How Do You Identify a Bike-Friendly City?
One of the easiest, most fun ways to regulate your carbon footprint is to replace car travel with pedal power.
Of course, bike commuting isn’t always realistic. Winter weather can certainly be a deterrent, and the bike-friendliness of your city makes a big difference. So what makes a bike-friendly city?
- Public bike racks for bicycle parking
If you can’t find bike racks, you probably won’t find any other bicycle amenities. While bike racks are pretty common, truly bike-friendly cities take this service much further. In San Francisco, every parking garage and every new, renovated, city-owned, or city-leased building must have bicycle parking. Some colder weather cities like Chicago and Minneapolis have indoor bicycle parking as well.
- Designated bike lanes
Many U.S. cities have bike lanes in at least some areas. Urban bikeways generally appear in two forms: bicycle-only lanes (usually on the right and separated from motor vehicle lanes by a visual or physical barrier), or shared use roads (denoted by a bicycle symbol in a motor vehicle lane).
- Bike-friendly public transit
If your destination is impractical to pedal to, you can still have your wheels when you arrive. Cities like Boston, Minneapolis, Denver, and Portland offer buses and trains that allow bicycles to travel on or in them, although this may not apply during rush hour or peak travel times.
- Scenic bikeways that are removed from motor vehicle traffic
Scenic bikeways often have less to do with efficient bike commuting than with providing a quieter, more scenic bike riding experience as they tend to run through city parks or open space. Sioux Falls, SD has a system of bike paths that circumnavigates most of the city, and Louisville, KY is about 25% done with an ambitious, 100-mile paved path that will do the same.
- Bicycle-sharing programs
Popular in Europe for years, they are now being adopted by more and more U.S. cities. Stations where bikes can be rented and returned are positioned throughout participating cities, providing bicycle commuting or short-term bicycle use to anyone who needs it. Most programs require a paid membership (available from one day to one year) and modest trip fees for any rental longer than about 30 minutes. Cities using bike sharing programs include Madison, San Antonio, and Washington DC.
Which U.S. Cities Are Raising the Bar for “Bike-Friendly”?
San Francisco, CA
Thanks largely to the efforts of the San Francisco Bike Coalition, San Francisco’s streets are becoming ever more bike-friendly. The Coalition’s ambitious Connecting the City program, while still in its infancy, is an American first: a cohesive system of cross-town bikeways that are painted or otherwise as separate from motor vehicle traffic as possible. The program’s goal is to have 100 miles of interconnected bikeways to all corners of the city by 2020. The Coalition also offers free valet bike parking at dozens of city events, including all Giants baseball games and, in order to prevent bicycle theft, the city itself now requires monitored bicycle parking at all times during city events with at least 2,000 estimated visitors.
Boulder has been a League of American Bicyclists platinum-level Bicycle-Friendly Community since 2004. Platinum status is the League’s highest award and has only been awarded to two other U.S. cities (Davis, CA and Portland, OR). Boulder’s efforts to promote and provide bicycle transportation and bike commuting include bike racks on all local busses, the Bike Corral Program (where businesses agree to replace one car parking space with four bike racks to accommodate eight bikes and agree to maintain the racks), pedestrian right-of-way crossings that apply to cyclists (as long as they are traveling at pedestrian speed through the crossings) and the establishment of over 300 miles of bike lanes and paths through the city and foothills.
With its notoriously cold winters, Minneapolis may not come to mind as a haven for cyclists yet, but you can expect to hear its name mentioned more and more in the conversation about bike-friendly cities in the U.S. Minneapolis was named #1 on Bicycling.com’s America’s Top 50 Bike-Friendly Cities list for 2011; and with a bicycle-sharing program, bike-friendly public transit (busses, light rail and commuter trains) and indoor bike parking, it’s easy to see why. One of Minneapolis’ best innovations is the Guaranteed Ride Home Program – if you participate in bike commuting three days a week or more, you will receive four coupons a year for a free transit ride or cab fare up to $25 if you can’t get to your destination safely or quickly enough on your bike.
Hop in the Bike Lane
As a whole, the United States still lags behind many European cities in bicycle accessibility and encouragement. But cycling enthusiasts and environmentalists are speaking out and more U.S. cities are incorporating bike travel into their transportation infrastructure. As long as we are using these improvements and using them responsibly, we’ll continue to promote the pedal power revolution that is slowly but surely cleaning our air, keeping us fit, and connecting us with the cities we live in and love.