April Madness: Minneapolis Tops Portland in Bicycling Mag’s Rankings

Butler may have come up short against Duke last night, but there’s a Cinderella story sending ripples through the livable streets blogosphere today.

golden_gopher.jpgGoldy Gopher is psyched about Minneapolis’s first-place finish in Bicycling’s city rankings.

In a decision that upsets the entrenched order of America’s urban bicycling universe, Bicycling Magazine just awarded Minneapolis the title of America’s best city for biking. Portland, coming in at number two, can no longer take its pre-eminence for granted. The center of bike-friendly gravity is shifting.

New York was named one of the most improved bicycling cities in the magazine’s 2008 listings and got the number 8 spot this year, behind San Francisco and Seattle, ahead of Chicago, and barely edging out Tucson.

The semi-regular rankings, out in the current issue, are based on several factors, with some intangibles mixed in. Portland still has the objective edge in bike commute modeshare (5.9 percent to Minneapolis’s 4.3 percent, according to the most recent American Community Survey), but the Bicycling editors say Minneapolis has the momentum. Bike commuting in Minneapolis is on the rise at an impressive rate, and the city is on the verge of launching what will arguably be the nation’s most ambitious bike-share program later this spring.

If you’d like to see this nascent intercity rivalry turn into an extended Jay-Z vs. Nas-style beef, that makes two of us. But BikePortland’s Jonathan Maus seems to be taking the news in stride, writing that "this is more likely a sign that bike-friendliness is on the rise in
cities across the country and Portland simply isn’t as far out in front
as it once was."

  • If Minneapolis can win top spot in a bike-friendly city ranking, I don’t think any city can use ‘cold weather’ as an excuse not to build bike infrastructure!

  • JayinPortland

    Brilliant move on their part, imo. Put Portland at number one in a bike city survey? You get “yawn”. Put someone else on top? You get headlines and publicity all over Blogistan! ;-P

    What would be really nice would be if there were realistically more than two or three American cities that could compete for ‘bike friendliest city’, though. Or even ‘bike friendly’, period.

    I live here carfree but don’t bike myself, I walk and ride transit, but I live in inner SE Portland, probably the bike friendliest area of our city, and I still witness all kinds of scary near-misses here day in and day out. And then there’s the infamously horrible intersection a few blocks from my apartment, SE Powell & Cesar Chavez Blvd, where a pedestrian was just killed a few weeks ago and where I have at least one or two incidents a month myself crossing with the light to the bus stop.

  • I am extremely skeptical of the Minneapolis bicycle story. I have been to Minneapolis many times and it doesn’t seem to have nearly the biking density of Chicago. Every time out of my house in Chicago I see lots of people on bikes. I rarely see that in Minneapolis.

    I was just in Minneapolis a month ago, spent two hours touring around the city with a local, and didn’t see one person on a bicycle. Not even one. There may be people biking to work in the summer, but I’m skeptical of others.

    When I see a bunch of streetfilm entries like those I’ve seen in Portland of huge numbers of bicyclists on the street all over the place, only of Minneapolis in the winter, I’ll believe it.

  • UnyieldingCycle: Unyielding Cycle is a thirty minute documentary about four year-round bicycle commuters in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

    I don’t know if this documentary has come out yet, but I can believe some people ride all winter long. I think there is some sort of crazy bike race in northern minnesota across frozen lakes and snow, but I could be making that up.

  • J:Lai

    Jay-Z and Nas are from the same city.

  • Yeah, that was a misplaced modifier.

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    I’ll say the arguments for best biking city are increasing. Almost every city I go to these days: San Francisco, Portland, Boulder, NYC, Seattle and all – have more cyclists than the last time I visited, and all made this list. It is really becoming quite incredible to see.

  • Jon

    I am from Minneapolis and currently live in Portland- both cities have a lot going for them. Portland has more bicylist but Minneapolis seems to have more biking infastructure including the Grand Round http://www.minneapolisparks.org/grandrounds/home.htm and many other projects in the works(like bikesharing). Also people really ride year round, in December 2008 it was -20 with a fresh 8 inches of snow and I counted 4 bicylist just downtown.

    Aaron- There are a lot of bicylist in Minneapolis, mostly during warmer months and a lot ride on greenways- ie. the Midtown Greenway, which is a path through Minneapolis and allows bicylist to ride without interfering with traffic. Here is a website http://www.midtowngreenway.org/

    Here is the Mpls bicyling website- http://www.ci.minneapolis.mn.us/bicycles/

    I love Portland but have to represent my roots! Lets hope the bicycling momentum keeps growing nationwide.

  • J

    In terms of infrastructure, NYC is really on the verge of blowing them all away. Portland only has one small cycle track, and Minneapolis doesn’t have any. New York is installing them at a rapid pace. We already have Sands Street, Kent Ave, Broadway, 8th Ave, 9th Ave, and Allen Street. This year alone we’ll be adding massive amounts of miles on 1st and 2nd Avenue, Prospect Park West, and Flushing Avenue. Also likely are cycle tracks on Columbus and Amsterdam. What other city is pursuing first-class bicycle infrastructure on this level? I don’t know of any other in the US.

    DC is also getting on the northeast cycle track bandwagon, with big plans for expanding network. In the next few years, it may be anyone’s game.

  • Erin

    New York might have more cycle tracks and/or bike lanes, but they’re often full of cars and trucks parked or idling, and they’re not continuous. The infrastructure is only usable if you can get to it and it feels safe.

  • J


    I disagree. The cycle tracks may have some issues (mainly pedestrian incursions on Broadway and some rare vehicle incursions elsewhere), but in general they work pretty damn well. Regular bike lanes in NYC are another story entirely. Also, pretty much all bike facilities in NYC connect to other facilities, not usually other cycle tracks, though. Granted, there is a lot of work still to be done, and connections to be made, which is why it’ll be a few years before NYC is really going to stand out.

    That said, my point still remains that no other city has truly embraced cycle tracks the way NYC has. Also, I forgot to mention Grand Street in the last post under existing cycle tracks.

    When the First Avenue and Flushing Ave cycle tracks are completed this year, you will be able to ride on a cycle track from Kent Ave & North 14th Street in Williamsburg, down the Brooklyn waterfront, over the Manhattan Bridge, and up to 125th Street in Manhattan, with only a few notable gaps (south Kent, Navy St, & 49th-57th). What other city can boast that type of mileage and connectivity?

  • Justin

    Minneapolis wins on aesthetics. There are bike lanes throughout the Lakes and they are breathtaking in the Summer & Fall.

    But NYC, Chicago, SF, & Portland are way ahead.

    Minneapolis also has a civilised and friendly Critical Mass…big contrast with NYC.

    NYC is making huge leaps. Boston & Austin should be, but for some reason aren’t..

  • New York is a much bigger and much denser city than any of the other ones on the list. That makes it a priori better for bicycling because there are more destinations within a quick ride. The suitability of infrastructure and “culture” are subjectively determined, as Erin’s comment (#10) demonstrates.

  • I have begun to re-interpret non-protected/non-buffered bike lanes in NYC. Think of them as enhancing visibility: What’s more visible to a motorist, a dude on a bike, or a dude on a bike with two boldly-painted white lines on either side of him or her? They also help “consolidate” the bicycles on a given throughfare. That’s why I smile whenever Bedford Ave is sprinkled with cyclists in random positions throughout all traffic lanes, and the motorists get annoyed and confused: This is what you asked for, dumbasses!

    The tipping point of this revelation came when I was riding down Ave A in the middle of the winter, and got annoyed at a cab using the bike lane to discharge a passenger. I took a second look, and noticed I was the only bike on almost the entire fourteen-block stretch. So I thought to myself, how arrogant do I have to be to think that I’m so important that this entire lane needs to be 100% clear for just me, one individual? (I then proceeded to the Allen St protected lane, where I was again the only cyclist, and felt like the lord Jesus Christ himself!).

    As our mode-share increases, the bike lanes will become self-enforcing. The existence of the bike lanes, even poorly-enforced, is enough to increase the mode-share (sends a signal to other New Yorkers: Yes, this is a viable, city-sanctioned mode of transport. Give it a shot!). This will get people with a small amount of hesitance on two wheels. Then the bike lanes get a bit more crowded, and motorists realize that by blocking a bike lane, they are indeed obstructing an important component of the infrastructure, and will move aside accordingly. So then we get people with level-2 hesitation on two wheels. The cycle goes around again. Welcome, people with level-3 hesitation! And then again… Hello, ten-year-old unsupervised kid! What, motorist… You’re going to put a little kid in harm’s way? Cycle goes around again… Blocking a bike lane becomes akin to parking in the middle of the BQE.

    All in good time, my friends. Bring on the 1st and 2nd Ave protected lanes, and all of the rich families taking bike rides with their kids. Bring on the bike share program. Bring on more protected lanes. Let the cycle spin around!

    Before you know it, in five year’s time, we’re going to have a little Copenhagen on our hands here! (Or a big Copenhagen, if you will).

  • Erin

    Last I read (this morning), 1st and 2nd aren’t going to get protected lanes… and as far as the protected lane on 8th Ave. is concerned: I was almost killed there by an SUV turning across it, right after a whole lot of people were walking in it and I couldn’t get around them because there was nowhere to go – the only evening I literally just got off the bike and cried. Riding in Portland IS better – I know because I lived there and biked daily for 8 years, even in the rain – because the drivers are less aggressive. Some of the neighborhood streets have been designated “bike boulevards”, which, while less obvious as bike infrastructure, actually function better than narrow 4-ft or 5-ft lanes painted along the edge of super busy streets. These streets have treatments to slow everyone down – through the use of bumpouts, speed bumps, etc.

    Sure there are more miles of bike facilities here, but the percentage of roads which feel safe to ride on is much lower. Plus, it’s really quality that counts, not quantity. 100 miles of pitted and narrow bike lanes with drivers idling in them isn’t much to write home about… I’ll rejoice when people can ride bikes and walk without being yelled at, honked at, and scared of being hit and killed.

  • Guys, stop arguing inputs; what matters is how many people actually use this infrastructure. Go check each city’s bike mode share. You should probably also take out transit riders and telecommuters from the denominator, and instead look at the share of bicycling among people who use personal transportation (including taxis and feet).

  • John

    I would agree NYC is making huge adjustments, Portland and San Francisco are very bicycle friendly but Chicago? I spent a summer there and got to the point I wouldn’t even bike. There were no bike lines and definitely few people respectful to bicylist. It was my 3 month experience and it was bad…

  • brian

    this is a terrible ranking…baltimore & rochester beat out sacramento? I’ve lived in all 3 cities and that makes no sense whatsoever. It seems like the mag took submissions rather than independently considering all cities.

  • I’ll rejoice when people can ride bikes and walk without being yelled at, honked at, and scared of being hit and killed.

    i agree with this — this has to be the goal — not _just_ a bike lane here or there — the end goal has to be freedom from terror.

    to me, this goal can only be achieved by getting rid of cars completely — they can’t be tolerated any longer — let the ‘suburban villages’ have their cars if they like, but right now cities are just being used/abused/exploited by commuters — as designed by that crook, Robert Moses — it has to end.

    as for Minneapolis and Portland, i think it’s interesting that two of the cities with the worst weather in the US are #1 and #2 for bike commuting. maybe there’s a chance all the weather excuse-makers will eventually stop making excuses. doubt it.

  • “100 miles of pitted and narrow bike lanes with drivers idling in them isn’t much to write home about…”

    Erin: right on. New York has a long way to go.

  • I get Bicycling as part of my membership to LAB and read the article about Minneapolis in the latest issue. It was a weak piece of journalism and perpetuates the image of bicyclists as nothing more than freak radicals at the edges of society.

    Considering that Bicycling is the “magazine of record” for cycling I find their continuous portrayal of cyclists as only ueber-fit roadies on $6,000 carbon road bikes or freakish deviants as extremely damaging to the cause of increasing levels of bicycle mode share here in the US.

  • J

    Erin and David,

    I agree that New York has a long long way to go, and that right now Portland, Minneapolis, and San Francisco are all way ahead. No one debates that fact.

    My point, however, is that we’re doing some unique and exciting things here in NYC that other cities are not doing. The European cities that have crazy high bike shares all have extensive cycle-track networks, and NYC is the only city seriously pursuing this at present. Obviously, it will take time for that to translate into success, but I think we have a ton of potential and other cities better watch out in the coming years.

    Also, 1st & 2nd aves ARE getting protected bike lanes (1st Ave: Houston-49th, & 61st-125th, 2nd Ave: Houston-34th & 100th-125th). See:

  • Evan

    I’m very interested in the unofficial, unseen networks that make up a city. Therefore, New Orleans fascinates me, and it’s always curious to me why New Orleans never makes any of these lists for cycling. After living in Houston, NOLA, and now Seattle, I’ve seen everything from utterly bike unfriendly to some of the best infrastructure to everything in between.

    The website for this study says, “There are many important things a city can do to gain our consideration for this list: segregated bike lanes, municipal bike racks and bike boulevards, to name a few”. Agreed, those can be good measures of bike friendliness. What if you don’t have those … and don’t need them? Reports like this tend to ignore unofficial infrastructure and networks. They rely to heavily on that which you can measure or count easily – bike lane miles, bike boxes, bike paths, city appropriations, etc. New Orleans has very little if any of that – the city just striped its first bike lane on St. Claude a little over a year ago and is just now working on the second in the city along St. Charles Ave. There are no sharrows, no painted lanes, and no curb bulb-outs.

    Despite this lack of official, easily measurable infrastructure, though, biking in the city is easy and increasingly more popular. This is particularly true as people begin to realize that even when major holidays (Mardi Gras, Superbowl, etc.) completely paralyze auto traffic in the city, the bicycle can still get you where you need to go. In an economically challenged city, the bike is first and foremost a mode of transportation. The flat city has a near continuous street grid dispersing traffic and providing nearly infinite alternatives to a congested or busy street. The narrow streets with parking on BOTH sides make it nearly impossible to go over 20-25 on most streets save the major boulevards. Often it’s even slower than that.

    I understand there the above article weighed many things in their rankings, and they are all valid. I simply want to point out that sometimes things are overlooked or unquantifiable. Through unique circumstances like a severe lack of city funds; a strong, pre-WWII grid; and a lack of space to put cars, particularly in the Quarter and surrounding neighborhoods; New Orleans is indeed an easy place to ride a bike.

  • Lsboogy

    I live in Minneapolis, and ride year round (even at 20 below zero). We have a great number of plowed (in the winter) pathways for biking, and it is easy to get to most spots in the Twin Cities by bike no matter what time of year. I think our use of bicycles is growing very fast in this area. I have been in SF, Portland, and NY on cycles, and in NY at leas the cars seem to know about bikes. Here, because of the long winter, the drivers take a bit of time to get used to us again in the spring, but it is one of the really great parts about living here – we celebrate the greenery. We have more golfers per capita than anyplace else, and the bicycle industry is growing very fast around here.

    Our city is getting set to be a really good area to ride in – and many businesses are taking the needed steps to help – we have bike racks being put in all over the major street, and we are starting a bike sharing program as well. We have many really good alleycat, road, and off road races here year ’round, and I think that the whole scene is just coming of age.

    i liked riding in Portland, and SF was nice too, but many of the bikers here are hard core – when I am riding on Sunday evening at 15 below zero with fresh snow falling, I am not the only one out for the most part – and many of our politicians ride – some all year.

    BTW – We do have a decent track here, http://www.nscsports.org/sports/cycling/index.htm,

    a good local site is mplsbikelove.com – come ride with us

  • rich

    If you’re surprised, you’re not paying attention.

    Minneapolis’ placement in the rankings was no accident. Natural result of a long-held common-sense approach.



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