The League of American Bicyclists rates Minneapolis with a Gold.

Bicycle-Friendliness

The League of American Cyclists is responsible for putting out report cards that assign Bicycle Friendly rankings to communities, businesses, universities, and states. To receive a report card, all you have to do is fill out a 42-page application and await their review. Reviews are good for 4 years. There are a number of interesting factors that they consider, including everything from ‘Education’ to ‘High Speed Roads with Bike Facilities’ to ‘Fatal Accidents per 10k Cyclists’. Overall, it gives a rating ranging from Honorable Mention to Platinum. For quick reference, Minneapolis has a Gold rating, and Saint Paul a Silver.

I recently spent some time perusing the database and doing some basic comparisons. I went through and compared different cities I was familiar with, and I came away with a conclusion: there is only one statistic that is truly indicative of the bicycle friendliness of a given place. That statistic is ridership. At the end of the day, are local residents actually biking, or are they not? That’s not to say that other factors aren’t important as well, but all other factors on the report card help to create a bicycle culture that ultimately leads to a person’s decision whether or not to bike.

A revised model

To calculate travel-friendliness, it’s important to measure ridership. However, we should also view ridership as a snapshot in time. For example, at peak commute time on October 15, what mode of transportation is each person on the road using? Walk/roll, scooter, bus, bike, car? The simple percentage is your answer.

A pie chart. "Theoretical Travel-Friendliness Chart". Each category pf travel mode has been assigned a percentage.

This theoretical city (that is better than any existing city, as far as I know) would rate 10% walk-friendly, 25% transit-friendly, 30% bike-friendly, and 30% car-friendly. Keep in mind, however, that this is a snapshot in time and not an average over time. Therefore, there is going to be seasonal variation in these numbers. Deciding how to commute is a complex set of decisions that many people make on a daily basis. Other people have deeply entrenched commuting habits, but even these people will be incentivized to change their habits over time based on a number of external and internal factors.

The average number of cyclists killed per year isn’t a measure of how bike-friendly a community is, it’s how bike-lethal it is. How much the K-12 students are being lectured about bicycle safety isn’t a measure of how bike-friendly a community is, it’s how bike-safety-education-focused it is. Additionally, the number of bike paths there are adjacent to high-speed roadways is not a direct measure of how bike-friendly a community is, but it would reflect how highly city planners prioritize providing equal access to longer-distance travel. That’s still not bike-friendliness, it’s how much money has your community spent on this kind of bike infrastructure? All these questions are factors that ultimately result in one thing: whether or not an individual person decides to hop onto their bike instead of into their car.

At the end of the day, the most bike-friendly community is the one with the greatest number of residents who routinely decide to bike as their means of transportation.

Nicole Salica

About Nicole Salica

Nicky lives in Minneapolis and works in Saint Paul. Nicky hasn't owned a car for over a dozen years, and can count on one hand the number of times they've operated one in the last 12 months. Housing is a human right, car storage is not. Member of the Climate Committee.

4 thoughts on “Bicycle-Friendliness

  1. revhokan

    The main thing that people leave out of mode shift calculations is (perceived) cost. Car driving is subsidized on every level and that makes it harder for other modes to compete.

    Most people don’t want to go somewhere via a particular mode; they just want to get to their destination cheaply, quickly, and comfortably. Our society makes sure that car trips are much cheaper than they should be.

    Reply
  2. John Dillery

    Ms. Salica, Building better and safer places for bicycling is one key part of creating a bike friendly city, certainly, as long as we keep common sense in the mix. So, I appreciate that you mention in your article that bicycling is seasonal, at least for most of us. I love riding my Schwinn with the Burley cart to do errands May – October, but I simply can’t deal with the cold and rain, or worse, snow. So, if planners must confront a hard decision in the case of a particular street to preserve transit on the street OR build bike infrastructure to the detriment of transit, then transit must be the priority there. I rely on transit 12 months per year, but in this climate, I can only rely on my bike 6 months per year. If we ever build bike ways to the detriment of the bus, then I know we are not being equitable in providing access all year for everyone. Thank you for your good article!

    Reply
    1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I find there only a handful of days that are truly too cold to ride (like everything else in the winter, it’s a matter of the right layers), but there are lots of days where there’s just nowhere to ride due to how we prioritize winter snow maintenance. The on-street bike lane is gone because there’s snow are parked cars or both, in it. The bike boulevard is gone because it’s covered in rutted, packed snow because it’s plowed like a residential street instead of like a snow emergency route. The off-street trails are okay, but there’s only so many of them and even if I can take a circuitous route many relying on them, I don’t really want to go out of my way in the cold.

      But there are a lot thing I just listed that could be fixed with small changes in priority that would make biking a more viable winter transportation option.

      Reply
      1. John Dillery

        Adam M, I agree with you about how well snow maintenance is done is a major factor in bike mode choice! I want to make bikes a better option all year long for those young enough or with sinuses tough enough to ride safely everywhere it can be done, as long as that bike infrastructure doesn’t interfere with bus transit. There is a risk of that happening. Anything can be taken to an extreme that creates inequities. Truly, I can’t ride all year, but even if I could hack it physically, it would be extreme and arrogant of me to assume that everyone can ride all year in Minnesota. This is what I mean by “common sense” in bike infrastructure planning. Thank you.

        Reply

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