Sadly, the US isn’t exactly renowned for its cycling infrastructure.
However, there are some cities in which the local government has invested in simple safety infrastructure to increase the bike-friendliness of the city.
If you’re a keen cyclist, this can be an important factor in determining your impressions of a city, or even deciding where you want to move.
If you commute to work by bike, for example, you’re not going to want to do so in a city that’s not at all designed for cycling.
The US, although not famous for its non-car infrastructure, is blessed with some very bike-friendly cities.
So, what are the most bike-friendly cities in the US?
Don’t worry! In this article, we’ll give you a rundown of the most bike-friendly cities in the United States. We’ll be covering:
- What Does It Mean For A City To Be Bike Friendly?
- The 7 Most Bike-Friendly Cities In The US
- Why Should Cities Try To Be More Bike Friendly?
Let’s dive in!
What does it mean for a city to be bike-friendly?
In general, it’s a combination of factors, that depend on where the city is located, and how much effort and money the local government has put into making their city more cycling-friendly. These generally boil down to three things:
#1. Cycling Infrastructure
This is by far the most important factor in qualifying a city as “bike-friendly”.
The US was designed around the use of cars, and so by far, the majority of the cities in the country prioritize car usage. Although many bikes use the very same roads as the cars do anyway, that prioritization of road infrastructure rarely translates to cyclist safety.
The fact is, bikes and cars use the roads in very different ways, and, although they’re perfectly capable of sharing roads amicably, this isn’t always the case.
Many cyclists feel significantly safer, particularly when in cities, if there is a designated bike lane with a barrier or perhaps even completely car-free bike paths through the city.
This is an example of what many would consider to be “bike-friendly” infrastructure.
Cycling infrastructure can range from minor things, such as having advanced stop lines at junctions for cyclists, or a separate set of traffic lights for bikes (thereby avoiding the famous “right hook” accident), to building a completely independent cycle path away from the roads.
#2. Access to countryside
This isn’t necessarily a feature of a city itself, but rather, where it’s situated.
But, for many cyclists who use their bike for more than just transport or commuting, it’s an important factor in deciding whether they’d consider living in a city.
What I mean by this, is that there is easy access to the countryside where you can ride your bike. For example, beautiful hills or coastline to cycle along, or, for the off-roaders, nearby trails and singletrack to shred.
If cycling is your biggest hobby, it’s going to be important that you have a place to enjoy that hobby near where you live.
#3. Cycling Community
Cycling can be an incredibly social sport.
Riding with a club, or friends, or in cycling events can offer opportunities to socialize and make new friends for many cycling amateurs.
However, this is only really possible in cities that have an established cycling community. There’s only going to be clubs or events in places where cyclists are.
It could be argued, however, that the first two factors might entail the third. If there’s a city with excellent cycling infrastructure and access to the countryside, then cyclists will come.
The 7 Most Bike-Friendly Cities In The US
In Portland, cycling is part of the culture of the city, and city officials estimate that some 17,000 workers commute to work by bicycle.
The city has invested significantly in cycling infrastructure. For example, there are currently over 320 miles of bike lanes in the city, and a further 50 miles are planned.
The city also employs the use of separate traffic lights and, what they call “bicycle boxes” (sometimes called advanced stop lines) at busy intersections to increase the safety of cyclists.
San Francisco, California
San Francisco has been an important place in the cycling world, with cycling giants Specialized having been founded in the city.
Despite the brutal gradients the city is famous for, the city has counted 5.33 million bikes within its limits. This is partially due to the investment in over 460 miles of bike lanes, and other important infrastructure like bicycle parking and bike-share stations.
This investment is accelerating, too, as the number of slow streets and cycle lanes constructed has been increasing year-on-year.
Of course, the convenient location of the beautiful San Francisco Bay area is another key draw for cyclists, with many beautiful possible routes around the area.
Seattle is another of the most cycle-friendly cities in the US. Despite the famously poor weather, the city claims 158,000 of its residents ride a bike regularly within its limits.
Part of this is due to the investment in cycling infrastructure, such as bike paths, advanced stop lines, and pedestrianized paths shared with cyclists which, according to the city, causes a 35-minute rush hour car journey to take 30 minutes by bike.
But also, an important part of this is because of its proximity to beautiful national parks, such as Olympic National Park, The Cascades, and Mt. Rainier National Park.
Denver is another city that has invested heavily in cycling infrastructure. This includes over 20 miles of bike lanes in the downtown area alone and 600 bike racks in the downtown area.
Again, Denver is ideally located for cycling routes. Located just 60 miles from the famous Rocky Mountain National Park, and with many other National Forests, State Parks, and country parks even nearer.
The city has a thriving cycling community, with many annual cycling events taking part nearby, particularly gravel races since Colorado is blessed with many miles of beautiful gravel roads.
Austin is a designated Gold Level Bicycle Friendly Community by the League of American Cyclists, and for good reason, too.
Just by viewing the comprehensive online bike map, it’s clear just how many miles of bike routes there are throughout the city. The map even ranks the comfort levels of each of the routes, from “Rough Trail” to “High Paved”.
The city also claims to have excellent access to beautiful road rides and fantastic gravel and mountain bike trails in the Barton Creek Greenbelt, for example.
Austin is also blessed with extremely good weather, with more than 300 sunny days each year, which, of course, plays a major role in cycling. However, it has to be said, that a significant number of these days are just too hot to ride a bike for many people.
San Diego, California
San Diego is a beautiful city in Southern California with an extremely high standard of living. Despite the city’s obvious issues with traffic, it consistently ranks among the most bike-friendly cities in the US.
This is largely due to the presence of bike paths, particularly along the coast. One of the most famous of these is the pedestrianized promenade between Mission Beach and Bird Rock.
However, there are also many stunning parks in the city and a number of other bike paths throughout. If you include the entire metropolitan area, up as far as Carlsbad, then the city has over 1,700 miles of bikeways.
It also has excellent access to stunning coastal rides, for example, in the Torrey Pines Nature Reserve – home to beautiful cascading cliffs onto the dark sands and the Pacific Ocean – just a 30-minute ride from La Jolla.
Perhaps one of the biggest factors that contribute to its bikeability is the weather. With 266 sunny days per year and a temperate climate year-round, there are few days on which it’s not nice to go on a ride.
Having recently relocated to San Diego myself, I can personally vouch for it as a top-tier cycling city. I’ve been absolutely loving exploring the gravel routes extending to the beaches and countryside surrounding the urban area.
Washington, District of Columbia
The capital of the United States is another of its bike-friendly cities.
With over 100 miles of bike lanes constructed within the city, a thriving bike-share scheme, and plenty of bicycle parking, the city has invested in cycling infrastructure significantly.
Although the weather isn’t quite as good as somewhere like San Diego, San Francisco, or Austin, it’s much cooler, and for many cyclists, this is nicer to ride your bike in. Some cyclists even enjoy cycling in the rain, and so this clearly doesn’t put everyone off two wheels.
Why Should Cities Try To Be More Bike Friendly?
There are so many positives to making a city more bike-friendly, and they’re not just limited to the cyclists themselves.
People cycling on busy roads shared with cars will hold up traffic, a problem that plagues many cities in the US. Of course, bikes are simply slower than cars, and so on busy single-lane roads where it’s not safe to overtake, cars will get trapped behind them.
The most important point, however, is that we, as a species, need to cease our consumption of fossil fuels. Although electric cars can play a role in this, there simply isn’t enough raw material available at the moment to make enough batteries for everyone to use.
So, in general, governments need to incentivize car alternatives. The best way to do this is to make public transport and cycling as convenient and easy as possible.
This means, in the context of cycling, constructing routes through cities, closed to cars, that are shorter than available roads, and completely avoid traffic.
But also, another important part of reducing emissions is related to public health. Research by the IPCC suggests that living in a city will take years off your life due to the presence of atmospheric aerosols, another byproduct of burning fossil fuels.
So, incentivizing emission-free forms of transport will literally make the residents live longer.
Additionally, the use of bikes instead of cars is good for your health and the incentivization of cycling will promote a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise.