TagLeague of American Bicyclists

Finding a new way to measure cities’ bike friendliness in the United States, part 2

One of the reasons I developed my own bike friendly city ranking system was to provide a better measurement when comparing cities. Since the League of American Bicyclists (LAB) uses a nominal ranking (Platinum, Silver, Gold, Bronze), the difference in bike friendliness between cities of the same rank may be small or great. A numerical scoring system on a predictable and familiar scale will better highlight the distance of one city to another on achieve that city’s level of bike friendliness.

I created a method that would compare my ranking to LAB’s ranking and that was to find the variance (which isn’t the same as range) in scores in my ranking for each nominal level in LAB’s ranking. Platinum cities had a very high variance and Bronze cities had the lowest variance. Gold and Silver had swapped positions: Gold cities had a lower variance than Silver cities.

The beauty with creating your own bike friendly measurement system is that you can make the outcome order whatever you want.

In the days since, I’ve developed another bike friendliness measurement system, one that’s easier to understand, whose rankings are still relative to other cities, and that can be weighted. (I’m emphasizing the bike commute mode share.) It uses percentile scoring so all scores are positive but still based on the distribution of values. I’ve listed the scores for Method 1 (which uses a normalizing function based on mean and standard deviation) and Method 2 below.

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Finding a new way to measure cities’ bike friendliness in the United States

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:

[tweet_embed id=264575958374305792]

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…

  1. Davis, California (Platinum)
  2. New York City (Silver) *
  3. San Francisco (Gold) *
  4. Boulder (Platinum)
  5. Boston (Silver)
  6. Philadelphia (Silver)
  7. Tie: Chicago*, Washington, D.C. (Silver)
  8. 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.

LAB cities list (PDF). My spreadsheet (XLS).

Policy thought of the day, August 8, 2011

Chicago’s bronze-level bicycle friendly community sign is posted inside the Chicago Department of Transportation’s office at 30 N LaSalle Street. 

West Town Bikes
Alex Wilson was telling me that he can reach more people if he had the same money that now goes to infrastructure. He added, “There should be an education component alongside any infrastructure change.”

—-
Chicago, IL got Silver in 2005.
Boulder, Davis, Portland have Platinum.
Naperville, Schaumburg, Urbana bronze
Full list of communities: http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/pdfs/bfc_master_list_spring_2011_revised5.pdf

Bicycle friendliness
What makes a hood or biz bike friendly?

Measures of effectiveness
Last time I talked about data collection that you would use to evaluate projects.

LAB uses the 5 Es to measure the bike friendliness of universities, cities, and states.
“Education, enforcement, engineering, evaluation, encouragement”

Communities:

http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/bfc_five-Es.php

Schools:

http://www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/bicyclefriendlyuniversity/bfu_five_e_s.php

Madison, WI application

Cache of 5 Es webpage: http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:UhGg_iiDcJkJ:www.bikeleague.org/programs/bicyclefriendlyamerica/communities/bfc_five-Es.php+league+of+american+bicyclists+enforcement&cd=1&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us&client=safari&source=www.google.com

What is a bike friendly community?
-bike parking – enough
-marked bike lanes and signs
-laws and enforcement
-community events that surround cycling
-people that bike
-bike shops
-old ladies biking
-children biking
-people who aren’t afraid to bike
-low mortality rate
-weather

When you are making projects, think of how they can fit into these categories. Form a descriptive narrative around these categories. When you communicate to politicians and planners, this will help form your common understanding of the project, its intent, and the impact it will have the community.

Read more policy insights from Steven Vance. 

Do you attend a bike friendly university?

Via TucsonVelo, I read that the League of American Bicyclists launched “Bicycle Friendly University” at Pro Walk Pro Bike, September, 2010.

Campuses are ideal laboratories to encourage and inspire the next generation to continue biking in post‐college life. “The program will demonstrate the many benefits of achieving aspirational levels of bicycle safety and infrastructure, while providing campuses with a roadmap to get there. It’s a win/win for everyone,” said Ariadne Delon Scott, bicycle program coordinator at Stanford University.

I filled out this questionnaire on behalf of the University of Illinois at Chicago, my alma mater, and its staff and students. Textual answers below.

If you think I selected the wrong answer, let me know.

ENGINEERING

  • Does your campus have a comprehensive, connected and well-maintained bicycling network? No
  • Is bike parking readily available throughout the campus? Yes. There are tons of bike racks everywhere. Some places need more and some places have too much, but the University doesn’t seem interested in redistributing them.
  • Is the college or university easily accessible by bike? Yes. There are numerous bike lanes and slow streets. Also several bus routes and one 24-hour L line (for multi-modal traveling).

EDUCATION

  • Does the college or university offer bicycling education classes for students and staff? No
  • Are there classes for campus motorists on how to share the road with cyclists? No

ENCOURAGEMENT

  • Does your college or university have an up-to-date bicycle map? No. The City of Chicago produced a UIC bicycle map in 20o5, and nothing has changed, so I guess it’s up-to-date.
  • Are there incentives offered for students and staff that commute by bike? No
  • Is there an active bicycle advocacy group at the college or university? No
  • Is there an on-campus bike center for rentals and repairs? No

ENFORCEMENT

  • Do campus safety/law enforcement officers receive training on the rights and responsibilities of all road users? Yes. I found this out during an email conversation with Commander Frank J. Cappitelli, PhD.
  • Does your campus have law enforcement or other public safety officers on bikes? Yes. Although I sometimes see them exhibiting illegal bicycling behavior like riding on the sidewalk and crossing against signals.
  • Is there a program on campus to prevent bike theft? No

EVALUATION

  • Is there an institutional plan or program to reduce bicyclist crashes? No
  • Does your college or university have a current comprehensive bicycle plan? No. This one’s debatable. Bicycling is part of the 2009 Master Plan with recommendations to mark new streets with bike lanes or shared lanes. It also proposes bike sharing and separated bike paths.
  • Does your college or university have a bicycle program manager? No

Your score: 4 points.

Score 0-7: Your college/university probably has some improvements to make before being designated as a BFU – but keep up the great work! Call us and we’ll tell you more about the strengths (and weaknesses) your scorecard reveals. Download the BFU application and let us help you start implementing an action plan.

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