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Portland reclaims #1 spot in Bicycling Mag rankings

Posted by on May 21st, 2012 at 8:27 am

Back on top where we belong.

Bicycling Magazine has just released their 2012 Bike-Friendly Cities rankings and Portland sits atop the heap once again.

Portland was ranked #2 in 2010, which was the last time the rankings came out. Prior to that Portland had earned the top spot every year since 1995. Our defeat to Minneapolis at the hands of Bicycling Magazine’s editors stung a bit; but it was clear that the decision was made more because of how our lead had begun to shrink, not that we were actually #2 (and I’m sure the attention and PR generated by making us #2 figured into the decision as well).

Minneapolis drops to the second spot this time around, with Boulder, Washington D.C., and Chicago rounding out the top five. Here’s the full top ten list (with 2010 rankings in parentheses):

    1. Portland (2)
    2. Minneapolis (1)
    3. Boulder (3)
    4. Washington D.C.
    5. Chicago (10)
    6. Madison, WI (7)
    7. New York City (8)
    8. San Francisco (6)
    9. Eugene (5)
    10. Seattle (4)

Like them or not, of all the bike-friendly city rankings published each year, Bicycling’s list carries the most weight. It might be because they’ve been doing them since 1995, or perhaps because it’s the most widely-read bike magazine on the planet.

To determine their top 50 rankings for 2012, Bicycling says they evaluated cities with populations of 95,000 or more, used data provided by the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League of American Bicyclists, and they used input from local advocates and city bike staff. “To make the list, a city must possess both a robust cycling infrastructure and a vibrant bike culture.”

It’s worth noting that Bicycling seems to have put a lot more rigor into their analysis this year. In a press release about the rankings, Bicycling said, “Portland cyclists are ‘the vanguard of American cycling.'”

Bill Donahue, a Bicycling contributor who lives in Northeast Portland, wrote an entertaining paean about his hometown which explains why we deserve the #1 spot (emphases mine):

…Those of us who ride daily in Portland, we know. We know we are the vanguard of American cycling. No other city in the United States has more cyclists per capita, and no other town has a coffee shop like Fresh Pot, which boasts 25 chairs and parking for 26 bicycles. We have trains of elementary-school bike commuters, and we have Move By Bike, a relocation-company that trundles couches across town on overstacked bike trailers. Even our city’s noncycling Lotharios know it is a deal-killer to ask, at the end of a sprightly first date, “Can I throw your bike in my car and give you a lift home?”

Minneapolis? Please. Let’s ride—along the Willamette now, on the paved Springwater Corridor, where, off to the east, great blue herons and snowy egrets pick about in the reeds and the mud of Oaks Bottom. Three miles on, amid the grain silos and rail yards of north Portland, you can feel the industrial heft of the city, built a hundred-odd years ago on shipping and logging. In Forest Park—which, at 5,000 acres, is the nation’s largest urban preserve—there is a growing network of singletrack on the slopes of Portland’s west hills. But me, I like to take my road bike higher in those same hills, past gracious manses built by long-ago timber barons, until I am up on Skyline Boulevard with its horse pastures and country-road dips and turns. It is cooler up there—sometimes in winter snow whitens the bows of the evergreens.

But it is the locals’ bike zeal that is most dear. Once, when I called the city’s Transportation Options office to ask about airport bike parking, a guy there responded 45 minutes later via e-mail, with a 500-word personal treatise. (“There is a specific bike parking area,” he began, before discussing option B, the bike lockers, and riffing on the bike-guarding aplomb of Homeland Security.) Another time, when I found myself stooped by the roadside, muttering cuss words over a broken chain, a random savior materialized to offer assistance gratis. “I’m a professional bike mechanic,” he proclaimed, superhero-like. “What can I do?”

A mass ride in Portland is a Dionysian rite. Witness the Naked Bike Ride, through downtown, or the Cross Crusade Series, an autumn-long mud bath that last fall drew more than 1,500 competitors, including one whip-lean, bearded maestro who wore pigtails and a pink jersey reading “Keep Cyclocross Weird.” The Worst Day of the Year Ride, meanwhile, is a 17-miler which brings some 4,000 hardcores out into the gray gloom each February, to celebrate misery and self-flagellation. The route ends, of course, at a brewpub.

The party is on every single day. I know this because I happen to live on a designated bicycle street, and on summer evenings sometimes I sit out on my porch and listen as the bikes roll by, singly and in groups. There is a certain delight in the air then—the warm, dry days of summer are a sweet reprieve in Portland—and the riders’ voices seem silky somehow: soft and murmurous. I’m able to catch only a word or two at a time. I hear, “so anyway,” “and then he…” But always the larger story sings out in the dusk and the dark: We dreamed ourselves a strange and lovely city out here on the green edge of the continent, and we shook free.”

May has been a roller-coaster of emotions here in Portland. We’ve celebrated unseasonable warmth and sunshine and we pulled out all the stops for Bike to Work Month. Then tragedy struck last week and we had a vigil for Bike to Work Day in instead of a party. And now this.

Let’s hope the good news continues. And who knows, maybe returning to #1 will help Portland get its cycling swagger back.

— Read more about all the cities in the list here.

NOTE: We love your comments and work hard to ensure they are welcoming of all perspectives. Disagreements are encouraged, but only if done with tact and respect. BikePortland is an inclusive company with no tolerance for discrimination or harassment including expressions of racism, sexism, homophobia, or xenophobia. If you see a mean or inappropriate comment, please contact us and we'll take a look at it right away. Also, if you comment frequently, please consider holding your thoughts so that others can step forward. Thank you — Jonathan

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peejay
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peejay

“We dreamed ourselves a strange and lovely city out here on the green edge of the continent, and we shook free.”

Yes!

Alex
Guest
Alex

Why did Seattle fall so far?

Andrew K
Guest
Andrew K

very cool.

You know it is easy to forget just how good we have it here when it comes to riding a bike. True, we can improve. True, we should always fight to make it better. True, we should never rest and just call it good.

But that being said we have a TON to be thankful for. Tonight I have a dinner date and it wasn’t hard at all to find a place both myself and the person I’m meeting could get to safely by bike. That is pretty amazing when you think about it.

Eric
Guest
Eric

Where is the ‘growing network of singletrack on the slopes of Portland’s west hills’ that Mr. Donahue mentions? Does he mean the .25 mile of legal singletrack in the nation’s largest urban preserve? Or is there a secret cache somewhere that I don’t know about?

Kiel Johnson (Go By Bike)
Guest
Kiel Johnson

Great to see they listed bike trains and bike valet as reasons we are #1. Do I get a special prize for that? 🙂

Carl
Guest
Carl

It’s also heartening to see NYC moving steadily up in the rankings too. I was just there a couple of weeks ago, and the rate at which they’re putting in facilities is just incredible.

GlowBoy
Guest
GlowBoy

Minneapolis was ranked #1 last year because of the progress it was making (and because it has mountain biking, which Portland does not).

It’s not that we weren’t the best city to get around by bike last year: we still were, and we still are. But the knee-jerk “how-could-it-be” reactions of many to last year’s #2 ranking told me we’re on the verge of getting full of ourselves — and that Bicycling made the right call. Minneapolis and other cities might have a ways to go, but they’re not as far behind as a lot of Portlanders seem to think.

I watched Seattle grow smug and self-satisfied when I lived there in the 90s, and I think the result has been a lack of will to tackle big problems. I hope Portland will avoid this fate. We need to stay level-headed about our accolades, and keep the fire lit for more positive change.

Brian
Guest
Brian

Bicycling Magazine includes mountain biking, but apparently it isn’t one of their criteria for this list. Too bad, it may actually inspire the leaders of this great city to make something happen for off-road enthusiasts.

Robert
Guest
Robert

It’s awesome….if you have no knowledge of traffic design. Of course, then you could probably work for the City of Portland.

Straight thru traffic to the right of possible right turners….makes sense!…..only in Portland.

patrick
Guest
patrick

Before we get back to patting ourselves on the back, let me give kuddos to Minneapolis. I’m not from there, just happened to live there for 2 years. I would say the biggest difference with PDX and Minneapolis is that we have more bike lanes and the Minneapolis has more bike paths, particularly coverted rails to trails. I was able to go out for a 2-3 hr road bike ride that was 80% paved paths. With multiple options to extend or vary the ride. When I moved back to PDX there were many more convert trails in the planning. Portland should take note. I was also regularly impressed to see hearty souls on two wheels when it was 10 degrees or more below zero braving snow and ice.

John Lascurettes
Guest

Interesting that the list only covers cities of 95K or more in population. I just spent my first weekend in the Bend and Sun River areas. I wonder where Bend (with a pop. of 80K+) would fall on the list. I was rather impressed with their cycletracks (elevated from the roadway and different color and fully separated from the sidewalks); that and their proper use of roundabouts (using yield signs instead of stops on two or more of the inputs).

Ezra
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Ezra

Yes! I love bicycling in Portland. Hopefully this city can attract more and more cyclists until driving is a rarity. This city has true potential – let’s not spoil it.
Be the change!

Jeff Ong
Guest
Jeff Ong

Eric
Where is the ‘growing network of singletrack on the slopes of Portland’s west hills’ that Mr. Donahue mentions? Does he mean the .25 mile of legal singletrack in the nation’s largest urban preserve? Or is there a secret cache somewhere that I don’t know about?

Yeah, that’s just ridiculous. Portland’s mountain bikers are among the most underserved in the country. We just shut down Mt. Tabor, too, giving us a huge net loss in rideable urban trails for the year, and probably for the decade.

Andrew N
Guest
Andrew N

“But always the larger story sings out in the dusk and the dark: We dreamed ourselves a strange and lovely city out here on the green edge of the continent, and we shook free.”

Sorry to be a downer but to me this quote –despite its pleasing poetic lilt– is a glaring example of the yawning gap between mythology and reality in this city. Yes, we have made some important strides, but we are still a fundamentally auto-centric place. We have a long, long, long way to go until we can say that we “shook free”. I can’t help but feel like there is a correlation between all of the accolades and back-patting and the sense that we lack the political will to take things to a higher level, which would, at the very least (the words of Enrique Penalosa are ringing in my head), necessitate allocating a lot more public space away from automobiles.

John Landolfe
Guest

Wowza. Great shout out to the OHSU Bike Program’s favorite riding partner–Go By Bike! It really threw my Monday morning for a loop. Congrats to Kiel. This town is chock full of crazy-smart bike-minded innovators–any one of whom would make for a great teaser shot of Portland. Let’s keep it going for the next ten years and get shouts for Shift, PSU BIke Hub, BikePortland, CCC, Parkways and all the rest!

anthony sands
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anthony sands

Bicycling mag like it or not Is very widely read, yes the mountain biking hear leaves something to be desired but the rank is deserved, like most B.P. readers I’m out on the road a lot and the cycling here is fantastic compared to other cities. Yes there Has been a Backlash manufactured by the O, yes we get to big for skinny jeans(to many voodoo doughnuts?) Lets accept it humbly, and not rest until it’s the preferred mode for all portlanders. theres always room for improvement

Robert
Guest
Robert

Yes, adjusting:

The poorly engineered bicycle lanes that stay to the right at intersections led to Right Hooks so the City adjusted by painting them green.

Then after more right hooks, they adjuted by making bike boxes.

Then adjusted by painting the bike boxes green.

Someday these adjustments will make sense by placing a bicyclist to the left of right turning traffic, or simply removing the bike lane before the intersection.

When I’m in Portland, I ride with my butthole puckered the entire time because (a) I can’t leave the bike lane and (b) I know that any of those Trucks turning right could kill me.

It’s the knly place where possible straight thru vehicles find them es tothe right of possible right turn vehicles.

I’m not a Vehicular Cyclist, but this system makes no sense. No one has ever been able to describe how bike boxes worked on a green cycle….exactly when crashes like this often occur.

Hogan46
Guest
Hogan46

I may be missing something in the rating discussions and criteria but I think a more relevant rating system would distinguish between “transportation” cycling and “recreational” cycling. I would make the case that as a alternative to car, fuel-based, carbon producing rides, bicycling is a huge quality of life improvement for any kind of transport in urban or suburban areas and needs it’s own category. “Rec” cycling is also a quality of life catagory but one of choice in my mind i.e. vs running, kayaking, skiing etc. and again it’s own rating. Maybe averaging the two to get the number one city.

are
Guest

the current issue of bicycling magazine includes a review of “four best cars for cyclists,” including the range rover at 52k rated 18/28 mpg.
http://www.bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/designated-drivers
i actually do not care what they think is a good city for cycling.

dwainedibbly
Guest
dwainedibbly

Orlando at 49 and Gainesville at 37? There is a huge difference between those two, leading me to believe that there are perhaps 40 cities where it’s safe to even think about riding a bike. (I lived in Gainesville for over 20 years. Hopefully this ranking will light a fire under someone there. It’s probably the only Progressive enclave left in FL, and not a bad town, but the realtors & developers are trying to change that. Orlando, OTOH, is a place you couldn’t pay me to live. And they tried.)

The PBOT bashing only makes sense if you have never lived anywhere else and don’t really understand how the rest of the country bikes, or if you’re intentionally setting a higher standard.

Ted Buehler
Guest

Minneapolis has by far the better infrastructure.

Portland has livelier bike culture and a high % of bike commuters.

Which is “best” depends on the metrics you use.

I grew up in the suburbs of Minneapolis and periodically visit there. Their infrastructure blows ours away. Hands down. Most major streets, throughout the entire metro area, have bike lanes, and have had bike lanes for over 20 years. Minneapolis must have 50 miles of bike paths that are separated from pedestrian paths, and its been that way for 30+ years. And now it has bicycle freeways.

May each learn from each other — may many ODOT/PBOT infrastructure folks make frequent visits to Minneapolis to see what they’ve done. And may the Minneapolis crowd come to Portland to do a few bike moves and Shift rides.

Ted Buehler

Ted Buehler
Guest

“Minneapolis? Please. Let’s ride—along the Willamette now, on the paved Springwater Corridor, where, off to the east, great blue herons and snowy egrets pick about in the reeds and the mud of Oaks Bottom.”

Mr. Donahue — perhaps you ought to pay Minneapolis a visit sometime. Imagine the Springwater Corridor with all those egrets and herons, and, *three separate paths* — one for peds, and one for bikes in each direction. That way you can actually enjoy the herons because you’re not dodging other traffic.

That’s Minneapolis.

Ted Buehler

Collin Whitehead
Guest
Collin Whitehead

Chicago may be #5 in biking infrastructure but based on the behavior of Chicago cyclists and motorists, it should not be #5. I’ve been a regular commuter since moving here from Portland in September and can attest to the vast majority of cyclists not wearing helmets or obeying traffic signals or stop signs. Motorists are not courteous or even aware of cyclists. On a daily basis I observe cars and cyclists disobeying common traffic laws and rights of way in an accelerated exercise of social Darwinism.

Rol
Guest
Rol

Whether we’re “#1” or not, it’s hard to take these seriously. Just some people’s opinions, written down. Kind of like the Bible. OHHHH! For all we know, their conclusions are based on “number of Bicycling advertisers who opened retail outlets in Portland” multiplied by “number of mentions by BikeSnobNYC.”

Supercourse
Guest
Supercourse

Do the judges only visit Minneapolis at night? Their infrastructure is so far beyond ours, this is impossible to believe.