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Best Cities in the USA for Safe Cycling

Posted on by Ben Hartwig in SafetyJanuary 24, 2020
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Many factors make a city great for biking.

The biking culture, large swaths of protected bike lanes, quaint coffee shops, and stunning scenery are some of the things that differentiate an average bike city to an amazing one. There are many cities in the U.S. where you can take your bike out for a ride anytime, but only a few stand out as havens for bikers.

What Makes an Amazing Bike City?

According to transportation safety officials and bike advocacy groups that first appeared in an article on Bicycling.com, the best cities are the ones that cater to all types of riders. The data points highlighted places that embrace daily commuters, kids, seniors, and competitive roadies as equals. The cities on this list all have a riding culture and systems built to benefit everyone, not just one set of bikers.

Ranking the cities involved gathering data for a 100-point system made up of the following criteria:

  1. Road Safety – 40 points.
  2. Accessibility to all Riders – 30 points.
  3. Acceptance (the city’s sentiment towards bikes) – 20 points.
  4. Biking Culture -10 points.

Ranking The Best Bike Cities in America

Here are the bike cities that ranked high on the list based on the points-based system above.

Seattle, WA

  • Road Safety – 35
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 28
  • Acceptance – 18
  • Biking Culture – 8

Seattle has protected bike lanes that focus on the safety of cyclists, including concrete buffers and rails at intersections. The city has about 60 miles of low-stress neighborhood greenways that connect to existing protected bike lanes ready or in the works. Traffic engineers also made sure that vehicle movement didn’t go over 23 miles per hour to slow traffic flow and make the roads safer for bikers and pedestrians. Narrow lanes, speed tables, and traffic islands all help calm vehicular traffic in the city. Seattle’s efficient public transit system also promotes “first and last mile” bike commuting.

San Francisco, CA

San Francisco
  • Road Safety – 35
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 28
  • Acceptance – 17
  • Biking Culture – 8

San Francisco didn’t have a single protected bike lane a decade ago, and cycling advocates were lucky if they got the city to paint the pavement. Now, the city has over ten protected bike lanes that stretch out for about 20 miles. What’s even better is that the city has already allocated around $112 million to improve its biking infrastructure. San Francisco is also aggressive when it comes to pedestrian and motorist safety by setting goals that focus on sustainable travel, such as walking, biking, and mass transit.

Fort Collins, CO

  • Road Safety – 35
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 29
  • Acceptance – 15
  • Biking Culture – 9

Fort Collins prides itself on having fast and efficient pathways that cyclists can use to move around town. These protected lanes were built for bikers in mind, complete with over and underpasses at almost all main crossings. These safety features ensure that cyclists rarely share the road with cars, one of the reasons why the city has a low cyclist fatality rate.

Minneapolis, MI

  • Road Safety – 34
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 25
  • Acceptance – 17
  • Biking Culture – 9

Minneapolis has miles of green spaces for outdoor recreation with off-street bike pathways going through them. The lush network of greenery creates a low-stress web of lanes around the city. Back in 2016, Minneapolis adopted a “complete streets policy” where all new designs must focus on walkers, cyclists, buses, and cars (in that order). The city is also proactive when it comes to safety, continually improving protected bike lanes and making sure cyclists can use it even after it snows.

Portland, OR

  • Road Safety – 34
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 24
  • Acceptance – 17
  • Biking Culture – 10

Portland plans to build 24.4 miles of protected bike lanes throughout the city. The city also plans to improve parts of the network that had been neglected over the years. Portland also has bike-sharing programs with low-cost memberships aimed at low-income residents. The city is one of the few that has adaptive bike-sharing that serves people with disabilities.

Chicago, IL

Chicago
  • Road Safety – 28
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 26
  • Acceptance – 18
  • Biking Culture – 10

Chicago has over 176 miles of buffered, protected, and off-path bike lanes. The city has been continually adding more secure lanes and has taken steps to upgrade existing ones. In 2018 alone, spending on bike-infrastructure reached a robust $53.5 million, sourced from federal and local funds.

Eugene, OR

  • Road Safety – 33
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 27
  • Acceptance – 14
  • Biking Culture – 8

Thanks to the college atmosphere, Eugene has always been a haven for cyclists. The city is keen on increasing connectivity on the network, building bike bridges, protected and buffered bike lanes plus a two-way lane that connects Eugene’s downtown to the University of Oregon. Eugene also has plans to keep riders safe as they move through an intersection by using bike-specific signaling.

Madison, WI

  • Road Safety – 34
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 25
  • Acceptance – 14
  • Biking Culture – 8

With its amazing web of existing off-street pathways, Madison was built for bikes. However, the city only has about a mile of protected bike lane, and most of the on-street infrastructure is still limited to lanes painted on the ground. The excellent news is Madison is working to increase the number of dedicated cycling lanes to help keep riders safe.

New York City

  • Road Safety – 26
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 26
  • Acceptance – 18
  • Biking Culture – 9

After a grueling 40 years of lobbying for a car-free Central Park, cyclists now have the iconic park and all its beauty all to themselves. The big apple now has an incredible 460 miles of protected bike lanes spread across all five boroughs. Future projects include adding more bike bridges to improve connectivity. New York also has 50 intersections that allow bikes to go first while the cars wait. This feature ensures that cyclists remain visible and in the motorist’s field of view. However, New York’s fluctuating safety record means that cyclists need to be extra careful when navigating the city.

Cambridge, MA

  • Road Safety – 36
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 18
  • Acceptance – 18
  • Biking Culture – 7

Cambridge is home to 105,000 residents, dozens of tech companies, and Harvard University, all crammed into 7.1 square miles. Due to its size, cycling is an appealing transportation option for city residents. More than seven percent of the city’s residents get around using a bike, one of the highest modeshare numbers in the country. However, the city lags when it comes to established bike paths and protected lanes.

Washington, DC

Washington
  • Road Safety – 32
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 23
  • Acceptance – 15
  • Biking Culture – 8

America’s capital has done a great job investing in bike-infrastructure projects like trail systems and on-street pathways. The city has focused on projects such as the Anacostia River Trail, a four-mile trail section that connects to 26 extra miles of trail in Maryland, and other programs that incentivize cycling in the city. One such program is GoDCGo, working with employers to make their offices more bike-friendly.

Boulder, CO

  • Road Safety – 28
  • Accessibility to all Riders – 21
  • Acceptance – 17
  • Biking Culture – 9

Boulder didn’t use to be a bike-friendly mecca, but times are changing. The city now has three and a half miles of buffered lanes and four lanes of protected bike lanes, plus a multi-use pathway. Boulder is moving towards more infrastructure projects in the future while making the city safer.

A Note on Safe Cycling

This article also aims to showcase which cities in the country are ideal for safe cycling. Although heaps of fun, riding a bike carries risks even for the most prepared cyclist, never straying away from a protected bike lane. Accidents can and will happen because you can’t control what other drivers do on the road.

Safe cycling aims to mitigate the risks associated with biking by teaching riders these fundamentals:

Visibility

  • Wear appropriate clothing, gear, and safety equipment.
  • Always stay in a motorist’s field of vision.
  • Stay clear of the door zone.

Communication

  • Always use shoulder checking and hand signals to let other road users know what you’re doing.
hand signals
  • Make it a point to check again before proceeding to turn even after shoulder checking and signaling.

Predictability and Consistency

  • Always ride in a straight line.
  • Use protected bike paths when available.
  • Don’t weave in and out of parked cars, especially in traffic.
  • Stay on the right-most lane except when turning left.

Conclusion

There is no such thing as a perfect city for cycling. Some cities don’t have anything for bikers except for a painted lane, and most places don’t have a budget to build a biking infrastructure. There’s no unity in the networks yet, and there’s no central body that keeps tabs on cycling injuries. The good news for avid cyclists is that more and more American cities are embracing the pedal culture, leading the way for better infrastructure initiatives that other places can emulate. With more cities adopting Vision Zero programs, the future is looking bright for riders and safe cycling.

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