A really smart person could come up with a way to measure day-to-day bike friendliness based on how well cities adhere to standards that keep roads clear of obstructions that further frustrate the commute, like construction projects that squeeze bikes and cars together.
I work at home. There are some days when I only leave my house to get milk from the Mexican grocery store at the end of my block (which makes awesome burritos). That means I ride my bike half as much as people who commute to work. on their bikes. Today I had a bunch of errands to run: drop off stuff, buy stuff, take pictures of stuff for my blog, Grid Chicago.
It was a very frustrating experience. I don’t need to go into details about how I was harassed by people who the state so graciously awarded a license to drive. But it happened. And it happens a hundred times a day to people cycle commuting in Chicago. I got to thinking about “bike friendly” cities. Is there a way to incorporate driver attitudes in there? I tweeted:
Later I had the idea to use some very simple but objective measurements to create a new bike friendliness metric. It would help ensure that “Silver” (a ranking the League of American Bicyclists [LAB] uses) in one city means the same as “Silver”. It can expand from here but basically it works like this:
- The share of people going to work who go by bike is a proxy for how “friendly” a city is to biking.
- If a city has a lot of people biking to work, it must be friendly.
- If a city has a few people biking to work, it must be non-friendly.
- Cities are compared to each other to determine friendly and non-friendly.
- The metric uses standard deviation to score cities.
Stop me if this has already been done.
I created a spreadsheet that lists the top 10 populous cities in the United States. I then added 10 more cities: Austin, Boston, Davis, Madison, Minneapolis, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. In the next column I listed their bike commute share from the American Community Survey 2006-2010 5-year estimates. I calculated the standard deviation and mean of these shares and then in another column used Apple Numbers’s STANDARDIZE function:
The STANDARDIZE function returns a normalized value from a distribution characterized by a given mean and standard deviation.
I think that’s what I want. And the output is close to what I expected. I then found the LAB ranking for each city and found the variance of each ranking to see how far apart each city within one ranking was from another city in the same ranking. The results were interesting: the higher the ranking, the more variance there was.
Hurricane Sandy prompted a lot of New Yorkers to bike. It made headlines, even. Photo by Doug Gordon.
I wanted to add another metric of bike friendliness, and that’s density. To me, a higher density of people would mean a higher density of places to go (shop, eat, learn, enjoy) and friends and family would be closer, too. Or the possibility of meeting new people nearby would be higher. Yeah, I’m making a lot of assumptions here. So I applied the STANDARDIZE function there as well. I added this number to the previous STANDARDIZE result and that became the city’s score.
So, in this new, weird ranking system, the most bicycle friendly cities are…drum roll please…
- Davis, California (Platinum)
- New York City (Silver) *
- San Francisco (Gold) *
- Boulder (Platinum)
- Boston (Silver)
- Philadelphia (Silver)
- Tie: Chicago*, Washington, D.C. (Silver)
- Tie: Portland* (Platinum), Minneapolis* (Gold)
Remember, I said above that any author of a list should spend at least a day cycling in each city. I’ve starred the cities where I’ve done that – I’ve cycled in 5 cities for at least a day.
I only calculated 20 cities. Ideally I’d calculate it for the top 50 most populous cities AND for every city that’s been ranked by LAB.
About Steven Can Plan
I started this blog in 2007 as the writing assignment for an introductory urban planning class at UIC. It's about cities (mainly Chicago), GIS oftentimes, and transportation (mainly bicycling). Learn more about me, Steven Vance. I also write for Streetsblog Chicago.
Steven Can Plan is hosted on Dreamhost.
Chicago Bike Map App
The Chicago Bike Map app is a bike and street map stored entirely in your iOS device – no data connection required. The map is designed to look much like the City of Chicago's official printed and online bike map. The app works on iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad.
Highly Recommended Bike Products
The best value taillight. It has three red LEDs that alternate and provide extreme brightness. I have two of these.
Bells can be quite useful, especially to tell people in front that you're passing them. I like the ding-dong bell the best. It makes a solid DING and then DONG on the spring's return.
These folding locks are lighter weight and more versatile than an equally strong u-lock.
Instant City: Life and Death in Karachi by Steve Inskeep
I reviewed this book that the publisher sent to me.
The Practice of Local Government Planning (Municipal Management Series) by
You could basically design and administer a new town kind of effectively after reading this huge and boring textbook.
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt
As someone who doesn't like driving, but believes that cars can be efficient in moving groups of people and goods, this is my favorite book.
Making Maps: A Visual Guide to Map Design for GIS by John Krygier PhD, Denis Wood PhD
If you are going to make a map, whether it be hand drawn or digital, you should really give this book a read. Then read it every time you make a map. It will help make sure your maps are laid out sensibly, in a way that others can easily read, and that it doesn't include fluff or unnecessary data.