The Best U.S. Cities For Biking And Walking

It’s not surprising that Portland and New York are ranked high in a new report about the best places to get around without your car, but the other bike-friendly destinations may surprise you. Have you tried walking to work in Alaska?

Cycling and walking increase public health, pump up local economies, and generally just make people feel good. And yet, U.S. states still won’t fork out the cash to increase infrastructure, with just 1.6% (or $2.17 per capita) of federal transportation dollars spent on the two modes of transportation. Some cities-including Washington, D.C., Boston, and Minneapolis are more pedestrian and biker friendly than others, of course.

Those rankings and hundreds of other statistics can be found in the third biannual benchmarking report from the Alliance for Biking & Walking, which is undertaking the ambitious task of collecting and crunching the numbers on cycling and walking data throughout the U.S. Here’s what they found this time around:

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  • The top five cities with the highest levels of cycling and walking are Boston, Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Seattle, and New York.
  • The top five cities with the lowest fatality rates for cyclists and pedestrians are Boston, Minneapolis, Omaha, Seattle, and Portland. Looking at the top 10 cities for both high levels of walking and cycling and low levels of fatalities, it becomes clear that there is a link between the two. If you put more people on the street, cars start to become aware of them.
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  • The top five states for biking and walking are Alaska, Vermont, New York, Montana, and Oregon. The top five safety-wise are Vermont, Nebraska, Alaska, Wyoming, and South Dakota. Alaska may have ended up on the lists because, for whatever reason, Alaska natives and American Indians are more likely to walk to work than other ethnic groups. In Alaska, 8% of workers commute by foot.
  • Cycling and walking are increasingly safe. In 2009, 4,092 pedestrians and 630 cyclists were killed in traffic accidents—down from 4,892 pedestrians and 786 bicyclists in 2005.
  • At the same time, there is much work to be done. 11.7% of traffic-related fatalities are pedestrians and 1.8% are bicyclists, even though 10.5% of trips in the U.S. are made by foot and 1.0% are taken by bicycle. Increased infrastructure spending could help this.
  • Biking and walking are good for the economy. Projects to build infrastructure for these modes of transportation create 11 to 14 jobs per $1 million spent compared to just seven jobs created per $1 million spent for highway projects.
  • As we’ve noted before, cycling and walking can help reduce obesity levels. The ABW study reveals that between 1966 and 2009, the number of children who biked or walked to school dropped 75%, while the percentage of obese children rose 276%. Obviously there isn’t a direct connection here, but increased physical activity certainly leads to decreasing obesity levels.

The message that the Alliance for Biking & Walking would like us to take away from this is that cities need to do more policy-wise to increase active transportation levels as well as safety. We’re hard-pressed to disagree. But at the same time, let’s not forget that better urban planning makes a difference, too. It’s harder to walk or bike everywhere in a sprawling, poorly planned city, and the city rankings in this report reflect that.

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  • JenGB

    I live in Seattle and started biking to work last year.  There are some great tools that helped me get over obstacles to the bike commute - one site I use to plan a route is hillmap.com.  Hillmap.com lets me plot my route, and then lets me check how steep my route is with a slope overlay feature!  Very useful in a hilly city.  

    I hope tools like this help others start biking more, so that the next time this study is done the highest ranked states have a greater than 2% of commuters using bikes.

  • Derajderaj

    Ha! Its wonderful and hilarious that you used a Canadian city (Vancouver) for the banner illustration (above) of Best US Cities for Biking and Walking.  And BTW, thanks for the photo credit.

  • Ken Krueger

    Thanks for the photo of Vancouver, BC, even tough the article is about US Cities. : )

  • Kyle Callahan

    I live a dozen miles outside Portland. Not all of suburbia is built for cycling with its narrow shoulders and high speed, always busy intersections, but in the heart of downtown PDX its a main form of transportation. Many who live there get through the work week without needing a car. A drive through the city will show that cyclists can even get around town faster, navigating each block at the same pace as vehicle traffic. All without the need to pay for a parking spot. It is no surprise that most new bridge projects are designed with light rail, bike lanes and wide sidewalks in mind. Example of current project: http://trimet.org/pm/construct...

    As for the time I've spent in the Seattle Metro area, I would say they have even more cyclists. To some extent its just a larger population, but the cities have also established hundreds of miles of paved trails for bikes and pedestrians. I've seen people riding along SR520, a 13 mile stretch connecting Seattle to Bellevue and Redmond. These people are in seriously good shape and they can thank public planners for finding ways to fund and maintain these routes.  

  • countablyinfinite

    Not only is it Vancouver, but the chap reclining with his hands on his hips is none other than our recently re-elected Mayor Gregor Robertson.

  • Arash

    Why putting Vancouver photo on 'Best US cities for biking'? I hope you realize that Vancouver is in Canada and not US!

  • David Bradley

    "Alaska may have ended up on the list because..." in Anchorage alone, there are over 190 parks covering 10,000 acres connected by 400 miles of trails.

  • Ninan99

    It is a shame you did't cover Canadian cities. In fact you the photo you have used is that of Vancouver's mayor and others biking on a bridge in Vancouver, Canada.

  • Jessica Langelaan

    Interesting use of a photo of Vancouver, BC, Canada in an article on the best places to ride in the US :)

  • Ian Brett Cooper

    Interesting stuff! I think it's telling that the two cities with the highest cycling rates are Boston and Washington DC - the only major cities in the US (apart from Indianapolis) with no oppressive and endangering 'far to the right' or 'mandatory bike facility use' laws.

    I find it hard to see Alaska - a state which effectively legalizes road rage against cyclists (see 13 AAC 02.400) - as 'bike friendly'. Maybe the walking part plays a big role there.

    Also, I think it's ironic that four out of the top six states for biking and walking are states that mandate 'far to the left' cycling and bike facility use. It just goes to show that cyclists are not fazed by oppressive and discriminatory laws.