League of American Bicyclists 2010 State and Community Rankings
By Clarissa Ersoz
The League of American Bicyclists (LAB) recently released its third annual 2010 Bicycle Friendly State Rankings and Bicycle Friendly Communities. The rankings are part of the LAB’s Bicycle Friendly America program, which promotes and tabulates improved cycling conditions throughout the United States by advocating for legislative changes and the adoption of new policies that encourage bike use. This year, Washington remained the number one bicycle friendly state, maintaining its 2008 and 2009 status. Wisconsin came in second, then Maine, Minnesota and Oregon. Idaho ranked 26, eight places higher than last year.
Rankings are based on a questionnaire answered by each state’s bicycle coordinator, which includes 95 inquiries across six categories: legislation, programs and policies, infrastructure, education and encouragement, evaluation and planning, and enforcement. Each category evaluates a different aspect of cycling safety and accessibility in each region. The legislation classification covers regulations concerning cycling and motorist responsibilities, like the three-feet to pass law. The programs and policies component encompasses what state agencies require for accommodating riders, such as plans for increased trails. The infrastructure section collects data about the amount of facilities specifically designed for cycling, such as the number of signed bikes routes and the percentage of state highways with shoulders. The education and encouragement portion includes the level of cycling awareness in each state and how they promote the use of a bike. The evaluation and planning segment surveys how bicycling is integrated into annual planning. Finally, the enforcement category gathers data on how law enforcement and traffic court judges are trained to ensure cyclists’ rights to the road.
This year, the LAB released not only rankings, but also category grades ranging from A to F, which present a clearer picture of each area’s strengths and weaknesses. For instance, Washington received high marks in most categories with the exception of enforcement, earning a D. Barbara Culp, executive director for the Bicycle Alliance of Washington (BAW), says that law enforcement’s ignorance or lack of enforcement contributed to the low score. Culp comments that improvements that could be made include passing a mutual responsibility bill, which would combine accountability for both motorists and cyclists into one piece of legislation, helping with police enforcement and also adding additional protections for cyclists including a three-foot to pass rule and complete streets policy.
Oregon ranked number five overall, receiving high marks in all categories with the exception of infrastructure, which it earned a D grade. Susan Piethman, statewide advocate for the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA), explains that since Oregon is a mostly rural state, the majority of cycling initiatives take place in urban areas and so many of the state highways are not constructed with shoulders to accommodate cyclists. Oregon held fourth place in the rankings for both 2008 and 2009, but dropped to fifth place this year and is now out-ranked by Minnesota. Piethman comments that the decrease in rank can be attributed not to Oregon’s decrease in bicycle friendly facilities and programs, but rather to Minnesota’s strides in bicycle promotion over the past year.
Within each state, communities are encouraged to fill out an application for further award recognition. Each city can receive 0 to 5 stars in five categories, determining their overall ranking ranging from Bronze to Platinum. These classifications are similar to the six components upon which states were based and ranked. Both state and communities were evaluated on enforcement, education and evaluation and planning. However, cities were also judged upon engineering, which encompasses bicycling infrastructure, including bike lanes and bike parking, and encouragement, which concentrates on how the community promotes cycling, such as prompting residents to participate in bicycling events and commuter incentive programs.
In Washington, Seattle has been recognized as a bicycle friendly community since 2008 and was given a gold ranking in 2010. The LAB Bicycle Friendly America Yearbook, which highlights the annual accomplishments of particular states and communities, emphasizes Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan, calling it “one of the most progressive in the nation.” The plan, approved in 2007, calls for a 455-mile system of signed bicycle routes, including 3.6 miles of green bike lanes at specific locations. It also includes 50% more multi-use trails and a bicycle facility within one fourth of a mile of 95% of Seattle residents to be completed within 10 years. It also plans to triple the amount of bicycle use and cut the rate of bicycle crashes by one third by 2017. BAW’s Culp states that Seattle could use more connectivity between cycling networks, which would make it easier to access all areas of the city. She comments that the Master Plan has already implemented many of the improvements, but could use more funding.
Bellingham, Wash., received a silver designation and has been a bicycle friendly community since 2006. According to the LAB Yearbook, the city has seen a 35% increase in bicycle trips and boasts a 5% bicycle mode share. It has also married technology with environmental sustainability by installing cycling facilities in environmentally sensitive areas. One project included creating a bike lane through a wetland area using an embankment design that supported the bike lanes while still filtering runoff. Marie Kimball, president of Mount Baker Bicycle Club, applauds Bellingham for considering cyclists and pedestrians when constructing new housing developments by including infrastructure such as bike lanes. She states that the city could possibly gain gold status by making improvements such as adding more connectivity and trail links.
A bicycle friendly community since 2003, Portland, Ore., ranked third, beaten only by Boulder, Colo., and Davis, Calif. The city has implemented numerous safety and accessibility improvements such as putting underrun guards on all city trucks, introducing bike boxes (colorized areas at intersections that allow cyclists to move in front of waiting traffic), implementing the next generation of bicycle boulevards and installing 30 bicycle parking corrals. Portland’s innovation prompts 8% of its residents to ride a bicycle as their primary means of transportation and crashes involving cyclists have dropped 8% since 2007. Piethman praises Portland’s newly adopted bicycle plan for 2030. The plan allocated 600 million dollars to expand Portland’s bikeways and facilities to make cycling more accessible to underserved areas, and to increase mode share to 25% of all trips.
Corvallis, Ore., also received a gold status. According to Jo Morgan, transportation program specialist for the Department of Public Works, the city received the ranking partly because 97% of their arterial streets have bike lanes, their police department is highly involved at the Bicycle Commission meetings, and the public has a substantial amount of educational materials available to them. The city also emphasizes making cycling more accessible and safer for students. For instance, Oregon State University added 28 bike lockers to its campus and reconstructed the entry corridor to accommodate a bike lane. Corvallis also received $150,000 in Safe Routes to School funding and added new bike parking at two elementary schools. Morgan hopes that the city can increase mode share by transforming several streets into bicycle boulevards and emphasizing local businesses’ understanding that accommodating cyclists can increase their bottom line.
Wood River Valley, Idaho, received silver status and has been recognized as a bicycle friendly community since 2008. The city has almost 500 miles of singletrack trails, 15 miles of bike lanes, and 40 miles of shared use path. The area also boasts the most active Safe Routes to School program in the state and law enforcement officers receive specific bike-focused training.
The LAB is not the only organization that ranks states based upon different categories. The Alliance for Biking and Walking released their 2010 Benchmarking Report that also ranks U.S. states and the 51 largest American cities. Rather than evaluating on a scale of 1 to 50, the report separates rankings into more specific components like safety, policies, legislation, funding and the percentages of those who cycle or walk.
The Northwest not only contains two states in the top five rankings for all 50 states, but also entices cyclists to ride, boasting 18 bicycle friendly communities within Washington, Oregon and Idaho. Communities are continually looking for ways to improve access and safety for cyclists and pedestrians, not only to raise their ranking, but to encourage residents to ride more.
To read more about the LAB report and community awards go to bikeleague.org. Additional information about the Benchmarking Report can be found at