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Oregon moves up to third in new Bike-Friendly State rankings

Posted by on May 1st, 2013 at 7:01 am

Oregon Bicycle Summit

Bike rack in Sisters, Oregon.
(Photo © J. Maus/BikePortland)

The League of American Bicyclists released their annual Bicycle Friendly States rankings today. Oregon came in third place, which is up from fifth place in 2012 and represents a significant improvement over our eighth place ranking in 2011. The top state in the 2013 rankings is our northern neighbor Washington (they were also #1 last year), Colorado came in second, and Minnesota and Delaware rounded out the top five.

The rankings, which first came out in 2008, are determined primarily through a questionnaire sent to each state’s bicycle coordinator (in Oregon that title belongs to Sheila Lyons at the Oregon Department of Transportation). Answers from the questionnaire are then fact-checked by League staff in collaboration with leaders from bike advocacy groups. The League scored each state on how well they performed in five categories: legislation and enforcement; programs and policies; infrastructure; education and encouragement; and evaluation and planning. Among those five categories, Oregon fared poorly in the “infrastructure and funding” category, earning just 20-40% of the total possible points.

Here’s a graphic of the scoring breakdown for the top five states:

When thinking about these rankings, it’s important to keep in mind that the evaluation process is far from comprehensive. As I shared in 2011 in trying to explain our eighth place ranking, even League President Andy Clarke acknowledges that not all of the programs and policies in place in Oregon are captured by the League’s process (like for example, our nation-leading Scenic Bikeways Program). That being said, the League has made it clear that Oregon’s mandatory sidepath law (ORS 814.420) continues to drag down our ranking. The Bicycle Transportation Alliance has said they feel the law is “bad public policy” and they’d like it repealed; but it never came up during this legislative session.

On the bright side, ODOT has just embarked on an update of their 1995 Bike and Pedestrian Plan. They will spend $500,000 on a major update that will not only modernize Oregon’s bike-related policies; but the plan itself will take a significant step up in terms of bureaucratic respect. Once completed, it will put the bike plan at the same level as the freight and highway plans. (“We’re sitting at the big kid’s table now,” is how ODOT Bike and Pedestrian Coordinator Sheila Lyons described it to me recently.)

And there are even deeper institutional changes happening at ODOT that are very exciting for bicycling but that I don’t think are reflected at all in these rankings. Given those changes, along with the new mode plan in the works, it’s not hard to envision us as #1 in the very near future.

Learn more about the League’s Bike Friendly States program here.

UPDATE: The BTA has posted their reaction to the rankings.

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  • Uncle Muscles May 1, 2013 at 9:03 am

    I used to live in Portland, now I live in Seattle. I suggest those of you who think Washington is more bike friendly spend a year commuting by bike here. Portland is a bike wonderland compared to this place. I understand that this is a statewide ranking and I haven’t ridden all of Washington but I’m pretty sure your largest city should be representative of your state’s bike facilities. Apparently sharrows on 40mph uphills and abruptly ending bike lanes are considered bike friendly now.

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    • A May 1, 2013 at 10:00 am

      Yeah, this reflects for the whole state. While Washington has some really outstanding rural country and mountain rides, Portland is definitely a more pleasant city to bike than Seattle.

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    • Chainwhipped May 1, 2013 at 11:01 am

      “sharrows on 40mph uphills” . . .
      You guys have helmet laws to protect you on roads like that! Isn’t Washington completely free of cyclist death now that everybody wears helments?

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      • A May 1, 2013 at 12:23 pm

        Your crass tastelessness does nothing to support your ideology, today least of all.

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        • Chainwhipped May 1, 2013 at 2:20 pm

          I did see that this morning. Kind of the point I was trying to make (sarcastic tone obvious, I had thought). The poor guy didn’t stand a chance.

          In the most prominent City in our most bike-friendly state, a cyclist was just killed on “a heavily-used commuter route for people biking, despite heavy industrial traffic and very poor pavement condition”. But at least its “the only viable option for cycling between downtown and most parts of West Seattle”.

          I should have waited so I could link to an official story, which mentions a helmet without fail: http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2020898284_bikefatalxml.html

          Repeat after me: “Helmet Laws Save Nobody”

          It’s no wonder the U.S. has no cities on Colville-Anderson’s top-10 list.

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          • A May 1, 2013 at 3:29 pm

            Exactly. Your obvious sarcastic tone has the opposite intended consequence: it makes your point seem childish and not worth consideration.

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            • My Magic Hat May 1, 2013 at 10:03 pm

              He DID make a point. His point was that bike-friendly Washington’s helmet law and #1 ranking are worthless if the gaps in infrastructure get people killed. This is what happened today.

              We’re #1! Now bend over and take this trophy.

              Sarcasm can make a point. You just have to be smarter than the joke.

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              • davemess May 2, 2013 at 12:21 pm

                Are we really going to completely eliminate all deaths and/or accidents? We could build infrastructure forever and deaths will still happen.

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      • Alan 1.0 May 2, 2013 at 12:58 pm

        Washington doesn’t have a helmet law. A list of towns (and King County) which do require them is at http://wsdot.wa.gov/bike/Helmets.htm. It’s not completely up-to-date, for example Milton repealed its law.

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        • John Russell (jr98664) May 12, 2013 at 8:37 pm

          While it’s true that Washington State doesn’t have a helmet law, they have tried to pass one before. It’s also important to note that Washington’s six largest cities and two largest counties have all ages helmet laws.

          Back in 2008, I specifically fought against Vancouver passing their helmet law once they decide to apply it to all ages rather than 17 and under as originally intended.

          I much prefer Oregon’s lack of all ages helmet laws, combined with a state wide helmet law applying to kids. I think it’s the best of both worlds without over intrusion of what many would consider to be a nanny state.

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  • Chainwhipped May 1, 2013 at 10:56 am

    I can see how Oregon as a whole does not deserve to be listed at #1. Our mentality here often seems bent on making bicycling our identity, rather than simply normalizing cycling amongst those who would never call themselves “cyclists”.


    How is Colorado #2? Isn’t this the same state where a certain DA let an investment banker go free after a very high-profile hit-and-run? Didn’t we see a certain Colorado municipality attempt to ban bike riding altogether? I know there’s a lot of support for rec-riding in CO, but there’s so much against cycling as a whole, that I wonder what the place would be like if there weren’t a velodrome in Colorado Springs.

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    • davemess May 1, 2013 at 12:09 pm

      Clearly you have not spent much time in Colorado. For one they have actually passed a 3 foot passing law. Bike infrastructure in most of their major cities, Denver, the Springs, Boulder, the Fort, and even places like Durango, etc. are very good.

      Cities in Colorado have the luxury of making more/better separated bike paths than about anything we have in Pdx (think of all the stop signs on the east part of the springwater, those would underpasses in CO). They’re newer cities (for the most part) and have more flexibility to make continuos bike paths, many linking parks and neighborhoods.

      yes they probably have a bigger percentage of their ridership as racers/rec riders, and you won’t see the “commuter-only” types that we find so prevalent in Pdx, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have great bike infrastructure.

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      • Chainwhipped May 1, 2013 at 2:53 pm

        Yeah, I’ve only spent a little time in Colorado. More than I care to, at this point. I’m sure it’s as good a place to ride as ever.

        BTW Arizona has virtually every characteristic you’ve mentioned including the 3-foot passing law, but they barely crept into the top-10. I’ve lived in Arizona. I’d have thought it was no better than 20th.

        All I’m saying is that if the status quo in Colorado and Washington is as good as it gets for an American on a bicycle, we’re in a dismal place.

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        • davemess May 2, 2013 at 12:22 pm

          Or you just sound a little bitter that Oregon is not number 1?

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  • Ann Marland May 1, 2013 at 11:54 am

    We are a new member of the League of American Bicyclists and our club is located in Sisters Or, a town of 2,000+ population. We are a “Bicycle Friendly” town. Besides having 3 out of 9 Scenic Bikeways in Oregon we have 63 miles of signed mountain biking and hiking trails.

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  • GlowBoy May 1, 2013 at 12:16 pm

    I would agree Portland is far more bike-friendly than Seattle (having formerly lived in Seattle and still visit frequently), but I can see how the state-level rankings might be different. For one thing, rural state highways in Washington are FAR more likely to have shoulders than those in Oregon.

    And ODOT might indeed be catching up with the times, but the changes are only just beginning to affect the actual infrastructure on the ground.

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  • Jim Lee May 1, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Ranking by questionnaire?

    Major Joke!

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