Forbes Rates North America’s Most Bike-Friendly Cities

You know it’s summer vacation time for America’s magazine editors when the top ten lists starting popping up. Forbes gets into the act this week with a rundown of North America’s ten best biking cities:

New York City comes in eighth place. "Visitors shouldn’t always expect courtesy from those behind the wheel." Neither should residents or anyone else. We’re ranked just ahead of Minneapolis and, once again, right behind San Francisco.

Montreal earns well-deserved credit in the number four slot. They get mentioned for their awesome, annual, citywide bike event, Tour de l’Ile. They also just launched "a $90 million plan full of initiatives to
equip all buses and taxis with bike racks, add hundreds of miles of
paths and add five times the bike parking space. Most exciting,
Montréal now offers Vélo Québec, the first Paris-style rental program
of its kind in North America."

San Diego, weirdly, places third. Apparently no distinction is being made between biking for transportation and recreation (or the city has changed a lot since the last time I visited about three years ago).  

Portland, of course, is the winner.

  • My guess is they use some formula, not experiences of humans; stuff like “how many feet of bike lane?” whether or not the bike lanes are designed to be used; that ‘bike lane’ around a playground counts… and/or how much money was spent on things cycling – regardless of what they are.

  • The line that best illustrates the tourist-oriented nature of the ranking is the suggestion that San Diego is “flat”. I live in SD, and rant at some length at about this at http://oldbikeblog.blogspot.com. Another problem is, let’s say you’re a person who prefers to move around by bike, and let’s say you decide to vacation in San Diego, with nothing to go by other than the Forbes list. You would think it would be a breeze to rent a bike and go from your downtown hotel to Sea World, or the zoo, or the beaches, but it’s not. Unfortunately, SD is not yet a bike-friendly town–not because of the hills, but because of aggressive drivers, a bazillion freeways, and an apathetic local government. The Forbes list is a joke–how else to you explain SD beating Davis?

  • abe

    the forbes list is for tourists. I am sure it is written by someone who does not regularly ride bikes. whatever, at least it is more press painting cycling as something positive. It is better than whats-his-name’s quote about McCain having “an energy policy that doesn’t make us a nation of bbicycclists.”

  • These lists are a joke. I’ve seen San Diego now ranking near the top for bicycling, walkability and park space. It is essentially a city of freeways and cars. And, as mentioned above, angry and aggressive drivers.

    Either other American cities are just really awful, or the authors are not doing their research.

  • When NYC is ahead of Minneapolis (2nd after pdx in per capita ridership) and Chicago, you know the list is crap.

    I ride in NYC everyday, but I am still amazed how it keeps getting onto the best bike lists (maybe if you just ride back and forth over the Manhattan Bridge and never hit an actual street).

  • Bob

    And why in the world is Vancouver, BC not on the list???

  • yeah, cuz there are no aggressive drivers in new york. in your face, san diego!

  • Andy B from Jersey

    I’m sorry but Seattle just sucked for cycling from a tourist’s perspective. San Fran, New York and Philly are leagues better!

    The moment you left their sheltered rail-trails (most of which would serve the Seattle metro area better as light rail lines) car drivers would try to hit you because they were more afraid breaking the law of crossing the yellow line then they were of hitting you. This happened repeatedly to me the moment I rode on a street without bikelanes.

    I’m sorry but Seattle was a joke in my opinion. The people there just think they’re progressive because they have tech jobs. Then they hop into their cars and succumb immediately to some of the worst traffic jams I’ve ever seen.

    Montreal’s wrong way, wrong side of the road cycle tracks will get you killed BTW. If Montreal corrected this glaring safety problem it would be a real class act.

    Davis is by far and away the best, most ideal place in the US for cycling; even more so than Portland. They’ve really got it right!! It’s the only city/town in the US where I actually felt perfectly safe riding my bike.

  • San Diego native

    I was raised in SD and left a couple of decades ago, partly because I hated the suburban sprawl and the reliance on automobiles. But this summer, I have been in northern San Diego County for two months and am shocked by how much more bike friendly the streets — and the drivers — are. Absolutely astonished.

    Reading now about the Forbes ranking, my impression is that it is deserved.

    True, the distances are much longer than in the compact NYC five boroughs, and you wouldn’t want to ride in most places at night, but I don’t do that in NYC very much either. It’s also hillier than NYC. For both of these reasons, San Diego is more of a recreational rider’s paradise, and much more physically challenging for commuters.

    But believe it or not, more San Diegans are using the new mass transit (light rail, commuter train, trolley, bus racks) to bike commute long distances to work. There has been a lot of press lately about how much mass transit ridership is up, and how the new rail lines’ managers have removed limits on numbers of bikes per car. It’s almost reason enough to move back here, and certainly cause for hope.

    In terms of % of residents, and absolute numbers, SD doesn’t have the volume of cyclists as SD, and yes automobiles still predominate. But the level of political will toward offering alternatives, and general respect of people who make use of them, is much higher there. My fear level as a cyclist was only a fraction of what it is in NYC.

  • momos

    I just made my first trip to San Francisco and rented a bike in anticipation of the biking nirvana these rankings always promise SF to be. For the most part I was quite disappointed. Biking in SF is basically as unpleasant as biking in New York.

    Biking in downtown SF is as bad as and possibly worse than riding Midtown’s main avenues. Cars in SF move at much higher speeds than in Midtown and street pavement is even more uneven than in NYC. What few bike lanes exist in downtown have very poor on-pavement markings (even worse than in NYC). Downtown SF overall is a very hostile environment for cyclists and felt dangerous, even to somebody who rides in Manhattan traffic all the time.

    I didn’t appreciate NYC’s flat topography until after huffing it up and down SF’s extreme hills. The hills make biking more of a leisure/exercise activity and less a commuting activity (“utility cycling”), which is why it’s so great SF’s buses are bike friendly (bus bike racks appear to be well used). Judging from the numbers of bikes parked on street corners it appears most utility cycling takes place in the Mission district, which is socially comparable to Williamsburg — also an area in NYC with high bike useage. Hipsters love their bikes.

    There were three areas where SF seemed clearly ahead of NYC: 1). Bike racks on buses. 2). Bike parking inside BART stations. 3). Excellent waterfront biking (though poorly marked continuity from one segment to the next). 4). Culture: there seems to be more of a city-wide consensus about elevating bicyling as legitimate transportation.

    One final note. The 7-square mile City of San Francisco occupies the north end of a peninsula and has a population of roughly 680,000 in a metro region of 7 million. This makes the City of San Francisco much more comparable to the borough of Manhattan, which is an island with a population of 1 million in a city of 8 million. Accurate comparisons between SF and NYC should compare SF and Manhattan or the Bay Area and NYC.

    SF has two key qualities of great cities, high population density and great transit. The broader region, however, resembles much more typical car-centric American suburuban sprawl — in the same way that core areas in NYC are dense and have good transit, while outer boroughs are another story.

  • san diego native, i second your statement. i’m an s.d. native as well, having also lived and biked in san francisco and new york.

    my last 2 years in san diego were completely car-less. bus, bike and trolley only, and i was completely comfortable. i had as much need to go out to kearny mesa or scripps ranch then as i do to go to canarsie now. this was back in the early 90s.

    sure, san diego is dominated by cars and rude drivers and guess what, so is every other city, including new york. gasp!

    on my last trip back to san diego, i rode the bayshore trail from downtown to the tip of coronado and took a ferry back downtown. it’s a 24 mile trail. that was really fantastic. certainly better than trying to ride on the west side bikeway on a saturday, which is totally impossible.

    this whole argument is arbitrary anyway. kind of like the “best walking city” chosen by a computer discussion. useless. you can do better than this streetsborg.

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