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.