Mayor Ralph Becker announces SLC's bike share program last June. Photo by Jaime Winston.
Salt Lake Mayor Ralph Becker, a lifelong cyclist, insists he didn’t always plan for cycling to play such a prominent role during his administration.
“We started with a very grass roots campaign,” he says. “As I walked neighborhoods and knocked on doors, I heard people talk about bikes more than anything else. Everyone wanted to bike, but so many people didn’t feel safe or like the city could accommodate bike traffic.” Becker decided, if he was elected, he would take on the issue of cycling with the goal of making it a more accessible transportation option.
“I looked for ways to make cycling a priority,” he says. “When I took office, the [annual] budget cycling was $50,000. Today, it is nearly $1 million.” The cycling budget supports dedicated bike paths, bikeways and other projects that support biking in the community like bicycle commuter pit stops and cycle the city tours which offer a bicycle tour of the sights of Salt Lake City.
The most gratifying part, Beker says, is hearing from people thanking him for expanding biking in SLC. “The last email I saw was from a resident talking about how much she appreciated the Greenbike program,” he says. “People have responded very positively to these efforts to provide clean transportation.”
Some locals say the results of Becker’s efforts go farther than reducing pollution and roadway congestion. “Cycling has numerous health benefits,” says Beverly Vargo, a Salt Lake-based physician. “Because it’s an aerobic exercise, it improves cardiovascular health.”
According to Vargo cycling helps people maintain healthy body weights, slow the loss of aerobic fitness that occurs with age and improve mental wellbeing. “Moderate physical activity raises endorphin levels, which are directly correlated with mood and behavior,” she says.
Vargo, an active cyclist, says riding the canyons and streets around Salt Lake City also gives her a mental boost. “I get to be more engaged in our natural surroundings and arrive at my destination more energized,” she says.