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Bentonville, Rogers receive influx of bicycle parking

Rogers and Bentonville residents can now ride their bicycles downtown to enjoy events, meals and entertainment and know the bikes are secure.

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A $54,000 grant by the Walton Family Foundation to the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks purchased 100 bike racks in Bentonville, Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville -- 25 for each city's downtown area.

Each rack holds five bicycles and can accommodate more on its secondary side if needed. Those in Benton County were installed this week.

"A lot of people are riding bikes, but there was nowhere to park. That's a barrier to riding it," said Paxton Roberts, executive director of the coalition. "To make them feel welcome and encourage them to ride, there are a number of things that communities and cities need to do to grow cycling. One of those is bike parking."

Bike racks were installed in a number of places in Bentonville, such as the downtown square and the public library, and about 15 were installed in Rogers last week.

"We had some racks downtown, but bike parking is always a challenge," said Ben Cline, public relations specialist for Rogers. "We wanted to offer a place to ride, but without a safe place to park, you won't attract as many people."

The grant for the bike racks originated from the Innovation Competition, a program the Walton foundation began in January and awarded $50,000 in May among the Downtown Rogers Farmers Market, the Samaritan Center and the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

The donation of bike racks was the fourth Innovation Competition award, and the purchase more than doubled the expected contribution to grantees.

"Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks proposed the bike racks in downtowns, and though the idea was beyond the scope of the original competition, the idea was really good," said Luis Gonzalez, senior communications officer for the foundation.

The project originally was intended to benefit only Benton County, but "the inclusion of Fayetteville and Springdale means we are officially expanding the program beyond its original geographic scope," Gonzalez said.

Installation is ongoing in Bentonville, said David Wright, director of Bentonville Parks and Recreation.

"Cycling is a big part of our culture," Wright said. "More and more we're seeing the trail system used not just as recreation, but as alternative transportation. Racks like these will provide a safe place to store and secure bikes while working, eating or touring [a] museum."

The racks planned in Washington County are being built by EcoVet Furniture, a company in Rogers where veterans design and build handcrafted furniture with reclaimed wood. Hiring a Northwest Arkansas company to build racks and coordinate with each city was what the Walton foundation had in mind.

EcoVet designed the metal, pinch-style bike racks to accommodate a variety of tire sizes for adult and children's bicycles. The racks are fit with a U-shape top lock that should be able to safely guard mountain and road bikes without leaning their frames against the metal and risk scuffing, Roberts said.

"Whether an expensive or cheap bike, a proper place to store it and park it is important," Roberts said.

It's unappealing for bicycle owners to have to attach their bike to a tree, light pole or simply leave it on the sidewalk. A quality road bicycle often costs several thousand dollars.

"From the city's standpoint, they would much rather the bikes be stored on appropriate places, too," he said.

"It's a running joke that if you want to see how many cyclists there are in Bentonville, just come to the square in the summer," Wright said. "It's nothing unusual to see 30 bikes or more laid on their sides in the grass."

The Walton Family Foundation, the Bicycle Coalition of the Ozarks and Bentonville, Rogers and Bella Vista are participating in BikeNWA, a program to set up demonstration bike lanes throughout November. Gonzalez said he hopes the combination of BikeNWA and the new racks will encourage more bicycling commuters to use the trails and roads as commuting alternatives.