The home of the Register’s Annual Great Bicycle Ride Across Iowa and an ever-increasing network of trails ranks in the middle of the pack for bike friendliness, according to a nationwide ranking of bike-friendly states.

The Hawkeye State dipped five places from 2012, placing 21st in the nation in the League of American Bicyclists’ annual review, released Wednesday. It’s a significant dive from 2009 through 2011, when Iowa repeatedly ranked in the top 10 for bike friendliness.

“We’re dropping like a rock,” said Carl Voss, chairman of the Des Moines Bicycle Collective. “It doesn’t resonate very well for a state that prides itself on doing RAGBRAI when we’re not judged as a very safe state for bicycling.”

The six-year-old annual survey ranks states on bicycle-related legislation and enforcement, policies and programs, infrastructure and funding, education and encouragement, and evaluation and planning.

In 2008, when the advocacy group started the rankings, Iowa also came in 21st place.

Iowa received its lowest score in the category of infrastructure and funding: one point out of five. Iowa scored two points each for legislation and enforcement and for evaluation and planning. Iowa’s highest score was four points for education and encouragement.

While many bicycle advocates trumpet the state’s many recreational cycling opportunities, the lack of safety policies holds the state back, they say.

“I think it’s a blueprint for things we need to work on,” said Mark Wyatt, executive director of the Iowa Bicycle Coalition.

Compared with other states, Iowa falls behind on street safety, Wyatt said. A bill that would require a safe passing distance for motorists to go around cyclists and another bill that would require drivers to look to make sure there is no oncoming bike traffic before opening a car door have not succeeded in the Legislature.

Sen. Joe Bolkcom, D-Iowa City, who introduced both bills in the Senate, said he struggles to understand opposition to measures to make Iowa roads safer for cyclists.

“There seems to be people that get hostile towards cyclists,” he said, and a lingering notion that bicycles shouldn’t be allowed on Iowa roads, even though that’s state law. “As the home of one of the most spectacular statewide bike rides in the country, it’s just disappointing that we’re not making more progress as a state.”

The last time the state Department of Transportation updated a statewide bike plan was in 2000, Wyatt said. The DOT has put out a request for proposals to update the plan. A new plan would evaluate infrastructure for bicyclists, consider ways to increase the number of people bicycling for recreation and commuting, and set goals to reduce injuries and fatalities.

Bicyclists were involved in 384 crashes in 2011. Forty-four crashes resulted in major injuries, and five resulted in fatalities, according to DOT data. On average, about five people die each year in Iowa from bicycle-related crashes.

“This isn’t about trails,” Voss said. “It’s the on-street accommodations.”

Still, some local cyclists see Iowa’s drop in the rankings as a positive sign that biking is catching on in other states — and as a motivator to catch up.

“There are a lot of states who are taking the quality-of-life issues very seriously and understand the positive economic and health benefits of cycling,” said Forrest Ridgway, a member of the Des Moines Cycle Club’s board of directors.

Rick Swalwell, a West Des Moines Parks and Recreation Board member and the city’s liaison on the Central Iowa Trails and Greenways Advisory Committee, said the number has little meaning.

“Where we rank, be it 18, 12, whatever, doesn’t concern me,” Swalwell said. “What’s good for biking in Wisconsin is good for biking in Iowa is good for biking in California.”

“Sure,” he added, “I’d like to be No. 1.”






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