The ‘best’ cities for bikes?

I’ve lived in all three of these cities. I didn’t ride much in Tucson, because I lived way out north on Orange Grove Road, and it was hotter than hell. Swimming was my primary activity down there. Well, to be strictly accurate, swimming was tertiary, behind drinking beer and eating Mexican food.

People for Bikes has released its annual list of the best U.S. cities and towns for cycling, and once again Colorado leads the way, taking the top two steps on the podium (Boulder and Fort Collins). Eugene, Ore., snagged the bronze.

My old hometown of Bibleburg managed 12th, while the Duke City rolled in with the laughing group at … 240th?

I’m not a data nerd, but speaking as someone who has logged a few thousand miles per annum in both Bibleburg and ’Burque, I can’t say that I see such a vast cycling-quality chasm between the two. Your mileage may vary, of course.

The kicker may be that these city ratings reward “rapid progress.” Sayeth the People for Bikes: “We recognize hardworking cities that are implementing quick-building techniques to improve biking in their city.”

I haven’t hit the streets in Bibleburg lately to gauge their progress toward velo-nirvana, and maybe ’Burque is stuck on New Mexico Standard Time. We’ve been kind of busy being unemployed and killing each other lately.

But my admittedly casual observation is that we have about four times as many bike paths and trails, a metric shit-ton of cyclists of all types, more bike shops than you can shake a pedal wrench at, plus a considerably larger number of people commuting by bicycle and better weather to do it in.

And the annual BikeABQ bike swap crushes it. Two of Herself’s friends bought bikes there over the weekend, we sold one, and former BRAIN tech editor and first-time seller Matt Wiebe said the swap was bigger than he had expected.

Where does your hometown land on the list, and how does its ranking fit with your own observations? Sound off in comments.

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31 Responses to “The ‘best’ cities for bikes?”

  1. Sharon Says:

    Alb sounds great. I love the swap meet idea and it’s wonderful it’s so successful. My town is not listed. There’s great cycling here outside of town, but city refuses to support. Austin’s ok, but riders are hit by cars all the time. I’ve ridden many times in Tucson in early Spring/March and it’s spectacular. Fantastic weather, infrastructure and better attitudes than Texas. My vote for best will always be the Catalonia area of Spain!

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Albuquerque has its moments. You can actually get from Point A to B using “official” bike paths and lanes. There are some bottlenecks, and obviously a striped lane won’t protect you from a texting teenie in Mom’s Towne Tank, but I feel the place is reasonably well set up considering the other pressing issues Management has to address.

  2. SteveO’D Says:

    Boulder and Fort Collins are very different biking ecosystems. Boulder has more bike-only trails, and once you’re downtown, it’s easy to live a car-less life. But it’s harder to get in and out of that bubble on two wheels. Fort Collins has a more uniform system of bike lanes, so there’s less of a chance that you’ll hit one impossible obstacle going from A to B, regardless of where A and B are. Anecdotally, a CSU student is way more likely to get around 100% car-less than a CU kid.

    • SteveO’ Says:

      Having said all that … fuck me if it doesn’t seem like every time you turn around, someone’s getting killed. All the infrastructure in the world can’t save you from one idiot in a 5 tonne land yacht. Especially since running red lights has become the new libertarian freedom protest.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I’ve ridden in both places and find Fort Fun much better by far. The People’s Republic has too many entitled nitwits for my taste. They seem intent on encouraging the homicidal impulse already present in too many motorists.

  3. khal spencer Says:

    O’G, I recall asking you if Shannon was riding a bike to work at Bomb Factory South and it seemed to send shivers down your spine. Maybe the People for Bikes evaluators got shot at when doing the evaluation.

    Seriously, although I am usually at odds with PfB, they usually count bike paths and separated infrastructure rather than reality. So this surprises me.

    I know that at least some urban bike/ped folks put a serious damnation on cities that have a lot of stroads and Albuquerque fits that description to a tee. Plus, Albuquerque helps New Mexico compete in the state to state competition for killing bicyclists (and pedestrians). But at least we ain’t Florida.

    • SteveO’ Says:

      I’d like to see that deaths chart broken down into accidents vs vehicular homicides. Seems like around here, you’re always reading about the angry motorist who had to yield to a bike lane one too many times.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I see a lot of commuters on Tramway, which I expect is the mainline for lab rats. And I’ve ridden down to Kirtland to inspect possible routes suitable for Herself.

      But you have to be a confident cyclist to manage the trip, and she really doesn’t ride enough to develop the sixth, seventh and eighth senses you need to function as a two-wheeler in a four-wheeled world.

      Case in point: I’m coming home from a shopping trip yesterday afternoon and see a Jeep that has T-boned one of the new VW Bugs, the kind that looks like a Karmann Ghia. Hit it so hard on the driver’s side that the impact popped the passenger-side wheel off its axle like a cap off a bottle.

      And this was in a school zone with a flashing yellow light indicating a 25-mph speed limit. No way the Jeep was doing 25, no matter who was at fault.

      At the very next intersection, I saw two motorists blow through the red, one from the east, one from the west. They just cruised on through about three seconds late. It looked synchronized.

      People don’t even speed up to blow the red here. That’s what makes it so scary. You don’t get that audio cue (engine roar as a driver’s foot suddenly goes through the firewall).

      • khal spencer Says:

        Yeah, this happened on our little 25 mph street.

      • SAO' Says:

        My theory: about ten years ago, we started replacing all of the cable-strung traffic lights with these huge cantilevered pole jobs. The old version hung closer to the actual white line where you’re supposed to stop. Now the light is all the way on the far side of the intersection. Folks have a sense that they’re now allowed into a free for all zone in the middle, and at that point they might as well go the whole way across.

        Safety data is hard to untangle. You make a car super safe, and then folks drive like idiots in it, so the safe car actually has more accidents. Hawaiian drown more than any other state, so they must be bad swimmers, right? And then there’s the delta between who’s actually in an accident and who reports it.

  4. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Sierra Vista didn’t even make the list. We have over 30,000 people, and there are smaller towns than us on the list, so it wasn’t size.
    Tucson was 36th with an overall score of 2.9.

  5. larryatcycleitalia Says:

    You know what they say about statistics. Does anyone actually go to these places and ride around on a bike? One can find out pretty fast what a place is like by doing that. I remember Tucson was high on that list but when I rode a bike there I thought they must be nuts to rank it that highly so I wonder about these other places?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I figure it depends on where you live and what kind of riding you like.

      I bet if you were on the north side of Tucson and rode to Oracle and whatnot it would be plenty nice. And I saw some nice trails in Catalina State Park.

      In Bibleburg, our place just north of Colorado College was a great jumping-off point for all kinds of rides, on road and off, with minimal time on streets, and most of that on low-speed residential avenues.

      Starting a tour was a matter of rolling out the door. Here, it’s a little more complex. And the mountains were easier to get into in B-burg. But the foothills trails here are two blocks from the house, and they do quite nicely.

    • Pat O'Brien Says:

      Tucson is OK most places. And their fairly new “loop” is getting some heavy use by recreational and commuting cyclists. Downtown, including by the university, is a whole different thingy. I plan on going up to do the 53.9 mile circuit part of the loop, but probably this fall if summer pops here soon. When it does, hot does not describe Tucson between 0900 and 1800. Hell would be a better description. Phoenix? Oy. Sierra Vista? 5 to 10 degrees cooler than Tucson; 15 to 20 cooler than Phoenix.

      • larryatcycleitalia Says:

        Well, perhaps it is now, but when I went there to ride with Maynard Hershon years ago (who I recall moved there partly because of the “great cycling”) it was awful.
        I remember scratching my head at the “cycling friendly” ratings about the place and decided they had to be based on statistics rather than anyone’s real experience riding a bicycle there.
        Hard to believe there are LESS a-holes barreling along on “their” roads these days.
        Meanwhile, even here in chaotic, car/scooter/bus/e-bike/etc. choked Napoli we rode yesterday along the coast to visit this museum and other than short “toots” of the horn from motorists letting you know they’re coming up on you, nobody honked at, yelled at or tried to run us over on the way there or back. But I still can’t wait to enjoy the quiet roads of Piedmont!

  6. SAO' Says:

    I can’t recommend signing up for twitter to anyone, but if you’re already there, check out this guy:

    Writes about bikes, trees, and putting more of both into our cities. Has a line about how you get folks onboard: make the math memorable. Always has a good stat or chart to make the case for ditching cars and making cities more livable.

    No matter what the question is, the answer is: more street trees.

    Speed is always a factor:

    “Hell is other people.” — Jean-Paul Sartre.

    “Traffic is other people.” — every driver.

  7. DownhillBill Says:

    What *are* those people smoking, instead of doing their homework? Got past their site’s inability to perform a search on my iPad by using the iMac, only to find they are woefully ignorant of Virginia’s admittedly asinine system of independent cities. Yeah, the population within Richmond’s city limits is about 200K, but the actual metro area totals up to about a million. (This unique AFAIK system is beloved by rural legislators [=Rethuglicans] as it allows them to stiff the cities on tax $.) And that 20 mph residential speed limit they want? That’s just the latest iteration of the “get a horse” argument.

    We have a fair # of Sharrows, in the city only, but only a couple of paved, separated bike/multi-use trails. One of these was delayed for years by a county supervisor who wanted his section to be built as a road shoulder “so trucks could use it for passing and parking.” He’s gone now, and most of those attitudes with him. Still makes a huge difference which jurisdiction you’re trying to ride in, which does not encourage casual riders.

    Most of our bike fatalities, with some prominent exceptions, are folks lacking other transportation alternatives riding at night on dubious roads with no lights. Many of our (car) traffic fatalities seem to be people who choose not to use their seat belts; IMO both groups like to play chicken with natural selection. I believe Larry’s wife has explained these phenomena.

    The 3 foot passing law has helped immensely. I had no idea so many of the unnecessary close passes were due to simple ignorance. DOT and most local PD’s are pretty enlightened nowadays, and that makes a big difference in safety, but it’s still not easy for newbies to get out there confidently.

    • khal spencer Says:

      Santa Fe was right down there with Albuquerque.

      I’d hate to be dependent on a bicycle alone and have to ride to some of the less pleasant locations in Albuquerque or Fanta Se. When one is a recreational bicyclist, one can choose the time, manner, and location of a ride. But if you have to get from South Valley to Old Town ducking drive by shootings during peak traffic to do your job cleaning hotel rooms or busing tables, you are at the mercy of your environment.

      O’Grady wrote about that once (actually, so did I, regarding the untimely death of Neil Allen Smith): those invisible cyclists in Las Vegas, with gimme cap on backwards, cigarette hanging out of mouth, girlfriend on the top tube, and putting more miles on a Huffy in a month than most readers of Bicycling put on their 5k steeds in a year. See? I remember all that. But its real for some people and if I was a People for Bikes Comrade, I’d get a job for a month downtown and ride there from the four points of the compass and then do the review.

      • Patrick O'Grady Says:

        Man, I saw another lulu this afternoon. Dude in a beat-to-shit 1970s-issue Ford pick-’em-up just sailed right on through the light at Candelaria and Tramway headed east.

        I mean, he wasn’t even close to having the green as he cruised across Tramway, with north- and southbound traffic alike hitting the binders and horns more or less simultaneously (your New Mexican will use that horn).

        No idea whether he was drunk, asleep, texting, eating, watching “Game of Thrones,” or some combination of these. One thing he was not doing was paying fucking attention. Good thing the rest of us were. Jesus.

        • Pat O'Brien Says:

          Good thing he didn’t have a new pick up. Then he would have a 9 inch screen in there hooked up to the innertubes. You know, the ones that tell you not to look at the screen when you start the beast up. It’s a safety feature.

        • Patrick O'Grady Says:

          Hal had to drive some Nissan Thunderbucket to an athletics function the other day and said he required the assistance of a teenage girl to make the beast function as desired.

          I’m driving this ’05 Furster until the wheels come off. I shit thee not.

    • JD Dallager Says:

      Bill: Speaking of the 3-feet law; when I was still road cycling, I got a vest that said “3 Feet — It’s the Law” and was phosphorescent yellow. Call it the placebo effect if you will; but I felt like people in cars/trucks gave me more room when I wore the vest.

      And here’s an article on bike lanes in Bibleburg.

      • DownHill Bill Says:

        A friend has been known to ride wearing a T-shirt with a silhouette of an AK-47 on the back, with lettering below saying “Understand?”

        • larryatcycleitalia Says:

          Good luck with that – unless you have a way for that image to pop up on the screens the a-holes in the cars are looking at instead of WTF they are going.

        • khal spencer Says:

          DHB, I’ve thought about riding with one of those WW II tank commander 1911 shoulder holsters and its enclosed compliment, but that doesn’t keep you safe if you get hit from behind. Plus, the rig probably weighs more than most modern bike frames.

  8. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Somewhere in all this commenting, I missed an important point in you post. Are you trying to tell us that you actually SOLD a bike at this year’s bike swap? Are we to believe there is an empty hook in your garage? Is shit actuallly Shinola? Did the dumpster turn into a climate change champion. Am I delusional?

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I did, Paddy me boyo. But it wasn’t one of ours. Herself is helping an acquaintance unload some stuff in preparation for a move (involving a dramatic downsizing) and the bike belonged to her.

      I thought, briefly, about selling a couple of my own bikes. Briefly. After the 2009 Ride Your Own Damn Bikes Festival I remembered how much I like every single one of them.

  9. khal spencer Says:

    I still give The People’s Republic of Fanta Se a C- for cycling, with its bike unfriendly arterials and disconnected trails. Its far easier to get around here in a car. To get from Casa Solana to Whole Paycheck or Trader Joe’s on a bike, I prefer to ride up to Guadalupe and back down again rather than take my life into my hands on the direct route, St. Francis Drive. Using the Rail Trail means running a gauntlet of speeding cars across St. Michaels. And the NMDOT widened Cerrillos to the point where there is room to turn the USS Abraham Lincoln. So car is still king.

    Once you fuck up a place, its hard to find the money to fix it. At least in BombTown, we had far less traffic and those on the road generally had something to lose: a Q clearance. Many still drove badly, but there was not the sense of anonymity you get in a big city. I chased a guy down once who hassled me with his car and scared the shit out of him when I told him I would report him for workplace violence on a Dept. of Energy road.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      I had more negative interactions with motorists in Fanta Se than in any other place I’ve lived. And I’ve lived in a helluva lot of places.

      Fewest hassles? This might surprise some city folks, but that would be Weirdcliffe. Fewer assholes per acre. If I was crouched at roadside fixing a flat people would stop their pick-’em-ups to ask if I needed a lift or some tools.

      What Fanta Se needs is what we wisenheimers at The New Mexican discussed back in the Eighties — a big wall around the pretty bits and car parks outside said wall at regular intervals. Want to see the Plaza? The galleries on Canyon Road? Park the Preponderance, and bring/rent a bicycle or take shanks’ mare.

  10. JD Dallager Says:

    Nearly overlooked the new banner. Nice job!

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