tonja Rucker from the National League of Cities, and the Reverend Brenda Girton-Mitchell, Director of the Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships at the U.S. Department of Education all participated in this important community dialogue.

We were also thrilled to have U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan join us to provide closing remarks on the importance of partnership between the federal government and local communities in improving educational opportunities and outcomes across the pipeline, from Pre-K to college.

This community conversation was a terrific stimulus for the work we have been doing around kindergarten readiness and has re-energized us with fresh ideas on how to continue tackling early childhood education and development challenges for our youngest citizens and their families. I am grateful the U.S. Department of Education chose Louisville to have this important conversation, and excited for the work to come.

mayor-fischer-header-image
About the Author:
 Greg Fischer was elected Louisville Ky.’s 50th mayor in 2010, and was sworn in for a second term in January 2015. Follow Mayor Fischer on Twitter at @LouisvilleMayor.

10 Ways to Build a Bicycle Friendly Community

This is a guest post by Bill Nesper, Vice President of Programs at the League of American Bicyclists.

Cyclists participate in a ride during the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C., a day of bike advocacy on Capitol Hill. (photo: Brian Palmer)

Bicycling is more than a practical, cost-effective solution to many municipal challenges. It’s an opportunity to make your community a vibrant destination for residents and visitors — a place where people don’t just live and work, but thrive.

Bicycle Friendly Communities top the lists of best places to live, work, and visit. Bicycle commuting is up 62% in the United States since 2000 – and it’s grown by 105% in BFCs who are making investments in better infrastructure, education, and encouragement.

Smart leaders across the country are meeting the demand by adding more dedicated bike facilities and connecting bike networks that are comfortable and convenient for all ages and abilities, creating more opportunities for people to learn bicycling skills, improving laws, ordinances and policies to improve safety, and creating an authentic and inclusive bike culture, through events like Open Streets and Bike to Work Week.

With Bike to Work Week just around the corner (May 11-15), it’s a great time to take a look at bicycling in your community. It is your chance to get on a bike and see how safe, comfortable and convenient bicycling is in your community. Here are five things you can do to get started, and five longer-term actions to transform your community.

Five things to do this week:

  1. Ride your bike this week and bike to work on Bike to Work Day, which is Friday, May 15. It will make you happy and give you a new way to connect with people in your community. Look for BTWD events, bicycling classes, bicycling clubs to ride with and more at http://bikeleague.org/map. Then tell us your story.
  2. Use that bike ride and this Quick Assessment to think about the current barriers keeping people from bicycling more regularly in your community. Learn about what things that can be done to build a Bicycle Friendly Community.
  3. Think about what it would take to make your community government a model Bicycle Friendly Business. Introduce your chamber of commerce and business associations to the Bicycle Friendly Business program as a new way to engage with local businesses.
  4. Watch and share these short bicycling skills-building videos.
  5. Celebrate National Bike Month by taking staff on a lunch ride and invite the public to join or hold a community meeting on a bike ride.

Five longer-term actions to build a Bicycle Friendly Community:

  1. Adopt a Complete Streets policy and design standards that create a connected, inclusive all-ages-and abilities bicycling network.
  2. Reach the general public with the vision of a Bicycle Friendly Community and offer regular opportunities for children and adults to gain bicycling skills and traffic safety education.
  3. Support a bicycling culture throughout the year by supporting more family-friendly community and charity rides, bike valet parking at community events, ‘Ciclovia’ or Open Streets events, and other bicycle-themed festivals.
  4. Support and enforce better bicycle-friendly safety ordinances at state and local levels.
  5. Set an ambitious ridership and safety target for your community, develop an actionable plan, and support dedicated funding for implementation. And don’t forget to apply for the Bicycle Friendly Community designation. Every applicant gets custom feedback on what to do to become a great BFC.

Learn more about Bike To Work Day, Bicycle Friendly Communities and more at bikeleague.org.

About the Author: Bill Nesper is Vice President of Programs at the League of American Bicyclists in Washington, D.C. Follow the League on Twitter @bikeleague.

Visit the National League of Cities website