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.