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Ron Dobbins and Erical Henderson ride their bicycles with scarves covering their face after having lunch downtown. "We just had Chinese food down on Market and we are headed back to the Southside," Dobbins said. "We've done about 3-miles today."

More than a decade of work by city leaders, cycling advocates and others was rewarded this week when the League of American Bicyclists recognized Chattanooga as a Silver Level Bicycle Friendly Community.

Chattanooga had previously been honored as a Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Community, but was upgraded to silver in the latest rankings after improving on a variety of benchmarks the group uses to gauge a city's receptiveness to bicycling.

"The biggest consideration is the number of people on bikes," Ruthie Thompson of Outdoor Chattanooga said Wednesday. "And the big difference for us moving from Bronze to Silver over the past three years has been the bike share system.

"The other major step that was made was the city Mayor [Andy] Berke creating a dedicated department of transportation with an emphasis on pedestrian [needs] and bicycling."

While more than 325 cities were recognized as bicycle-friendly in the latest rankings, Chattanooga is one of 71 cities at the Silver Level and is the highest ranked city in Tennessee, with Knoxville and Nashville named as Bronze Level Bicycle Friendly Communities. Of the communities ranked above Chattanooga, 21 cities were named as Gold Level, and four cities earned Platinum Level status.

Thompson said that being recognized as bike-friendly will only make it easier to get more riders on the roads and continue to improve the city's cycling infrastructure going forward.

"It becomes a self-perpetuating thing," she said. "When the word gets out that you're a bicycle-friendly community, the perception among people becomes, 'Oh, well, maybe I should I should try bicycling.'

"And the more bicycles you get on the street, the more bicycle-friendly you can become. So this is a really important step for us, and it's something that a lot of people have been working on for a very long time."

Contact Jim Tanner at jtanner@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6478. Follow him at twitter.com/JFTanner.

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