Where Do People Walk and Bike the Most? It's Not Where You Think

Alaska tops a new ranking of biking and walking levels in all 50 states. Among cities, Boston takes the number one spot.

The Alliance for Biking and Walking just released its biannual benchmark report, and the results may surprise you. The state with the greatest percentage of cyclists and walkers? Alaska. Among cities, Boston takes the crown.

If those results seem a little bit off—Isn’t Portland the country’s biking mecca? Or, if you trust Bicycling Magazine, Minneapolis?—consider another figure from the Alliance’s report: Americans choose to walk for 10.5 percent of all their trips, and bike just 1 percent of the time. While Bostonians aren’t known for their rad bike culture, 13.9 percent of the city’s commuters walk to work. (And I hear there are plenty of fixies to be found in Allston.)

“All those cities we have at the top of the list, they were all cities that were built around human beings first,” says Alliance president Jeffrey Miller. These cities have grids, or in the case of Boston, a web of streets designed for pedestrians that tend to make drivers crazy. “It’s easier to walk and bike in parts of these cities than to drive,” Miller says.

And Alaska? “We know that people will vote with their wallet,” he says. “Gasoline is like $10 a gallon there. It's expensive to drive.”

The Alliance’s benchmark report does confirm deeply held notions about America’s bike revolution. Of the country’s 50 largest cities (plus New Orleans), Portland is home to the greatest percentage of people commuting to work by bike. It’s also the only city listed in which more commuters choose to bike than choose to walk. But the report also shows that while bike culture might be booming, most people who choose to get around without cars still hoof it. Given the importance of walking to car-free living, the cities that best represent an alternative vision of the country’s transportation future may not be Portland or Boston, but Washington, D.C., San Francisco, and Seattle—all of which rank highly for both biking and walking and which hold the number two, three, and four slots on the combined list.

There are several similarities that make those three cities successful: All three have "complete streets" policies; D.C.'s took effect in the past couple of years. They all fine drivers for not yielding to bikes and have bike-parking requirements in new buildings. D.C. and San Francisco also require bike parking in buildings or garages, while San Francisco requires it at public events. San Francisco has more miles of bike lanes, multi-use paths and signed bike routes per square mile than any other city in the country; Seattle and San Francisco have innovative bike infrastructure, like shared lane markings, home zones, colored bike lanes, bike boxes, contra flow bike lanes, and bike traffic lights. D.C. has some, but not all, of those features, plus cycle tracks, which are physically separated from car traffic but still on the road.

“What it seems we need is for communities to engage as many options as they can to encourage biking and walking,” Miller says.

Cities and states are doing something right: the Alliance found that Americans make 12 percent of all trips by foot or bike despite the fact that these transportation modes receive just 1.6 percent of federal transportation dollars. And cities across the country are moving toward ever-bigger infrastructure projects, particularly for biking: The list of planned bike facilities shows that Nashville will have more than 850 additional miles of bike infrastructure by 2027; Los Angeles will have added more than 1,600 miles by 2041; by 2032, New Orleans will have an additional 1,002 miles of bike facilities and New York an additional 1,800 miles. Boston might need to step up its game.

Photo via (cc) Flickr user florianplag

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