I like to ride. I have enjoyed the freedom associated with getting around ever since I was about 6 years old when I gave up my 20-inch bike with training wheels for a slick, black, 26-inch one that I rode until I got my driver’s license years later. Back then we rode our bikes everywhere, unsupervised and sometimes carelessly. I remember several of us taking the chains off our bikes and riding a downhill trail in nearby woods (not recommended). Taking the chain off meant you couldn’t apply brakes!
When I grew up and got married, my wife and I purchased bikes and went on some of the most fun rides in Vermont through a group known as Vermont Bicycle Tours. There were several tours available. We usually opted for 2-day excursions which began and ended at the bed-and-breakfast where we were staying. The innkeepers fed us lots of carbs for breakfast and gave us maps, and road monitors were nearby if anyone had trouble during the ride.
Fast forward to today. We purchased new bikes a few years ago and have been riding for recreation as a routine. We spend a lot of time in Ohio and our community has some of the best bike paths I’ve ever seen – more than 130 miles through parks, neighborhoods, and favorite destinations. There’s a lot to explore, get some fresh air, exercise, and an occasional errand like picking up a book at the library or dropping off mail. I’ve never lived in an area where you could ride so many places with minimal, if any, issues with vehicle traffic. Biking also provides us a recreational activity with our family that is hard to beat!
And every trip we make on our bike is more environmentally friendly than if we used our car.
So what makes a city or community “bike friendly”? Bicycling Magazine recently published its annual ranking of the 50 best bike cities in the U.S. They use four weighted criteria: (1) Safety – 40% ; (2) Accessibility to riders of all age groups – 30% ; (3) Political climate toward bikers – 20% ; and (4) Culture – shops, attractions, routes – 10%. Based on these criteria, these are the top 15 best bike cities in the U.S. (Check the link for the complete list of 50):
|1. Seattle, WA||2. San Francisco, CA||3. Ft. Collins, CO|
|4. Minneapolis, MN||5. Portland, OR||6. Chicago, IL|
|7. Eugene, OR||8. Madison, WI||9. New York City, NY|
|10. Cambridge, MA||11. Washington DC||12. Boulder, CO|
|13. Austin, TX||14. Denver, CO||15. Tempe, AZ|
To see what it takes to be the best bike city in the U.S. here’s an excerpt from the Bicycling Magazine describing Seattle’s impressive biking environment:
- “Seattle, Washington – Very few bike lanes in the country are being built with the attention to detail that engineers in Seattle are using. Protected lanes sport concrete buffers—the gold standard for protected lanes—and at intersections, riders can lean on lean rails as they wait for their cycling-specific signal to change. “The city has done some really impressive things,” says Tom Fucoloro, editor of the Seattle Bike Blog. “The Second Avenue protected bike lane takes you all the way from the Space Needle to Pioneer Square on a nice, protected bike lane that’s really fun to ride.” A few miles away, the West Lake Cycle Track was even chosen as the best bike facility in North America by People For Bikes. Right now, things are going the way they should in every city: There are currently 60 miles of low-stress neighborhood greenways in the works, and connecting existing protected bikeways is a major priority, says Dongho Chang, a traffic engineer for the city. The Vision Zero initiative has also been taken seriously. “We timed all 300 traffic signals for 23 miles per hour,” says Chang. That’s significantly slowed traffic, which is a major tenet of reducing bike and pedestrian deaths. The city has also narrowed lanes and inserted speed tables and traffic islands—all of which calm vehicular traffic. Fucoloro even says that the will to reduce speeds was surprisingly universal.“
But in terms of bike friendly cities, the U.S. pales in comparison with the best bike cities on the planet. Here’s the top 15 recently ranked by Wired Magazine:
|1. Copenhagen, Denmark||2. Amsterdam, Netherlands||3. Utrecht, Netherlands|
|4. Antwerp, Belgium||5. Strasbourg, France||6. Bordeaux, France|
|7. Oslo, Norway||8. Paris, France||9. Vienna, Austria|
|10. Helsinki, Finland||11. Bremen, Germany||12. Bogota, Columbia|
|13. Barcelona, Spain||14. Ljubljana, Slovenia||15. Berlin, Germany|
One thing that differentiates these international cities from the U.S. is the number of people who use bikes as their primary method of transportation for work and school. In Copenhagen, 62% of trips fit this category. The magazine link has a wonderful description of the impressive bike friendliness of these international cities.
So my takeaways from this are (1) I can use my bike for more that recreation – i.e., using my bicycle to run errands. More exercise is good for me, and less pollution is good for the planet; (2) I plan to be more aware of and support city initiatives that affect bike friendliness; (3) we should incorporate biking into future vacations; and (4) if we decide to move, we’ll check out the bike friendliness of the the places we consider. It’s a big and beautiful world out there and biking can be an important element of our enjoyment!