Dirk VanderHart of the Portland Mercury broke the news this afternoon after checking his mailbox: in Bicycling magazine’s periodic ranking of the country’s best bike cities, Portland has tumbled from first to fourth since 2012.
It’s our lowest ranking in 20 years. Bicycling named Portland as the nation’s best bike city in 1999, 2001, 2006, 2008 and 2012. In 2010, when Minneapolis edged Portland into second place, Jonathan wrote that we “usually don’t make much out of the various rankings that come out, but Bicycling has been doing theirs for longer than anyone else and Portland’s #1 ranking has become a cornerstone of our reputation.”
Here’s the magazine’s new top 10, as reported by VanderHart:
1. New York
6. Boulder, Colo.
7. San Francisco
9. Fort Collins, Colo.
10. Cambridge, Mass.
Here’s the previous Bicycling ranking, from 2012:
3. Boulder, Colo.
7. New York City
8. San Francisco
This year’s ranking hasn’t been published on Bicycling’s website yet.
Among major U.S. cities, Portland is still a head above its closest competitor, Minneapolis, when it comes to the percentage of residents who bike to work. According to the U.S. Census, the bike-commute rate is about 6.1 percent in Portland, 4.5 percent in Minneapolis. In New York it’s 1 percent; in Chicago, 1.6 percent.
But as we wrote last month, that ratio is actually a pretty dumb way to compare one city to another, because it depends so completely on where a city’s borders happen to fall. If Portland suddenly de-annexed the area east of Interstate 205, its borders would shrink to the size of Minneapolis or Washington DC and its bike-commuting ratio would shoot up to 10 percent — but nothing would have changed for the better.
What the Census figure is good at is measuring whether any given city is changing year by year. Since 2009, Portland is not. (Neither, for the record, is Minneapolis.) Most other major U.S. cities have been.
So in some ways, an arbitrary and subjective ranking methodology like Bicycling’s is more appropriate than the Census method. And maybe that’s why people pay so much attention to it even though it’s mostly silly. Whatever you think of the merits of the ranking, expect to hear a lot about it from many news outlets — not to mention any friends you might have in New York, Chicago and Minneapolis — for the next few years.
Why did Portland’s biking progress stall — and more importantly, what will bring it back? Since this May, when we used the city’s decision to erase a mural declaring itself as “America’s Bicycle Capital” as a way to write about this problem, we’ve been hosting a community conversation about how Portland will return to the place we all know it can become: an example to the country and, eventually, to the whole world.
Stay tuned for the next installment in that series — and consider getting in touch to contribute your own thoughts, or adding them below. I’m firstname.lastname@example.org, and Portland’s next No. 1 ranking is ahead of us.
Michael Andersen was news editor of BikePortland.org from 2013 to 2016 and still pops up occasionally.