Humans move fast, and we’ve built a world to accommodate that need for speed. We have the internet, where global communication boils down to a few clicks and witty comments; we have cars, trains, planes and many other types of vehicles that make travel a trivial experience. In the interminable hustle and bustle of modern life, we often forget that every action begets a reaction, every event a consequence; where once we saw only the impressive gleam of ingenuity and invention, we now see rising seas, melting polar caps, increasing deforestation, acidifying oceans, and polluting toxins. Reality has slowly but surely caught up with us, even as we traveled faster than we ever thought possible, and it is now the responsibility of rational, empathetic human beings worldwide to curb the tide of consequence and bear the brunt of our actions.
In Provo, a dedicated group has seen the light through the gassy haze, and has taken action to affect public opinion regarding transportation and rules of the road. Aaron Skabelund, a professor of Japanese history at BYU, joined several other like-minded individuals to form the Provo Bicycle Committee, and they’ve been invaluable to the adoption of bicycle culture and improvements to Provo’s bicycle-friendly infrastructure.
Professor Skabelund says that his interest in cycling began at a time when everyone develops an interest in cycling: his childhood. Besides growing up in the 1970’s, when cycling became a popular recreational activity, Skabelund also delivered papers, a task that required a bike to be achievable and profitable. His interest in bicycling became a necessity during his LDS mission as he had to manage the dense, bicycle-filled streets of Japan, and later as he traveled around Europe and then moved close enough to bike to the universities where he studied and worked. His penchant for the cycling life truly became a passion when, in 2009, he realized that the health and safety of not only Provo bikers and pedestrians, but an entire nation addicted to fossil fuels, was at risk. Professor Skabelund is motivated by the revelation in D&C 59:20, that says that the earth’s resources are given to us to use with judgment and not excess; he is grateful for the resources that we are blessed with, and appreciates God’s creations. He truly felt motivated to take action when he realized that his children weren’t allowed to go outside for recess because of the poor air quality in the area. In the fall of that same year, Professor Skabelund and a student named Zack Whitmore restarted the dormant Provo Bicycle Committee, and they’ve been making waves ever since.
The newly re-founded committee’s first goal was to achieve recognition from the Provo city government. To do this, they approached Mayor John Curtis and requested that he recognize the committee officially as the “mayor’s bicycle committee”. At the time, John Curtis was not a cyclist. However, Zack Whitmore was able to change the Mayor’s outlook by loaning him a series of bicycles from Mad Dog Cycles, where Zack worked. The mayor soon reacquainted himself with biking and became an avid cyclist, frequently riding recreationally and bike commuting to work; he’s even committed himself to biking to work 100 days of the year.
Now that the committee has achieved recognition by the mayor and the city of Provo, it has been steadily moving forward with its goal of making Provo a bicycle-friendly city. The actions of the committee have contributed to improved infrastructure of bike lanes and improvements to the Provo River Trail; they also have plans for a bike skills park at Slate Canyon and more abundant safety signs. However, infrastructure improvement is only one part of the committee’s ambitions. Their ultimate goal is to invigorate the citizens of Provo into adopting a bicycle culture; this includes increasing driver responsibility and respect for bikers, increasing cyclist responsibility and awareness, and creating a political and social will to redesign roads to allow for bikes, pedestrians, and alternative modes of transportation. This idea of a “complete street” is not originally the committee’s idea, but they are attempting to encourage Provo to adopt the practice. There actually exists a National Complete Streets Coalition, whose goal (as stated on their website) is to “[integrate] people and place in the planning, design, construction, operation, and maintenance of our transportation networks. The Coalition promotes the development and implementation of policies and professional practices that ensure streets are safe for people of all ages and abilities, balance the needs of different modes, and support local land uses, economies, cultures, and natural environments.” The Provo Bicycle Committee is dedicated to pursuing those goals: making the streets of Provo safe for bikes and pedestrians, and paving the way for a sustainable environment.
To accomplish their goals, the committee has planned and met several important milestones. In 2011, Professor Skabelund and another member of the committee, Sterling Beck, applied to have the League of American Bicyclists evaluate Provo’s progress in becoming bicycle-friendly; Provo was awarded bronze status. They are reapplying next year in hopes that their progress in the last few years will upgrade Provo’s status to at least silver. In early 2014, the city council adopted the Provo Bicycle Master Plan, which outlines the city’s goals for bicycle- friendly infrastructure for the next fifteen years. This is a significant accomplishment, because it marks major recognition and progress of the committee’s efforts. The committee’s blog, bikeprovo.org, is a good resource for keeping up to date on their day-to-day goals and accomplishments. Their monthly meetings occur on the first Thursday of every month at 48 N 300 W, which is the Community Oriented Policing Building in downtown Provo; the meetings are open to the public and begin at 5pm. These meetings are a great opportunity for members of the community to learn about current projects and present any concerns or questions to the committee, as well as to learn about how each city department is helping to implement these important changes; several departments of the city government are represented at the meetings, including Parks and Recreation, Provo City Police, and city engineering.
Of course, when you think of Provo, you inevitably think of Brigham Young University. Professor Skabelund has also worked hard to make BYU a more bike-friendly school. He has worked with other faculty members like Russ Taylor and Mark Peterson to revive the Campus Bicycle Committee, which includes faculty, students, and staff as members. The committee has so far managed to have sharrow signs painted and safety signs placed along campus roads, and they have plans for further bicycle safety improvements. The BYU committee, like the Provo group, is intent on not only improving infrastructure and safety features, but changing the entire culture of the BYU student body to become more accepting and respectful of cyclists, and for cyclists to ride in a predictable and responsible way.
To join the Mayor’s Provo Bicycle Committee, navigate to their website (bikeprovo.org) and sign up to their email list. Social media enthusiasts can Like their Facebook page to receive news and updates about forthcoming events.
Aaron Skabelund and the Provo Bicycle Committee are excellent examples of stewardship in action; they’ve found that the most efficient way to make significant changes happen is to start at the top. However, they can’t make those significant changes without the continued support of Provo’s population. It is up to us to make their dedication meaningful, and to make Provo an example to the rest of the nation on how to build a healthy and sustainable city.