Monday, May 2, 2011

Silver City and the importance of meaningless awards

The League of American Bicyclists announced its rankings of Bike Friendly cities today, and Boston jumped right in for the first time, skipping Bronze entirely on its way to a "Silver" designation.

Interestingly Somerville is listed as being a first time "Bronze" recipient, but Cambridge is nowhere on the list.  What's up with that?  I wonder if there's a population cutoff that keeps Cambridge from counting as a "city"  vs a "town".   I know that you also have to apply for the designation, I wonder if they just didn't bother.

On one hand it's a bit of an empty certification-  Cambridge without a certification is still a better place to bike than Boston (IMHO), but I think that it helps build political support when Nichole Freedman can say to council members, et al-  "with your support we've achieved this national recognition- let's see if we can go for Gold next year! "    We see that a lot with LEED certification- it doesn't really "mean" anything, but businesses want it, even though they could do the same environmental upgrade without the certificate.

I think it's all for the good when we celebrate the implementation of better policies,  but the better policies and their translation into more riders are the real reward.


  1. Maybe it's to help encourage cities that have previously been noted as being "less-than" bike friendly? I don't know... but I do totally agree that it's nicer to bike Cambridge than Boston.

  2. Cyclewashing verses Greenwashing?
    Or was Boston given silver because of how far it's come since it was listed as the worst cycling city in America? A sort of Nobel prize for peace for a city of cycling hope?

  3. At first I thought they included Cambridge and Somerville as parts of Boston, but then saw the Somerville bronze. Funny. I do agree with you that the awards make a difference. People and institutions enjoy being recognised for their achievements, it is a source of pride and a motivator.

  4. From my admittedly limited experience, I would say that either Somerville or Cambridge is more "bike-friendly" than Boston.

    Whether or not something is meaningful has very little to do with how seriously some people, and elected officials in particular, will take it. Professional sports championships are a prime example of that.

    That said, I'm happy to see both cities get awards. As Velouria said, the awards may serve to motivate elected officials to do even more.

  5. The Bike Friendly certification is more than simply an award and recognition.
    In Somerville, we applied because it provided a form of third-party evaluation. It also allows bench-marking to compare our work to other cities and to see how well we improve over time.
    Like most certifications, it is application based. I have no doubt that Cambridge would rank highly if they would apply.