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Friday, September 5, 2014

San Francisco Gains a Spot in the Best Cities to Bike List: But Who Cares?

Posted By on Fri, Sep 5, 2014 at 7:45 AM

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Drop or get dropped. It’s the unfortunate reality of the competition to win over the the hearts and minds of cyclists across the country in Bicycling Magazine's biennial Best Cities to Bike list. San Francisco has moved up a spot in the peloton for 2014. Thanks to added bike lanes and increased ridership the city is now ranked 7th.

It’s not much of surprise – San Francisco is chugging along with added bike infrastructure and ridership keeps growing. But what do these rankings even mean? And where do they come from?
In something of a coup, New York City has cinched the top spot – as if having the most people and the floppiest pizza wasn't enough. New York City moved from the no. 7 spot in 2012 all the way to no. 1. The magazine gives kudos to Bloomberg’s aggressive expansion of bike sharing and bike lanes. Chicago, home of much thicker pizza, jumped from no. 5 to  no. 2. That means Portland fell out of the top three all the way to  no. 4. Ah schadenfreude. 

It’s also worth noting that Oakland is now on the list at no. 27, wedged right in between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles. That seems downright weird to me. Have these people been to Salt Lake City or Los Angeles? Or Oakland for that matter? Other California cities that made the list include Sacramento (32), and Long Beach (23) No other state occupied as many spots on the list, so we can at least brag about that.

Bicycling Magazine focused on the good here in San Francisco: “Cyclists using the Market street protected bike lane comprised 76 percent of the road’s commuters on the year’s Bike to Work Day, packs of roadies gather every morning to pedal 50 miles through the hills of Silicon Valley, and cabbies and bus drivers undergo mandatory education on sharing the road with cyclists.”

In Oakland, the publication highlighted the experimental SuperSharrows that were covered in this column earlier this year. For the record, I still get honked at if I ride in the middle of these “innovative” supersharrows, so they haven’t won me over.

There are a few interesting points to make about these catchall rankings. First, it uses U.S. Census Data that’s now four years old to determine a “people Per Bike-Share” score. In rapidly growing areas that info is obviously out of date. Second, using Bicycle Friendly Businesses as metric for this study hardly has any bearing on how easy it is to bicycle around a city. To be a Bicycle Friendly Business you have to apply with The League of American Bicyclists so it’s more representative of the interest of business owners in appealing to cyclists. For example, Portland, which came in fourth place, has 45 Bicycle Friendly Businesses while New York City, taking the top spot, has 1.

Actually, when you look at the metrics that the study is based on almost nothing that makes sense: New York has 0.6 Bicycle Facilities (defined as “miles of buffered bike lane, cycle track, standard bike lane, bike boulevard, and dedicated path per square mile”), and 1,389 People Per Bike Share, and 6.4 on the Safety Score (the number of fatalities per 10,000 commuters according to the Alliance for Biking and Walking) – all of which are worse than most of the other top 10 cities. For example, San Francisco has 3.2 miles of bicycle facilities per square mile, and a safety score of 0.9. Our bike share system is still in its infancy so it has a sad 2,360 people per bike-share. Regardless of the bike share score, there’s more bike infrastructure density here and a lower commuter fatality rate than in many of the other cities listed in the top 10.

So what gives? Basically, it’s all nonsense. The bicycle facilities numbers don't even come with a citation. I think it might be possible to compile a list that reflects the comparable ease with which one can get around by bike in a city — but this list just seems to reflect the biggest bicycling news stories of the last couple years. Anyway, it's not like people actually decide where to live based on Best Cities to Bike lists — if you're planning a move, maybe it would be best to go do some testing of your own. 

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About The Author

Leif Haven

Leif Haven

Leif Haven is a writer and cyclist living in the Bay Area. He can be spotted dragging himself up a hill — literally and metaphorically.

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