Bicycling community peddles sustainability

One of many Southern Arizona bicycle paths with a beautiful view of the skyline and wildlife of the Sonoran Desert.

Sustainability programs that advocate for bike-friendly roads are helping fuel cycling’s popularity in Southern Arizona, creating more local and tourist riders and enhancing the already-booming bicycle industry in the area.

Many cities across the nation are doing the same, and Tucson has been a huge factor in this movement. Given the city’s bike-friendly reputation, it makes sense why. The Southern Arizona area is well-known for some of the most beautiful views of the Sonoran Desert, surrounded by a number of bike paths. It makes the region an ideal biker’s paradise.

Efforts for sustainable biking conditions within cities have been in place for years. Major cities like Tucson and Phoenix have also recently implemented street-side bike rentals for the public.

In Tucson, the Living Streets Alliance is trying to make city streets safer and more accessible to local cyclists. LSA is an initiative driven by the city that helps to strengthen the infrastructure of roads. 

Tu-Go bike rentals are available in several areas around Tucson as of recently. (Photo by Joey Cunningham / Arizona Sonora News)

“We just put in two protected bike lanes on Stone (Avenue) and Broadway,” said Colby Henley, bicycle program manager for LSA the past two years. “The community has really responded positively to that. There’s much more riders.”

Henley said LSA also is working on a “Complete Streets” campaign to meet specific safety regulations for bikers and pedestrians.

“I’ve noticed a much bigger number of families riding bikes,” he said. “The streets are definitely becoming a more friendly place for it.”

These sustainability efforts are generally made in the interest for supporting cycling as a safe means of transportation rather than recreational purposes. However, Henley believes the work is benefitting that side of cycling, too.

Steve Watts, of the RideTucson bicycle group, says revenue from bicycle tourism in the city is growing.

“When economic benefits are shared by the entire community, the community supports cycling events and infrastructure development,” Watts said.

The city of Tucson has a detailed map of the various bike-friendly areas across the city.

A 2014 study from the Arizona Department of Transportation showed that out-of-state bicycle tourists bring in $88 million each year to Arizona. This created 721 jobs throughout the state for the demand of organized cycling events. The continued efforts for safer conditions in the community, Henley says, is a driving force for these numbers.

That same study showed that about 39,000 in-state and 14,000 out-of-state participants make up 250 different cycling events each year. These events consist of tour program rides, races and training camps across Arizona.

The most notable of these events is El Tour de Tucson, an annual road race that attracts up to 9,000 cyclists of all ages to ride a handful of different distances, including 100 miles around the city. El Tour will take place Nov. 17.

With the influx of revenue from bicycle tourism, the city is able to reinvest into the popularity of cycling, strengthening the industry and annually improving these numbers.

“The culture is definitely shifting in a good direction,” Henley said. “As it becomes safer, more people begin to try. Next thing you know it becomes a part of your daily life.”

Given the beauty of the region, however, some may say that the views sell themselves. According to Bob Willman, bike repair chair for the Greater Arizona Bicycle Association, the continued growth stems from the appeal of the region.

“You can ride your bike 365 days a year here,” said Willman. “And you won’t get much better scenery.”

GABA is a recreational biking and advocacy group that has over 1,200 members from all over the state, and holds several local events each week at various bike paths around the city. It advocates for a safer and friendlier biking community and brings together recreational bikers to explore the region. Willman, who has been within the association for about 10 years, can easily spot an increase in cyclists over the years.

A GABA member stops for a picture before continuing her ride through the Sonoran Desert.

“The growth can be seen across the board. There’s just always more people getting involved,” Willman said.

He credits a lot of the recent buzz to the completion of The Loop, a 131-mile bike path in Tucson overlooking the Sonoran Desert that was dedicated in March. It has connections to Marana, Oro Valley, and South Tucson as well.

With the combination of sustainability investments and a great location to ride, Tucson continues to attract large numbers of bicycle tourists. While reinvesting in the community, the region is seeing a steady boost to its safety and popularity. Given the current data, cycling is an enormous and growing sensation for Southern Arizona that’s great for the culture, economy and community.

Joey Cunningham is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at

Click here for a Word version of this story and high-resolution photos.

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