Guest Opinion | Will the 15-minute city make Iowa City golden in 2021?

The 15-minute city plan will benefit the Iowa City community in terms of transportation, one bike advocate writes.


Ryan Adams

Bikes and spare parts sit in the back room at the new Bike Library Gilbert St. location in Iowa City on Monday, Feb. 22, 2021. Bike Library Inc. is a volunteer-run project in Iowa City that allows community members to check out and buy restored bicycles.

In March, as part of its Science on Screen® program, FilmScene aired a documentary, Bikes vs Cars. The film documents the escalating problem for major urban areas brought on by cars and highlights the growing air pollution and congestion and the unstainable costs to add roads and accommodations for vehicles. The contrast, bikes, offer the solution and are being increasingly accommodated.

So, as we begin National Bike Month in May, how does Iowa City stack up? Certainly, we’re nowhere close to major urban areas and their response to the issue. Fortunately, a recent concept, the 15-minute city, offers an eloquent response to the issue. Iowa City has the potential to receive a gold star, or better yet, the gold-level, Bike Friendly Community designation that we’ll be looking for from the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) later this year.

The 15-minute city puts people and their needs at the center of urban planning by locating goods and services within 15-minutes by walking or biking.

Iowa City personifies the 15-minute city. Fifteen minutes represents about three miles on a bike. From the Old Capitol, a three-mile radius includes Scott Blouvard to the east, West High School to west edge, past I-80 on the north fringe, and the Johnson County Fair Ground or Trueblood Park to the south. For the Towncrest or Mormon Trek shopping areas, a two-mile radius covers a large portion of their shoppers.

The League of American Bicyclists created the Bike Friendly Community (BFC) program about 20 years ago and evaluates communities every four years on cycling modal share and accident rates as well as five criteria, including engineering, encouragement, equity, education, and self-evaluation. Over 485 communities have received a designation from bronze level to platinum, but fewer than 40 have attained the gold or platinum designation. Bike friendly communities accommodate all forms of active transportation.

Over the past few years, Iowa City has gone a long way to accommodate active transportation and is currently recognized as a silver-level Bike Friendly Community. A new master bike plan, rolled out in 2019, includes many new miles of bike lanes, trails, and side paths made available about 115 miles, more than a 30 percent increase since the last evaluation in 2017. The rest of the metro area has done equally as well. All the schools are doing bike rodeos and a range of biking opportunities are offered to disadvantaged members of the community. Our bike modal share remains high and accident rates low — key factors in the evaluation.

We, still, do not have a bike/pedestrian coordinator in our community or an active transportation advisory committee, like all the gold-level communities do. Their purpose is to evaluate progress and devise ways to motivate education and participation. The gold-level BFC has a system-wide school curriculum that includes a component for the secondary schools too, not just bike rodeos for kids who show up.

Why sweat being bike friendly? First, Iowa City has made a commitment to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent over the next 30 years. This will happen with a commitment to active transportation. Bike friendliness adds to quality of life and enhances economic development. In a 2016 study, of the 40 hottest job markets during the previous decade (including Iowa City), 32 were BFCs and the gold and platinum levels BFCs were overrepresented. In other words, business development was enhanced by active transportation.

As we launch the summer of the bike in May, we invite you to test the concept of the 15-minute city and participate in the host of events on the Bike Iowa City website. Take an active role making Iowa City climate friendly.

– Bob Oppliger, Education & Advocacy Coordinator, Bicyclists of Iowa City & Board Member, League of American Bicyclists