Bob Downing

Akron has earned a national award as a bike-friendly city for the first time, but it needs to do more to earn more recognition, says David Cieslewicz, a man who knows.

Thatís because Cieslewicz is a former mayor of Madison, Wis., a city that regularly earns gold awards from the American League of Bicyclists.

Akron in May was hailed as a bronze award winner from the national group.

ďA good city for biking is a good city for everyone,Ē said Cieslewicz, a consultant, part-time college professor and head of Wisconin Bike Fed, a grass-roots bicycle advocacy group with 4,500 members.

Being a bike-friendly city helps boost tax bases and attract workers and companies interested in quality-of-life issues, he said Thursday. It also boosts health and fitness.

Cieslewicz made his comments at the daylong Switching Gears Active Transportation Conference that drew about 180 people for talks, workshops and a bike tour of the area.

The conference, at two locations in downtown Akron, was organized by the Akron Metropolitan Area Transportation Study, which offered free bike valet parking for participants.

Akron has 13 miles of off-road trails, 9.5 miles of conventional bike lanes and 12.8 miles of shared bike lanes, according to a fact sheet from AMATS.

Comparatively, Madison has built 50 miles of bike paths and totals another 50 miles of on-street bike lanes, Cieslewicz said.

Madison even plows its bike paths daily by 7 a.m. in the winter, and winter commuting by bike is growing, he said.

Madison has created bike traffic signals, bicycle boulevards and plenty of bike parking, he said. It also closes select streets to vehicles twice a year to allow only bicycle and pedestrians access, a highly popular move.

Madison also started a highly successful bike-sharing program four years ago with 35 stations and more than 300 bikes.

A similar program could work in Akron, he said. There has been talk in Akron about starting such a program, similar to programs in Columbus and Dayton.

The goal is to create a place where residents ride bikes naturally and donít have to think out each step or have concerns, especially about riding safety, he said.

Creating a pro-bike culture is not easy, Cieslewicz said.

In Madison, 8 percent of residents use the bicycle as a major transportation means, compared to 1 percent in most of the United States, he said. That figure is 40 percent or more in European cities, such as Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

Bob Downing can be reached at 330-996-3745 or bdowning@thebeaconjournal.com.