Presented with a bicycle for the first time at the age of three, Greg Martin climbed on and proceeded to teach himself how to ride. That same day. Since then, his life has never ventured too far from bikes. He rides them, commutes on them, races them. And, oh yes, he advocates for them.Like many, when Martin moved to the Wood River Valley from the East Coast, he felt like he landed in bike nirvana. “I have a bike path 200 feet from my doorway that gets me to within 100 feet of my office,” he said. “There’s nothing like this where I came from. It blew me away.”
Surely, this was more than enough for an avid bicyclist: the trails, the paths, the area’s passionate bike culture. Certainly Martin just went with the flow and enjoyed it all, content to live in a beautiful place where people appreciated his passion. Well, yes. And no.
You see, Martin also saw in the Wood River Valley the potential for more. He dreamed of a community where most kids rode their bikes to school and where bicyclists could get around even more safely and efficiently.
Left: A well-maintained Adams Gulch Trail. Right: Annual spring trail maintenance is essential.
He joined up with like-minded cycling advocates and, in 2008, created the Wood River Bike Coalition. Soon it established an ambitious vision: “A Wood River Valley where residents and visitors do not need automobiles for transportation and can safely ride on any street, where children can walk and ride safely to school and other destinations and where bicyclists and pedestrians can easily and safely access transit, local trails and pathways.”
After forming, they sought Bicycle Friendly Community status with the League of American Bicyclists. This certification program considers all bicycling infrastructure, paved pathways, bike lanes and bicycling facilities.
The Wood River Valley immediately earned “silver” status, the second highest award and the highest rating at that time in Idaho (Boise has since earned similar recognition). But Martin and his friends aren’t the types to be overly impressed with silver medals. They wanted gold, and more to the point, they wanted more people on bikes.
Since then, the all-volunteer coalition has been active on a variety of fronts, like their organized trail days, where the volunteer force improves area mountain biking paths.
“It’s important to get people out working on the trails, so they realize that trails just don’t magically appear,” said Martin. “It takes work. Trails require a lot of care, and they require people to stay off them at certain times. Our work days give area mountain bikers an important sense of ownership.”
The coalition just launched its membership program, achieving official chapter status with the International Mountain Bike Association (IMBA). About 65 members have joined and the coalition hopes to reach 200 members in the coming year.
And the coalition continues to advocate. They see possibilities everywhere to: create better pathways for kids to ride safely to school; establish more bike lanes around the Valley; have elected officials and decision makers incorporate non-motorized transport into their planning.
On this last point, the Wood River Valley is ahead of most. Martin finds that local elected officials are very supportive of the coalition and its goals. “They know that people look at ‘bicycle-friendly status’ when they consider moving to an area,” he said. “They recognize that bicycle paths have a positive effect on real estate values. They recognize how important bicycling is in drawing tourists and how important it is for tourists to get around without a car.”
Martin gets excited by all this, and by what he sees as a movement around the country. In Idaho, similar programs are underway in Twin Falls, Boise, McCall and the Teton Valley. At the time we spoke, Martin was planning on checking things out on a national level, at the National Bike Summit in Washington, D.C.
“With the rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, cycling and pedestrian infrastructure is very important in our country,” he said. “The more people you can get on bikes, the better. We need to promote cycling and promote walking. It’s a win-win for everyone.”
For all Martin’s enthusiasm, he’s not tireless, not literally. He’d like to see the coalition earn some grants so that paid staff can be hired to fully take advantage of all the opportunities. He hopes more Valley residents and visitors become involved in the movement. He sees them out on bikes every day, and he needs their help and enthusiasm.
“You really have to drive the change you want to see,” he said. “If you want more bike lanes, more bike trails, a more pedestrian-friendly community, we need your help. We’re not at gold status just yet, but we can get there. Seeing the enthusiasm in this community, I know we can.”