People For Bikes Released the Results of US 2020 Bike Urban Rating

2020.10.26
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The relationship between bicyclists, biking, contentment, and feeling that cheerfulness you lacked before the ride is quite well known to all those who bicycle. Bike commuting is one of the most effective ways to promote general health.

People for Bikes has published the top 5 cities, perhaps happier cities than most, for bikes in the US, out of a total of 567 cities. In this third year of the annual rating, the 2020 rankings varied noticeably from the 2019 PeopleForBikes ranking. Last year’s winners were Boulder and Fort Collins, CO; Eugene, OR; Manhattan, NY; Arlington, VA. This year, here were the top 5:

San Luis Obispo, CA (3.5)

Madison, WI (3.5)

Santa Barbara, CA (3.3)

Washington, DC (3.2)

Missoula, MT (3.2)

Note that Toronto would be #3 if we were including Canada.

Why are these cities great bike cities?

PeopleForBikes used data from the American Community Survey and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s (NHTSA) Fatality Analysis Reporting System, as well as data received through each city’s participation in a PeopleForBikes City Snapshot report.

The cities were rated based on 5 factors: Ridership, Safety, Network, Reach (how far the program connects with the community), and Acceleration (how quickly the program is being adopted or improved).

Manhattan bike path. NYC had a score of 2.9 (3 stars out of 5). Image by CleanTechnica.

We’ll run through the top 5 cities in a moment, but first, for any cities, police, and decision makers not advanced as these on promoting bicycling, please consider the following video seriously. One might find it amusing if it was a parody, but it’s not. One might imagine the possibility of getting such a ticket is paranoia. I don’t. A ticket for moving out of harm’s way? Many a bicyclist has met such backward situations directly on a bicycle and otherwise.

San Luis Obispo, California

Starting with the top of the list, let’s look at happy San Luis Obispo, California, and the keys to its success.

“Since its early days as a California Mission town, San Luis Obispo (or SLO, for short) has worked hard to preserve a compact urban core with a greenbelt surrounding the city. ‘We’ve striven to avoid sprawl, foster a vibrant downtown and make sure that housing, jobs, schools, recreation and shopping are not too far apart from each other,’ says Adam Fukushima, SLO’s active transportation manager. The first in his role, Fukushima works solely on bicycle and pedestrian improvements in the city.”

For six years, the city has had a policy that at least 20% of its transportation expenditures must be on bicycle improvements. A university in the city, California Polytechnic State University, generally helps as well, as students will bicycle for transportation more, generally enjoying being outside and active — engaged with ideas and ideals. A critical piece of infrastructure is the city’s core bike path, reaching from north to south connecting California Polytechnic State University with downtown, as well as various residential neighborhoods.

“In contrast to many communities where you have to put your bike in the car to drive to a trail, we have many fabulous mountain biking trails and paths close to housing,” Fukushima notes. “This has been the jumping off point for many people to not only use a bike for recreation, but try it out for commuting as well.”

As an additional point of help, Cal Poly doesn’t allow first- and second-year students to drive or keep cars on campus.

Madison, Wisconsin

In second place, one finds life for the bicyclist in Madison, Wisconsin, is as in Northern Europe. Winter and snow do not slow the ridership due to infrastructure and policies to support bikes that keep the large numbers active.

“Madison invests in bike underpasses, rail-trail conversions and long-distance trail connections. As a city that sees nearly four feet of snow every winter, Madison is also heavily invested in year-round maintenance of their bike network and has designated primary routes across town that are cleared and ready-to-ride by 7 a.m. Monday-Friday.”

Another thing is the view — the scenic bike route is most often the fastest route. “With a downtown located on a narrow isthmus between two lakes, getting where you need to go on time and enjoying the beauty of your ride aren’t mutually exclusive. Several shared-use paths provide easy access throughout the city and the 936-acre University of Wisconsin campus.”

“What really makes Madison a great place to ride is that there are lots of other people out riding all year round,” says Madison’s Pedestrian Bicycle Administrator Renee Callaway. “Commuters, recreational riders, errand runners, family bikers — you’re never alone when you get out on your bike.”

Santa Barbara, California

How does Santa Barbara compare to San Luis Obispo?

It’s about DNA, according to a notable leader in the bike scene. “Bicycling is in our DNA,” says Rob Dayton, Santa Barbara’s transportation planning and parking manager. “Before automobiles were around, it was the bicycle clubs that lobbied to pave streets for bicycling.” Long before it was a term in planning schools, Santa Barbara had an integrated multimodal transportation system, the first in California. What exactly does that mean? Well, there was a bike rack on the back of the city’s mule-drawn trolley car “for turn-of-the-century cyclists to hang their big-wheel Penny Farthing bikes,” as People For Bikes put it.

The city was a leader again in the 1960s. “The city recognized how heavy vehicle congestion and traffic plagued their southern coastal neighbor Los Angeles. This prompted Santa Barbara to take action to embrace the bicycle.” The value of bicycle came into focus again in recent years when some of the two-lane roads in town were reduced to one-lane automobile roads with the other lane provided to bike travelers. Santa Barbara has proved that many will choose to bicycle if given the supporting infrastructure. After the road repaving projects and the addition of a bike lane, Santa Barbara’s bike network skyrocketed, as did bicyclists. City planners continued to encourage the clean and efficient mode of transport as well.

“The addition of bike racks throughout the downtown also helped boost the embrace of bicycles. ‘No matter where you want to go, if you ride a bike, you have a front row parking spot,’ says Dayton. The implementation of bicycle boulevards, streets with low motorized traffic volumes and speeds, designated and designed to give bicycle travel priority, have also been a key part of Santa Barbara’s embrace of bicycling.

“Thanks to the growth of California’s Active Transportation Planning grants program, Santa Barbara has invested $40 million in bike improvements across the city over the last five years, with many new projects, including a city-wide electric bike share program, on the horizon. ‘I think Santa Barbara really has something to offer everyone,’ says Sam Furtner, the city’s mobility coordinator. ‘Whether you’re learning to ride a bike or looking for world-class road rides overlooking the ocean, we’ve got you covered.’”

Washington, DC

Starting young is key to engendering strong,and safe bicyclists. Washington, D.C. has recognized the vital benefit provided by education, support, and cultivating interest and skills in bicycling amongst the youth.

“All D.C. public school second graders are required to complete a fun, interactive course about how to safely ride a bike, including a supervised ride around their local neighborhood,” says Mariam Nabizad, public affairs specialist for the District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT). “In addition, the Washington Area Bicyclist Association educates kids and adults of every ability level in courses like Summer Bike Camp, Learn to Ride and Confident City Cycling.”

It is often faster, as well as more invigorating, to travel by bicycle in a dense city. Our nation’s capital is compact, dense, and biking seems more convenient at times to avoid crosstown traffic, to move more swiftly move through the city. “90 miles of bike lanes connect to 60 miles of trails, with D.C. serving as the regional hub of a 500-plus mile trail network that connects residents to jobs, neighborhoods and parks in the District, Maryland and Virginia.”

The fact is that bikesharing saves DC hundreds of millions of dollars encourages the city to do more and more. “The city was an early adopter of protected bike lanes: 12 miles have been built since 2010 and a campaign continues to add 20 miles by the end of this year. The 5,000-bike strong regional bike share program Capital Bikeshare with more than 600 stations also allows D.C. residents to easily transition between biking, walking and transit.”

Missoula, Montana

As the fireworks were set to explode nationwide, another northern city began to improve bicycling way back in 1976. College students in the town organized bicycle ride across the U.S. to celebrate the bicentennial. The motivated students came from the University of Montana and pulled in more than 4,000 people who were inspired to join the ride. The group set a standard, a way of life, and this became the first transAmerica group ride. “After the ride, several organizers stayed in town and continued to promote bicycle travel, launching the national non-profit Bikecentennial (now Adventure Cycling). Missoula has had a soft spot for biking ever since,” People For Bikes explains.

“Missoula’s successes would not be possible without a comprehensive understanding of the benefits of biking that has been reached through decades of work, slowly creating the culture,” says Ben Weiss, the city’s bicycle/pedestrian program manager. “Over this time, we’ve worked hard to build the appropriate facilities to make biking safe, comfortable and convenient for people of all ages and abilities.”

Cities, take note, even lacking the large budget of greater cities, Missoula constructed one of the first modern protected bike lanes. The safe bike lane has run through its downtown for over a decade ago. It is continually growing to connect the city’s network of bike trails.

“The backbone of the city’s bike network is their commuter trail system, which traverses town east to west, easily connecting residents to work, school and play. Recent successes include the connection of a six-block gap in one of their main bike routes, the Bitterroot Trail, which included the implementation of the state of Montana’s first designated bike traffic signal. Missoula recently adopted the city’s first Bicycle Facilities Master Plan, which includes a comprehensive vision of a connected bike network accessible by riders of all ages and abilities.”

As cities shift to more bicyclists, this is a shift towards a higher standard of health. Some of our CleanTechnica writers have been saying the same for over a decade, that bike commuters are healthier than gym goers. And, of course, bicycling has another significant advantage over many other types of exercise — you don’t have to set apart extra time for it, you simply bicycle rather than taking the car. Additionally, it can save you an enormous amount of money.

ABOUT CITY RATINGS

What are City Ratings? Created by PeopleForBikes, the nation’s largest bike advocacy organization, the PlacesForBikes City Ratings system sets a new standard in defining and measuring great places for biking. Our system:

Is data-driven. We combine publicly available information and newly developed data sources to measure critical components of a community’s progress.

Rewards rapid progress. We recognize hardworking cities that are implementing quick-building techniques to improve biking in their city.

Incorporates all types of biking. By focusing on both transportation and recreation riding, we show a complete picture of how bikes fit into a given community.

Includes cities of all sizes. We can evaluate any city while also normalizing scores so that communities of different sizes can be compared to one another.

Uses global standards as the benchmarks of success. American cities can learn a great deal from their international peers when it comes to city design for biking + increasing participation.

Transparent and available to everyone. All details about the formulas and calculations, as well as the actual data used are available to the public.

What does it mean for a city to earn a star? Earning a star is no easy feat! Evaluated against global standards of excellence, the PlacesForBikes City Ratings assess bicycling’s current status and future potential based on five factors: Ridership, Safety, Network, Acceleration, and Reach. To earn a star, cities must demonstrate significant progress toward achieving those benchmarks. Because scoring is based on many dynamic data sources, a city’s score can change year-to-year. Earning recognition one year doesn’t guarantee the same level of recognition the following year. It is incumbent on cities to keep working to improve bicycling.

Do you have the ability to rate international cities? Yes. Because the City Ratings are data driven, we have the ability to rate any city in the world where we have access to multiple, comparable data sources.

How long until this score is updated again? The City Ratings will be updated once per year—typically mid-year. We conduct several data collection efforts throughout the year to prepare for each year’s ratings. We plan to present updated scores each year at our PlacesForBikes Conference.

How are the PlacesForBikes City Ratings different than the Bicycle Friendly America program? Our City Ratings complement the Bicycle Friendly America program run by the League of American Bicyclists. Our City Ratings are an annual snapshot of the work a city or town does to improve biking conditions with a focus on the outputs, or results, of a community’s efforts. Bicycle Friendly America takes a much broader approach by evaluating everything cities can and should be doing for bicycling—including establishing policies and programs that set the stage for success. Both programs help cities improve their bicycling, and participation in both is highly encouraged.

What is the PlacesForBikes program?   PlacesForBikes is a PeopleForBikes program to develop, connect and celebrate great places to ride. We aim to accelerate local innovations that make communities better for everyone through:

A City Ratings system. An innovative data-driven system to set and reward a new standard for great places for biking in the U.S.

The Big Jump Project. An in-depth focus on 10 promising U.S. cities connecting them with the world’s best ideas and resources for quickly building complete bike networks.

An annual PlacesForBikes conference. Convening hundreds of local leaders and bike industry representatives from across the U.S., this conference gives attendees the tools, ideas and strategies to achieve broader community goals through biking.

Guidebooks for City Leaders + Retailers. We have created specific resources for City Leaders and Retailers with ideas and expertise that enables them to implement rapid changes for bikes.

The PlacesForBikes program is supported by a generous grant from the Trek Bicycle Corporation as well as contributions from other bike businesses, foundations and individuals.

What is PeopleForBikes? Launched in 1999 as Bikes Belong, PeopleForBikes is a U.S.-based nonprofit organization that works to get more people riding bikes more often and make bicycling better for everyone across the U.S. We accomplish our goals in three ways:

Supporting communities as they quickly build better places for bikes.

Working at the federal, state and local level to advance bike project funding and pro-bike policies.

Promoting the many benefits of bicycling and inspiring people to ride.

We’re 1.3 million supporters and growing…join us!

SCORING & METHODOLOGY

What exactly do each of the scoring categories measure? The PlacesForBikes City Ratings score is based on five factors: Ridership, Safety, Network, Acceleration, and Reach.

Ridership measures how many and how often people in the community ride bikes. Data sources include American Community Survey (ACS) bike-to-work mode share, Sports Marketing Surveys recreational bicycle participation estimates, and the PlacesForBikes Community Survey self-reported ridership.

Safety measures how safe it is to ride bikes in the community. Data sources include Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS) fatality rates for all modes and bicycling, injury rates for all modes and bicycling from the PlacesForBikes City Snapshot, and perceptions of safety from the PlacesForBikes Community Survey.

The Network score reflects the quality of the bike network. It is based on scores from the PeopleForBikes Bicycle Network Analysis (BNA) and perceptions of the local bike network from the PlacesForBikes Community Survey.

Acceleration reflects the degree to which communities are doing all the right things to accelerate the growth of bike riding in the next three years. This score is based on evidence of ongoing investment and growth in bike infrastructure and outreach from the PlacesForBikes City Snapshot and perceptions of city support for biking from the PlacesForBikes Community Survey.

The Reach score reflects how consistently the bike network serves all members of the community. It is based on the BNA as well as ACS demographic and bike-to-work mode share data.

I’ve never heard of Acceleration and Reach before. Why are they important to the City Ratings? These two new scoring categories are part of the core of the City Ratings and provide a new perspective on the progress being made in cities. Acceleration – the speed and degree to which communities are changing – directly represents how quickly cities intend to move the needle. We measure this category separately from other factors that assess past achievements of a city (like Ridership, Safety, and Network) to showcase a city’s efforts to continuously improve and expand bicycling. We can recognize cities that are growing their bike network quickly, but maybe haven’t achieved long-term success – yet. Reach is our first effort to measure how investments in bicycle infrastructure and participation are serving all of a community’s residents based on differences in their age, race, gender, and/or economic status. By understanding how the bicycle network functions differently or similarly between neighborhoods, we can begin to identify opportunities to address the inequalities that are present in cities.

I’ve never heard of these data sources. Where do you find this information? The City Ratings relies on six primary sources of data:

American Community Survey (ACS)

Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS)

Sports Marketing Surveys Bicycle Participation

PlacesForBikes Bike Network Analysis (BNA)

PlacesForBikes City Snapshot

PlacesForBikes Community Survey

The ACS and FARS data sets are publicly available for review and download from their respective websites. Estimates of recreation bicycling are based on an annual study conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys for the Physical Activity Council. More information about the study is available here. The final three data sources are newly created for the specific use within the City Ratings system. PeopleForBikes works with a number of partners to facilitate the data collection on these three sources on an annual basis. You can learn more about each of these data sources and how they were used in the City Ratings by reviewing the detailed Methodology.

Why are there no 4 or 5 star rated cities in the U.S.? Although U.S. cities have been making significant progress during the last two decades, we still have a long way to go when measured against global standards. World-class examples of integrated bicycling in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam demonstrate how much more work U.S. cities have to do to compete on a global stage. Here’s a key question: Can people of all ages and bicycling experience ride safely and comfortably to all of the places in the city that they want to go? While the answer for U.S. cities is generally no, we can improve and we can accelerate our progress to compete with the world’s best bicycling cities.

Why do you set high benchmarks for recognizing success? The City Ratings are intended to inspire and motivate cities to more quickly implement bike infrastructure solutions and programs that get people on bikes. Using global examples of excellence sets the bar where we believe American cities can go. If the benchmarks were established against only the best U.S. cities, cities closer to the top would be hard pressed to feel a sense of urgency to make necessary changes. Also, establishing global benchmarks allows us to draw better comparisons when evaluating case studies and lessons learned from the world’s great bicycling cities.

Can you really compare New York City to Wausau, WI? Yes. The various calculations for each of the five scoring criteria are tiered in a manner that allows for easy comparison across cities—regardless of size, geographic location, or demographic composition. This approach allows PeopleForBikes to recognize progress being made in cities, big and small, without holding cities to different standards. At the same time, cities will want to compare their scores to others of similar size, demographics and development patterns.

Is the PlacesForBikes Community Survey a representative sample of my city/town? Although not representative, the survey provides valuable information about how people feel about biking in their cities/towns. These perceptions are one of several inputs into the City Ratings system. We ask everyone to share the survey as broadly as possible. The more data we receive, the better we can tell the story of bicycling locally and nationally.

What is the Bicycle Network Analysis Tool? The new PlacesForBikes Bicycle Network Analysis (BNA) tool is one of the most exciting benefits of participating in PlacesForBikes City Ratings. It analyzes comfortable connections to key destinations in your town and measures the quality of the bike network. Cities can download the analysis for further exploration in a geographic information system (GIS) program such as ArcMap. This network analysis is based on the bike facilities in OpenStreetMap (OSM.) Having your bike network in OpenStreetMap has numerous benefits; maximizing the usefulness of this network analysis and getting the best possible PlacesForBikes City Rating are only two. Many cities do not yet have their full bike networks in OSM, so we encourage you to add them. Here is a guide to doing so. You can reach out to your local OSM, GIS, and/or academic communities for help.

I live in one of places rated on the website, and your evaluation is way off! We welcome your feedback on improving the accuracy of the City Ratings system. If you feel that the representation of your community’s data is not correct or the methodology we’ve used for comparison is inaccurate in some way, we’d love to hear from you.

PARTICIPATING CITIES

How many cities did you rate? There are more than 46,000 Census Designated Places (CDP) identified by the U.S. Census. Since many of our U.S.-based data sources use these geographies as the basis of their record keeping, the City Ratings system does the same – allowing PeopleForBikes to rate any of those cities. There are six primary sources of data used to develop the City Ratings system. If a community is accurately represented in three or more of those data sources, they receive a rating. Communities with fewer than three data sources do not have enough data to accurately assess them against the benchmarks.

What if I don’t see my city or town? If you do not see your city or town on the website, it means that your community did not have at least three verifiable data sources used in the evaluation. It is likely that one or more of the missing data sources are the PlacesForBikes Community Survey, City Snapshot, or Bicycle Network Analysis. Each of these data sources requires local, direct participation and is conducted on an annual cycle.

Is there a cost associated with participating? Currently there is no cost to participate in the City Ratings. A small amount of data reporting is requested from cities for the most accurate picture of your community’s progress, but is not required. Cities and towns that take an active role in data collection efforts will receive the most accurate and up-to-date results each year.

I live in a small town – will my town be rated? Yes, the City Ratings can rate any city regardless of size, geographic location, or demographics. The most important factor in whether your town is rated depends on the number of verifiable data sources available. Please review the Get Involved section of the City Ratings website for participating that guarantee your city is evaluated.

I live in an unincorporated rural area – how can I participate? Currently, the program is designed to rate cities and towns. If you live in an unincorporated rural area, you can rate a nearby town by filling in the town name and a zip code within the town. In the comments section, feel free to provide information about riding where you live.

How can I participate? Communities can participate in PlacesForBikes in five ways:

Complete the PlacesForBikes Community Survey. Community members, city staffers, employees of bike businesses – everyone in your city – can complete this survey. Conducted each Fall, this survey assesses how people feel about biking in their city or town, and collects information about the best local places to ride. Register to be notified here.

Complete the PlacesForBikes City Snapshot. Every city and town can designate one city staffer to complete the City Snapshot that gathers and summarizes information on recent and planned bike improvements. This info helps determine the city’s Acceleration score—recognizing places doing the most work today to make bicycling better tomorrow. This Snapshot opens each fall with a deadline shortly after the new year.

Use our PlacesForBikes guidebooks. City and town leaders can read (and share) the helpful advice found in our two guidebooks. Better Bicycling, Better Business: A Guide for Retailers offers advice to help grow riding (and business) in communities. Building Better PlacesForBikes: A Guide for City Leaders focuses on helping city leaders quickly develop better bicycle infrastructure.

Attend the PlacesForBikes annual conference. City and town leaders as well as those in the bicycle business can attend the PlacesForBikes conference. Everyone interested in better biking is welcome to attend, though we particularly encourage community delegations of three to five leaders to attend as teams to develop unified action plans for progress back home.

Support complete bike networks. City, town and business leaders and individuals can work together to improve their community’s rating by supporting bold, rapid implementation of complete bicycle infrastructure networks.

FOR CITY STAFF

What information do we need to provide to improve the accuracy of our rating? PeopleForBikes staff gathers most of the information used in creating the City Ratings without requiring city staff to dedicate time and resources to filling out long questionnaires and surveys. At a minimum, we do need a city staff member to complete the annual City Snapshot at the end of each year. The City Snapshot gathers data on a city’s existing bike network and planned improvements to provide a full picture of bicycling in the community. There are other opportunities for your community to provide more accurate data with the Bicycle Network Analysis and Community Survey, but we also have mechanisms to complete these without your direct involvement.  

What if I don’t have time or resources to complete your data requests? We recognize that your time is limited and that every moment you spend working on filling out data forms is a moment you aren’t focused on getting bike projects on the ground. We’ve intentionally taken on the burden of data collection ourselves for five of the six primary data sources. However, there are some data where your expertise and knowledge are the only places to turn. The City Snapshot will be an annual request to report on your progress from the previous year and identify what you plan to accomplish in the future. The Snapshot is designed to be easy to fill out and contain only the most necessary information needed for the City Ratings evaluation.

FOR ADVOCATES

How can we encourage our city or town to participate? Ask your city if they have assigned an employee to be responsible for completing the City Snapshot. This data source contains information that only city staff would have access to, and is best left to official sources for submission. Encourage your network of co-workers, family, and friends to complete the annual Community Survey. We field this online survey each fall to understand local rider’s perceptions of progress for bikes in a community.

Are there materials I can share with my city leaders? Anyone seeking detailed information about the PlacesForBikes program and the City Ratings can visit PlacesForBikes.org. City and town leaders can read (and share) the helpful advice found in our two PlacesForBikes guidebooks. Better Bicycling, Better Business: A Guide for Retailers offers advice to help grow riding (and business) in communities. Building Better PlacesForBikes: A Guide for City Leaders focuses on helping city leaders quickly develop better bicycle infrastructure. Request or download a copy here.




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