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Five California Cities Are Ranked in Top 50 U.S. Bicycling Cities

Ryan Russo, Dan Kalb, Renee Rivera and Ann Smulka cut the ribbon on Oakland’s first concrete -protected bike lane. Photo Streetsblog/Rudick

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

Five California cities made it onto Bicycling Magazine's 2018 ranking of the fifty “best U.S. cities for bicycling” (of over 100,000 residents). One that is conspicuously absent from the list is Los Angeles, the subject of a take-down in the same magazine called “Los Angeles Is the Worst Bike City in America.”

The author of that post, Peter Flax, writes that L.A. has “all the ingredients to be the best city for cyclists in the entire United States”--good weather, a flat landscape, traffic congestion that is easily bypassed on two wheels—but instead the city is currently “racing backwards” on bike safety and culture.

Los Angeles doesn't have enough decision-makers who see the connection between good bicycling infrastructure and safety, clean air, and a better transportation system, and that are willing to fight to make it happen. Meanwhile, writes Flax, the city's high injury and fatality rate, bad roads, and “hostile, speeding, or distracted drivers, and a legal system that goes easy on them” all conspire against the city's status as bike heaven.

So L.A. doesn't make the Bicycle Magazine rankings at all. The California cities that did make it onto the list are San Francisco, Oakland, Long Beach, Sacramento, and San Jose. While the magazine editors have a system for grading the cities—based on census data, surveys, and information from the League of American Bicyclists and People for Bikes—it's clear from the comments on its post that there is a lot of room for disagreement about each city's score. In both directions.

Even so, the rankings are useful, not because they give a clue about what potential riders might experience were they to travel to these cities, but because the cities themselves care about how they rank--or could be made to care. But the real value in doing a ranking like this is in the information it provides planners and decision makers about what needs to be done to make things better.

And even those who care nothing about bicycling should want their cities to do better on this score. As Alyssa Walker at Curbed and others have been pointing out lately, without better bicycling infrastructure the fight against climate change is just empty words. People need to be able to travel in the most environmentally friendly way possible—and if they can't choose biking because of something beyond their control, like nonexistent infrastructure, it's not gonna happen.

Bicycle Magazine ranked the cities on safety, “friendliness” or accessibleness to all types of riders, “energy” or the political climate towards bikes, and “culture.”

The editors write that

One takeaway we can’t stop thinking about is that there is no perfect American city for cycling. Our networks are still fragmented. Some cities have nothing besides paint-on-pavement lanes. Many socioeconomically disadvantaged communities lack any bike infrastructure at all. And we don’t have any one organization that collects comprehensive data on cycling injuries. America has a lot of work to do. But a few cities are leading the way, and seeing the work they're putting in makes us hopeful that other areas will soon follow suit.

The California cities that made the list:

    • #2: San Francisco, which had the same ranking in 2016. New protected bike lanes, a reduction in traffic fatalities, and rising bike mode share contributed to its success—but the prevalence of ridehail companies and their many many trips in the city are “a nightmare.” See Streetsblog San Francisco for a bit more detail.
    • #19: Oakland, which was #21 in 2016. Oakland's new Department of Transportation, especially the hiring of Ryan Russo away from New York City, gave it a boost this year, as did an increase in bike lanes. But the city got dinged for some scruffy bike lanes that Streetsblog may have highlighted. Ooops. Well, next time Oakland will probably do better, if it continues on its current trajectory.
    • #27: Long Beach, up from 2016's ranking at 28. Long Beach updated its ambitious Bicycle Master Plan, which includes protected bike lanes throughout the city. It also gets credit for “relatively little pushback about road diets” as well as its bike-share system and a comprehensive rollout of bike parking.
    • #32: Sacramento, up from #37 in 2016. California's capital city is in the middle of making major improvements, building protected lanes and two-way cycle-tracks, but it still suffers from high bike injuries and fatalities. The city also seemed to get a lower grade because of several instances of overblown police enforcement against black youth, which does nothing to encourage bicycling or walking in the city.
    • #43: San Jose, way down from #26 in 2016. San Jose published its Better Bikeways program, and is the midst of building out a complete network of protected lanes that feed into low-stress bike boulevards. But the city got dinged for a high fatality rate and a low biking modeshare (as reported by the census, which has some serious limitations). San Jose also has bike champions in the mayor and city council, according to Shiloh Ballard at the Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition—so, says Bicycling Magazine, “San Jose may shoot to the top of our list in the next few years.”

If these rankings seem arbitrary and inaccurate, take them with a grain of salt—but get your city decision-makers interested in rising in the ranks anyway.

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