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4 things U.S. college towns could teach planners about biking

Posted by on November 20th, 2013 at 10:04 am

Thousands of bicycles
The University of Oregon campus in Eugene.
(Photo by Gene Bisbee.)

Here’s a secret you won’t hear often: The United States has many cities where biking is far more popular than in Portland.

Two of them are just a two-day bike trip away.

They’re called college towns. And it’s time for urban planners to stop ignoring how well they work and start learning from them.

Here’s a list of U.S. cities of 65,000 or more residents in which workers are likelier to commute by bike than Portlanders are:

  • Davis, Calif. – 19.1% of workers commute by bike
  • Boulder, Colo. – 12.1%
  • Palo Alto, Calif. – 9.5%
  • Eugene, Ore. – 8.7%
  • Cambridge, Mass – 8.5%
  • Fort Collins, Colo. – 7.9%
  • Berkeley, Calif. – 7.6%
  • Santa Barbara, Calif. – 6.9%
  • Madison, Wisc. – 6.3%
  • Missoula, Mont. – 6.2%

Portland’s estimate, meanwhile, was at 6 percent for 2012, just ahead of Gainsville, Fla. Corvallis, Ore., which is home to Oregon State University and a bike commute mode share just short of 11 percent, would rank third nationally if it were large enough to make the 65,000 population cut.

The data comes from the U.S. Census, and it’s part of a report published yesterday by the League of American Bicyclists. The numbers don’t include commuting to school. Census estimates measure work commutes only, though these totals do include students who also work day or night jobs and the thousands of people that the local universities employ.

Here’s why colleges are terrific at encouraging biking, and what Portland and other cities should be learning from them:

Universities breed 20-minute neighborhoods.
Pearl Street
Pearl Street in Boulder.
(Photo by Let Ideas Compete)

You know those beautiful live-work areas that urban planners dream about and work endlessly to encourage, using sledgehammer-sized binders of regulation? Those Greenwich Village-style four-story walkups romanticized by Jane Jacobs in the early 1960s? That describes most traditional college campuses. The existence of these tightly planned communities, which engineeer biking and walking to be pleasant, safe and popular, explains why almost every university in the country also has a walkable commercial neighborhood within a few blocks of campus that becomes an attraction for the whole city. In other words, low-car life is contagious.

For cities, this means that one highly successful low-car neighborhood or development will beget another.


Universities create car-free spaces.
Harvard Lawn @ Cambridge
Harvard.
(Photo by Reinhard Schaffner)

If you’ve ever biked up SW Broadway past Portland State University, you’ve noticed it: students spilling into the bike lane or strutting across the street as if there’s nobody there. That’s not because PSU students and staff are jerks. It’s because they just came from the car-free South Park Blocks, where they haven’t been conditioned to fear for their physical safety every 200 feet. Spaces like this make it harder to get around a city by car — but thanks in part to bikes, people discover that they can get around just fine without one.

For cities, the lesson is that when dense, pleasant development is nearby, “blocking off” areas to cars doesn’t shut areas down. It opens them up.

Universities use public spaces to enable density.
Enjoying the sun at the Terrace
Memorial Union Terrace in Madison.
(Photo by Windelbo.)

It’s a virtuous cycle: The wide open space of college quads and plazas is only possible because students stack themselves like cordwood into dorms and off-campus housing — and students put up with high-density housing only because their environment is rich with other places to spend their time. If you’ve attended a college, you might remember your tiny bedroom but you probably also remember the pleasure of frequently running into friends by happenstance because everyone was spending time elsewhere. That’s the sort of joy that bike-friendly cities create, and it’s a benefit of density that it’s hard to get your head around if you haven’t spent much time recently in public spaces. For biking to be popular, you need proximity; for proximity to be pleasant, you need lots of public space.

For cities, the lesson is that great public placemaking isn’t just icing on the cake of a well-functioning city. It’s part of the recipe.

Universities charge for auto parking.
Sea of Bikes
An event at Colorado State University that couldn’t exist without bicycles.
(Photo by Jeffrey Beall.)

Here’s a list of the 10 largest schools located in the 10 cities we cited above, with the top annual price of an unrestricted faculty/staff surface parking permit at each:

  • UC Davis – $612
  • University of Colorado – $603
  • Stanford – $852
  • University of Oregon – $384
  • Harvard – $1,596
  • Colorado State University – $261
  • UC Berkeley – $1,488
  • UC Santa Barbara – $450
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison – $1,164
  • University of Montana – $185

For major employers in smaller cities, charging anything for parking at all is unusual — but not at universities. Is this because university presidents are environmental zealots on a crusade to decrease auto use? Of course not. It’s because if universities offered auto parking free, people would bring cars to campus whether they needed to or not, and campuses would have to buy lots and lots of land to park them on. It’d also tear up the productive, interactive environment that facilitates education and community. It’s not that universities ban auto transportation; it’s just that they ask people who drive to pay its full cost themselves.

For cites, the lesson is that somehow, after 100 years of handing out free on-street real estate to auto owners, we need to figure out a way to stop. It’s the original sin of our transportation system, and it’s poisoning everything else we want to do with our land.

Too many urban policymakers dismiss college towns as completely different from “real” cities. It’s especially strange since almost every one of them spent years of their own lives in schools just like these — highly productive car-lite communities sitting right under our noses.

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Comments
  • Terry D November 20, 2013 at 10:17 am

    Excellent article. This is why I moved to Madison in my 20′s, then here after that. Public spaces are for people, cars should remain hidden away.

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  • Dweendaddy November 20, 2013 at 10:43 am

    I asked my University’s traffic and parking people what they budget for the cost of building and maintaining an average parking space and they said, “$125/mo.” If you use that metric, despite charging for car parking, all Universities but Harvard and Berkeley still subsidize their car parking to cover the gap between parking pass fee and actual cost.

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    • Joseph E November 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      Land prices are much higher in Cambridge MA and Berkeley CA, so those two universities are also still subsidizing parking. For example, Berkeley has this ~3 acre parking lot which takes up most of a block (it has a soccer field overhead): http://goo.gl/maps/uOuEL

      The blocks next door each house over 1000 students who pay $14,000 each per school year (not including Summer) for a shared dorm room. That’s over $15 million per year. The parking lot is about the same size and has 967 spaces renting at $1488 a year – less than $1.5 million. The residential dorms produce 10 times the economic value on the same land. And the dorms at Berkeley always fill up.

      So even at Berkeley, university parking is somewhat subsidized

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      • naess November 26, 2013 at 3:37 pm

        sorry, but the real crime in your example is the $14k a school year just for housing!

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  • AndyC of Linnton November 20, 2013 at 11:12 am

    Some good memories of growing up in a college town, car-less wise. Probably formed a lot of my ideas about transit and transportation.
    Sure, cars were everywhere, but it was possible not to use one for a lot of activity in the town core, and it kind of made me not want to use one whenever possible.
    Madison is a great town, I must attest. The main strip there is closed off to autos, up to the university, if I remember right. Kinda made me think every town/city should have their main street closed to auto use.

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  • Scott H November 20, 2013 at 11:18 am

    It seems that Portland and other cities don’t realize that they’re subsidizing all of their enormous car parking spaces in the middle of dense urban areas, at the same time they’re trying to find a solution to overcrowding in dense urban areas.

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  • maccoinnich November 20, 2013 at 11:20 am

    Michael: Powell’s also sells (the excellent, must read) Death and Life of Great American Cities.

    http://www.powells.com/biblio/7-9780679741954-13

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  • spare_wheel November 20, 2013 at 11:32 am

    Davis is an infamous example of “Build it and they stop coming.”

    Cycling mode share in Davis plummeted from close to 28% in 1980 to 14% in 2000. Moreover, this precipitous drop occurred despite the presence of the best cycling infrastructure in North America (including protected lanes).

    http://www.des.ucdavis.edu/faculty/handy/Davis_bike_history.pdf
    (Portland’s own Ted Buehler is an author.)

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    • Xydeco November 20, 2013 at 11:51 am

      What did they build to have such an effect?!

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    • Emily G November 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm

      Seems like Davis was in a rut then like Portland is now, but from the looks of this recent report, they’re rebounding very nicely, adding new protected lanes connected to schools and bike-oriented development.

      http://www.santamonicanext.org/mainstreaming-bicycling-lessons-from-davis-california/

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    • Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) November 20, 2013 at 12:48 pm

      spare_wheel, the problems at Davis were much more complicated than simply infrastructure. During the bubble boom, they experienced a huge influx of residents from the Bay Area — many of whom had no awareness or care of the local legacy/traditions regarding bicycling. That population pressure impacted not just streets and local culture, it also impacted politics. I’m no expert on Davis, but I have a strong hunch that your analysis lacks some key contextual factors.

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      • spare_wheel November 20, 2013 at 1:09 pm

        i agree and certainly don’t believe that infrastructure contributed to the decline. i just think Davis serves as a cautionary tale that infrastructure alone is not enough.

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    • Chris I November 20, 2013 at 1:10 pm

      Correlation does not equal causation.

      I could use that same data to infer that computers caused people to stop riding bikes in Davis. There were way more computers in 2000 than there were in 1980, man!

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    • Nathan November 20, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      But at least two other American cities have
      become equally interesting case studies in policy development—Boulder, CO and Portland, OR. Both of these cities had populations of bicycle advocates in the 1990s that opened policy windows around 2000, resulting in major improvements to bicycling. Now enthusiastic Public Works departments are retrofitting Portland and Boulder into very good bicycling environments. Portland now has many more bicycle commuters than Davis, and Boulder may have a higher bicycle commute mode share. In ten years, these cities will certainly be lauded in the same way Davis was in the 1970s, having achieved what had never been done before and that few believed was possible.

      Well, the paper was published in 2007… we’re more than half way to the 10 year mark. Has Portland truly achieved what had never been done before yet? I think we need to pick up the pace!

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      • spare_wheel November 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

        Nope and the sense of urgency seems to be fading. I think the “it’s better than nothing” reaction by many on this blog to current plans for Foster was a depressing example of this. Was the Sam Adams era the highpoint of cycling in PDX?

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  • Ethan November 20, 2013 at 12:07 pm

    Having attended Chico State just prior to moving here, this theme has certainly crossed my mind. Great piece.

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  • wilf November 20, 2013 at 12:28 pm

    Miss Boulder’s unbelievable bike paths. So many are way away from cars, next to streams, under roads.

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  • Nikko November 20, 2013 at 12:32 pm

    Nice article. It had me recounting my days at Florida State University. We did things a bit differently in Tallahassee, FL. FSU charged every student for parking regardless of their auto use. I lived two blocks from campus and had the pleasure of subsidizing drivers every day. Parking was most definitely an issue on campus and the surrounding neighborhoods.

    Did anyone notice the nice dog park at Banfield on NE Tillamook/82nd was recently cut in half for parking lot expansion? Banfield incentivizes their employees to not drive by charging $100/month to park, but it still wasn’t enough. Too bad.

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  • Tim Davis November 20, 2013 at 12:57 pm

    I loved seeing the picture of Madison, my alma mater. :) Their cycle track on University Blvd that I used in the 1980s is STILL the best (and by FAR the most popular) cycle track I’ve ever seen.

    The bike percentages are incredibly misleading, though, because, for example, Boulder, Palo Alto and Cambridge are anything BUT self-contained communities. The overwhelming percentage of people who work in Boulder (a city with which I’m incredibly familiar, having lived in Denver for way too long) live in a huge number of horrible, 100% car-dominated suburbs that sprawl continuously between Denver and Boulder. Very few people can afford to live in Boulder (or Palo Alto or Cambridge), so probably 95% of people who work in Boulder arrive by car. In Cambridge, there is absolutely zero reason to drive. However, I imagine that most jobs in Cambridge are filled by people living many miles away from Cambridge.

    Corvallis and Eugene are much better examples of places where very impressively high percentages of people bike to work because they are not drawing people to their job offices from suburban areas exceeding 1 million people and covering many miles. Even my beloved Madison is starting to sprawl pretty alarmingly. And Minneapolis, despite its great bike trails and wonderful civic initiatives, is one of THE most sprawled cities imaginable (granted, they have tons of beautiful lakes that draw people 50 miles out in every direction).

    So, as much as love all of the university towns presented in this very well-written (as always, Jonathan!) article, we HAVE to look at the larger picture, namely, the suburbs. If we don’t massively reign in Ponzi-scheme suburban development (and actually reward such development), we will face very dire consequences on every level: health, financially, socially, etc.

    With all that said, I hope that, like Jonathan says, these university towns can provide a blueprint for how to develop cities for PEOPLE rather than cars.

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    • Michael Andersen (News Editor) November 20, 2013 at 5:18 pm

      Pretty good points, Tim. It’s definitely not 95% of Boulder workers commuting from out of town, though — more like a third or so, since there are about twice as many jobs in Boulder as there are residents with jobs. (I’m assuming that about a sixth of workers who live in Boulder commute to Denver or other cities.)

      If you calculate mode share based on people who work in Boulder rather than live there — and I think you make a good case that we should — it’s 5.8%. The number for Portland, meanwhile, is 4.3%; for Davis, 14.4%; for Eugene, 6.5%; and for Cambridge, 4.6%.

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      • Tim Davis November 20, 2013 at 9:39 pm

        Great point, too, Michael!! And by 95%, what I said was that an overwhelming majority of Boulder workers do not arrive by bike. I wasn’t saying that the overwhelming majority (as in over 90%) do not live in Boulder. Those are different things. However, I would definitely say that well over half of Boulder’s workers arrive from suburbs–and often from over 50 miles away. The numbers definitely get confusing, especially when trying to isolate Boulder from its suburban neighbors in any kind of meaningful quantitative way.

        Anyway, Eugene and Corvallis definitely move up when all the “important” factors are considered LOL! :)

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    • Terry D November 21, 2013 at 8:48 am

      Tell me about it when it come to “Poor Madison.” My friend Scott was on the Dane county board of supervisors in the 1990′s and was instrumental in killing the north belt-line and limiting growth…for a while….but now it has gotten so bad that he has given up after 20+ years there and is moving here in Jan. All their limits were removed and the sprawl has spread out like a cancer. From his perspective, the “Walkerstan reforms” have decimated any smart growth in the state and poor Madison is experiencing a progressive “brain drain” as people are leaving in droves.

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      • Tim Davis November 21, 2013 at 1:49 pm

        Great comments about these college towns, everyone!

        I’ll be in Madison just before Christmas (in Milwaukee), and I’ll try to get a better idea of how things are going there. I’ll also be in the Twin Cities, but it’ll be like 20 below out, so it won’t be the best time to get the latest on the cycling scene. :)

        Large college campuses and their immediate surroundings really do have VERY different populations than the normal, especially when you factor in the suburbs, where most Americans live. Keep the great ideas flowing, though, and hopefully we can find a way to make places like Beaverton, Gresham, Vancouver and Portland itself (especially east of 82nd) develop in ways that can at least somewhat begin to resemble the wonderful people-friendly atmospheres and development patterns that we find at/near major college campuses.

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  • Tim Davis November 20, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Oops, I meant to say Michael, not Jonathan. You guys both do a ridiculously amazing job–I don’t know how you do it all!

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  • Kirk November 20, 2013 at 1:33 pm

    Great post, Michael!

    When reading this, I was pleasantly surprised to find Missoula having a higher % of people biking than Portland. I’ve visited there many times, it is a wonderful city that does provide beautiful public places. The overall bike infrastructure needs to catch up some, but I think it is telling how a city with semi-poor bike infrastructure can attract more riders, likely as you suggest due to providing great public places free of cars.

    However, it isn’t as if they aren’t trying to make up for their poor infrastructure from the past, as you can see (http://goo.gl/maps/9yHkF) they have recently installed a *real* physically separated cycle track (via grade & color separation) along one of their bustling business corridors not all that close to campus. Now THAT is showing actual commitment for the future of biking in the city, something Portland hasn’t done along a major business corridor – ever. How long do we have to wait before that happens here?

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  • Kirk November 20, 2013 at 1:49 pm

    For those that say ‘it is just too hard to take cities with their main thoroughfares and re-engineer the way they operate because college campuses are a completely different animal and they were able to start from scratch’, I have the following example of something that is sort of opposite:

    Take for example the college campus in Delft from back in 2004. I used Google Earth and its ‘Time Machine’ feature to get an aerial image of what the main road through campus looked like from back then. Check out the image and the red line indicating the roadway I want you to view at the following link: https://db.tt/VzJ85E8e ….. notice the large numbers of cars parked along that stretch and the asphalt cutting across that entire area.

    Now………explore that same area here: http://goo.gl/maps/oOmiV … they removed the roadway and parking areas and in exchange had valuable space that they were able to take advantage of and therefore created bike paths, walking paths, and public areas to be enjoyed by anyone. THIS (http://goo.gl/maps/5oBA6) used to be a roadway & parking lots for cars.

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  • Puddlecycle November 20, 2013 at 3:19 pm

    spare_wheel
    Nope and the sense of urgency seems to be fading. I think the “it’s better than nothing” reaction by many on this blog to current plans for Foster was a depressing example of this. Was the Sam Adams era the highpoint of cycling in PDX?
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    Thanks for reminding me – we only have a year to double our numbers before Godzilla returns to punish us for our folly! Let’s do it! p.s.: excellent article, Michael.

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  • dwainedibbly November 20, 2013 at 4:59 pm

    I lived in Gainesville, FL from 1976-77 and 1982-2010 except for 1994-1998. Trust me, Gainesville is nothing like Portland. Prior to 1994, Gainesville had lots & lots of bike commuters. I mean, at some places in the morning there were crowds beyond anything that you usually see here. When we returned to Gainesville in 1998, that had completely changed.

    The difference? Sometime during those years, the University partnered with the local transit agency to give every Univ of Florida student a transit pass, paid for by an increase in their tuition. The result of that was that students could live farther away from campus, where developers just happened to be building lots of new apartment buildings.

    Lately there has been more in-fill development, so things are probably improving. Summers are crazy hot & humid (78 & fog at 7am, anyone?) but the student population is smaller then, too.

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  • kittens November 21, 2013 at 4:12 am

    One important factor to remember is that college towns often have a lot of kids with little disposable money. Therefore, economic considerations are key in their enthusiastic adoption of bikes. Also, I must add that moving to Eugene for school left me very disappointed. That city has some really bad bike infrastructure as a result of poor transportation budgeting.

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  • Puddlecycle November 21, 2013 at 10:11 am

    Great insights from the people who have lived in these college towns. The moral of the story seems to be that there’s no “done” when it comes to creating bicycle friendly cities – enjoy the victories but only for a minute – then get back on the job. Any more and you’ll soon find you’re living in a parking lot. Work hard – biking is easy. Slack off – biking is hard.

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  • e2pii November 21, 2013 at 4:32 pm

    In Corvallis, at least, another incentive to biking arises from a strong disincentive to driving: cars not being allowed on most cross-campus roads. When you consider that the campus area that is mostly-undriveable is about as big as the core-downtown area, it makes driving very burdensome. By the time you drive around the edge of campus to get to a hot lunch spot, for example, it would have been faster to bike. Not to mention parking is expensive– student parking permits are something like $180 a term (10 weeks). And then you still can’t find a spot in any of the lots near the heart of campus. And yet, even with these disincentives, most (90%?) of the students in my grad department drive, despite >90% of them living close enough to walk or bike.

    I’ll also note that the city bus is free to all Corvallis residents: however, it runs so infrequently and so notoriously off schedule that many people still opt to drive — or bike. A bad bus system is also a good incentive to biking!

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  • Peanut Butter November 22, 2013 at 3:44 am

    I live in Eugene and work near the U of O. I’ve often thought about going through my commuting footage and counting the commuters, especially the female commuters. Everyone says that women don’t ride bikes, but the people I see on bikes here seem to be almost 50/50 male/female.

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  • Jame November 22, 2013 at 11:57 am

    I went to Berkeley and now live in Oakland. In my student days, I didn’t know many people with bikes. But very few people had cars. Berkeley in general is a pain to drive and park in. And living there (as a student) has also shaped my behavior as a driver. I park in the first spot I see, even if I have several blocks till my destination, if I am going near the “core” of a city or commercial area.

    Berkeley is a very compact city. It is only ~ 4 miles E/W and 4 miles N/S. This puts the entire city in easy biking distance. We walked everywhere, and in my final days as a student, our registration fees paid for unlimited bus passes. It is also very pricy, and students moved to the neighboring communities for cheaper housing. Berkeley had extremely limited numbers of parking passes for students, and the city street parking permits were not available to dorm residents, so the combo of policies really fosters transit/walking/biking since there is no other option.

    Oakland is much bigger, about 6-8 miles E/W and 10-12 miles N/S. Some areas of Oakland are very bike friendly, with good infrastructure. Other areas are very hilly, and surrounded by park land, so density is impossible, and biking is only recreational.

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  • Tim Davis November 22, 2013 at 2:04 pm

    I love all this ongoing discussion about college towns!

    I realize that there are SO many factors to consider. One I just thought of is that these places are quite special and unique–and there really can’t be that many of them. Oregon doesn’t have the population to support dozens of high-power university towns such as Eugene.

    Wisconsin is a better example, in fact: there are quite a few ideally sized “college towns” (50K-100K range in population) such as Racine, Kenosha, Green Bay, Oshkosh, Appleton, Eau Claire, Waukesha, etc. However, they can’t all be home to major research universities; there’s just not the money, population, history, land-grant status or need to go around. So, places like Madison, Eugene, Corvallis & Boulder really stand out, somewhat by natural circumstance.

    So, I’m not sure if Madison can really be used as a good example for what Racine should do (the latter will never have that multi-billion-dollar research institution) or if Eugene can serve as an example after which Medford could be modeled in some meaningful way. Perhaps the major college towns are too specialized to serve as good templates? I could be wrong–I kind of hope that I am. :)

    Are there some examples of mid-sized American cities not dominated by major universities that are phenomenal in cycling and reigning in sprawl? Tucson, Chattanooga, Grand Rapids and Greensboro somewhat come to mind. Cities in the 25-100K range that don’t have the advantage of housing world-class universities and yet are still highly bike-friendly and people-friendly might provide the best examples of what suburban America (where the vast majority of our population lives) can do to emulate their success.

    Vernonia is starting to reap benefits of its cycle-friendly ways, and Troutdale could do SO much more, as could Oregon City, Gresham, Forest Grove, etc. There are obvious things that can happen in those areas. But what about Beaverton and Hillsboro? Or do most of us even care? Should we just let them continue to deteriorate into car-choked oblivion, since most of us might tend not to go there? I actually hope that’s not the case. We *should* care about the entire metro area’s bike- and people-friendly development patterns. It affects us all.

    Even Portland is in a slump when it comes to bike-friendliness. For one thing, our trail construction continues to be among the slowest-paced in the entire U.S. The more you travel, the more obvious it is how far behind we’re getting in that area. Hopefully that will pick up very soon!!

    Anyway, keep up the great ideas, everyone! We have the most knowledgeable and helpful readers of any blog out there! And by FAR the most prolific and professional authors!! :)

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  • Deanna November 23, 2013 at 5:35 am

    There are a couple more factors to consider. I used to live in Eugene and now have lived in Boulder for a decade, and we have a large number of people who commute by bus. From the numbers I’ve seen, it’s more like 54% that commute by car, not 95%, which is an enormous difference from the aforementioned estimate by Tim Davis above. ( http://www.bouldereconomiccouncil.org/wp-content/files_mf/2012bouldercommutingpatternsstudyreport.pdf ) In addition, a lot of people do the majority of their commute by bus and then bike the remainder of the way.

    Another very important factor to take into account when comparing cities is year-round bikeability. Boulder has a lot of hard-core cyclists who would bike in any weather, but I’m positive the numbers would be even higher if we didn’t have snow and ice from September through May! Most of the locations listed in California and Oregon (5/10 of the list) have the weather to support biking as a regular practice. And even though we have regular winter weather, Colorado and Montana are still relatively dry. I’m honestly impressed at how high Cambridge and Madison are on the list.

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    • dk12 November 25, 2013 at 7:31 am

      It’s even more impressive considering that Cambridge had really poor bike infrastructure until a few years ago, and something like 25% of the people in the city walk to work. Also – not listed are other neighboring municipalities that have high bike mode share – Somerville, Brookline, and if you only consider Boston’s western neighborhoods, Boston would have Portland-esque bike mode share (some neighborhoods in the city it’s over 10%). What skews the numbers are the fact that you have neighborhoods close in to downtown where over 50% of people walk to work and the rest take public transit, and then there’s the southeastern part of the city where people either drive or take the MBTA – mostly because it’s too far to walk and there is no bike infrastructure there.

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  • dk12 November 25, 2013 at 7:51 am

    Cambridge isn’t really the same as those other “college towns” – it’s part of the core urban area of “the greater Boston area” – which also includes Somerville, and Brookline – in addition to Boston and a few other cities. Somerville and Brookline also have fairly high bike mode share, as do several of the western and closer-in neighborhoods within the city of Boston. There is a lot of cross-commuting between the cities, so a good chunk of those bike commuters in Cambridge are riding into Boston (for example – Mass Ave in Boston – just after the bridge – bikes made up 14% of traffic BEFORE they installed bike lanes). Since the statistics for “Boston” are broken up over several towns and cities, most outsiders don’t realize just how pervasive bike commuting is here.

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  • mtbchuck November 27, 2013 at 11:50 am

    Many (most?) states ban public infrastructure funding at universities from being spent on parking. You can get the money for a new building, but the university is on its own to find the money to build parking to support it. The construction and maintenance of parking facilities is mostly or entirely funded by parking revenue, which leads to large parking fees…the way it should be. How many development projects in the general community would happen if the developer had to bear the full cost of parking?

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  • Art Barton January 7, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    I am pleased that this discussion is taking place. But since it was 1974 when I had the revelation, while riding near a University, that bike riding was the transportation future, and cars had to make way significantly to accommodate, I am a bit dismayed that we have only a little progress since then in displacing easy and free car access with easy bike access around real towns and cities. Universities are fine, but not everyone can live in/around them. Kudos to the Boston area, but here in the Bay Area, we get a D plus grade at best, and that’s only because of San Francisco proper, which finally has gotten a clue about bike commuting as something real (it sure took long enough), also Berkeley, which is very much a real-economy town as well as college town. Palo Alto not so much: not too many people who work outside the Stanford campus live near enough to Palo Alto to safely bike to work. Most cannot afford to, due to highly restrictive Palo Alto zoning decisions. If you outlaw the middle class from living there, you’d better expect them to drive in to work from where they can afford to live.

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  • Roberta Robles July 10, 2014 at 10:39 pm

    Portland contains Oregon’s largest university in terms of student numbers, is nicely served by public transportation. It could be one of these ‘powerhouse’ campus bicycling towns. However it’s bicycling connections onto the bridges are very dangerous. I was hit on my cargo bike trying to get onto the Broadway bridge (westbound), how could I have not been seen on a big cargo bike? Glad my kids weren’t on board. I’m fine, thanks.

    Heading eastbound back over the river is even more dangerous as one has to weave through racing vehicle traffic that is trying to get onto I-5 or I-405. The problem with PSU is its constrained by I-405 and I-5 and the associated interchanges and feeder arterials that dump speeding traffic straight onto a dense university campus.

    The traffic signal lights are intended to move more vehicle traffic onto the freeways and out of the downtown. Fair enough, but what about making safer dedicated bicycle connections across these intersections to the bridges a priority? PSU could have significantly more commuters by bike if the bicycle connections to the bridges and across the river were safer (Broadway, Steel and Hawthorne Bridges). Yeah there are bridge bike lanes but there is always pedestrian congestion during peak commuting time and the connections onto the bridges is the difficult part. The new people’s bridge and bicycle lane will help SE commuters but not inner SE and NE PSU bicycling commuters.

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