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The Idaho Statesman’s Brian Murphy had it first: Boise’s Oympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong won the gold medal in the cycling world championship time trials Wednesday. In other words, she’s the fastest female cyclist on Planet Earth. Murphy quotes her as saying, “It’s amazing. It doesn’t matter what year or how many times you become world champion, it always feels the same.” Next she’ll compete in the international road race, which will be aired on the Universal Sports channel tonight (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. Mountain time. After the road race, Armstrong plans to retire. But Boiseans will never let that happen without a welcome-home-again party when she returns from Switzerland, and I'll go out on a limb here with the prediction that it will be a doozy. Armstrong’s roster of medals and awards is well-known by Idahoans, but what is less well-known is her persistent and affectionate work in promoting safe cycling and good bike trails and the health benefits for children from riding bikes. In July, she’d been home from Italy just hours when she participated in a public panel on cycling safety in downtown Boise, and her city rides with children and their parents are fresh in our memories after her 2008 Olympic Gold Medal win.

Boise’s Kristin Armstrong Shines in Many Ways

The Idaho Statesman’s Brian Murphy had it first: Boise’s Oympic Gold Medalist Kristin Armstrong won the gold medal in the cycling world championship time trials Wednesday. In other words, she’s the fastest female cyclist on Planet Earth.

Murphy quotes her as saying, “It’s amazing. It doesn’t matter what year or how many times you become world champion, it always feels the same.”

Next she’ll compete in the international road race, which will be aired on the Universal Sports channel tonight (Wednesday) at 9 p.m. Mountain time.

After the road race, Armstrong plans to retire. But Boiseans will never let that happen without a welcome-home-again party when she returns from Switzerland, and I’ll go out on a limb here with the prediction that it will be a doozy.

Armstrong’s roster of medals and awards is well-known by Idahoans, but what is less well-known is her persistent and affectionate work in promoting safe cycling and good bike trails and the health benefits for children from riding bikes. Her long history as director of the swim programs at the downtown Boise YMCA brought her in touch with thousands of kids. In 2008 she became a “special ambassodor” for the Y, riding in recreational bike gatherings and classes throughout the city. Her rides with children and their parents are fresh in our memories after her 2008 Olympic Gold Medal win. This November, her “Armstrong for Strong Kids” online auction – including a one-hour ride with you and three friends and Armstrong – will raise money for the Y.

In spring, a cluster of bicycle-car fatalities and one that left the cyclist paralyzed hit the Boise cycling community hard. Some of the accidents were the fault of the cyclist, some the driver, and some weren’t immediately clear. A silent bike ride memorial, escorted by police and Mayor Dave Bieter, was one of the first public events to draw attention to safety problems.

By early summer, the city was looking at ways to improve safety, and Armstrong’s involvement was top-of-mind for cycling organizers. Just before she came home to join the panel at a public meeting about bicycle safety, Armstrong talked to NewWest by email from Italy.

NewWest: What do you think makes a city truly bicycle-friendly, as opposed to paying lip service to it?

Armstrong: I think that there are several pieces to a TRULY bicycle friendly city. Someof these include bike friendly routes for commuters and riders to ensure a less congested and safer route for both cyclists and motorists including marked signs which show “the friendly way.”

Places (bike racks) around the city to lock up bikes. Bike lanes on roads traveled frequently.

A well maintained bike and recreational pathway running through the city and continuing outside of the city. (ie. The Greenbelt in Boise)

NewWest: Does Boise qualify as bicycle-friendly?

Armstrong: Boise qualifies in many ways but of course like most cities there are still a lot of things we can do. There aren’t many large cities in the Northwest. In the last ten years the population has grown so much here in Boise and therefore it has been hard to keep up with this fast paced growth. The growth of cities around the Northwest have made it difficult to make any city an all around bicycle friendly place.

NewWest: What would you like to see the Rocky Mountain West do as a region to promote more bicycle use?

Armstrong: I would love to see “friendly” marked bike routes, as in Europe, for training and commuting. This would help keep cyclists safe and motorists happy.

We need to have bicycle laws included as a part of driver’s education.

Have a “common” map with bike routes (roads with bike lanes and commuter routes) .showing all roads in the city and surrounding areas. This map can be color coordinated showing high traffic vs. lower traffic. This should be available at all bike stores, city hall, and of course as a downloadble pdf for easy access.

Community-wide safety classes as well as bike maintenance classes would help a lot. I can go on forever on ideas! These are just a few on the top of my mind.

A lot of factors determine whether or not a city is bike-friendly. The League of American Bicyclists – a nonprofit “working for a bicycle-friendly America” ranks cities platinum, gold, silver or bronze. The LAB program is designed to recognize and rank states and cities for their efforts to promote bicycling and provide roadmaps to improve their rank. Their rating puts Boise at #36 and Missoula at #26 for bike-friendliness. (The top ten cities are Davis (California), Portland, Boulder, Corvallis, Fort Collins, Jackson/Teton Counties, Madison (Wisconsin) Palo Alto, San Francisco and Seattle.)

In Europe, bikes are a normal vehicle for much of the population. Stephan Shier, whose Dutch Bike Company imports high-quality, simple Scandinavian bikes to the U.S., says Americans think a bike ride is a big sweaty project, instead of an everyday way of getting around. He’d like to change that and see towns truly commit to a bike-friendly infrastructure the way he thinks Portland, Oregon has.

In Missoula, the mayor and members of the city council often bike to work, and the city has a citizen’s committee under the purview of a whole city bicycle department. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board is “responsible for being a citizen voice to the City regarding getting around by bicycle and on foot. This can include consideration of bicycle and pedestrian facilities, policies and behaviors.” Its members include bicycling organizations, bicycle dealers, organizations concerned with education and safety, business organizations, and private citizens concerned with non-motorized transportation issues (i.e. commuting, persons with disabilities, aging community, recreations, high school students).

Boise doesn’t have a bicycle department, but after the citizen’s meeting with Armstrong, Bieter formed a group of experienced cyclists, shop owners, cycling organizations and private citizens in a “bicycle safety response team” intended to look at current laws and recent accidents and come up with a list of recommendations. Their report included making it illegal to intimidate, harass or throw things at cyclists and teaching drivers to clear at least three feet between their car and a cyclist. They also recommended that riding a bicycle recklessly (putting others in danger) should be illegal, and cyclists should walk their bikes on crowded sidewalks.

The summer has seen more car-bicycle accidents but also more awareness of riders. It’s easy to spot how many cars are now showing caution around cyclists and that many cyclists are using more safety techniques. Let’s hope the next set of statistics shows quantifiable improvement to back up those observations.

Many congratulations, Kristin – and thanks for all you do.

About Jill Kuraitis

Jill Kuraitis is an award-winning journalist who specializes in news of Idaho and the Rocky Mountain West. Her B.A. in theatre management is from UC Santa Barbara, and she went on to work in theatre, film, and politics before writing became a career. Kuraitis has two excellent grown children and lives in Boise with her husband of 30 years, abundant backyard wildlife, and two huge hairy dogs.

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