The 10 Best Cycling Cities in America

Discover which cities offer the safest biking infrastructure and the most supportive cycling communities.
By: Michelle Udem

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Portland, Ore.

Portland boasts a strong and enthusiastic bike scene consisting of a large number of regular cyclers on the road, government-supported bike infrastructure, several government and privately supported bike programs, and an abundance of bike resources such as retail shops and instructional co-ops. Local rider Leah Bendlin says the city's condensed design makes biking easy and that local establishments offer incentives for bikers. "Bars will sometimes have special deals for people who bike there, though most people bike to bars anyways," she says. 

According to Portland's Bureau of Transportation, the city has the highest share of bicycle commuters at 6 percent to 8 percent. Portland is also the only large city (with a population of 529,121 persons) to earn The League of American Bicyclists' platinum status as a bicycle-friendly city. The most appealing element about Portland's bicycle scene is the city's general pro-cycling attitude and integrated amenities such as convenient bike parking and extensive, well-marked bike lanes. This city's citizens express their love of cycling through events like BikeCraft, a two-day gift fair exclusively dedicated to bike accessories and designs.

New York

Though swarming with cutthroat cabs, zigzagging pedicabs and commuting drivers, New York City has a well-established and swiftly growing bike culture. New York's hardy bicycle messengers have always given bikes a strong presence in the city, but there's also a growing population of bicycle commuters. Though the percentage of bicycle commuters may seem slim at .61 percent, it's still a sizeable number when you consider New York's population of almost 8.4 million people.

Thanks to NYC's proactive Transportation Commissioner, Janette Sadik-Khan, additional bike lanes are planned for the city, as well as a Bike Share program expected to be available to the public starting summer 2012. In just three years, from 2006 to 2009, NYC's Department of Transportation added 200 bike-lane miles in all five boroughs. DOT also supports biking through events such as Summer Streets, in which several highly congested NYC streets are closed off to traffic for several hours during a few summer weekends.

San Francisco

Home to the forward-thinkers of Apple, Twitter and Facebook, and leaders of countless grassroots movements and alternative lifestyle fads, the Bay Area is a natural fit for this list. According to the San Francisco Bicycle Coalition, the city has seen a 58 percent increase in its number of cyclers between 2006 and 2010. This number is especially impressive considering the city's shockingly steep hills. But San Franciscans are serious about their two-wheeled ride of choice. The SF Bike Coalition offers urban cycling workshops as well as bike maps that guide riders to the flattest and shortest routes. 

Currently, the city's percentage of bicycling commuters is 2.98 percent. Like New York City, San Francisco plans to start a bike share program in the spring of 2012. The program will consist of 50 bike share stations and 500 bikes. Additionally, during peak commute hours, the city offers a $1 Bay Bridge shuttle exclusively for cyclers and their bikes. And once its 2013-projected retrofit project is complete, the Bay Bridge will also include a 15.5-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path.Right now, the city's percentage of bicycling commuters is 2.98 percent. Like the Big Apple, San Francisco plans to begin a bike share program in the spring of 2012. The program will include 50 bike share stations and 500 bikes. In addition, during rush-hours, the city offers a $1 Bay Bridge shuttle just for cyclers and their bikes. And once the 2013-projected retrofit project is complete, the Bay Bridge will also have a 15.5-foot-wide bicycle and pedestrian path.

Cleveland


The underdog of this list, this historic rust belt city is home to an impassioned and persevering community of bike riders. Cleveland's most-recent bicycle endeavor, The Complete and Green Streets ordinance, consists of a law that requires 20 percent of money spent on road projects to go to bike-friendly features such as bike-only lanes -- one of several efforts to increase the city's bike commuter percentage of .39. "Cleveland was one of the first cities in the country to temporarily close streets to motorized traffic so they can be enjoyed by cyclists and pedestrians," say local rider Jeff Sugalski.

Another exciting feature of Cleveland's urban cycling scene is its Metroparks, or nature preserves with walking, hiking and bicycling trails along river paths and creeks. Local rider Shawn Mariani is a true believer in the city's bike scene. "The growth that Cleveland's bike culture has had recently is tremendous, and the only change I would like to see for the future is increased numbers of people on bikes," he says.Cleveland's urban cycling scene also boasts Metroparks, nature preserves with walking, hiking and bicycling trails along river paths and creeks. Local rider Shawn Mariani believes in the city's bike scene. "The growth that Cleveland's bike culture has had recently is tremendous, and the only change I would like to see for the future is increased numbers of people on bikes," he says.

Chicago

As illustrated by a letter from Mayor Rahm Emanuel (full text can be found at chicagobikes.org), the City of Chicago stands behind its cyclists and is dedicated to broadening the city's cycling community. The letter details an extensive bike network as one of the mayor's top priorities and cites the health, community and environmental benefits of urban cycling. 

Chicago's Department of Transportation already has a grand plan, called the Chicago Streets for Cycling Plan 2020, for developing a citywide network of 150 to 250 miles of bikeways with the goal of safely connecting residents to their daily needs. With a 2009 percentage of bike commuters of 1.15, the city's plan hopes to ingrain a sense of safety upon its residents, making bicycling the most beneficial mode of transportation. Bonus point: To draw attention to the Cycling Plan, the city created a Facebook page to keep community members updated on its progress and to attract volunteers and feedback.

Philadelphia

In a city where studies have proven that commuting by bike is actually faster than by bus or car, Philadelphia proves its bike enthusiasm by turning its traffic-congested central areas into bicycle-friendly zones. 

With a 2009 bike commuter percentage of 2.16, Philadelphia has installed approximately 1,000 bicycle racks in its Center City and surrounding neighborhoods. Though Philadelphians mostly commute by car (61 percent), followed by public transportation (26.4 percent), walking (8 percent) and riding a bicycle (2.16 percent), Philadelphia's bicycle commute "mode share" (1.2 percent) is larger than New York City's (.06 percent), though not quite as large as Washington D.C.'s (2.0 percent) and Portland's (4.0 percent).

Aside from its growing bicycle-friendly infrastructure, Philly has a colorful bike scene, consisting of enthusiasts who find the city's quaint size conducive to daily commutes or just riding with friends. Philly's annual Tweed Ride attracts large crowds decked out in vintage wear; if you're lucky, you may even spot a penny-farthing or two at this event.

Seattle

Hands down, the most impressive feature of Seattle's bicycle scene is its extensively detailed and publicized Bicycle Master Plan. Designed to boost the current commuter percentage of 2.99, the Bicycle Master Plan calls for 118 miles of new bike lanes, 19 miles of trails and new signs to aid in cycling awareness. At an estimated cost of $240 million, the Master Plan includes a project to create "bike boulevards" -- eight miles of streets marked for bike travel as an alternative to riding on heavily used arterial roads. 

Divided by just a few hundred miles, Seattle's bike scene may seem tame in comparison to Portland's. But with its strong community bike scene combined with its government-funded and supported 10-year bike plan, Seattle is on the cusp of making bicycling the safest and most affordable transportation choice.

Boulder, Colo.

With a majority of its population under 45 years of age, Boulder's youthful and pioneering population is perfect for a thriving and advocacy-driven bike scene. The University of Colorado adds 37,000 undergraduate and graduate students to the city's modest total population of 97,385 residents. Despite its sometimes challenging weather (with an average of 83 inches of snowfall a year, plus 300 sunny days a year) the percentage of bike commuters here is 4.77 percent. 

Perfect for both urban and off-road biking, Boulder boasts 200 miles of public hiking and bike trails, as well as approximately 30,000 acres of open space. Additionally, 95 percent of its arterial roads have bike lanes or trails. Here, you can bike through the city to work, or take the scenic route back along the Boulder Creek Path.

Washington, D.C.

Thanks to its temperate weather and stately architecture, our nation's capital is ideal for both urban and recreational bike riding. With a bike commuter percentage of 2.17, D.C.'s small-town feel makes urban cycling a joy as well as a convenient, safe mode of transportation. "One of the most unique things about biking in Washington is how pleasant every trip can be," says local rider Akshai Singh. Without the traffic congestion that taints NYC, D.C. offers its cyclists a scenic and stress-free riding experience. "The more bikers there are, the safer it is to bike," Akshai continues. "D.C. has recognized this fact, embraced biking, and residents are better off for their openness." 

Furthermore, D.C. was the first U.S. city to implement a bike share program, which it launched in 2008. The program's success was best illustrated after its unpredicted earthquake occurred on August 23, 2011, when D.C.'s Capital Bike Share program recorded 1,236 rides between 2 and 4 p.m. that day -- more than three times the number of rides recorded for the same period the previous day. When the city's Metro was delayed and most roads were jammed, D.C. residents saw bikes as an ideal transportation solution.

Minneapolis

Minnesota's cycling scene ranges from slow rides in the summertime to blizzard battles in the winter. Minnesotans welcome the cold-weather challenge, as Minneapolis' bike scene is flourishing. The city boasts the most bike parking available per capita in the country. The U.S. Census Bureau ranks the city number two for its percentage of commuters who bike to work, ringing in at 3.8 percent of its population. 

Still having trouble getting past the image of cyclists braving ice-covered streets? The challenging weather is what makes Minneapolis' riding scene so unique and impassioned. Many local riders simply layer up and take on the appropriate precautions. The city's website is a good resource for winter biking tips and shares words of encouragement for new riders.