The Chinese zodiac may have 2013 down as the "Year of the Snake," but, according to Salt Lake City Mayor Ralph Becker's reading of the lunar calendar, it's the "Year of the Bike."
Or so he said in his State of the City address last month. But what exactly that entails remains somewhat vague.
That Becker is a fan of bicycles is not news. It's not uncommon to see him roll up to City Hall or an out-of-the-way news conference in a suit and tie astride a two-wheeler. He's also fond of creating new bike lanes and touts the bicycle as a key to future urban transportation strategies.
In his State of the City speech, he made reference to the Bike Share program fostered by the municipality that will be operated by the private, nonprofit Downtown Alliance business organization.
That $1 million program is slated to debut in March and will include 100 bicycles and at least 10 stations. It works through memberships that range from $5 a day to $75 a year. Participants can take a bike for 30 minutes at a time and drop it off at any station.
Such transportation schemes have been successful in many U.S. and European cities, according to the mayor.
The city has also launched a new "bike-dedicated" website, www.bikeslc.com, which offers information on bike trails and safety.
What else is in the offing for the Year of the Bike?
The mayor's office is playing that close to the vest, although it announced this week an "Open Streets" program that will close a downtown road to automobile traffic on the first Saturday in May to encourage bicycling and a festive atmosphere.
Becker's administration may have several more tricks up its sleeve.
But as much as anything, the Year of the Bike looks to reiterate the mayor's dedication to a two-wheeled future and a call to action for individuals, groups and businesses of like minds.
City Councilman Soren Simonsen said he could imagine 2013 as the Year of the Bike "because various things that we have been planning for years are coming on line in 2013."
New bike lanes have been created on North Temple to complement the new TRAX line. And two new sections of Parleys Trail should be completed this year that will allow bike navigation from 1700 East to 200 West.
The western segment of that route will parallel the Sugar House streetcar line, scheduled to begin operation in December.
One thing the Year of the Bike won't include is the 25-year-old independent citizens group called the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee. That long-standing ad hoc group was cast aside last year, said David Everitt, the mayor's chief of staff, because it had become counterproductive.
However, the administration has proposed a new bicycle committee under its Transportation Advisory Board. That proposal has yet to be finalized. But City Council Chairman Kyle LaMalfa said the mayor's proposal, or one very much like it, will be approved soon.
Residents interested in sitting on the panel are invited to apply by 5 p.m. Thursday online at www.bikeslc.com and click on the "Get Involved" link.
LaMalfa said incorporating a bicycle committee within city government would guarantee its "staying power."
But Polly Hart, the former vice chairwoman of the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, said she hopes the new structure will allow the committee to be proactive, rather than simply reactive to the mayor's agenda.
"I would like to see a bicycle advisory committee led by its members," she said, "not just responding to the Transportation Advisory Board."
If he had his druthers, avid cyclist Luke Garrott, who also sits on the City Council, said that during the Year of the Bike he would like to see more bike lanes protected from traffic lanes, such as Becker's pilot project on 300 East between 600 South and 900 South.
"I see one major barrier for more people in Salt Lake City riding bikes," he said. "And that's safety. I really hope in the coming years that we will have substantially more separated bike lanes."
But Dave Iltis, the former chairman of the independent Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee, said the Year of the Bike could serve to propel Salt Lake City "to become a great American cycling city."
The ultimate goal, Iltis said, is to incorporate cycling into the fabric of the city so that it functions as transportation and recreation, as well as a tool for community and economic development.
"We have made incredible strides," he said. "But we still have room to grow."
Salt Lakers invited to join new bike committee
Mayor Ralph Becker and the City Council will select 13 people to sit on the Bicycle Advisory Committee. Visit www.bikeslc.com to apply. The deadline is 5 p.m. Thursday.