First impressions from Davis, that other Platinum-rated city

Posted by on July 24th, 2008 at 2:04 am

The Sprockettes in Davis-3-2.jpg

Davis loves bikes.
(Photos © J. Maus)

Portland might have been the first big city to garner the League of American Bicyclists’ coveted “Platinum” bicycle-friendly community rating, but Davis is a small town in central California that has held the honor since September of 2005.

I arrived in Davis this afternoon and so far, I can say they definitely deserve it.

Even with school out for the summer (Davis is home to UC Davis, a major college), bikes are everywhere. Later today I’ll get a more comprehensive look at their famous bikeway network and facilities (via a tour from a local), but I thought I’d share some initial impressions after my first evening in town.

Davis bike scenes-1-2.jpg

Comfortable and calm.

The first thing I noticed was the town’s official logo — a bike. It’s emblazoned on concrete trash barrels throughout the city and it sets a nice, welcoming tone if you’re a bike lover.

Once into town I immediately sensed the bike traffic; two or three bikes at every intersection, bikes parked in front of businesses, people walking bikes on sidewalks. The other thing I noticed was that the people seemed comfortable on their bikes, almost serene. And the majority of them were not wearing helmets. This was in stark contrast to San Francisco, where I noticed an almost warrior-like, battle-weary countenance on most bike commuters (and a corresponding high rate of helmet use).

Of course I realize the two cities are vastly different in size and traffic volume, but the comparison struck me nonetheless.

Another thing you can’t miss in downtown Davis is the bike parking. I walked by a Bank of America and saw several rows of bike racks placed right up front and center (just like they should be).

bike scenes from Davis-7.jpg

A buffer for bikes and plenty of room
for pedestrians.

Walking on the sidewalks with my family I also noticed a subtle but very appreciated feature of their streetscape — a 7-8 foot wide buffer between parked cars and the pedestrian space. This buffer not only makes for a much more pleasurable walking experience, but it also provides a natural (and quite perfect) space for bike parking that does not clutter up the sidewalk.

We eventually made our way to the Davis Farmers Market. There were hundreds and hundreds of bikes at the park for the event. I even saw a group of people picnicking next to a bakfiets (which, according to the sticker on the cargo bin was purchased from Portland’s own Clever Cycles bike shop), which was parked next to a bike with an Xtracycle kit — a scene that could have easily passed for Portland.

bike scenes from Davis-2.jpg

The Farmers Market parking lot.
bike scenes from Davis-4.jpg

Portland or Davis?

In the park, and all through town, I noticed people of all ages riding bikes. From little kids riding 12-inch wheeled bikes in the bike lane, to 60-somethings on matching Trek mountain bikes, and young couples on tandems, biking appeals to everyone in Davis.

At the Sprockettes performance (which was awesome as usual, see photos here), the creative side of Davis’ bike culture was on display. Several freak bike showed up:

bike scenes from Davis-2.jpg bike scenes from Davis-8.jpg bike scenes from Davis-1.jpg bike scenes from Davis-4.jpg

After the performance, the locals led a mini-mass of about 20 or so riders on a parade through downtown that included an impromptu dance session on a bike path and ended with a mellow, outdoor party on the campus of UC Davis.

The Sprockettes in Davis-8.jpg

Chicken fight!
A bike parade in Davis-6.jpg

Bike parade!

Later today I hope to get a guided tour of Davis’ legendary bikeway facilities. They’ve got bike tunnels, bike signals, bike roundabouts (no stop signs!), and even a few interesting bike people.

Stay tuned.

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n8mJohn RussellAndy B from Jerseyhuey lewisDante Recent comment authors
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Klixi
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Klixi

I think I just fell in love with Davis, CA.

Chris Sullivan
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Chris Sullivan

During your tour, see if you can get up to Community Park and take the bridge across Covell, and then follow the green belt up to the Northstar Park wetland. That was my favorite spot to take my daughter in the Burley when we lived there.

Dante
Guest
Dante

Hi Jonathan,

Are the forums down? My friends and I get an error when we attempt to load the page at http://bikeportland.org/forum/.

Fritz
Guest
Fritz

Davis is flat….anyone can ride a bike there.hrrrrruuuummmmph.

Scott Mizée
Guest

Great article, Jonathan. I\’ve been bike curious about Davis for some time. I\’m glad I could experience it some through your eyes.

Steve Brown
Guest

My daughter goes to school at UC Davis which has given my wife and I a source of endless excuses to visit Davis. It is always fun to rent bikes for a weekend and just roll around town. It is the only way to get around campus in a timely manner. I do not care that it is warm, mostly dry and flat. Davis shows how easy it is to cover a lot of ground with bike. If I ever figure out the magic needed to fund velodromes, Davis is on the list. Very cool place.

Brad
Guest
Brad

After reading this my question is, \”Why is Portland deserving of Platinum status?\”

Davis seems easier to traverse and a peaceful coexistence of all road users exists. Their facilities make our miles of paint look downright laughable.

KT
Guest
KT

Dante– I\’ve been getting the same error. Attempted to contact JMaus about it, but am not entirely confident that my email went through. 🙁

K-Tesh, can you help?? You\’re pretty forum-savvy!

Andy
Guest
Andy

I\’m sure he\’s flooded with emails about it. Probably means it\’s something that can\’t just be rebooted (i.e. something the hosting service could do)

Which means we\’ll just have to suffer until he can get back to it and give the server a slap it so richly deserves.

We just gotta hold oonnnnnnn! 🙂

Forseti
Guest
Forseti

I bet their cops don\’t ignore aggressive motorists and target cyclists for petty traffic offenses, either, right? Platinum my ass.

And Jonathan, as has been noted, the forums are down again. Probably you can\’t fix things from Davis, but it sure would be nice ot have them back…

Allie
Guest
Allie

I grew up in Davis and thought it was completely normal for parents to bike to work and kids to bike to school from age 8 on up. I got a ride from my mom maybe 3 days a year when it was REALLY raining. As a teenager I biked to the mall, the movies, miles across town to see a boy. A fave pastime of townies – sipping coffee outdoors in September and watching all the incoming UCD freshmen try and ride a bike!

JP
Guest
JP

I wonder what the cost of living is compared to Portland? My wife and I are very limited in where we will live, because we refuse to own a car. Once she graduates naturopathic med school, I\’m not sure if we\’re going to have to move for jobs. Davis would maybe be an option if housing was comparable. Anybody know?

Boo Boo
Guest
Boo Boo

I\’ve visited Davis over a decade ago and yes it\’s great for biking. But I think the comparisons to Portland are a stretch. Sure, Portland should look at Davis\’ innovations and steal some of their successful ideas. However, Davis, as another comment said, is warm, dry and FLAT. Plus the population is 64,000. The City of Portland is 9 times larger at 530,000 and the Portland metro area is 2.1 million. Davis is a college town, life revolves around UC Davis. It\’s population is highly educated and it\’s expensive. The median home price is $500,000 compared to Portland\’s $275,000. So, yes, you can enjoy the awesome bike amenities of Davis…if you can afford to live there.

Mark C
Guest
Mark C

My wife graduated from UC Davis, and we always fantasized about getting a place there when we were living in the Sacramento area. At the time, though, you couldn\’t get into anything decent in town for much less than $500k. We finally decided to move to Portland to get what we were looking for at a price we could (barely) afford.

JP, the housing crunch has hit the Sacramento area hard, and even Davis has been affected to some degree, but I still wouldn\’t expect anything close to downtown to have dropped in price too much. 🙁

Me2
Guest
Me2

Great story Jonathan. It would be interesting to hear the local police angle on traffic enforcement and bikes. I worked with someone from Davis years ago and he mentioned to me that they had a very strict stop sign law. No track stops. The cyclist must come to a complete stop and put both feet on the ground before proceeding through an intersection.

Nice observation about the contrast with SF.

LOL at the folks who are chiding about PDX\’s Platinum status. Not to downgrade any of Davis\’ achievements, but it is a wee bit more of a challenge for a 500k city with a metro pop of 1.5 million to achieve platinum than a college town with 65,000 people.

Chris Sullivan
Guest
Chris Sullivan

\”I wonder what the cost of living is compared to Portland?\”

JP – I moved my family from Davis to Portland b/c we couldn\’t afford a house there. When we left, $550K bought you a duplex that needed some work. Prices have come down some, but Davis bought up all the land around the town to control sprawl. Prices are going to stay high there.

After living in Portland for a few years now, I don\’t think I\’d go back to Davis. It gets really hot there in the summer (110+ some days), and water is going to be a problem. And unless you work for the university, you\’ll be commuting somewhere along Hwy 80. I did that for 6 years, and it caused me a lot of stress.

Pete
Guest
Pete

In your picture above I note the expensive SUV with the bike transport… maybe some people just don\’t get it? 😉

My old roommate lives in Davis and says there are lots of trails for mountain biking too – just no mountains.

Werner
Guest
Werner

Jonathon, while you are there, bike over to Sudwerk Brewery and polish off a liter.

Steve Brown
Guest

You can\’t get around the UC Davis campus without a bike. The whole campus is one big bike path. Housing is expensive, it is bloody hot in the summer and is still a small town. But it does show just how well bikes work and what a wonderful solution they can be.

matchu
Guest
matchu

I too have heard from a former student at UC Davis that cyclists are required to set a foot on the ground at a stop sign before advancing. Merely arresting any advancement of the wheels is not enough (i.e. track stands are not permitted). This leads to some ridiculous situations where people will roll up to an empty intersection and tap their foot on their ground so as to meet the requirements for a \”stop\”.

fredlf
Guest
fredlf

Have you seen the hills in SF? They would make any commuter look battle-weary! Well, that and that nutbar anti-car activist who blocked bike infrastructure development…

I agree with those who say Davis doesn\’t really compare to PDX, but it is a splendid example of how great a small to mid-size town can be when all of its transportation infrastructure is not dedicated to cars. It makes downtown a pleasure to stroll around and relaxes the whole pace of daily life. Ahhh.

revphil
Guest

viva the Davis Bike Church!

KJ
Guest
KJ

That\’s my hometown. *sigh* I grew up riding my bike to school and, well, everywhere else. I miss it a lot. too bad it\’s frikin\’ expensive to live there. It\’s a fantastic small city. Not just for bikes, but for arts! and education! the school system was amazing, when I was there. Great place to live. Davis rocks.

Graham
Guest
Graham

Wow, I had no idea. I knew of Davis as the home of DJ Shadow… and that\’s about it 😛

Makes me want to visit.

Paul Tay
Guest

Yeah, yeah, yeah, whatever. Grass is ALWAYS greener on the other side, ain\’t it? I am really feeling back to NORMAL in Tulsa. Back to the daily grind of fighting the barbarians enclosed in two tons of metal, glass, and rubber.

Actually, because of tag-team fearless duo of Santa and Biker Fox, most motorists have changed their tunes a bit.

Why don\’t you guys come see me in Tulsa sometime? I got YARD. You need TENT.

hanmade
Guest
hanmade

Paul Tay, you are good at bringing us back to earth. Davis sounds so good, what is left to do? Portland is great for the challenges and opportunities to create a better place for bikes on a really large scale. Don\’t give up the fight! It will make you stronger..

ghindo
Guest
ghindo

Really interesting article, and I\’m enjoying the comments just as much. I never knew that Davis was so bike-friendly! (Like another commenter said, I only knew it as the home of DJ Shadow :p)

It\’s very promising to compare Portland to other bike-friendly cities and see what ideas are working for them, and what we are doing well ourselves. I hope Portland can consider adopting some of Davis\’ ideas.

Looking forward to the next post!

Adam
Guest
Adam

I think a trip to Davis might need to be in my near future.

Mister Viddy
Guest

I grew up in Sacramento and Davis has always been a great biking city. Being a smaller community its not possible to compare Davis to Portland but it can show us how a community approach to cycling can make a difference.

Darkness Merkin
Guest
Darkness Merkin

Davis is awesome. You should all move there.

Boo Boo
Guest
Boo Boo

Darkness Merkin. You hit the head on the nail!

Eric
Guest
Eric

Davis is great for cycling, but anyone who enjoys the community and culture of a city like Portland would not enjoy living there. I lived there for years and maybe things have changed since I moved in 2004, but although it was a great place for a bike mechanic, it wasn\’t great for much else. Go out at 11pm on a Friday night even during the school year and aside from a few frat/sorority type bars the city is a ghost town. There is also very little diversity and it is an excellent example of the complications of \”liberal\” small cities – serious restrictions on development have done a great job curbing sprawl (not that its super compact, but compared to everything else around Sac) but in turn have driven home prices so high that only old white yuppies can afford to settle there. The farmers\’ market is decent for the size of the town, but there\’s not a whole lot else that goes on there – with all those bikes there is nothing remotely like the bike scene in Portland, even a scaled down version.

David Feldman
Guest
David Feldman

The rural counties around Davis also have some of the craziest, meanest,scariest redneck drivers you\’ll ever share a road with. I rode 3 Davis Double Centuries in the 1970\’s and have toured in the are more recently. My wife and I made the mistake of telling a restaurant waitress in Clear Lake that we were cycle touring–we then received a mini-lecture on how locals don\’t like cyclists on the roads and how one particular road was a cyclists\’ graveyard (not statistically true) thus earning the entirety of her $0.01 tip and scaring us sleepless for that night.

007
Guest
007

The lack of bike parking and improperly installed bike racks (too close to walls or curbs) on Portland sidewalks is definitely something that needs to be rectified.

JW
Guest
JW

You big city folk scoff at our Platinum status?!?!1?

Can\’t we all just get along? Where\’s the love people? You bike. We bike. We ALL get to bike!

And we tried hills… Old timers still tell of the time the city council tried to move some hills into town to make it more interesting… I don\’t know all the details, but needless to say Vacaville and Winters did not appreciate our mid-night perloinment.

After that, they passed an ordinance to allow days\’ high temps to go over 100 F. Yeah, still not a hill. But it feels like the whole ride is uphill….

Um, …what\’s wrong with stopping at the stop signs?

And campus-centric? Really? I can go a full year without setting foot on campus. It even happened one time….

Tristan
Guest

Funny that I\’m just getting into biking and my wife and I just moved to Portland from the first place we were going to move…Davis. But the apartment we were renting fell through.

That\’s all. 🙂

RyNO Dan
Guest
RyNO Dan

RIP Green streets.
No to making home owners subsidize motor vehicle transport.
5% was cheap to buy off the special interest group.

Myra
Guest

Great now even more people will be dangerous on bikes.

Dante
Guest
Dante

I\’m dangerous whether I\’m on my bike or taking a nap, baby.

huey lewis
Guest
huey lewis

007 @ 34: like the new rack at movie madness. i\’ve left notes in my returned movies for a long time that they need more bike parking and the (one) new rack they install is too close to the building to be of any use.

central california is way too hot. we moved down to stockton for a while in my youth and +100 was regular and +110 was not out of the question either. 119 was the hottest i\’ve ever experienced. no thanks. as a kid that was rad as swimming was a daily occurrence. thanks to dad for moving us back up here…

Andy B from Jersey
Guest
Andy B from Jersey

Davis is the only place in North America where I actually felt perfectly safe riding my bike (Victoria BC comes close too but thats because there aren\’t many cars in town).

The helmet came off before the end of my stay last September as I felt Davis was as safe as any city in Denmark or the Netherlands for cycling. BTW the locals authorities are anti adult helmet law too!

Thank goodness I\’ve got a close friend who lives in Davis. Gives me an excuse to visit often!

John Russell
Guest

The forums are down for me as well. Internal server error it tells me on both Mac and PC. I\’m starting to getting forum withdrawal.

n8m
Guest
n8m

Looks like too many people are safely riding bikes there… which is dangerous. A bicycle helmet law would bring those numbers down and make bicycling more dangerous for them. Maybe Senator Floyd Prozanski can enlighten them with some helmet-law legislation.

Thank for the great coverage Jonathan. Looking forward to hearing more about your time in Davis.