Biking in Flagstaff is an uphill battle

Illustration by Amy Czachowski

Whether to reduce gas bills or to get in shape, biking is something many people have felt some pressure to do. It is one of those things, like composting or buying local, that people are at least a little compelled to do if only to shut their hippie friend up. And similar to composting and buying local, biking is something people rarely follow through with.

While Flagstaff boasts about being a good place for biking, I have found that this is only particularly true for enthusiast bikers who enjoy mountain trails. For those who bike to get to school, work or both, it is a slightly different story.

The story I see from my bike as I ride around town is that Flagstaff has the foundation to be a great city for cyclists, but still needs work. While there are a lot of bike lanes and the Flagstaff Urban Trail System in place, these alone are not enough to call it a day.

Flagstaff does have a large biking community compared to the rest of the nation according to biking enthusiast websites such as rootsrated. Yet, I find that this is more because of the size and the climate of Flagstaff than active policy choices.

Increasing the number of trips made by bikes has great potential to reduce road congestion, which is great for Flagstaff’s carbon footprint. Another benefit would come from reducing the frustratingly large amount of traffic Flagstaff has.

Biking in Flagstaff would be a great alternative means of transportation. It’s unfortunate though that the town is perceived under a false guise of being very biker-friendly when it lacks the necessary infrastructure.

There is an Active Transportation Master Plan with promising ideas for Flagstaff, but without the support of the community, it will remain just that — a plan. In order to get involved, you can attend the meeting of Flagstaff’s Bicycle Advisory Committee, which takes place at City Hall on the first Thursday of the month at 4:30 p.m.

There are multiple design choices moving forward that would encourage biking in Flagstaff. One is separate bike paths away from the road called Pedestrian-Bicycle Superhighways, or PedBikeWays, in the Active Transportation Master Plan, which would simplify biking alongside traffic.

Speaking honestly, bike lanes are scary, both for the biker and driver. When you are in a bike lane, the fear of being hit is never far away.

The biggest improvement that could be made is continuity. Only about half of Flagstaff’s roads even have bike lanes, according to the city of Flagstaff. While bike lanes aren’t my preferred infrastructure, it’s better than being forced to take a road without any consideration for bikers. Worst of all are roads where the bike lane just ends, which there are far too many in this town.

There’s a similar continuity problem with the urban trail system: only about half of the trails in it are paved. Again, this is good for mountain bikers but not so much for commuters who don’t think their bike can handle an unpaved trail. If that is you, this could mean finding a new path or just crossing your fingers hoping your tires can take it.

According to The City of Flagstaff’s website, about 40% of local car trips are less than 2.5 miles. Biking 2.5 miles is a low physical barrier for most able-bodied individuals. The psychological-emotional barrier, however, will be high as long as cyclists have to hop from trail to trail and lane to lane, dodging cars and pedestrians along the way.

Getting into the habit of biking is literally an uphill battle in Flagstaff’s case. If more people are going to come along for the ride, then we need a town that is designed to encourage it.