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Oregon slips to 8th in ‘Bike Friendly States’ rankings

Posted by on May 24th, 2011 at 9:59 am

Ride to Monmouth-15

Oregon State Parks’ Scenic Bikeway
Program wasn’t considered
in the rankings.
(Photo © J. Maus)

New ‘Bicycle Friendly State’ rankings by the League of American Bicyclists put Oregon in 8th place, a loss of three places since last year and the first time since the rankings began in 2008 that Oregon has not made the top five.

Washington retained the #1 spot for the fourth consecutive year followed by Maine, Wisconsin, Minnesota, and New Jersey. Also ranking above Oregon are Iowa and Florida.

What’s wrong with Oregon? Are we in a bike-friendly freefall? Not quite. While Oregon needs to do better to stay among the top bike states in the U.S., the Bicycle Transportation Alliance (BTA) and even the League itself say the ranking system is far from perfect.

To come up with the rankings, the League gave each state an A through F grade in six categories; Legislation, Policies & Planning, Infrastructure, Education & Encouragement, Evaluation & Planning, and Enforcement. Oregon’s overall grade was a C (no one got an A). We received three Bs, two As, and an F in Infrastructure.

“I think it’s a warning sign for us that other states are moving forward at a fast rate and we really need to demonstrate public support for active transportation initiatives.”
— Susan Peithman, BTA statewide advocate

I reached League Executive Director Andy Clarke via email yesterday to ask him why Oregon got that failing grade:

“The state [ODOT] rescinded [gave back to the feds because it wasn’t spent] 40% of its allocated 2010 Transportation Enhancements program funding; didn’t spend any highway safety program funds on bike/ped projects, had low obligation rates… And along with most other states got an F because of that.”

What the League sees as lackluster performance in spending federal money on bicycle and walking projects plagued not just Oregon, but many states. 38 states got an F in Infrastructure, no one got an A, and Maine got the only B.

But like many rankings, the devil is in the details.

Clarke tells us they’re aware “a lot of great things going on in Oregon,” but points out that not all of them are captured by the Bike Friendly State evaluation process. “We collect easily and publicly available information… we don’t capture things like the Scenic Bikeway Progam [a stellar program run by Oregon State Parks].”

The BTA’s statewide advocate Susan Peithman says the League’s rankings are an important measuring stick, but the federal funding process is “extraordinarily complicated” and doesn’t lend itself well to an apples-to-apples comparison. One problem with the rankings she pointed out is that the League uses FHWA numbers that reflect annual budgets, but ODOT operates on bi-ennial budgets. “That may be part of the problem.”

Even so, Peithman says the rankings have helped the BTA start a dialogue with Director’s office at ODOT about recissions and other federal spending issues.

“We have a dialogue going with our state DOT,” Peithman told us this morning, “we’ve got a lot of improvement to do, but we’ve also come along way as well.”

Peithman sees Oregon’s slip in the rankings as a call for people to get engaged.

“I think it’s a warning sign for us that other states are moving forward at a fast rate and we really need to demonstrate public support for active transportation initiatives.” Pointing to a recent letter from ODOT director Matt Garrett sticking up for federal biking and walking policies, Peithman added that, “Everyone can help make bike spending a priority for your elected officials at every level.”

— Read more about the League’s Bike Friendly State rankings here.

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40 thoughts on “Oregon slips to 8th in ‘Bike Friendly States’ rankings”

  1. Avatar Dave says:

    Having lived in Wisconsin for 4 years (MKE), I have to say that there is NO way that state could compete with OR. Madison is a small enclave that has a great bike culture, but residents often display an extreme loathing for any person who rides a bike on public roadways. It wasn’t odd to be yelled at or swerved at 3-4 times on my commute to work (~11 miles). There were almost no bike lanes, in stark contrast to Oregon, and I would be shocked if one person ever yielded to a person who was walking and/or biking. The ‘infrastructure’ is downright terrible and education/planning : Non-Existent. In fact, Governor Walker is/has cut any of funding bicycle transportation from the budget and is a staunch advocate for automobile spending only. He returned all of the high-speed rail money because he couldn’t turn it around and spend it on widening highways. Legislatively, they fail again.

    This study has to be severely flawed as biking in Oregon seems so simple and intuitive. Planning is much better as well as legislative support. Bike advocacy and education is huge here. Sunday Parkways? Rankings should be thrown out.

  2. Avatar Mike Meade says:

    Oregon is an amazing place to ride a bike. If there are truly seven other states in the Union that are as good or friendlier than Oregon, we have reason to celebrate! This is an amazing change in the way transportation works for the USA!

  3. Avatar ME 2 says:

    This seems like they use a classic what have you done for me lately approach where incremental changes from year to year are heavily weighted. I think overall Oregon is more bike friendly than most of the states in front of it. But given the relative baseline differences these other states have been bike friendlier throughout 2010.

  4. Avatar JAT in Seattle says:

    The League probably puts too much emphasis on infrastructure (and we know they love bike lanes) and not enough (if any) emphasis on what i can only call traffic culture. Are there some lovely rails to trails projects in New Jersey? I bet there are. Do I want to ride in Newark? I think not.

  5. Avatar cold worker says:

    last year on my coast trip all i heard from everyone i encountered was that the oregon leg was far nicer than anything in washington (i’m not talking natural beauty anywhere here). same thing when i got to and was in california. the oregon stretch was the best, hands down. whatever. lists like this are always lame.

    1. Avatar metropoliscycles says:

      Oregon State Parks are infinitely nicer than either Washington or California. Free showers!

      1. Avatar Art Fuldodger says:


  6. Avatar David M says:

    Coming to Oregon from Florida, I would have to say that there is no possible way that Florida can even remotely compare to Oregon. I’m not sure what criteria they are using to rank states but it is clearly not based on reality. Where I lived in Florida (Orlando) it was all massive highways and bikes were accepted only if you ‘stayed where you belonged’ i.e. off the road. It hasn’t improved from my recent visit to the family. The League of American Bicyclists is clearly living in some sort of fantasy land.

    1. Avatar kevin says:

      Having lived throughout Florida, I totally agree. By any measure (infrastructure, traffic culture, traffic laws, etc), save possibly weather, Florida is one of the worst states to ride a bike. We’ve got to remember that not all of Oregon is Portland, so I’m not shocked to see us bumped down, but any list that places Florida out of the bottom 5-10 is completely worthless.

    2. Avatar davemess says:

      I’ll 3rd, Florida has to be one of the worst places in the country to ride a bike!

    3. Avatar dwainedibbly says:

      I’m with you on that one. I moved to Portland from Gainesville last summer. While Gainesville is one of the most bike-friendly parts of Florida, it’s way above the rest of the state and way below Portland.

  7. Avatar elle says:

    I took my bike to Seattle last week and was impressed by the bike path along water downtown and heading north toward Ballard. But just riding around town on normal streets – Portland feels like it has the more entrenched bike culture.

  8. Avatar SteveD says:

    Having just spent a week in Iowa, I can’t imagine how it could be better for bicycling. There are no bike lanes anywhere. They are in love with rumble strips along highways, too. I think they are doing something with a trail somewhere, but I’ll bet that its gravel. I think ME2 had it right, its a “what have you done for me lately” kind of thing.

  9. Avatar 9watts says:

    They obviously forgot that ‘we have bikeportland!’ That could/should arguably be its own category. I mean how much of what we have to show, not just in terms of what was referred to above as ‘bike culture’ do we have, recognize, defend because we learned about it or it happened because of something written here on bikeportland? I know that for me bikeportland is a HUGE part of my appreciation for biking. It just changes the whole conversation. No make that ‘it is the conversation.’ I’m sure that bikeportland also is useful to and read by folks outside of Portland and Oregon–I don’t mean to overlook that at all.

    And FWIW, not being at the top is always useful to motivate action. And we certainly can improve.
    I mean, like, what are all these cars still doing here?

  10. Avatar Nick says:

    This ranking is a way for ANY state to make the top ten by having a good year bike-wise.

    Florida?! HAH!

  11. Avatar encephalopath says:

    Florida is the most deadliest state to ride a bicycle in the country. LAB needs to check their methodology.

    1. Avatar Art Fuldodger says:

      And it’s not because there’s a ton of cyclists, either. In a week of touring, some of it around Gainesville (big college town and alleged Florida cycling hotbed) i saw very, very few cyclists. Must have been the 70 degree weather keeping ’em in.

      Also, the resources/info the State provides to assist visiting cyclists in route planning is virtually non-existent. Oh, and tnd the land use…the horror!

      1. Avatar dwainedibbly says:

        Gainesville used to have a lot more cyclists until the University of FL starting giving students bus passes as part of their tuition. It killed transportation cycling and simultaneously enabled a lot of sprawl.

    2. Avatar BURR says:

      Florida?!?!? LOL!!!

  12. Avatar wally says:

    Echoing the comments about Florida. I have spent lots of time in Palm Beach, Dade, and Broward counties and apart from some bike lanes and paths along the ocean, it is an overtly hostile and dangerous place to ride. High traffic volumue, high speeds, red light runners, and distracted driving are a terrible combination.

    1. Avatar dwainedibbly says:

      Don’t forget one of the highest cyclist accident and death rates in the country, too.

  13. Avatar GlowBoy says:

    Heavens to Betsy! We’re only in the TOP TEN? Oh, what a horribly inaccurate survey this must be that we’re not NUMBER ONE! I think I’ll go jump off the Sellwood Bridge before it falls into the river.

    Seriously, once we start getting smug and ASSUMING no one can top us, we’ve just given up on actually BEING #1. Sure we’re great! … but staying on top requires a concerted effort to stay ahead of the progress others are making. This same thing happened last year when Bicycling magazine rated Minneapolis more bike-friendly than Portland (a rating with which we agree). I used to live in Seattle, and I watched the same complacent smugness wipe out the drive to fix their huge problems. Don’t let it happen here!

    I’m not intimately familiar with most of the other high-ranked states, but I am with Minnesota. Besides the differences between Minneapolis and Portland (which have been discussed ad infinitum in previous threads) as a state Minnesota a much greater network of long distance multi-use trails that Oregon has to offer, and roads have much better shoulders. On both counts Minnesota is SEVERAL TIMES better than Oregon.

    It’s not uncommon for Oregon highways — even state highways — to have NO SHOULDER whatsoever, not even the 2 feet that qualifies a roadway up in Washington State as “having a shoulder” for purposes of their state bikeway map. (And by the way, yes #1 ranked Washington is considerably better in offering paved shoulders than Oregon is). In Minnesota (partly due to the need to provide room for the snowbanks to pile up in the winter), all state highways have generous shoulders, usually paved, as do many county roads. Overall, drivers are a tad less courteous to cyclists there, but overall it’s MUCH easier to ride across rural Minnesota than across rural Oregon.

    Also, as in Oregon, many small Minnesota towns have grabbed ISTEA money and built bike lanes. Is Minnesota overall a better bike state than Oregon? It depends on your criteria. But to insist that no one can beat Oregon is, ultimately, to become complacent.

    1. Avatar cold worker says:

      we can get in a pissing match over which state is better to bike in, and which city is more bikey, but unless minneapolis and minnesota have made massive, massive improvements in infrastructure (and grew some mountains and picked up ocean front property to even try to touch the beauty of the pacnw) in the 7 years since i’ve been back in the northwest, i’m not buying it. at all. state wide biking might be alright in minnesota but minneapolis was just terrible. some paths around the lakes. big whoop. and the weather…the weather. i won’t start.

  14. Avatar mark kenseth says:

    Let’s all move to W. Virginia and get it in the top 10. 🙂

  15. Avatar spare_wheel says:

    “The state [ODOT] rescinded [gave back to the feds because it wasn’t spent] 40% of its allocated 2010 Transportation Enhancements program funding”

    How is this even possible?

  16. Avatar Mike says:

    Funny how quickly the tone can change. Wasn’t it all about “inbred” cops from small towns with an obvious bias against innocent cyclists just trying to raise money for a charity? I mean they did cite 1% of the riders for a traffic violation. Or all those greedy land and business owners near Lloyd Center (or name your neighborhood/street) not wanting to lose on street parking or a lane of auto traffic.
    Now it’s all about how much worse it is for any other state and there is no way Oregon can be lower than what, top 3? 2nd? 1st?
    Watching the mood swings is like watching Oregon weather, but the underlying theme remains the same: we (cyclists) have been wronged! Here our battleCRYING (on the comments section of BikePortland).
    So many things to be outraged over….

  17. Avatar are says:

    not that a ranking from LAB has much meaning anyway, but on the legislative criterion it might be noted that the league “opposes mandatory side path laws” and far to right laws, both of which we have had on the books since at least the early 80s.

  18. Avatar Liz says:

    It’s sad to admit, but I personally couldn’t agree more. Oregon, and Portland in particular, seems to be – with perhaps the exception of the excellent bike corral program – resting on its laurels far too much, and it shows in its slide down the rankings.

    There seems to be far too much endless self-congratulatory w_____-festing (excuse my potty mouth), at the expense of actual bike infrastructure build-out and action.

    Every week it seems, we see some city official perched on top of a bike box, waxing lyrical about them for the camera. Yet despite this , not a single new bike box has even been constructed in the past three years.

    I feel Portland’s attitude to bike facility expansion also seems too reactionary for the times. I’m sure this isn’t the case, but it’s how it appears, and that matters. It often seems to take a cyclist being injured, or worse, killed in a right hook or whatnot, for the city to sit up correct problems.

    My two cents.

    1. Avatar are says:

      there was a bike box put in at couch and 6th just last year. unfortunately it was exactly the wrong response to a situation created by an inappropriately placed bike lane.

      1. Avatar are says:

        sorry, couch and grand

  19. Avatar davemess says:

    I wonder where LAB will rank Portland, after the whole no MTBing in Forrest park issue. (MTB trail access is a requirement for their city certs.)

  20. Avatar 3-speeder says:

    Having lived in Wisconsin for 2 years now (on Lake Superior for a year and in central WI now), after 13 years living in Portland, I can see how Wisconsin fares well in comparison to Oregon.

    But that doesn’t mean that any WI city is as bicycle friendly as Portland. (Although after just getting back this evening from a few days in Madison, I was pleased by the ‘bikes are everywhere’ feeling again. In addition, I encountered a few pieces of Madison infrastructure that Portland could learn from).

    WI has what is probably the best rural road system in the US that is suitable for bicycle touring and recreation. And WI does an excellent job of publicizing bicycle events that take place all over the state – far superior to the state-wide publicity in OR for bicycle events there.

    I know these LAB rankings are flawed, so they should probably be taken with a grain of salt. But it seems several of the comments above (including Dave’s regarding WI) seem to be based on city-city comparisons. State-state comparisons may come out very different

  21. Avatar was carless says:

    I call bullshit. Last time I went to Washington state, I saw like 3 cyclists. In summer – and I spent 3 days in Seattle!

    I’ve even seen cyclists commuting and cycling in the boonies and rather rural parts of (Willamette Valley) Oregon. There is a veritable cycling revolution in this state, I swear. Its kind of weird. 😛

  22. Avatar cold worker says:

    the other thing that makes rural oregon cycling so awesome is that oregon has a very low pop. density. we’re the 10th? largest state but somewhere in the bottom half of state population. if you want to bike and go camp and not see many people, oregon is a good place to do this in.

  23. Avatar 9watts says:

    Um, the weather and the population density aren’t being ranked by these folks, nor should they. Did you read Jonathan’s article? The evaluation categories are Legislation, Policies & Planning, Infrastructure, Education & Encouragement, Evaluation & Planning, and Enforcement.

  24. Avatar The Entitled Cyclist says:

    Are we really that insecure around here that we let this kind of report upset us? We have it good. Go out and ride and forget about it.

  25. Avatar 007 says:

    Horse pucky!

  26. Avatar DanS says:

    Try riding anywhere else besides inside the city limits of Portland and you will see why Ore. isn’t at the top. All of the roads in this state are ridiculously narrow. None of them have paved shoulders. Look at Skyline. Look at Stafford Rd. Basically, any road leading out of town is way too narrow to ride on safely. It’s getting to the point where I no longer enjoy riding.

    Dave (above) wrote this: “residents often display an extreme loathing for any person who rides a bike on public roadways”. This is just as true in Oregon as it is anywhere else. In fact, it may even be worse; it’s reached a point of us (cyclists) vs. them (non cyclists). When I lived in MN, the fact that I raced bikes was viewed by other people that I knew as a hobby, something that I did for fun and to keep in shape. Here in Oregon, when I tell people that I ride, I get the “Oh. You’re one of THEM” attitude. I’m viewed as one of THEM, the “bikers” who suck up the tax dollars for bike lanes and bike bridges. But I tend to agree with them; just because the government spends money on road paint to create bike lanes and “sharrows”, that doesn’t mean it’s a good place to ride. If Oregon truly wants to be bike friendly they’ll get off their wallets and start widening the roads (which would benefit everyone-cars and bikes alike).

    1. Avatar 9watts says:

      “All of the roads in this state are ridiculously narrow. None of them have paved shoulders.”
      If you will allow me a comparison with the rest of the world, I would like to submit that our roads (lanes) here in the US are the widest of all. People ride bikes all over the world without bike lanes, without dedicated facilities, on much much much narrower roads than we have in this state. I realize that the comparison under discussion here was among states, and I can’t comment on that, but saying that our roads are ‘ridiculously narrow’ is, well, ridiculous.

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