U.S. cities are not known for their bikeability, especially by European standards. However, things have been slowly improving over the last few years, as new infrastructure (and bike-sharing schemes) are added, and the safety-in-numbers effect encourages new cyclists to the road. Last year, the number of protected bike lanes almost doubled, with a similar jump expected in 2013.
Still, there’s a lot of variability. While cities like Chicago and Memphis are investing heavily in cycling amenities, others are still dominated by cars and trucks. And, even within cities, there are large divergences—for example, between the bikeability of areas designated in city centers and more dangerous outer limits.
The aim of Bike Score is to help people to get a sense of how easy a neighborhood is for cycling. The biking companion to the popular Walk Score (which rates walkability), the service recently expanded to 25 U.S. cities, plus another 11 in Canada.
The site rates cities from 1 to 100 (90 to 100 equals "biker’s paradise," 70 to 89 "very bikeable," and so on), as well as block-by-block. Heat maps show the most bikeable areas in green, and least bikeable in dark red. Boulder, Colorado, currently comes out on top with 86 points, followed by Minneapolis (79), and Fort Collins, Colorado (78). At the bottom are Pittsburgh (39), Tyler, Texas (38), and Cincinnati (37).
To arrive at the scores, the site combines data from four categories: the availability of bike lanes, hilliness, connectivity (are there places to bike to?) and the level of commuting. Matt Lerner, who founded Walk Score with his colleague Josh Herst, says the last category is important, as research shows cycling experiences improving as more people join in.
Minneapolis’s high ranking often causes the most surprise, according to Herst. "People are really shocked because it’s so cold there. But it really started with the glaciers, when all the lakes were carved out. A long time ago, the city connected trails and they became great for bikes. It now has great infrastructure, and a lot of people are biking."
New York is another surprise, he says. "It used to be that you had to be an insane bicycle messenger to bike there. But the city has worked magic with its bike infrastructure over the last 5 to 10 years." It is 15th on the list, with 62 points, giving it solid "bikeable" status.
Bike Score is aimed at home-seekers who want to be less car-dependent, but still have access to shopping and other necessities. But Herst also hopes to encourage greater competition between planners. Currently, many cities devise their own metrics of success, making comparisons between places difficult, he points out.
Herst and Lerner plan to add new cities, and possibly integrate a category for bike-sharing (whether or not a city has an organized scheme). They are also thinking about incorporating more user-data, as sites like Walkonomics do. At the moment, users can add pictures (for example of outstanding lanes or dangerous intersections). But their input doesn’t actually affect scores, partly because of concerns about the reliability of data.
It’ll be interesting to see if Bike Score can incorporate more crowd-sourced features going forward.