To determine our top 50 bike-friendly cities for 2012, we evaluated cities with populations of 95,000 or more, using data provided by the Alliance for Biking and Walking and the League of American Bicyclists, as well as input from local advocates and bike-ped coordinators. To make the list, a city must possess both a robust cycling infrastructure and a vibrant bike culture. Read on to find out how your city stacks up.
After being named runner-up in our last round of best bike city rankings in 2010, Portland reclaims the top spot. The only large city to earn Platinum status from the League of American Bicyclists is a paragon of bike-friendliness, with 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths. Always quick to embrace cyclist-friendly innovations, Portland was the first city in the United States to implement bike boxes at intersections and elementary-school bike commuting trains. Among the city's many bike shops is newcomer Go By Bike, which is located under the aerial tram and offers valet parking, rentals, and repairs.
From the midwinter Stupor Bowl alleycat race, a wintertime tour of the city's various cycling oriented pubs, cafes, and galleries, to the thousands of volunteer hours accrued by the city's Bicycle Advisory Committee to the six-year-old ArtCrank bike-poster show, cycling culture in Minneapolis is thriving.
"In the last few years, things have gone from really good to explosive," says Nick Mason, a program manager at the Bicycle Alliance of Minnesota. In 2010, with the launch of the Nice Ride bike-share system, cycling shifted from a cultural phenomenon to a community-wide initiative. During its second full year of service, annual Nice Ride subscriptions tripled and daily trips doubled as predominant commuter wear shifted from spandex to slacks and heels.
In 2011, the city completed the 4.25-mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail, dubbed "America's first bike freeway." The two one-way bike lanes and pedestrian lane run from the Mississippi River downtown underneath the Minnesota Twins' Target Field and into the western suburbs. Minneapolis also added 35 miles of bike lanes and installed four bike-boulevard corridors, with the recently updated bike plan calling for a dozen more.
Due to a network of on-street bike lanes and paths that allow for almost unimpeded two-wheeled travel, Boulder boasts the second-highest percentage of bike commuters in the United States (Davis, California, is first). After recently passing a $49 million capital improvement bond with substantial funding for cycling projects, the city broke ground on the Baseline Path, a key half-mile-long connection between East Boulder and the University of Colorado.
But Boulder's crowning achievement may be Valmont Park, a 40-acre bike playground with knobby-tire amenities for all types, including a balance-bike track for toddlers. On weekends, pro downhillers catch big air alongside middle-school kids on the dirt jumps and slopestyle track, while families and cross-country racers alike zip along singletrack trails of varying difficulty.