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Bicycling Mag's Top 50 List

Bicycling Magazine has published its list of the Top 50 most bike friendly cities in America. I’m not sure how credible this list is, or what it proves, or tells us. (Click on map above to view an interactive version.)

For example, top of Bicycling’s list is Minneapolis, with Portland, Oregon bumped to second place. Does that mean that Minneapolis is a slightly better, safer, or more pleasurable place to ride a bike? Only someone who has recently ridden in both places could answer that, and that’s not me.

I think a more accurate list is the one compiled by The League of American Bicyclists. (PDF File.) For starters this is an organization that pre-dates even the automobile; so they have been doing longer.

The League awards Platinum, Gold, Silver, and Bronze Medals to cities based on several different criteria, like Engineering, Education, Encouragement, Enforcement, and Evaluation.

So let’s compare the cities as viewed on these two lists. The League of American Bicyclist has only three Platinum standard cities; Portland is one of them, shared with Boulder, Colorado, and Davis, California. Minneapolis on the other hand has Silver Medal status. 

The Bicycling Mag’s list includes Boston, MA and Miami, FL; neither of these cities has made it to the League’s list yet.

Also yet to make it to the League's list is my own adopted home town of Charleston, SC. However, it made it onto Bicycling’s list.

Whereas, there are three League Bronze Medal cities on South Carolina; these are Columbia, Greenville, and Spartanburg. None of these cities are included on the Bicycling map or list.

It appears that Bicycling is awarding points for trying; I know for example that Charleston is trying hard to improve and encourage cycling, and become more bicycle friendly. The same can be said for Boston and Miami, which is great news.

But trying doesn’t win the race, and these places have a long way to go to reach the standard of Boulder, Davis, or Portland. The danger is you start putting cities on a list as being cycling friendly before they have made it, and some people might just stop trying.

What is your view?



Reader Comments (9)

I definitely agree with your last statement. Even well meaning elected officials who don't ride a bike on the roads are likely to view any recognition as an indication that efforts have paid off and the work is complete. I have personally worked hard on bicycle advocacy efforts here in Greenville, but I was glad that we were awarded a Bronze BFC designation instead of the Silver that we were shooting for. That lower designation gives the City incentive to really step up the efforts before we reapply. Recognition is nice, but the results are what really matter so it is best to consider these types of lists and awards with a grain of salt.

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJames

We're really still in our infancy here as a bike-friendly city, but what I think we may have is an emerging grassroots bike culture that shows signs of being stronger than any government-led programs.

This could all still come to nothing, but there are some impressive bike advocates here in town. If we can add a few more infrastructure and policy pieces, Charleston's bike resurgence could turn into something notable.

I think you're spot-on with this post.

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDan

They're definitely awarding points for trying... tho LAB does too. I'm not very familiar with Davis and Boulder, but my sister lives in Portland OR. Just off Interstate, so she has no viable way to bike to work without hitting the intersections that killed so many cyclists over the last few years. When we visited last fall, it was very obvious why she doesn't ride to work much. And since OR requires to use bike lanes when they're available, Interstate Ave remains a death trap. She doesn't own a car, but that's due to Portland's excellent mass transit, not due to the bikeability.

I live in Madison, WI. We're one of the Silvers by LAB standards. We don't own a car due to how walkable and bikeable Madison can be. Bike lanes here are primarily for arterial streets (unlike Portland), and there's no law that we must stay in them. Damn good thing too, since there are still a few spots in the city where the bike lane is routed so riders will get right-hooked. (rare, but they need to be fixed) Our mass transit is terrible, largely because Madison has about 230k people spread out over a circle almost 30 miles in diameter, with 3 large lakes limiting route choices. We could do a lot better! But having looked at what LAB wants us to do to get Gold status... I don't think they're dead on.

We get poor marks for not having enough miles of bike lanes. There are no arterials with many miles of no bike lane, so that would mean adding bike lanes to streets that are not much used for through car traffic. Not a good idea. Portland does this, and it encourages a pretty marked car speed increase since the streets get wider. Very dangerous.

We do not get poor marks for parking. We should! Many businesses think it's perfectly sensible to have no more than 4 spots where a bike can lock up safely... for an entire block or two. This is crazy. Portland is better than we are, but only by a bit.

We do not get poor marks for snow removal. This is an upper-Midwest city, with the snow to match. Many cyclists stop riding in winter, or take to the sidewalks because streets that are two comfortable lanes in the summer become 1 or 1.5 lanes in the winter. The city has kept the snow removal budget at the same level for nearly a decade, while the miles of roads they maintain has increased dramatically. No surprise that our roads spend so much time in poor condition. (Portland is also made of fail here, but they don't expect to get 30+ inches of snow a year)

We do get marked off for our education and enforcement efforts. Local law enforcement is pretty useless (including such highlights as arresting a local cyclist for trying to get back his stolen bike... it was registered with the police, and they gave it back to the thief!). Local schools don't have programs like Safe Routes to Schools, and the driver's education program covers cars only, and begins and ends at age 16. (LAB includes engineering in this, and I think the city engineers are largely being marked off unfairly for the grave deficiencies in the other two areas) Portland does a bit better than we do on education, even worse on enforcement, and is far worse on engineering.

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTorrilin

Between Bicycle Magazine's "a city must also support a vibrant and diverse bike culture, and it must have smart, savvy bike shops" and "We considered only cities with populations of 100,000 or more, and we strove for geographical diversity" I have to wonder what the point is. How does a city promote savviness in its bike shops? And a city can't be "bike friendly" because there's another bike friendly city too nearby?

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I rarely ride in Boulder and when I do it is almost exclusively on the surrounding state hiways. Those roads - 36 and 66 especially - have nice wide shoulder/bike lanes on them. Boulder does have a very well connected set of bike paths.. I am off to Houston for a while this May and will be doing some riding there. I suspect it will not be quite of to Boulder's standards.

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

I have to say, I rarely take what Bicycling has to say all that seriously, but I'm not sure I'm onboard with the LAB list either... the very fact that Iowa City, IA is on the list makes the whole thing seem rather ridiculous: we can't all be fairyland communities sprouting up in the wholesome hinterlands (and once you get outside the "city" the road conditions aren't that great, sharin' space with eighteen wheelers going 55). Some of us are stuck in big, dense, weirdly organized east coast cities...

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterTim

I live in Boulder, CO. I went to high school in Colorado Springs, CO and ride often in Denver, CO. Boulder is a small city. Denver is a big city surrounded by a huge suburban sprawl, and Colorado Springs is a huge Suburban sprawl.

I don't know how Boulder made it to the top of the list. I think it might be the huge population of cyclists. In my eyes, theres 2 major types of cyclists -- utilitarian and recreational. Thats not to say there aren't more kinds of cyclists, or that that is a great dichotomy, but you have to draw the line somewhere. Boulder is generally a liberal city, and liberally inclined people in small towns ride their bikes a lot for environmental reasons, so that is why we have a lot of utilitarian cyclists. Boulder is also a very fit city, and a very affluent city; these factors give us a lot of competitive cyclists.
We have a lot of bike paths, but with few exceptions, most of these paths go from nowhere to nowhere, and are pretty inconvenient ways around if you actually have somewhere to be. We also have a lot of bike lanes, but they're usually on "side" streets, not main routes. Once again, inconvenient if you actually have to be somewhere.
Drivers in the city tend to be very aggressive towards cyclists. I decided awhile back that is was probably due to the large out of state student population, not the locals.
Having ridden as a bike messenger for 2 years in Boulder, I would rate the city a little lower as far as bike friendliness, but the people who write these columns just seem to look at bike lane, bike path, and commuter statistics.

That said, of the other Colorado cities, I think Denver deserves better. Central Denver (not the suburban part) is pretty bike friendly, theres only a couple streets I wouldn't dare ride on, but theres bike paths that run along them.

Also, I don't even know why Colorado Springs made the list. They're more deserving of the "WORST cities to ride a bike in" column. Drivers are extremely aggressive, don't pay attention (though this happens everywhere), and the city is frustratingly spread out due to unregulated city growth and planning.

April 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterPeter Cook

Exactly Dave. St Louis makes both lists but it is certainly NOT bike friendly. A recently expanded highway in my 'hood now requires cyclists and pedestrians to travel on 6 to 8 lane roads (average speeds 40+ mph) 3.8 miles roundtrip to travel only 1000 feet. Yes unbelievable but true as our only pedestrian bridge was permanently removed by MoDOT.

But our state promotes pro cycling for one week in each of the last three years and that pays large dividends in promoting the "image" of being a BFC.

April 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJack

I just got back from a weekend with friends in Fort Collins. This city is much mor friendly to cyclists than ANY other coloroado city I've been in. Wide streets, many with comfortably large bike lanes, an interconnecting system of bike trails that virtually circle the entire town, and best of all it is not nearly as choked with car traffic as these other cities. Had a terrific pair of rides in and arounf the foothills this weekend; not once did I feel in the least harrassed or ill at ease. I've never seen so many townies either.

April 12, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterskylab

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