A recent international ranking of the world’s best cities for biking didn’t shower North America with plaudits. Only one city—Montreal—made it to the top 20. But the truth about biking in the U.S. and Canada is more complicated than that headline suggests: there are some really nice places to bike, and some, well, are best approached with caution.
A new expanded ranking of bikeability from biking map service BikeScore in U.S. cities gives a sense of the contrasts. At the top are cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, Davis and Berkeley, California, and Boulder, Colorado—all rated "very bikeable" (or in Cambridge’s case, as a "biker’s paradise"). Then, at the bottom, you have Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Chattanooga and Nashville-Davidson, Tennessee, and Birmingham, Alabama—all rated, gently, as "somewhat bikeable."
Bike Score is put together by Walk Score, the walkability mapping service, and uses four criteria, weighted equally: the availability of infrastructure like bike lanes, hilliness, route options (are there places to go on your bike?), and the level of commuting. It awards scores out of 100, with 90–100 deemed a "biker’s paradise," 70-89 "very bikeable," 50-89 "bikeable," and 0-49 "somewhat bikeable" (though it’s hard to see how a city could be somewhat bikeable if it scored 0—but anyway).
Among cities with more than 500,000 people, at the top were Portland, Oregon (70.3 points), San Francisco (70), Denver (69.5), Philadelphia (68.4), Boston (67.8), and Washington D.C. (65.3). The worst included Charlotte, North Carolina (35.2), and Fort Worth, Texas (38.5).
The full top 10 bikeable large cities are:
- Portland (Bike Score: 70.3)
- San Francisco (Bike Score: 70)
- Denver (Bike Score: 69.5)
- Philadelphia (Bike Score: 68.4)
- Boston (Bike Score: 67.8)
- Washington, D.C. (Bike Score: 65.3)
- Seattle (Bike Score: 64.1)
- Tucson (Bike Score: 64.1)
- New York (Bike Score: 62.3)
- Chicago (Bike Score: 61.5)
Josh Herst, CEO at Walk Score, says the cities score well for different things. Portland has a high rate of commuting, for example, while San Francisco scores well for infrastructure (and less well for hilliness). "We believe there is a meaningful difference in the biking experience between places in these different ranges," he adds.
The heat maps above show that cycling experiences also vary within cities. The most bikeable areas are in green, with the least bikeable in dark red. One of the main points of Bike Score, like Walk Score, is to help you find a place to live: by looking at the map, you can find out if commuting or shopping will be bikeable for you.
Herst thinks it’s fairer to compare larger cities, rather than lumping cities of different sizes together (which is why he separates the larger cities out). But you can check out the full 100 here.
Meanwhile, for more info, you could look to the League of American Bicyclists, which has a 2013 state-by-state ranking here.