HOUGHTON - In the past three years, Houghton has become an even more hospitable place to ride a bike.
The city has been named as a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Bicyclists. Houghton first received a bronze designation in 2010.
The award is given to communities found to be committed to improving bicycling conditions through promotion, education, infrastructure and policies.
Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette
Tyler Tomlinson, a civil engineering senior at Michigan Technological University from Cass City, Mich., takes off on his bicycle Thursday afternoon. The League of American Bicyclists recently designated Houghton as a silver-level Bicycle Friendly Community.
"It's a lot of hard work by the city bicycle committee, working with the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department to put together that application," said Houghton City Manager Scott MacInnes. "We've had a plan and we just slowly keep working on the items that we think will improve bicycling in the community and that was recognized by the application."
Ray Sharp, community planning and preparedness manager for the health department, said the application includes a lengthy online survey on bike-friendliness along with short-answer and essay questions on aspects such as infrastructure and law enforcement.
Sharp pointed out a few improvements that may have helped the city get silver. The shoulders of Sharon Avenue were paved, and a side path was added going around Michigan Technological University's football field on Sharon Avenue. Bike racks were added in the downtown. And several improvements have been made at Tech, including the addition of four bike repair stations.
In an important step, the Houghton Bike and Pedestrian Committee has put together a non-motorized transportation plan that will be incorporated into the city's new master plan. The plan sets out the city's objectives for non-motorized transportation over the next five years.
Sharp said bike and pedestrian improvements can spur economic development by making it a more desirable place to live.
"I think a lot of young professionals are looking to locate to an area where it's comfortable and convenient to walk and bike," he said.
Ann West, a member of the Houghton Bike and Pedestrian Committee, said the designation is excellent news.
"I think it's a recognition of how far the city and the community have come," she said.
One goal is to encourage more people to commute to work on a bicycle, West said. That encouragement could take several forms, such as educational programs or guidance on convenient routes.
Another project is to add enhanced crosswalks on Sharon Avenue at Portage and Dodge streets, as well as at the intersection of Military Road and Jacker Avenue by Houghton Elementary School. The concept would be similar to the traffic islands on U.S. 41 by Tech, but smaller in scale. Sharp said it could be marked by a different road surface, or possibly a raised crosswalk.
"This is a pedestrian issue as much as a bike issue, but it's part of the big picture," he said.
With the latest round, the BFC program has now spread to 291 communities in 48 states.
For more information on the BFC program, go to bikeleague.org/community. For more information on biking in Houghton, go to cityofhoughton.com/rec-non-motorized.php.