Local professional bike commuter and amateur racer Brian Morrissey has written a series of guides to Chicago neighborhoods with a particular bicycle friendliness.

Think of these great neighborhoods to visit on your bicycle (they have bike facilities, bike shops, and they’re especially easy to get to) and spend some time there eating good food. I consulted Brian on one of the neighborhoods, where I lived for two years. I’ve written about Pilsen on my blog several times (and here). Even without all the wonderful burritos and the friendliest bike shop, I’d still call it my favorite Chicago neighborhood.

Here’s the list of Brian’s guides to Chicago’s bike friendly neighborhoods:

What neighborhood should he write about next?

What makes a neighborhood bike friendly? Let’s find out!

First, we’ll ask the League of American Bicyclists. The LAB uses a rating system akin to LEED certification of green buildings. And cities want to achieve bike friendly status just as much as developers want to achieve “green” status. Bicycle friendly communities must be able to demonstrate achievement in the five “E” categories.

  • Engineering – Infrastructure, facilities, bikeways, bikeway network, and accommodation of cyclists on roads.
  • Education – Programs to teach bicyclists, motorists; availability of information and guides.
  • Encouragement – How the community promotes bicyclist; BMX track, velodrome, Bike to Work Week, wayfinding signs.
  • Enforcement – Connecting law enforcement, safety, and bicycling.
  • Evaluation & Planning – Data collection, program evaluation, bike plan, and how to improve.

Next we visit Bicycling magazine to learn how they consider the Best Cities for Cycling (full list). The editors’ criteria is not as transparent as LAB, but I’ll take a crack at decoding their articles.

  • Visibility – Bicycling wrote this about Portland, Oregon: Just hang out in a coffee shop and look out the window: Bikes and riders of all stripes are everywhere.
  • Facilities – Chicago made the list, “Still The Best:” Richard Daley…has ushered in a bicycle renaissance, with a growing network of bike lanes, a bike station with valet bike parking, showers and indoor bike racks.
  • Ambition – Bicycling commended Seattle for having the goal to “unseat Portland as the best U.S. city for cycling.” Their bike plan calls for expanding the bikeway network to 450 miles.
  • Culture – In San Francisco, a lawsuit brought bikeway construction to a halt, but Bicycling says “[t]he local bike culture has stood strong, and the number of cyclists increased by 15 percent last year alone.”
  • Education – Because of Boulder’s Safe Routes to School Program, at least “one school reports that 75 percent of its students now bike or walk to school.”

Finally, on our journey to find out what makes a community or neighborhood “bike friendly,” we come to me. I’ll tell you it’s a combination of the built environment (infrastructure) and its wider connections (bikeway network), as well as the residents who bike and don’t bike (like motorists).

  • Infrastructure – A city must build on-street and off-street bikeways that increase the perception of safety. (I was unable to find any conclusive studies that attribute the presence of bikeways to lower fatality and injury rates, but I didn’t find anything that reported the contrary is true, so that’s good.) Secondly, when you arrive to your destination, you should find secure bike parking.
  • Network – When you built on-street and off-street bikeways, you must ensure they connect to each other. It’s discouraging to come to the end of a bike lane when it doesn’t reach your destination or another segment of the bikeway network. A good network leads to important and popular destinations, like major work centers and schools. Bicycling is more prevalent in areas with colleges and universities, see Baltes report (PDF). Almost as important as creating a network is publishing information about your network – where does it go and what should I expect to see or find on my route? A paper bike map showing the locations of local bike shops, parks, and schools goes a long way to assuage nervous bicyclists.
  • People – Lick your finger and put it up to the air to test the attitudes of those around you and how they feel about bicyclists sharing the streets with pedestrians and motorists. Residents supporting or hampering positive change to make bicycling a common activity or transportation and improve the safety of bicyclists is the most important way to determine how “friendly” a community is to bicycles and their riders.

If you’re familiar with those neighborhoods in Brian’s guides, try to apply the criteria sets from League of American Bicyclists, Bicycling magazine, and myself and do your own analysis of the bike friendliness in those neighborhoods.

What do you think makes a community bicycle friendly?