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

Buffered Bike Lane with a bike symbol and arrow pointing forward

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“The state [ODOT] rescinded [gave back to the feds because it wasn’t spent] 40% of its allocated 2010 Transportation Enhancements program funding; didn’t spend any highway safety program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.